Isak Rosen scored 20 goals and 50 points this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Sabres prospect Isak Rosen showcases strong development in Rochester; Joseph Cecconi seizes role

Over the final two months of the regular season, Buffalo Sabres prospect Isak Rosen busted out of his long offensive slump with the Rochester Americans, compiling nine goals and 22 points in his last 22 games.

In the last four contests, the Swedish winger registered four goals and seven points to finish with 20 goals and 50 points in 67 games. His point total tied center Mason Jobst for the team lead.

Consider that following his return from Buffalo in mid-December, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Rosen mustered just three goals and nine points in his next 29 contests.

So, yes, the youngster recaptured his early-season scoring prowess that helped him earn his first taste of the NHL.

“I think I really found my game at the end,” Rosen told reporters last Saturday in Rochester.

But even as Rosen, 21, struggled offensively for two months, he contributed to the Amerks’ success.

“I thought Isak had an excellent season,” said former Amerks coach Seth Appert, who on Monday was promoted to an assistant on Lindy Ruff’s staff with the Sabres. “I think his slump was only a scoring slump, not a play slump. He was one of our most dependable, consistent, competitive players night in and night out all season long.”

As a first-round pick in 2021, 14th overall, Rosen arrived in North America in 2022 with a reputation as a skilled offensive player. While he has grown that part of his game, he has also developed into a trusted two-way threat.

“(He) became one of our best defensive wingers,” Appert said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “Earned the right and the opportunity to be out there (late in games) five-on-six, and usually my first choice going out five-on-six. And became one of our best penalty killers. That’s just massive growth for a guy who was considered to only be an offensive player two years ago.”

That trust helped Rosen’s confidence balloon.

“I learned a lot from that, yeah, so I’m really comfortable in those situations,” said Rosen, who scored a team-high seven game-winning goals this season, including in Game 1 of the AHL North Division semifinal.

Rosen’s well-rounded game should help his chances of cracking Buffalo’s lineup.

“There’s not a lot of spots open in the NHL,” Appert said. “Not only the Sabres, but the NHL in general, in everybody’s top six. A lot of times you have to break in being a middle-six (player) or a bottom-six (player) and then you have to do all those other things we’re talking about, and then you can potentially show and play your way once you do that into a top-six role.

“I think Isak is on a great trajectory for that, and now he needs to attack this summer and keep changing his body and keep adding more strength and power and explosiveness.”

When Amerks defenseman Joseph Cecconi quickly pinched in from the point following a faceoff and scored at the net May 4, he displayed some his underrated offensive ability.

The critical score, the second during the Amerks’ wild three-goal, third period comeback, seized momentum away from the Syracuse Crunch in Game 4.

However, the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Cecconi, 26, has morphed into a top-pair AHL defenseman – he played big minutes alongside Jeremy Davies in the Calder Cup Playoffs – by focusing on the defensive side of the game.

“There’s always a hope in a young player that you’re a little more offensive and maybe there’s power play in your future and things like that,” Appert said. “I think he’s really embraced this physical, competitive, stay-at-home defenseman that’s hard to play against, that’s easy to play with, that plays against the other teams’ top lines and makes the game hard on them.

“I think he’s seen that playing that style has grown his role, has grown his minutes, has grown his responsibility in the American Hockey League and I think he’s still at his age, even though he’s getting into his middle 20s, he’s still growing. He’s still getting better. He got better in his year and a half with us and that excites me about where he can still go.”

Cecconi scored one goal and 12 points in 58 regular-season games this year. The Youngstown native can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Appert, 49, became a head coach for the first time at RPI in 2006-07 and has run his own bench every season since then. During that stretch, he has served as assistant coach three times – twice for Team USA at the World Championship and once for the US at the Under-18 World Championship.

Having been a head coach for so long gave Appert, who spent nine seasons as an assistant under legendary coach George Gwozdecky at Denver, a unique perspective.

“Going back and being an assistant now after the time I’ve had as a head coach, I was a way better assistant,” he said. “When I was an assistant and had never been a head coach, I had no clue what George Gwozdecky was going through. I didn’t know all of the stress and the pressure and the other things pulling at him behind the scenes. In college, it’s not management, it’s athletic directors, presidents, fundraising, boosters, all these different things. And you don’t understand that until you’ve sat in that chair.

“I think I’m excited that I can be a better assistant now than I’ve ever been before because of the experience I’ve had as a head coach in understanding what Lindy is going through.”

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