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Adams, Appert share joint vision for development in Rochester

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Kevyn Adams had the advantage of an elongated offseason when it came to selecting the next coach of the Rochester Americans. He used the time to his benefit, scouring the game for candidates from various levels: the college ranks, Canadian juniors, and Europe in addition to the AHL and NHL.

Adams felt he made the most of those conversations, picking the brains of candidates and finding value in each interaction. He eventually narrowed the applicants and brought Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger into the process, after which it became evident that Seth Appert was their man. 

"Seth, to me, just kind of kept kind rising to the top in terms of his communication skills, his development background," Adams said. "He's had a chance at the [U.S. National Team Development Program], where he's taken 20 of the top players in the country into their draft-eligible years and [worked] on a development plan for how you help those players get better.

"It just seemed to line up philosophically with where we are headed as an organization. And there was a natural synergy between myself, Ralph, and Seth that we all felt."

Adams and Appert offered a glimpse into what their vision for development will be during conference calls with the media following the announcement of Appert's hiring Tuesday. Part of that vision is the relationship between AHL success and the development of NHL players.

Video: Behind The Scenes: Kevyn Adams hires Seth Appert

Appert felt he walked that balance on a daily basis during the past three seasons with the USNTDP, where he alternated between coaching the country's U-17 and U-18 teams and was tasked developing the next generation of American players. The program had a record 19 players selected in last year's draft, including eight in the first round. 

The coach also expressed a familiarity with the Amerks and spoke enthusiastically about the "healthy pressure" that comes with coaching for a Rochester organization with a rich history and demanding fanbase while also working toward the ultimate prize: a Stanley Cup for Buffalo.

"I believe development leads to winning," Appert said. "So, if we develop better players, we're going to become a better team. That is a big thing for me, and certainly that's been shaped even more so in my time with the national program. 

"We focus at the national program on making our players better. We don't save energy all the time for games on Friday and Saturday - we really sell out in practice; we sell out in the weight room. We believe that taking the development mindset on a daily basis in how we practice and how we hit the weight room is going to make the players better, and eventually as the players become better, our team is going to become better. So, we believe, I believe, that development leads to winning."

The Amerks roster could be heavy with prospects in 2020-21 depending on how the offseason and training camp battles play out. Defensemen Mattias Samuelsson (second round, 2018) and Oskari Laaksonen (third round, 2017) both signed entry-level contracts and are expected to join a crop that could include forwards Rasmus Asplund, Brett Murray and Matej Pekar; defensemen William Borgen, Jacob Bryson, and Casey Fitzgerald; and goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, among others.

Forward Arttu Ruotsalainen could also be in that mix should he leave Europe for North America next season, as could first-round picks Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson. 

Video: Kevyn Adams Press Conference (8/18/20)

Appert's experience coaching young players spans more than two decades. He was an assistant coach for nine seasons at the University of Denver, where he won back-to-back national championships, then worked as head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for 11 years prior to joining the NTDP. 

Samuelsson played under Appert at the NTDP and described him as a thoughtful communicator who earns the trust of his players.

"He's always checking base with the players, seeing how the players feel, which is nice," Samuelsson said. "On that U-18 team I was one of the leaders. It was nice to have an input … He listens to you and takes what you say into account for his planning and the coaching staff's planning. He just makes it a lot easier on the players."

Appert described his philosophy in a similar vein, promising to lead with honest communication. It's the same attitude toward team building that Krueger emphasized since being named coach of the Sabres last summer, one that Adams has echoed during his time as general manager. 

Appert and Adams were also in lockstep in another element they see as being crucial to the success of the franchise: role development. 

"A lot of these guys, they're going to need to fill a role," Appert said. "Sometimes it's easier to get called up if you can do things that third- or fourth-liners do, if you can penalty kill, if you can play with energy, if you're good on the wall in the defensive zone as a winger, if you're good in the faceoff circle as a centerman. 

"So, habit development and then role buy-in and role development because it's not just about how much they can score at the American League, it's about what that can transfer for them to the NHL and where they can fill a void in the National Hockey League to take somebody's job."

Adams noted the flow and consistency currently being displayed by playoff teams as an element he aims to achieve with the Sabres roster. There are good pieces already; his job is to determine what's need to complete the puzzle and produce a team that can matchup well through all four lines and three defense pairs. 

Callups from Rochester, then, won't go to the Amerks' leading scorer by default. Rather, the organization will look to fill specific roles on a case-by-case basis. 

Tweet from @AmerksHockey:

"I really do believe when you're put in challenging situations, that's how you get better," Adams said. "You may not always be successful, but taking that faceoff with 30 seconds left up a goal trying to protect a lead is something you have to feel, you have to go through that. That's something we have to look to build organizationally. 

"And in terms of how you take that from Rochester to Buffalo … it's really, really important to get your team on the AHL level where players are in roles that, one, they're comfortable and they can succeed in but also that gives your team the ability to match up and how you can match up with other teams' top lines or top D pairs or how all those things flow is roster construction that's needed to put the team together."

Appert will be tasked with preparing the organization's young players to step into those situations, a job he's ready to embrace.

"I've spent a lot of time in Western New York and Upstate New York," Appert, who recruited the area during his tenure at RPI, said. "I have a real appreciation for the people of this area, for the fanbases, for the passion and the excitement and expectations that the fanbases of both the Americans and the Sabres have. I'm eager to deliver upon those expectations."

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