Lukas Rousek leads Rochester in points this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Tenacity helping Sabres prospect Lukas Rousek pile up points in Rochester

BUFFALO – Seth Appert kept talking, going into detail to explain how aggressive play fueled Buffalo Sabres prospect Lukas Rousek’s recent 13-game point streak.

“On the puck, competitiveness, forechecking, puck battles,” the Americans coach said late last month in Blue Cross Arena in Rochester before the winger’s streak ended. “His battle level is dramatically higher right now than it was at any time he’s been in North America. He’s playing more competitively, he’s hunting the puck harder, he’s winning more puck battles, so therefore his line has the puck more.”

Rousek, as his 16-goal, 56-point rookie season last year illustrates, possesses goal-scoring and playmaking ability. Now, thanks to his increased tenacity, he and his linemates – he usually plays at right wing alongside center Brandon Biro and different wingers – have the puck more often.

Not surprisingly, the Czech’s offensive production has surged. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 26, he compiled four goals and 10 assists during the Amerks’ longest streak since Domenic Pittis recorded points in 14 consecutive games in 1999-00.

“I try to create more offense, but I try to play … a complete, complete hockey game,” Rousek said. “(I’m) not just looking for the offense.”

Right now, the 20 assists and 28 points he has compiled in 36 games this season both lead the Amerks.

Last season, in Rousek’s first full AHL campaign – he spent most of 2021-22 recovering from an ACL injury – he quietly established himself as one of the Sabres’ top forward prospects. He led the Amerks in regular-season points and added 12 more during the Amerks’ 14-game run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Rousek made his NHL debut March 29, scoring a goal and two points, and played again in the Sabres’ season finale. He also played five games with the Sabres earlier this year.

Appert believes Rousek’s first taste of the big leagues has helped him grasp what he must do to stay.

“The reality is as good as he is, in the NHL, to stick, he’s probably (a) middle-six or bottom-six (forward),” he said. “So what do those guys have to do? They have to penalty kill, they have to win puck battles, they have to forecheck, they have to be good defensively, or they don’t play. So that’s his path to being a full-time NHL player, is what he’s playing like right now.”

While he went pointless during his brief stay in Buffalo this season, coach Don Granato utilized Rousek late in a close game, a sign of trust that boosted his confidence.

“I was surprised he played me at the end of game when we won (by) about one, two goals,” Rousek said. “I just try to play the same way here (as I) play in Buffalo, nothing to change.”

The Sabres got winger Zemgus Girgensons and defenseman Erik Johnson back from upper-body injuries for Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at KeyBank Center.

To make room for Johnson, they scratched defenseman Jacob Bryson. They also sat winger Victor Olofsson for the fourth straight game.

Stars forward Joe Pavelski, 39, played his 1,300th NHL game Tuesday. He hasn’t lost much of a step in his 18th season. He began the night having scored 19 goals and 43 points in 49 appearances this season.

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