When Jason Botterill was introduced as the newest general manager of the Buffalo Sabres he preached about building an organization from the ground up. His example, not surprisingly, his former team the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will look to look to repeat as Stanley Cup champions on Monday night against the Nashville Predators.
The Penguins are loaded with top-tier talent. Players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel particularly standout, but it's the rest of the lineup that makes up the backbone of Pittsburgh's roster.
When the Penguins hit the ice on Monday those at PPG Paints Arena and everyone watching on TV around the world will surely notice the stars, but several players donning the black and yellow were in the AHL not that long ago.
"I think in Wilkes it's a mentality that they aren't trying to make guys better on the ice, it's kind of [building] all around people on and off the ice, each and every day," forward Bryan Rust said on Monday morning. "Kind of build that consistency, I think that's key when you're trying to move on to the next level."
Prior to last season, Rust had only played in 14 NHL games. His role greatly expanded as the 2015-2016 season moved along, finishing with four goals in 41 games played. Certainly not numbers that jump off the stat sheet, he saved those for the postseason, scoring six goals in 23 playoff games. This season, he's matched last year's goal total in 17 post-season games, a success he credits to his development in the AHL.
"Anybody can come up here and have a few good games and then kind of drop off a bit, but that consistency is something they really preach down there and it certainly helped me out."
Jake Guentzel has been another player that Botterill has praised time and time again since accepting the GM job in Buffalo. Guentzel, like Rust, had very little NHL experience before making a dynamic impact, something he's learned from those who took a similar route to the league.
"I can look up to those guys," Guentzel told reporters on Monday. "They've gone through it and they know what to expect, so obviously [they're] huge guys to talk to."
With the Penguins getting healthier Guentzel's status for game one is uncertain, but in the games he has played he has been one of Pittsburgh's most dynamic players, leading the team with nine goals in 19 playoff games.
"To have the playoff run last year in the AHL and then start there this year, I think it only made me a better player and person and it got me ready for this."
Botterill is now tasked with doing what he helped do in Pittsburgh -- help find diamonds in the rough. It's a lot easier said than done, but Buffalo needs to find players like Rust and Guentzel if they're going to end their six-year postseason drought.
When was the last time the Sabres had a call-up from Rochester who made a significant, extended impact? That's not even a rhetorical question -- it took me a few minutes to figure that out with some help from the lovely users of Twitter.
The majority of your responses included: Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Derek Roy.
When those players were called up both the Americans and the Sabres had 'success'. And what has there been since? A whole lot of losing in both Buffalo and Rochester.
That hasn't been a problem in Pittsburgh in recent memory, and a lot of that is thanks to the work of Jason Botterill and how he structured the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. I think he can get the job done in Buffalo and Rochester, but if he doesn't, the Sabres could be on the outside looking in for the seventh straight year.