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How Seth Appert Can Help the Sabres Powerplay

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Seth Appert Buffalo Sabres powerplay

The promotion of Seth Appert Monday from head coach of the Rochester Americans to an assistant on Lindy Ruff’s staff with the Buffalo Sabres has a major trickle-down effect in the organization. Appert is expected to assume Matt Ellis’ role behind the bench, responsible for the forwards and turning around the powerplay.

Must Read: Sabres Promote Seth Appert to Assistant Coach

The Sabres announced that their coaching staff is complete, with Ellis remaining as an assistant. To make room for Appert, Ellis will slide into his more natural focus on development. In addition, Marty Wilford will continue to work with the defensemen and penalty kill, while Mike Bales remains the goaltending coach.

Ellis will join video coach Justin White upstairs on gamedays, along with newly promoted video coordinator Amir Gulati. Mike Ansell is the team’s on-ice rehab and skating instructor.

Sabres Powerplay

It’s no secret that the steps back in production from the Sabres forwards was one of the most disappointing developments of the 2023-2024 season. The most disappointing, however, was the lackluster powerplay.

A year after finishing ninth in the NHL in powerplay percentage at 23.42%, the Sabres fell to 28th this past season. They managed only 37 goals on 223 attempts, for a measly 16.59%. Considering the talent on the unit, namely Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin, you’d expect a lot more production from the club.

In comes Appert, who was a goaltender in his playing days at Ferris State University. What does a goaltender know about the powerplay? Buffalo’s new head coach provided some insight.

“(We) really talked about where the NHL power plays are at and the movement inside of NHL power plays,” Ruff told ‘Sabres Live’ Monday. “And, even more, the way that most teams are starting to kill now where they’re set up in a diamond, they’re set up where they’re taking away the flank shots, that you have to get some motion, you have to have your bumper player be almost the important player on the ice to support wherever the pressure’s coming from to relieve that pressure to create the down-low 2-on-1s…there are ways with motion and creating a little bit more deception, I think we can be more effective.”

According to Ruff, he and Appert will work closely on improving the powerplay’s tactics, movement, and production.

Amerks Powerplay

In Rochester, the Americans were about middle-of-the-road the past two seasons with the man advantage. Appert oversaw the whole team as head coach, with assistants Michael Peca and Vaclav Prospal focusing on the powerplay in 2022-2023 and 2023-2024, respectively.

In the playoffs, Appert’s teams saw a boost in powerplay production. The Amerks scored 13 powerplay goals on 44 opportunities in 14 games in their 2023 Calder Cup playoff run. Heralded prospect Jiri Kulich led the way with four powerplay goals, followed by Michael Mersch and Isak Rosen with three a piece.

The 29.5% conversion percentage was fourth-best in the AHL playoffs.

In the 2024 postseason, Mersch scored two of the team’s three powerplay goals on 10 attempts in five games. The 30% powerplay percentage is good again for fourth-best so far, with the Calder Cup Playoffs ongoing.

There’s been enough success with the man advantage when it matters for Appert to take some positives to add to the big club. The Sabres may even get the Amerks’ best weapon in Kulich as reinforcement to the unit next season.

Devils Powerplay

Since Ruff will assume a collaborative role in improving the powerplay, it’s important to note how his teams fared in New Jersey. Without Dougie Hamilton for most of the season and Jack Hughes missing significant time, the Devils finished 13th in the NHL at 22.45% on the powerplay.

Finishing in the top half of the league is impressive considering the key injuries, keeping in mind that Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, and Luke Hughes are quality fallback options.

If we kick it back to 2022-2023 with the help of Andrew Brunette’s instruction, the Devils mirrored the result at 13th-best in the league. Their 21.88% conversion rate on the powerplay was slightly worse with a much healthier group.

Of course, the Devils did reach points this past season where they struggled to find answers on the powerplay. This led to a stand-out quote from Ruff that cited the media contributing to the problem.

Latest Sabres Grades: Jacob Bryson

 

Potential Solutions

Here are some potential Sabres powerplay units next season, based on next-level statistics from PuckLuck:

1st Powerplay

Alex Tuch

Tage Thompson – Jeff Skinner – Jiri Kulich

Rasmus Dahlin

2nd Powerplay

Dylan Cozens

Jack Quinn – Jordan Greenway – JJ Peterka

Bowen Byram

An obvious omission is Owen Power, who’s been a powerplay mainstay on the second unit with the Sabres but has never found much success in the role. Greenway’s powerplay data suggests he’s more effective with the man advantage than you might think, and it likely has to do with his ability to retrieve pucks and work in tight slot areas.

Peterka’s projected powerplay impact is worse than Power’s, so the Sabres could try a two-defenseman second unit.

The common theme here is that the Sabres can feed the puck down low to the side of the net. This is big when facing a diamond penalty kill. Using players like Tuch and Cozens, as big right-handed shots, gives Thompson and Quinn another option instead of shooting, feeding the puck back to the defenseman, or forcing a cross-ice pass.

Then, if the bumper can open up the lane, a left-handed shot such as Kulich or Peterka can creep down to create the 2-on-1 that Ruff mentioned. If Kulich isn’t the answer, then maybe it’s someone acquired in the offseason. Either way, Buffalo has to mold the roster to open more options on the powerplay.

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