TOP FIVE IMPRESSIONS FROM AMERKS GM JASON KARMANOSJun 7, 2021
By Suzie Cool
It wasn’t until April that Jason Karmanos was brought in as the new general manager of the Rochester Americans, however, there was only one month left of the shortened 2020-21 campaign.
Now although there was only a little time to catch any action at The Blue Cross Arena, Karmanos found his way to the Flower City before all was said and done so that he could take in a couple of games and get a good feel for what he had to work with when it came to the staff and team in Rochester.
From interacting with rookie forward Jack Quinn, getting on a nickname basis with the coaching team and more, here’s an in-depth look at Kamanos’ top five impressions from his short time with Rochester this past season.
1. SPENDING SOME QUALITY TIME IN THE FLOWER CITY – QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
On April 14, Karmanos was named the associate general manager of the Buffalo Sabres as well as the Amerks general manager, overseeing the Sabres’ scouting, player development and analytics departments.
Exactly one month after his hire, Karmanos finally had the time to come to Rochester to take in the Amerks final three games of the 2020-21 campaign with some three-in-three action at The Blue Cross Arena. Now although the squad went 1-2 over those final three matchups, Karmanos had a lot to take in from watching goaltender Michael Houser take the crease for three straight games to seeing head coach Seth Appert round out his final game of his first season coaching in the pros with a 2-1 over the Utica Comets.
Surprisingly, what impressed Karmanos the most wasn’t the way the team fought through its final weekend of play with a physically demanding schedule of four games in five days, instead he couldn’t help but be impressed with the culture that had been established throughout the organization in such an unusual year.
“What impressed me the most was that there’s already a good culture already in place here in Rochester and that’s credit to the coaching staff and the surrounding staff of the team.”
Karmanos gives credit to this culture thanks to the players and staff coming in each and every day and getting things done the right way, no matter if you’re a veteran or brand-new to the pro game.
2. HAVING ALL THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE ALL THE RIGHT PLACES
When the Sabres hired Karmanos, it was the last piece of the puzzle that needed to be put into place in order to fulfill the roles needed here in Rochester.
Coincidentally Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and Karmanos have known each other since they were in their teens and teammates with Team USA dating all the way back to the 1994 World Junior Championship. As both went on to have professional careers within the world of hockey, Karmanos would turn over to the front office after 16 games in the ECHL when he became the assistant general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes in 1998.
Karmanos when on to be a part of the Carolina front office for 14 years and it was within that timeframe that their paths would intersect again, when Adams was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers in 2002. As both went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes four years after the fact, it’s making significant moves like this that Adams hopes Karmanos can bring to the table for the Sabres organization.
Karmanos followed his 14-year stint in the Carolina front office with a six-year tenure in Pittsburgh, where he was the vice president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. He spent the past three seasons as Pittsburgh’s assistant general manager.
After spending some time in Rochester with the coaching staff over their last weekend of play and getting a better feel for the culture that is expected, Karmanos couldn’t help but feel that the right people are in place in order to see much success moving forward.
“The people that are in place both in Buffalo and Rochester, there’s a lot of good people in this organization and that’s really comforting for someone like myself coming in. It’s just going to make our work, and all the work that we need to do, much easier.”
All-in-all, Karmanos is just hoping that he’s just as good of a fit as everyone else seems to be from the bottom to the top of the organization.
WATCH: JASON KARMANOS YEAR-END INTERVIEW
3. EARNING THEIR SPOT AT THE TOP
A total of 13 different players from the Amerks roster earned recalls to Buffalo over the course of the 2020-21 season, with nine of those players making their Sabres debuts and five making their NHL debuts.
Second-year pro Jacob Bryson was one of the first young players to earn his first and only recall of the season to Buffalo on February 13. Just 10 days later, the young defenseman made his NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils and remained a mainstay in the Sabres lineup for the rest of the year, seeing time in 38 games and registering nine points.
Arguably, the most anticipated recall of the year was when goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was named to the taxi squad on April 16, however, it would be a week until Luukkonen got his first nod for the blue and gold.
On April 23, the long wait was over as Luukkonen made his NHL debut at KeyBank Center in front of a crowd of anticipating Sabres fans. It truly felt as if Luukkonen’s time in the NHL had been long-awaited by the fan base and he gave them exactly what they wanted in that first night that he took the crease in Buffalo. As Luukkonen stopped 36 of the 40 shots he faced in net, he helped lift his new squad to a 6-4 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Luukkonen then went on to see time in three more tilts, making 149 saves along the way.
Last, but not least, rookie defenseman Mattias Samuelsson was one of the final Amerks to earn his first recall to Buffalo and to make his NHL debut in the latter days of April.
When Samuelsson was recalled on April 17, he was immediately thrown into the show the very next day as the Sabres took on the Pittsburgh penguins. Being a defenseman, it took Samuelsson a little longer to find the scoresheet but when he did, he found it twice within one night with a pair of assists against the Bruins on April 23.
Samuelsson saw time in 12 games with Buffalo, ending their season with them on May 8 before heading back to Rochester for the Amerks final four games of the year.
Now, why are we going over this?
Karmanos was completely confident in the fact that each of these specific individuals are going to have to prove themselves when the time comes in the Fall in order to earn back their spot on the Sabres roster.
“Everybody has a different timetable. It’s about them playing and then playing full time in Buffalo, I think, when they’re ready.”
4. QUINN’S DRIVE
Just like in years past, Karmanos will be heavily involved with the Sabres future drafts, and he enjoys getting to take the time to know the players that are going to be the up-and-coming stars of the franchise. Now, as Karmanos looks back at this last Amerks season, in a normal world it would not have been the one where rookie forward Jack Quinn made his AHL debut.
The COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a lot of curveballs over the course of the 2020-21 campaign, but it also was seen as a major opportunity for many players to raise a case as to why they should undoubtedly be in either the NHL or AHL in the first place. For Quinn, it was the latter as he was the Sabres’ first-round pick (8th overall) in the 2020 NHL Draft and realistically should’ve still been playing juniors at just 19 years old.
Now, if it were a normal season, Quinn would’ve still been in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) tearing things up with the Ottawa 67’s and waiting to make his pro debut. However, with the OHL being completely closed down this season, it presented the perfect opportunity for Quinn to get a head start on his pro career.
Quinn went on to star in 15 games with the Amerks in 2020-21, accumulating two goals and seven assists over that time. In his AHL debut back on Feb. 18 against Utica, Quinn not only notched his first pro point with an assist, but he also delivered the shootout-clinching goal to help lift Rochester to a 4-3 win.
As Quinn seemed to immediately make an impact over his short time with the squad, he ended the season centering the second line in his last two games; something he had wanted to start working on as the season progressed. Unfortunately, that work came to a halt and on April 22 the organization announced Quinn would undergo season-ending injury to repair a hernia.
Although Karmanos didn’t get to see the rookie forward tear up the ice for the Amerks over the 2020-21 season, he did have the chance to interact with Quinn during the Amerks’ final weekend of play and was completely blown away by the 19-year-old’s maturity and composure.
“What I can tell you from just interacting with him is that he’s a really impressive 19-year-old,” said Karmanos on Quinn, who became just the seventh player since 2001-02 to reach the 50-goal mark in his NHL Draft year.
Karmanos then went on to add, “Just how he approaches his day-to-day and where he goes from here, in my opinion, it’s pretty unusual for a kid his age and that gets you really excited when you’re someone in a position like myself. It’s not just about talent, it’s about whether these kids have the drive to get there and maximize their talent and potential.”
5. PREPARING FOR THE 2021 DRAFT
Just like the 2020 NHL Draft, the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft is going to be as unusual as the last, happening from July 23-24 and taking place remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions that are still in place.
Now for Karmanos, this won’t be his first draft that he’s partaking in as he did help with the decision-making process in previous drafts with the Penguins and Hurricanes organizations, however, he’ll admit that the remote circumstances do make it a little more challenging than in years prior.
“It’s challenging but I equate it to bad ice in a hockey game. Everyone is playing under the same conditions, and it is very different than usual.”
For Karmanos, the idea of remote in terms of the scouting part of his job, is what seems to have presented the most challenges when preparing to pick the best players headed into the draft. Fortunately, Karmanos has been busy traveling around the country to try and see some of the draft class that is eligible to be picked up in July and he’s actually quite familiar with the backgrounds of a lot of players.
At the end of the day, Karmanos is thankful for the scouting staff that’s in place that can help him come July and he truly can’t help but feel for the players that didn’t get a chance to showcase their skillset over the past year.
“I feel badly for the kids that haven’t been able to play this past year. Hopefully, there’s some sort of an event to help showcase themselves a little bit. Regardless of if there is, it’s been a very difficult situation for everybody to deal with.”