With the constant stream of players going back and forth between the Rochester Americans and the parent-club Buffalo Sabres over the last several weeks, a door has opened for Evan Rankin.
Signed to a professional tryout by the Amerks on Nov. 25 after beginning the season with Toledo of the ECHL, Rankin has seized the opportunity to advance his professional hockey career by stepping in and immediately contributing for Rochester. In his first eight games since joining the team, he has recorded seven points (4+3), including a pair of two-goal outings.
“It has been a good start to being up here, but I wish we would have ended up on top in a few more of those games, because the two points is a lot more important than individual statistics,” Rankin said following practice on Tuesday morning at The Blue Cross Arena.
Prior to making his debut in an Amerks uniform last month, the 26-year-old suited up in a total of 14 AHL games over two brief stints with the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins since joining the professional ranks in 2008 and tallied two goals and an assist along the way.
“I have been in the AHL a couple times in recent years for short stretches, but this is a bit of a different role than the fourth line grinding and fighting line I was on in the past,” Ranking explained. “Hopefully if the coaches like the little things they see in my game that will keep me here.”
Rankin was enjoying a stellar start to the 2011-12 season in the ECHL with 18 points (10+8) over the first 15 games for Toledo before being loaned to Rochester. While spending the better part of the past four seasons in the ECHL, he has produced at nearly a point-per-game pace with 130 points (65+65) in just 143 games, while his 99 professional goals place him on the verge of the 100-goal milestone.
When asked to identify the most significant distinction between playing in the ECHL and the AHL, Rankin acknowledged, “I think the biggest difference is with the four lines here it is easier for guys to go full-out on every single shift. Having three lines in the East Coast league definitely creates a different tempo because guys are able to go a lot harder in the AHL.”
Given the chance to play on a top line and on the power play with the Amerks, it appears as if the Portage, Michigan, native has been making a favorable impression with Head Coach Ron Rolston.
“Evan has done a great job in adding exactly what we need,” Rolston said. “He plays with a lot of energy, competes hard, and is a real north-to-south player who gets to the net well. He has been able to compliment our lines up front really nicely.”
In his short time with the Amerks thus far, Rankin has proven to be a player who isn’t afraid to go into high traffic areas.
“I try to be a gritty player that gets his nose dirty and is willing to take a couple of hacks and whacks to score a rebound goal or get to the front of the net,” he said.
As demonstrated by his +4 rating so far as an Amerk, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound winger explained that his main focus is to be a sound player at both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.
“I like to pride myself on keeping pucks out of my net and playing good defense, because obviously you want to contribute, but at the same time you have to eliminate the opportunities that come against you and make sure everything is defensively positive first. It’s important to take care of your own zone before you even start worrying about points.”
When Rankin joined the Amerks, he had one familiar face waiting for him. He and Derek Whitmore, Rochester’s leading scorer this season, were teammates with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars during the 2003-04 season.
“We became good buddies back then, so it has been nice to have someone you know in the dressing room to take care of you and break the ice a little bit,” he said.
Whitmore was also happy to be reunited with his former teammate.
“We have always been good friends and have kept in contact over the years. It’s nice to see him getting an opportunity to play at this level and prove that he belongs as a full-time AHL guy. He works his tail off and plays to his strengths very well, so it’s great to see him being rewarded for it.”