Buffalo drafted Viktor Neuchev in 2022. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

After slow start, Sabres prospect Viktor Neuchev thriving in Rochester

ROCHESTER – In early November, Seth Appert decided rookie winger Viktor Neuchev needed a bit of a wake-up call. So the Americans coach typed some thoughts into Google Translate and handed the Buffalo Sabres prospect a two-page note in Russian.

Appert wanted Neuchev, 20, to understand the commitment and daily habits it takes to become a great AHL player. Early last season, Appert had a similar meeting with center Jiri Kulich, who would score 24 goals as a teenage rookie.

Players practice and might work out and study video. But what extra work are they doing to seize their development?

Appert stressed Neuchev wasn’t practicing poorly or rarely entering the weight room. He just wasn’t doing much extra work.

“We challenge our guys all the time on your development, don’t have us holding your hand all the time through your development,” Appert said following Tuesday’s practice in Blue Cross Arena.

After some back and forth using Google Translate, Neuchev left the meeting with a firm understanding of the expectations the organization has for him.

Neuchev acknowledged early in the season, he “didn’t train much off the ice.”

“They just explained that I have the potential to play in the NHL, but for this I need to work like I’ve never worked before,” Neuchev told the Times Herald through an interview using Google Translate.

Neuchev, a third-round pick in 2022, 74th overall, hasn’t needed to be reminded again.

“Most of the time that takes two, three, four meetings, reminders, follow-ups,” Appert said. “One meeting. Really impressive.”

For Appert, that meeting was a “clear line” in Neuchev’s first season in North America. When they met, he had scored just one goal and one point.

It took time for his new habits to pay dividends. But entering Friday’s game against the Toronto Marlies, he had recorded two goals and five points during a three-game point streak and eight goals and 21 points in 25 outings since Dec. 29.

Overall this season, he had registered 10 goals and 26 points in 46 contests.

“What Neuch did since that day was own his development,” Appert said. “He’s here earlier. He’s working harder. He’s putting more time in on his body. He’s putting more time in on his shot. He’s putting more time in the video room.

“And that’s led to him having better habits (and) more confidence because he knows he’s putting the work in. And then eventually you see the results on the ice.”

Appert said Neuchev, one of six Russians the Sabres drafted over a two-year stretch, showcases a “passionate, competitive” style.

“His on-the-puck competitiveness has just grown immensely this year,” he said. “(He’s) energetic, a little emotional. (He’s a) young kid, but most of the emotion’s good. … Sometimes it can slip to being a little much.

Appert said the 5-foot-11, 171-pound Neuchev is “very creative” and possesses “elite” lateral agility.

“(His) north-south skating’s getting better, needs to keep getting better,” he said. “… He’s got a really good shot for a smaller guy and he can make tons of plays in small areas.”

Neuchev’s ability to make plays in tight spots on the smaller North American ice surface has helped him acclimate. He spent last season playing pro for Yekaterinburg Automobilist, a team in the Kontinental Hockey League, compiling four goals and 12 points in 57 games.

He said the KHL helped him develop his in-game thinking and decision-making speed. Still, he was a teenager competing against men.

“I didn’t have much playing time, so I don’t think it gave me a strong impetus in development,” said Neuchev, who has recently played right wing alongside center Brandon Biro and Graham Slaggert. “… (The) AHL and KHL are two different versions of hockey.”

Appert believes the Amerks’ two other Russians – winger Aleksandr Kisakov and rookie defenseman Nikita Novikov – have helped Neuchev feel comfortable.

As the season has progressed, Appert said Neuchev has shown his “great personality” more often.

“It’s going to take him more time,” he said. “… I feel like Neuch and I have a real strong relationship. He and (assistant coach Vaclav Prospal) have a really strong relationship. But you still can’t get all the way in there yet because you can’t have that depth of conversation.”

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