Joseph Cecconi joined Rochester last season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

13 months after trade, Joseph Cecconi developing with Amerks, happy in Sabres organization

ROCHESTER – Joseph Cecconi’s arrival here last season transformed the Americans, giving their defense corps a missing element. Without his muscle, coach Seth Appert said, the AHL club wouldn’t have enjoyed another long run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

“We don’t go to the conference finals without that trade and getting Cheeks,” Appert said. “We didn’t have enough of that or much of that at all. … Trading for Cecconi, that really solidified our D corps.”

When the Buffalo Sabres acquired the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Cecconi on Dec. 15, 2022 – they sent offensive-minded defense prospect Oskari Laaksonen to the Dallas Stars – the Amerks wanted to help the Youngstown native reach the next level in his maturation.

“Develop a little bit into being a physical, competitive, shutdown-type defenseman,” Appert said. “That’s his strength.”

By the postseason, Cecconi, 26, was logging big minutes alongside partner Jeremy Davies, often against the opponent’s top talent.

Cecconi’s development has taken time. He made his pro debut with the Texas Stars almost five years ago after leaving Michigan, where he captained the Wolverines as a senior. Wednesday’s game against the Syracuse Crunch was his 246th in the AHL. Among Amerks skaters, only captain Michael Mersch (564 games) and defenseman Ethan Prow (381 games) have more experience in the minors.

Now a young veteran, Cecconi believes he has “evolved into a complete defenseman,” occasionally showcasing some offensive ability.

“Like this new age defenseman, but my roots are still strong in the D-zone,” he told the Times Herald following Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Utica Comets in Blue Cross Arena. “I don’t let guys by me. I’m great on the penalty kill, my defensive IQ is very good. I do think my offensive game has grown and just moving pucks north and getting more comfortable with that.

“So, I mean, my points (five this season) don’t show it right now. But I know how much better I have been playing offensively and more aggressive and those will come.”

But points ultimately won’t help Cecconi earn his first recall.

“What makes him really good here and what gives him a chance to potentially get above here to the NHL, and that’s be a competitive, physically engaged, shutdown defender that breaks the puck out well,” Appert said.

While Cecconi does those things well, Appert said he must display more “consistency of owning the role.”

“In terms of being nasty and hard to play against every night,” he said of what Cecconi must do to take another step. “Everybody’s got their own style of doing that. It doesn’t mean he’s got to fight or run around and kill people, but he needs to be difficult to play against. Forwards need to know that he’s on the ice, and consistently. And he does it and he does it real good.

“It’s just, now, is it every game? I think that combined with continuing to improve his quickness and his defensive skating, because, obviously, the game is just getting faster and faster.”

Cecconi has also showcased a new side of his game this season by fighting for the first time in his pro career. He has scrapped twice, most recently against Daniil Misyul after the Utica defenseman boarded Amerks center Justin Richards.

“Still learning the actual technique part of it,” Cecconi said. “Coming from college, clearly, you’re not fighting that often. … But I’m willing to do it, and when something happens to one of my teammates, obviously, I’m gonna jump in to defend them, whether my technique’s great or not.”

Naturally, Cecconi, who played two preseason games for the Sabres during training camp, said his comfort has grown in Buffalo’s organization over the past 13 and a half months.

“Being so close to home, my family can come and watch a lot,” said Cecconi, who signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $325,000 in the AHL to return to the organization. “And just having the opportunity to try to play in Buffalo, which, obviously, my (was) dream growing up, so trying to work toward that every single day, but it is special to play so close to home.”

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