CINCINNATI, OH – It’s been just over two months since the big announcement was made that the Cincinnati Cyclones would be entering an affiliation agreement to serve as the “AA” affiliate for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and AHL’s Rochester Americans for the 2017-18 campaign. A new affiliation, which also means there will be plenty of new faces calling Cincinnati home this fall via assignment from either Rochester or Buffalo.
For those still upset that the Cyclones didn’t end up creating the “Ohio Hockey Highway” with Columbus and Cleveland, don’t be. Once you take off the Blue Jacket tented sunglasses, you’ll see the crop of players that could be weaving down the Buffalo ladder and into Cincinnati is something definitely worth getting excited about.
After only receiving three players full-time from the Nashville organization last season, there’s potential for anywhere from five to seven Buffalo/Rochester contracts to be in Cincinnati all at once. Now that the Cyclones are starting to roll out player signings with the re-signings of Shane Walsh, Dominic Zombo, and Dylan Nowakowski, it’s time to take a look at the NHL/AHL contracted players that could be donning Cincinnati sweaters in the fall.
First, let’s address the goaltending. If you missed it, Cyclones’ fans hopes of Michael Houser returning to the Queen City as the ECHL contracted goalie are officially dead as Houser has inked an AHL deal with the Tucson Roadrunners, and could potentially up with Fort Wayne of all teams now that the Komets are affiliating with the Arizona Coyotes. The good news is Buffalo has a young gun perfectly capable of filling the vacancy. Swedish goaltender, Jonas Johansson is entering his first full season in North America and the entire organization has high expectations for him. Due to the backlog of goalies from the Buffalo on down, Johansson is practically a lock to be in Cincinnati. He’s a bigger guy that takes up a lot of space and has strong lateral movement, which is something you don’t see often with your bigger sized goaltenders. Posting stellar numbers across the pond, and with Houser out of the picture, he could easily be “the guy” in goal for the Cyclones.
Backing him up would be another Buffalo contracted netminder in the form of Jason Kasdorf. Kasdorf had a… let’s just say a less than stellar rookie season last year. Spending a majority of the 2016-17 slate in Elmira and being exposed to that disaster really pushed his development back a step. With the Jackals, he was 5-20-1 with a 3.96 goals against average and a 0.877 save percentage. Knowing how much of a fustercluck that entire situation in Elmira was, judging Kasdorf based solely on that wouldn’t be fair in the slightest. With the front office shake-up at the top with Jason Botterill and Randy Sexton running the show, the direction I hope they go with Kasdorf is “forget last season, this is your true rookie season” and see where that goes. This is Kasdorf’s last year on his entry level contract so this would be his time to make the statement last year was a fluke.
Considering the Cyclones have rolled with two AHL/NHL property goalies and one ECHL contracted goalie for the past two seasons, I would assume they’ll go that route again but it also wouldn’t be shocking if they didn’t. This method just hasn’t worked. Back in 2015-16, Neil Conway fled for Europe midway through the year and last season, Joel Rumpel sat in the stands for ridiculous lengths of time. So, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they just rolled with the 1-2 punch of Johansson/Kasdorf.
As far as the defensive side of things go, there are two guaranteed names that will guard the Cincinnati blue line, and could very well even wind up playing together on the same defensive pair. Anthony Florentino, a fifth round Buffalo draft pick back in 2013, will be getting his first real taste of professional hockey in October after seeing five games with Rochester at the tail-end of the season. Based on scouting reports on the Providence College graduate, Cyclones fans can expect a smart, hard-nosed style of game from Florentino. In other words, he’s not afraid to use his size to his advantage and throw the body around while keeping it smart.
The other defenseman more than likely to see time in Cincinnati is Brycen Martin, who is entering his second season of professional hockey. Martin saw 18 games with the Americans during the 2016-17 campaign, but spent the bulk of the year in Elmira along with Kasdorf. He’s a good puck-moving defenseman that has a bit of some offensive firepower. A lot like Kasdorf, he too had a bit of an unfortunate rookie year. The same thing that was said for Kasdorf about not letting the Elmira kerfuffle blind your view of his play can be said here as well. Being around a new coaching staff, new environment, new general manager, and new culture could do wonders for all of them.
As we all know, offense wasn’t exactly a strength of this Cyclones team last go-around. Rochester is trying to help out the cause with the signing of forward Adam Krause, who could potentially be acting as a black ace in Cincinnati. Krause has spent the last two seasons between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling and decided to follow Botterill/Sexton over to the Sabres organization from the Penguins organization. He was pretty much Wheeling’s backbone offensively, putting up 52 points in 69 ECHL contests throughout his time as a Nailer. Timely offense is something the Cyclones lacked and someone of Krause’s caliber could really get some use down in Cincinnati.
Now that the definite’s are out of the way, it’s time to take a look at the wildcards. These names, depending on how training camp goes and how the numbers situation from Buffalo ends up, could see time in Cincinnati and at the same time, may not see any time with the Cyclones.
First up on the wildcard list is Czech Republic native, Vaclav Karabacek. Karabacek was an over a point-per-game player in the very short nine game stint he spent with the Jackals last season, and was even selected as a reserve for the 2017 ECHL All Star Game in Adirondack if one of the selected players couldn’t participate. Watching him at the Sabres prospect camp just a couple short weeks ago, it was absolutely stunning seeing some of the moves this kid was pulling off. I was legitimately seeing flashes of Andrew Yogan in Karabacek, and if he winds up with Cincinnati, Cyclones fans will take that all day.
The next wildcard is another dynamic forward, Justin Danforth, who is also entering his first full season of professional hockey after four years at Sacred Heart University in the AHA. Before getting called up to Rochester, and eventually earning a full AHL standard player contract with the Americans for 2017-18, Danforth joined the Reading Royals for three games at the end of the season. In just those three games, he made an immediate impact to the points the Royals were seriously praying he didn’t get an AHL call-up so they could keep him for the playoffs, and he got called up like the next day.
The final wildcard is rookie defenseman, Devante Stephens, who is fresh out of juniors after spending the last three years with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League. Stephens is a two-way defenseman that plays a bigger game than his 6-1 size would indicate. He’s a defense-first defenseman so don’t expect a large offensive output if he does trickle down to Cincinnati out of training camp.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of young, up and coming talent that Rochester and Buffalo will be sending to Cincinnati and there’s plenty of reasons to be excited about it. This list could certainly grow depending on any more potential ECHL talent that could sign AHL contracts Rochester, but as of now, this is where everything stands as far as assignments to Cincinnati.