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The Pirates Could Use A Little Help From Their Friends


The injury bug has hit the Buffalo Sabres hard, forcing a multitude of call-ups from the Portland Pirates. Now with injuries and fatigue starting to take their toll on the Pirates, it would behoove Darcy Regier to start bringing in reinforcements for the farm team, for both organizations’ sakes.

First, a definition. The Amateur Tryout Offer is a short-term contract awarded by an NHL team to one of their junior or college prospects so that he may tryout with the parent club’s AHL affiliate after the conclusion of his own season. It gives the player the opportunity to perform at a higher level while giving the head coach of the AHL team a chance to evaluate the incoming talent he’ll be coaching.

Right now, the Portland Pirates are out their starting goaltender (Jhonas Enroth), two of their three highest point-getters (Mark Mancari and Marc-Andre Gragnani), and their captain (Matt Ellis). It speaks to the depth and coaching in Portland that they’ve battled through injuries and call-ups to take a three point lead on the division into their final seven games of the season, but fatigue is starting to take its toll. For the past two games, the Pirates skated shorthanded due to injuries on the blueline and have been forced to make call-ups from the ECHL.

It’s of the Sabres’ best interest to start considering bolstering the Pirates’ ranks with players signed to ATOs with the benefits being three-fold. First, Pirates coach Kevin Dineen gets to work prospects and graduates into the fold a bit early. Second, development is always benefited by deep runs in the playoffs at any level. Lastly, exposure to the league at the next tier can inspire and motivate prospects.

Here are some glaring needs and which players could come in to alleviate the problem.

Problem: Back-Up Goaltender, Solution: Connor Knapp
The back-up goaltender position was a total question mark coming in to the season. But lo and behold, David Leggio arrived fresh off winning the SM-liiga title and proved more than capable of coming in in relief of Jhonas Enroth. When Enroth received his latest call-up to the Sabres, it was apparent that Leggio would be the new starting goalie for the Pirates. The back-up role was then filled by Jeff Jakaitis, who isn’t exactly taking care of his duties.

Enter Miami (OH) junior goaltender Connor Knapp. The Sabres’ highest goaltending prospect, Knapp can either remain a Redhawk for his senior season and be the #1 guy in the crease or he can leave early and join the Pirates for the 2011/2011 season. Either way, he has a chance to get some AHL time this spring if the Sabres were to sign him to an ATO. It would give him valuable playing time in the pros and provide the Pirates with a trustworthy backup option to Leggio.

Problem: Thin D Corps, Solutions: Corey Fienhage, Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
Marc-Andre Gragnani is with the Sabres now and Tim Conboy (Nathan Gerbe’s one-time nemesis) has been injured, reducing the Pirates’ blueline to only 5 skaters. Kevin Dineen is known for his magic with a shortened bench, but it’s easier to deal with one less forward than it is one less defenseman. Whether or not Conboy gets healthy soon, the Pirates have a need for more talent along the blueline.

Enter the Sabres’ deep defensive prospects in junior. Corey Fienhage just graduated from the WHL and the Kamloops Blazers and is basically sitting around waiting for a chance to play somewhere. He’s not a blue chip prospect, but he’s a soldier to put on the blue line until highly-touted rearguards like McNabb and Pysyk become available. The Sabres’ first-round draft pick in 2010, Mark Pysyk may be available as early as tonight as his Edmonton Oil Kings are down 3-0 in games to the Red Deer Rebels and the two teams play game 4 tonight. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (or JGL to fans) may be available tomorrow night when his Rimouski Oceanic, down 3-1, play game five against Olympique de Gatineau. JGL is a high-flying, fast-skating scoring defenseman who could fill Marc-Andre Gragnani’s role. Brayden McNabb may take a little bit longer to reach the AHL as his Kootenay Ice are deadlocked at 2 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors and won’t play game five until tomorrow. McNabb is big, mean, productive, and smart and will be a surefire lock on the Pirates’ blueline either this spring or next fall.

(UPDATE:According to his personal Facebook page, Corey Fienhage is on his way to Portland)

Problem: Depth At Forward, Solutions: Zack Kassian, Marcus Foligno, Kevin Sundher
The Pirates have gotten balanced scoring from all over the roster and star production from Mancari, Gragnani, Adam, Brennan, and Byron, but the depth at forward could still use a big boost.

Big is definitely the operative word as both Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno are set to graduate to the AHL once their current seasons expire. It’s going to be some time before either power winger makes the jump to the Pirates as Kassian’s Spitfires are up 3-1 in their series against the Erie Otters and Foligno’s Wolves are set to break out the brooms tonight versus the Ottawa 67’s. Much like McNabb, if they do join Portland this spring, they won’t be leaving except for the NHL (in Kassian’s case). Kevin Sundher played the hero last night for the Chilliwack Bruins in OT but his team is still down 2-1 against the Spokane Chiefs and play game four tonight.

The Sabres could start by tendering ATOs to Corey Fienhage and Connor Knapp and have the Pirates improved going into their huge match-up with Manchester on Saturday. Tomorrow morning, Mark Pysyk may be available as well. The Pirates may not be as detrimentally-stubborn regarding hockey operations as the Rochester Americans are, but it’s always a good idea to keep things rosy between the parent and farm teams. Hopefully, we’ll see some announcements tomorrow or Saturday.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. James permalink
    03/31/11 7:46 PM

    You can’t sign a college prospect to an ATO unless they want to give up their NCAA eligibility, which Knapp has no reason to do right now.
    Eidsness is a more likely option.

    • 03/31/11 7:50 PM

      Good point, but in that sense Eidsness won’t be much of an option either for three reasons – 1) His UND Fighting Sioux are in the Frozen Four, 2) He’s just a junior like Knapp, 3) I doubt he’s even in the Sabres’ plans at this point. He’s been very unimpressive in camps and barely gets any ice time whatsoever.

      • James permalink
        03/31/11 8:15 PM

        Yes, but the Frozen Four ends at latest 4/9. He could be available on 4/7. He’s a junior, but he’s completed his degree already. I’ve addressed this on HFBoards but I am simply ignored when I say it. He doesn’t get any playing time at UND, so I don’t see why he’d come back for another year if he has completed his education. AFAIK, Knapp has not completed his degree and he still gets playing time.

        Besides this year, Eidsness has been just fine. If they are looking to bring in someone from the organization this year, it will be him IMO.
        Even if he gets little playing time with the Pirates, it would still be good for his development to be in a professional playoff situation.

        With the lack of goaltenders in the organization, I am almost sure that they are still interested in him.

      • 03/31/11 10:05 PM

        You make good points, and at this juncture, I’d definitely assume it’ll be Eidsness and not Knapp who might be joining the Pirates.

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