Varone makes most of call up, pots first career goal

Phil Varone was on pace to shatter his previous career high for points in season as a professional. Tough break for Varone, though, because his AHL point total could stay at 33 if he keeps playing well in Buffalo.

Varone, a native of Vaughan, Ont. and the assistant captain of the Rochester Americans, got the call exactly a week ago that he was on his way to Buffalo, and since he has made the most of his opportunities.

After scoring his first goal last night, Varone spoke with The Buffalo News’ Amy Mortiz and broke down his play so far in the bigs.

“I think more in the ‘A’ I try to control the puck around the perimeter and find my teammates,” said Varone of his style with the minors. “Here I need to be a little more simple and that’s why I’m just trying to get to the net more. I’m going to start hopefully feeling more comfortable and making plays with the puck but for right now I’m just going to go to the net and hopefully bang a few in.

“The more games you play the more you’re going to understand what you need to do to create space for yourself and to get open. That’s been my focus right now. Once I get more comfortable I’ll be able to make more plays with the puck.”

Varone First Goal small tagThe Sabres, definitely not atop the league, are giving shots to their young guns in a down season with hopes of building a team that can win in the future. Varone, if this chance in the NHL is any indication, is a part of those plans. Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of the 2009 entry draft, Varone went unsigned before inking a free agent deal with the Sabres.

Of his first goal, Varone told Moritz that it was good to get the pressure of his shoulders.

The Sabres will head into action again on Thursday when they head to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes, and it will be up to the Desert Dogs to try and stop the red hot Varone.

(Cover image courtesy


Sabres sign Flynn and Hackett

Brian Flynn and Matt Hackett have agreed to terms with the Buffalo Sabres on two-year and one-year deals, respectively.

Flynn, 24, spent last season between Buffalo and the Rochester Americans. A point-per-game player over his career in the NCAA (153GP 69-87), where he spent four years at the University of Maine, Flynn posted 16 goals and 16 assists in 45 AHL games last season, and added another 11 points (6-5) in 26 NHL games in 2012-13.

Though he may not spend a ton of time in the AHL, Flynn is an impact player at the AHL level, and the first year of his contract is a two-way deal and could see him spend some time in the AHL and continue his development.

Hackett, 23, is known for his days in the Minnesota Wild organization where he spent three seasons. In 2012-13, while with the Aeros, Hackett appeared in 43 games and posted a 2.66 GAA and .907 SV%.

Traded to the Sabres as part of a package for Jason Pominville, Hackett will likely spend the majority of next season in Rochester.

Ristolainen deal could see Finn in AHL next season

For the past few days, questions have swirled about the AHL eligibility of Rasmus Ristolainen and whether it would be NHL or bust for the Buffalo Sabres 2013 first round pick.

Ristolainen, selected eighth overall, signed an NHL entry-level deal with the Sabres today, and it seems to have cleared the matter up. According to Kevin Oklobzija, the final word on Ristolainen’s chances of suiting up in the ‘A’ has come from Sabres assistant GM Kevin Devine:

Ristolainen, who has spent the last two seasons playing against men in SM-Liiga, will definitely get a shot at making the Sabres out of camp, but one has to wonder whether or not the hiccup in Tyler Myers’ development will play a factor in the Sabres choice to bring him to the NHL right away. After winning the Calder trophy in his rookie season, Myers has had some seasons that have found the Sabres front office wanting more, and his name has been commonplace in trade rumours on a consistent basis.

While each player should be judged on a case-by-case basis, Ristolainen stands a chance at becoming a standout, franchise defeceman for Buffalo. Seasoning in Rochester, whether it be a year or more, certainly wouldn’t hurt his progression and would give him a training ground to make youthful mistakes — he is just 18, after all — without the scrutiny that comes from playing in the NHL at such a young age.

The EliteProspects scouting report on Ristolainen:

One of the best defensemen of his age group, Ristolainen was a top-prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft. He is a calm player with good two-way ability and a mature style of play, though his defensive awareness and positioning still need work. More mobile and offensive than Buffalo’s other 2013 1st round pick Nikita Zadorov, Ristolainen moves the puck with confidence, has a good shot from the point and has displayed ability to work the powerplay in SM-liiga. Ristolainen has an NHL-ready frame and has gained a lot of strength while playing in SM-liiga and though he is not a big-time hitter, he feels comfortable playing the body and likes to get physical in front of the net.

While Sabres fans are salivating at the prospect of having him in the big leagues, Amerks fans could be getting a treat when the AHL campaign gets underway.

Report: Cassidy to take reins in Rochester

Late last night, Kevin Oklobzija reported that Chadd Cassidy will take over as bench boss for the Rochester Americans.

Cassidy, who was named the interim head coach of the Amerks after Ron Rolston got the call to head the Sabres, could have the interim tag removed and be announced as the big boss as soon as today.

From Oklobzija’s story:

So you can expect the Sabres to give Cassidy the coaching reins for their prospects, maybe as early as Friday. Chris Taylor should again be his assistant coach while Bob Janosz guides development of the fairly large stable of goalies (Matt Hackett, Connor Knapp, Nathan Lieuewn, Andrey Makarov and maybe even Linus Ullmark).

If they were going to hire someone else, that somebody very likely would have been at the development camp. If you’re going to grow as one into a Stanley Cup contender — in three years or five years — then you want everyone together from the very beginning.

There’s a ton of information in Oklobzija’s piece, and he’s been doing tremendous work this offseason. Give him a follow on Twitter @KevinODandC

Sabres, Devils trade brings Boychuk to Albany

Riley Boychuk, who spent all of last season with the Central Hockey League’s Fort Worth Brahmas, has been dealt to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Henrik Tallinder.

The deal, which was a cap clearing move for the Devils, would only go through if the Devils took a contract back the other way. Boychuk, 22, was the contract the Devils are taking on.

Drafted by the Sabres in the seventh round of 2010, Boychuk is a bubble player at the minor league level. He may not necessarily make his way into the AHL, but it gives the AHL’s Devils another option at left wing.

In 26 games at the AHL level in 2011-12, Boychuk had two assists and 18 PIM, but failed to register a goal. He would spend 20 games in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators, and helped out with five points (1-4). If Boychuk finds his way onto the Albany roster this season, all signs point to it being in a third- or fourth-line role.

From Lou Lamoriello, via Rich Chere:


Buffalo signs former Monarchs, Aeros captain

The Iowa Wild have a vacant captaincy, and all because the Buffalo Sabres have swooped in and signed former captain Drew Bagnall.

Bagnall signed the two-year deal with the Sabres shortly before the first day of free agency came to an end. Last season, the Oakbank, Man. product captained the Houston Aeros, the last season of their existence. The blueliner, who brings toughness and a steady presence to the back end, joins the Sabres on a two-way contract.

Bagnall stands a chance at cracking a Sabres D that isn’t the picture of depth, but there’s a strong chance he’ll end up in Rochester for stretches of the season.

In 382 career regular season AHL games, Bagnall has put up 52 points (6-46), and amassed 676 PIM.

Bagnall, 29, has never gotten a full-time shot in the NHL, and this could be his first real shot at sticking in the NHL. He could play a big role in developing the younger Buffalo defence in the minors, but it will likely come to a point where the Sabres need someone like Bagnall to slot in for more than just a handful of games.

Matt Ellis signs on to keep leading Amerks

Matt Ellis is back in Rochester, and he’s here to help.

The Buffalo Sabres announced earlier today that they’ve re-signed the 31-year-old Ellis to a two-year, two-way contract.

Though he still has desire to play in the NHL, the Welland, Ont. product said he wants to help the young talent make it in the bigs. But it’s not just about helping the young guns, he also wants to play for a championship.

Ellis told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that he is honoured to be able to wear the ‘C’ for the Americans.

Over the last 11 years, Ellis has moved around quite a bit. After playing his first four season with Detroit Red Wings affiliate Grand Rapids — a team which Ellis captained before moving on to having a brief stint in the NHL with Detroit and the Los Angeles Kings — he settled in with the Sabres organization. In 2008-09, Ellis was primarily on the NHL roster, but come 2010-11, Ellis’ role within the organization changed.

Since 2010-11, Ellis has played 144 AHL games. While not exactly a point producer — Ellis has contributed 20 goals and 31 assists over that time — he’s a steady veteran presence that helps the young talent develop.

The two-year deal will pay Ellis $300,000 in the AHL and $550,000 in the bigs, and he hopes it will set him up for a future in the game.

From the Democrat and Chronicle:

“When I met with Darcy (Regier, the Sabres general manager), I asked what things I can do to put some pieces in place for life in the future,” he said. “I don’t see myself ever being without hockey.”

Ellis embodies the spirit of NHL veterans who have come before him. While he may not produce like a Mike Keane or Darren Haydar, being able to help develop talent makes Ellis a valuable asset.