By Erica Whyte
In mid-July, the Buffalo Sabres inked forward Nick Baptiste to a one-year, two-way contract. Following a three-year entry-level deal, the last of which was split between the Amerks and the big club, and a strong preseason, it looked like fan-favorite Baptiste was in for another successful year with the organization.
But four days before the start of the 2018-19 regular season began, the 23-year-old Ottawa, Ontario, native was traded to the Nashville Predators organization in exchange for defenseman Jack Dougherty.
Within days, Baptiste was en route to Milwaukee, home of Nashville’s AHL affiliate, to join the Admirals and Dougherty was bound for Rochester.
“I woke up from a nap with a text on my phone from Jason Botterill, the GM of Buffalo, saying 'Welcome to Buffalo'. I thought maybe someone was playing a joke on me,” recalled Dougherty of the news he was heading to Western New York. "I wasn’t expecting to be traded, but I kind of took a step back, took a deep breath, and realized that it’s probably for the best to get a fresh start in a great organization.”
WATCH: JACK DOUGHERTY AFTER HIS FIRST PRACTICE WITH THE AMERKS
The 6-foot-1 Minnesota native, who was Nashville’s second-round pick in 2014 and had one year remaining on his entry-level contract, had spent the duration of his pro career with their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
Although the trade initially came as a shock, it took the 22-year-old no time to adjust to the Amerks locker room.
“It's been awesome,” said Dougherty of his fresh start. "There’s a lot to say about the character in the locker room. Every single guy has made me feel more than welcome and showed me the ropes and the culture around here and that’s been a huge help having them around.”
Although the stay-at-home defenseman admittedly doesn’t put up big numbers – he tallied 13 points (2+11) in his first year and 12 (1+11) in his second with the Admirals – head coach Chris Taylor says his defensive talent is invaluable to this Amerks squad.
“He’s really good on the penalty kill,” said Taylor of the young blueliner’s skill set. “His simplicity is great, he just wants to get pucks to the net. He’s a shut-down defenseman, and those are qualities that we need from a guy coming onto our team right now. He brings a lot of depth to the organization.”
WATCH: DOUGHERTY ADDRESSES THE ROCHESTER MEDIA FOLLOWING THE TRADE
And the depth Dougherty brings to Rochester is not just on the ice. As Milwaukee’s two-time AHL Man of the Year for his work within the community, one of the things he is most looking forward to this season is getting out to player appearances, especially if they involve kids.
“I can think back to when I was a little kid, and having any pro athlete, football, basketball, it didn’t matter the sport, you look up to them and you remember that for the rest of your life.”
"Just to go in there, whether its reading or just talking to little kids, you can just tell by the look on their face that it means a lot to them, and because of that it means a lot to me,” added Dougherty reflecting on his own experience growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota.
So as the season continues, fans can count on seeing big things from this newcomer, both on the ice and off.