Buffalo Sabres: 5 Players You Should Know in Rochester

Matt CloudenCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2012

Buffalo Sabres: 5 Players You Should Know in Rochester

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    The Buffalo Sabres' AHL affiliate Rochester Americans have not minded the NHL lockout one bit. 

    The Amerks have been the beneficiary of plenty of NHL-level talent during the ongoing labor strife, and, despite their recent struggles, the team has been extremely competitive.

    Here is a list of some Amerks players you may or may not know, but with whom should familiarize yourself for when the lockout comes to a resolution—whenever that may be. 

Cody Hodgson

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    When Cody Hodgson was traded to the Sabres for Zack Kassian at the trade deadline last season, he instantly had the spotlight shone on him by every Sabres fan.

    "We have a center," was the popular rallying cry, and it's one that's hard to debate. 

    Hodgson is easily one of the most talented players in the Sabres' system in a long time, with Thomas Vanek being the last prospect with the type of talent Hodgson has (which now includes Mikhail Grigorenko). 

    Hodgson shot out of the gate in the AHL, scoring 10 points in nine games before breaking his hand at the beginning of November. He is slated to return to action this weekend though, and should make his presence felt immediately.

    With the addition of Grigorenko, he and Hodgson are slated to be the long-term No. 1 and 2 centers for the Sabres, a notion that should excite many Sabres fans moving forward. 

Marcus Foligno

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    Marcus Foligno has some big shoes to fill in a Sabres jersey, whether they're the proven ones of his father Mike, a former Sabre great, or the unproven ones of Zack Kassian, whose roster spot he took upon Kassian's trade to Vancouver.

    Either way, Foligno has shown he's up to the task.

    After scoring 13 points in the 13 games to close the 2011-12 season, Foligno has not missed a beat in the AHL, scoring 23 points in 23 games for the Amerks so far this season. 

    Foligno is not a finesse player by any stretch of the imagination, preferring to go through you than around you. But his offensive skills have certainly progressed since the beginning of last season and if the Sabres can get 50 points out of him a season, they couldn't be happier. 

    When the puck drops for the NHL again, expect to see Foligno paired with his linemates from the end of last season, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis, for the start of the season. 

Brayden McNabb

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    Brayden McNabb made quite the impression on Sabres fans last season in an injury stint.

    In his time with the Sabres, McNabb was one of the team's best defensemen, not playing like a rookie thrown into an injury-depleted team by any stretch of the imagination. 

    McNabb showed the poise of a veteran, especially in his own zone, with quick decisions and crisp first passes becoming the expectation from the young blue-liner. He also brings a physical presence that included a few scraps and a number of bone-jarring hits at center ice, especially on opposing players attempting to skate the puck into the Sabres' zone. 

    McNabb has been great on the Amerks' back end, scoring 13 points in 23 games and being a force in all three zones. 

    With the logjam the Sabres are experiencing at defense, McNabb may not be able to crack the NHL roster when the NHL returns, but not because he doesn't deserve to be there. 

Mark Pysyk

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    The Sabres certainly couldn't ask for more from Mark Pysyk in his rookie season in the AHL.

    The former Edmonton Oil King has had his struggles, but has shown he was worthy of the 2010 first-round pick. Not an offensive dynamo, Pysyk has used his excellent skating ability and gap-closing abilities to see time in all situations with the Amerks. 

    Pysyk is similar to McNabb in his own zone, with good positioning and quick and accurate first passes opening the ice up for his teammates. Through 20 games, Pysyk has a respectable eight points, but most of what he contributes to a team does not show up on a scoresheet. 

    Pysyk will be a perfect complement to a more offensively minded defender like Christian Ehrhoff or Tyler Myers in the future. As with McNabb, there is a line to the NHL roster, but Pysyk should not be in the AHL for long if he keeps progressing as he has thus far. 

Zemgus Girgensons

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    The Sabres moved up in the 2012 draft to ensure they were able to select Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th pick overall, making him the second center selected by the Sabres in three picks. 

    Unlike the center taken before him (Mikhail Grigorenko), Girgensons plays a much more physical game. He loves going to the gritty areas of the ice and has the size, strength and skating ability to come out victorious in those battles most times. 

    Currently, Girgensons is the youngest player in the AHL, and coach Ron Rolston has been impressed with his play. While not appearing on the scoresheet as much as Sabres fans may like, Girgensons is receiving invaluable experience early in his professional career that will only help him in the years to come. 

    Also, the Sabres aren't looking for Girgensons to contribute 100 points per year. He has the ability to become the prototypical stopper with his ability to shut down the opposing team's top players, something the Sabres have not had since the departure of Chris Drury (no, Paul Gaustad was not one of those players).

    Girgensons will likely play in the AHL for the remainder of the season, NHL season or not. After that, a switch from center to wing to crack the Sabres' lineup may be necessary in the short-term, but Girgensons is likely slotted as the Sabres' long-term third-line center.