ROSEN'S ALL-AROUND GAME TRANSLATING TO SUCCESS AT PROSPECTS CHALLENGE
Notes from Buffalo's 4-2 win over New Jersey at LECOM HarborcenterSep 17, 2023
By Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber Sabres.com
Isak Rosen received a consistent message from Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert throughout his rookie season in the AHL, one that remains top of mind as he opens his second camp in Buffalo.
“If you want offense, you’ve got to play defense first,” Rosen recited Saturday, following his second straight multi-point performance inside LECOM Harborcenter.
Rosen had a goal and an assist in Buffalo’s 4-2 Prospects Challenge win over the New Jersey Devils, which came on the heels of a one-goal, two-assist performance against Montreal on Friday. But for all his offensive exploits, it’s Rosen’s play away from the puck that has earned the attention of his coach.
“That’s something that just grew so much for him last year in the second half of the year,” Appert said. “Whether that’s forecheck, puck battles, backchecking – he became a really consistent, hard, defensive player. A guy that I trusted to put on the ice in all big situations in the playoffs.
“So, it was fun to see him kind of start where he left off versus starting over. I thought that was a very good sign for his development.”
The Sabres drafted Rosen with the 14th-overall pick in 2021, after which he spent a season developing in the Swedish Hockey League. He made the transition to North America last season alongside fellow first-round pick Jiri Kulich, with whom he developed a friendship as they endured mutual experiences.
Rosen and Kulich both arrived as offensive talents with elite shots. Both were playing away from Europe for the first time. And both started their rookie seasons in the AHL slow from a production standpoint while Appert drilled the importance of defensive play.
All the while, they pushed each other to become better.
“Best friends outside of the ice – but on the ice, we challenge each other,” Rosen said. “Don’t want to be worse, so we challenge each other every day and always want to score more goals than the other.”
Kulich took off during the second half of the season, scoring 17 of his team-high 24 goals after the start of February. But Appert was sure to point out how Rosen had taken equal strides as Rochester made its push to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals.
*Rosen has felt the benefits of that defensive growth – along with 10 pounds of muscle added during a productive summer of training – through two games at the Prospects Challenge.
“I feel like I can do more good things all over the ice,” he said. “Last year I was just maybe a skill (player) in this tournament, but I think I do a lot of good things, too.”
It’s a promising start to the fall for Rosen, who along with Kulich is looking to make the jump to the NHL with a strong training camp.
“That’s what I work for every day,” he said. “Why should I not aim for that? I’m going into camp now just to be the best of me every day and show them they can trust me if they want to call me up.”
Here are more notes from Saturday’s win over the Devils.
1. Kulich (on an assist from Rosen) scored his second goal in as many games, while forwards Viktor Neuchev and Zach Benson added their first goals of the Prospects Challenge.
Defensemen Nicolas Savoie and Norwin Panocha had two assists each.
2. Tyson Kozak was the first man on the puck on the forecheck, won a battle along the end boards, and delivered the pass to set up Neuchev’s goal in front of the New Jersey net early in the first period.
Kozak, a seventh-round pick who impressed at last year’s Prospects Challenge and then carved out a consistent defensive role as a 20-year-old rookie in Rochester, has made good on his two-way reputation through two games in this year’s event. His performance against Montreal on Friday included a goal and an open-ice hit that sent 6-foot-2 defenseman David Reinbacher down to the ice.
“He’s a very capable and skilled hockey player and good players like playing with him because number one, he wins puck battles and he gets you on offense and then number two, he’s good enough to make some good plays with skilled players,” Appert said.
3. Defenseman Zach Metsa signed a two-year AHL contract with Rochester in April, days removed from captaining Quinnipiac to a national championship in the Frozen Four. He played well enough out of the gate to become a fixture in Rochester’s playoff lineup.
Metsa earned respect from Appert in the process, exemplified in the fact that he is the only player who has worn an “A” on his sweater in both Prospects Challenge games. Kozak and Filip Cederqvist also wore letters on Friday; Kulich and Rosen wore them on Saturday.
The significance was not lost on Metsa, who is still working toward the dream of earning an NHL contract.
“It’s pretty cool, to be honest,” Metsa said. “I didn’t expect it. Like, I was pretty shocked yesterday. I know it’s kind of a summer prospect thing, but just something little like a Buffalo jersey with my last name on, the A feels pretty cool. I would say it’s an honor.”
4. The Sabres conclude the Prospects Challenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday at 5 p.m. Limited tickets are available **here**. The game will be streamed live on Sabres.com.