ROCHESTER – Buffalo Sabres prospect Olivier Nadeau needed this new experience. Earlier this month, the end of his junior career angered him.
Nadeau, 20, enjoyed a terrific year with the Gatineau Olympiques, a team built to win a championship this season. After recovering from shoulder surgery, he scored 22 times in 34 games, including a four-goal outing Feb. 9. Gatineau, which acquired him in the offseason, named him captain just 18 games into his tenure.
Then in the semifinal round of the playoffs, Gatineau lost to the heavyweight Quebec Remparts. Just like that, Nadeau’s four-year career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was over.
“I was down,” he told the Times Herald on Monday in Blue Cross Arena. “I was mad at all the playoffs.”
That’s why earning another crack at the postseason has been so special. On May 8, the Sabres assigned Nadeau to the Americans, awarding him a fresh opportunity.
So far, the winger hasn’t played any games during the Calder Cup Playoffs, his first taste of pro hockey. Still, coach Seth Appert, whose Amerks host the Hershey Bears tonight in Game 3 of the AHL Eastern Conference final, hasn’t ruled out using him.
Nadeau, a fourth-round pick in 2021, 97th overall, has been preparing like he will play.
“It’s a best-of-seven, so it’s a long series,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen, so I got to be ready.”
Nadeau will almost certainly be a regular for the Amerks next season. So a chance to get acclimated to the AHL can be huge for his development.
“It’s a good experience just to get to know the guys and the coaching staff, just the city and Rochester,” he said. “So it’s fun to be here just to prepare myself for next year.”
Nadeau said he has learned the Amerks have “a great culture.”
“You see on the ice the guys are dedicated and we just want to block some shots and be there for each other,” he said.
If the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Nadeau plays a game, he would be the 10th rookie to suit up for the Amerks this postseason.
First-year players have made huge impacts for them this season, and they’ve been some of their top drivers during the playoffs. Center Jiri Kulich has six goals and 10 points in eight games. Winger Lukas Rousek has three goals and 10 points in 10 contests. Winger Isak Rosen has four goals and eight points in 10 games.
In Thursday’s 2-0 loss in Hershey, which evened the series 1-1, Appert dressed Sabres prospect Matt Savoie, 19, for the first time, skating the natural center at left wing. Savoie, the ninth pick in 2022, joined the Amerks earlier this week after his junior season with the Winnipeg Ice ended.
While Nadeau isn’t as highly touted as Savoie, he has developed into a notable prospect. Appert said he possesses “hockey intelligence” and “stick skill in tight.” In junior, he was a lethal net-front presence.
“What we’re going to have to get him acclimated to is the pace of play at this level, and not just pace of play of foot speed, but pace of play of mind,” he said. “Those are things that I challenged him on for practice. The foot speed will take time. He’ll get there because he works his tail off. He’ll get acclimated to that over time. He’s smart enough to be able to think at this level. You don’t have to in junior hockey because he had more time and space.”
Of course, adding some talented youngsters excites Appert. But he said he has “a lot of loyalty to guys that have got you so far.” So Nadeau might have to wait to play.
“We’ve got a really, really close group in there,” Appert said Monday. “I think that’s been a strength of our group all year is the camaraderie and the culture, and that’s allowed us to overcome a lot of adversity and culminate to where we’re playing our best hockey in the last 20 games of the season and now the playoffs.”