ROCHESTER – Linus Weissbach doesn’t consider his stark transformation over the past two seasons a change. The Buffalo Sabres prospect still showcases the skills that helped him enjoy a terrific college career and make a quick impact with the Americans.
“It’s more about kind of adding to,” the winger told the Times Herald last Wednesday in Blue Cross Arena. “I think everything I do has kind of brought me to this point.”
OK, call it whatever you want, but Weissbach, 25, has added grit and tenacity to his repertoire, evolving from what Amerks coach Seth Appert called “more of a speed-based, perimeter, line-rush player” into a “rat.”
“A pest, a puck hound, a guy that goes to the front of the net, wins puck battles, forechecks, is physically engaged, is really good defensively,” said Appert, whose Amerks play Game 2 of the AHL Eastern Conference final tonight on the road against the Hershey Bears. “He’s become a mainstay on the penalty kill. I mean, it’s a big deal.”
How big of a deal is it?
“Linus’ transformation this year is one of the biggest transformations I’ve seen in my 27 years of coaching,” Appert said.
Of course, in your mid-20s, having enjoyed success at every level – Weissbach had a 41-point season as a senior at Wisconsin and scored 16 goals as an AHL rookie last year – change can be difficult.
But he has grasped his talent will only take him so far. So over the past two seasons, he has bought in – “Take slashes and cross-checks and punches to the face, cross-checks to the head,” Appert said – and learned to pay a greater price.
“It’s not easy,” Appert said. “There’s a reason it’s one of the bigger transformations I’ve seen because it isn’t easy to change some of your DNA as a player. He’s always got skill, speed. We just want to enhance that.”
Weissbach’s work to develop into a more aggressive, versatile presence helped increase his offensive production this season. He hit the 20-goal mark and upped his point total from 37 to 47 in 69 regular-season games, two more than last year.
In the Calder Cup Playoffs, he has registered one goal and six points in seven outings. He returned Tuesday from an upper-body injury that sidelined him two games, recording an assist in the Amerks’ 5-1 win in Hershey.
“I’ve added a lot of it this year, especially in the playoffs when it’s a little tougher environment,” said Weissbach, who suffered a season-ending concussion in the Amerks’ playoff opener last year. “You want to be that guy that the coach … can lean on, put out there and play a 200-foot game.”
So far, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Swede hasn’t earned a recall to Buffalo. The Sabres stayed remarkably healthy up front this season, rarely summoning any forwards from Rochester.
In another year, Weissbach, a seventh-round pick in 2017, 192nd overall, might’ve received his first look.
“There’s not much you can do as a player except for just playing your game and hopefully someone notices,” Weissbach said. “There wasn’t many injuries up there this year and they had a hell of a year as a team. But I’m just happy where I am around here.”
If a trip to Buffalo materializes, Weissbach would likely skate on the third or fourth line. Appert said he wants to point everyone “on a path to being a full-time NHL player.” Weissbach’s recent additions to his game make him better suited for a possible checking role.
“How can we help point you in a direction that will end up being in the NHL?” Appert said. “And that’s his path. Top-six jobs, just skill jobs, guys who just score goals and don’t check, don’t win battles all the time, there’s not many of those in the world.”