Today’s edition of the Amerks season preview will be covering half of the Defensemen.
DOB: April 4, 1988 (Age 23)
Framework: 5’11, 192 lbs.
Amerks Jersey #: 4
Biega was a 5th round draft pick of the Sabres back in 2006. He spent 4 years at Harvard, also playing with his brothers Danny and Michael (click for story) and coached by Ted Donato, totaling 70 points in 131 games. Alex had a concentration in Sociology, and also co-hosted a radio intermission show at games. Those college seasons were followed up by his first pro season in the AHL last year at Portland, with 18 points in 61 games and a very solid +18. The Montreal native is a product of the RSL (Midget AAA) Lions organization, the same team that once developed current Sabre Marc-Andre Gragnani.
From hockeysfuture.com: “Biega is a well-built defenseman who is a strong skater with a good shot. He has a nice physical side and is tough to beat one-on-one due to his speed. Consistency has been his biggest issue, and he has been known to be caught out of position when pinching in on offense. Biega is a vocal, spirited leader.” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has compared Biega to Brian Rafalski. He looks to be a puck-carrying defensemen that also likes to join in on rushes, and a player that can quarterback the power play for the Amerks. Biega was a captain at Harvard, so he also possesses leadership abilities, and has been described by peers as intelligent (he is a Harvard man, after all).
Biega, on his first pro season: “When you go into the corners, everyone’s strong on the puck. You might be going against a power forward who’s 220 pounds. A guy of my stature, you really have to outsmart people and let them come to you.” He also likes to be very vocal on the ice and in the locker room. On the depth chart, the Sabres already have plenty of defensemen with offensive upsides, so Biega may be in a tough spot to crack the NHL roster, but for the time being, he should contribute greatly to the Amerks run for another Calder Cup this year.
DOB: April 3, 1989 (Age 22)
Framework: 6’1, 214 lbs.
Amerks Jersey #: 3
Brennan was the Sabres first round pick in the 2007 draft. The New Jersey native spent 3 seasons in the QMJHL, posting 116 points and 234 penalty minutes in 192 games. He has spent the last 2 seasons in the AHL, with 62 points in 137 games.
Another offensive defensemen, Brennan is very adept at using his body and playing a physical game. He compares himself to former Sabre Brian Campbell as well as Bryan McCabe, and his favorite player is current Toronto Maple Leaf Dion Phaneuf. Brennan has shown tremendous quickness and agility despite his size, and brings a hard shot to the Amerks roster. From Central Scouting: “A skilled defenseman… has a strong shot and gets it off often… has a very active stick and is patient on the point … is a strong skater with the ability to make good passes… needs to make better decisions when jumping into the rush.” According to his former coach, Real Paiement, “He definitely has an NHL shot, and he has NHL talent. He’s starting to play with an edge and if he improves on his positional play, he’s got a good shot at it.”
Brennan has incredible upside, and if the scouting reports hold true, he should be getting a bona fide shot in the NHL at some point. It would appear the future is in his hands, and I am looking forward to seeing that raved-about shot Brennan has.
DOB: February 23, 1990 (Age 21)
Framework: 6’1, 191 lbs.
Amerks Jersey #: 20
Crawford spent four seasons in the OHL, with 140 points in 264 games, most notably becoming a point-per-game player in 2009-10 with 70 points (59 of which were assists) in 68 games – earning him a selection to the OHL First All-Star team. Crawford also became the first defenseman in OHL history to lead the league in Defenseman Scoring and Plus/Minus in the same season. From there, he moved on to Portland last year, with 31 points in 76 games. He was a 6th round pick of the Sabres in 2008.
From hockeysfuture.com: “Crawford is a quality skater with room to add bulk to his frame. He generally stays at home, but can contribute on offense at times. Crawford needs to work on developing his overall game, including offense.” Crawford plays a quiet, effective, sound game, and is a prototypical stay-at-home defensemen. If you don’t hear too much about him, then he is probably doing his job very well.
DOB: May 4, 1990 (Age 21)
Framework: 6’2, 215 lbs.
Amerks Jersey #: 5
The U.S. born Fienhage was a 3rd round draft pick of the Sabres in 2008. After 2 seasons, he left the University of North Dakota to play for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. He also appeared in 4 regular season and 6 postseason games for Portland last year.
From hockeysfuture.com: “Fienhage is a leader and a rugged defenseman with great size. He brings excellent intangibles and can serve as an imposing force in his own end. As a defensive-oriented player, he is primarily focused on playing the body and mixing it up, but he has also shown some ability to chip in on offense. He needs to improve his skating and passing ability.” Fienhage looks to be a solid rock on defense, who also knows how to throw down when needed. A team-oriented player, he also has a pre-game ritual involving giving high-fives to all his teammates prior to hitting the ice.
DOB: June 29, 1987 (Age 24)
Framework: 6’8, 260 lbs.
Amerks Jersey #: 2
The Minnesota-born Finley was a 1st round draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2005. He spent 4 seasons with the University of North Dakota (where he was a teammate of Fienhage), with 35 points and 303 PIM in 154 games. He has spent the last 3 years battling injuries issues, appearing in a total of only 51 AHL and ECHL games in that span, still racking up 138 PIM.
The first thing that is noticeable, obviously, is his size. The mere thought of having someone of Finley’s size paired with someone such as Tyler Myers, can make any Sabres fan salivate. Can he shake off the injuries that have plagued him the last few years? Can he return to the form that made him a #1 draft pick? The Sabres, Amerks, and Finley are assuredly hoping so. From Amerks coach Ron Rolston: “He’s one that has earned an opportunity to continue to show us what he can do. He’s big, he’s got a good stick and he skates well. There’s a lot there.”
From hockeysfuture.com: “Finley has an enormous frame with tremendous focus and a strong work ethic. As with many players his size, foot speed and agility is an issue – and has been his biggest impediment to establishing himself as a shut-down defenseman, both in college and at the pro level. He is a tough customer and a willing combatant when it comes to throwing his body around or dropping the gloves. He is a decent puck-handler and has a heavy, accurate shot.” All signs point to Finley having all the necessary skills to become a steady NHL defensemen – size, skill, physicality, defensive prowess, and a great shot. He just needs to avoid any further freak injuries (a ruptured aneurysm in the ulnar artery in his forearm?) or other physical setbacks, and this could work out to be an outstanding addition for the Sabres and Amerks.