Phil Varone is one of several players returning to the Rochester Americans lineup this season. Varone, who was signed by the Buffalo Sabres to an AHL in contract in 2011, is entering his second full AHL season with the Americans.
Varone, originally a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks back in 2009, seems to have finally found a spot for himself in the Buffalo Sabres organization, with hopes – and definite potential – to move up the ranks someday.
After parting ways with the Sharks organization after he went unsigned by the team, Varone – who had been playing with the OHL’s London Knights at the time – spent his overage year with the Erie Otters. With Erie, he had an outstanding 81 points in just 55 games played.
It was after that season that Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier signed Varone, a free agent, to a one-year AHL contract on September 27, 2011. In his rookie season in the AHL, the forward led Rochester with 52 points, and was tied for the assist lead for rookies, with 41.
Following that, the Buffalo Sabres rewarded him with a three-year, entry-level contract on March 19, 2012.
Since joining the Amerks, he’s been one of the team’s top centers and scored 11 goals and 24 assists in 62 games last season. He was fourth on the team in assists and also had 42 penalty minutes. He’s also one of the good shooters on the team, having put up 101 shots in 62 games last season – only five players on the Amerks roster had more shots than Varone.
Although his offensive production wasn’t exactly up to par with his rookie season, this can partly be explained by the NHL lockout, injuries and simply enough, having to fight for ice time with the likes of Kevin Porter, Cody Hodgson and Kevin Sundher.
The end of the NHL lockout in January allowed some of the Amerks players to come up to play for the Buffalo Sabres and gave Varone a chance to expand his scoring abilities. In fact, 21 of his 35 points last season came between the day the lockout ended and the end of the regular season – that’s an outstanding sixty percent of his points coming in that stretch.
At 22, Varone is at a good point in his career. He’s building a career in the AHL at this point, but as a centerman, should be one of the guys that the Buffalo Sabres big-wigs keep an eye on, particularly with our recent shortage in centers. While it’s difficult to find faceoff stats for players in the AHL, he’s been noted as a good faceoff guy, despite the no-hands rule that the AHL instituted last year. Everyone likes to note his size – okay, he’s not the biggest guy around – but it’s his sharpness and ability to create plays that makes him a solid player with a lot of potential.
Provided he has a full, healthy season, look for Varone to bounce back and rebuild off his rookie season and off what he was able to accomplish in his second AHL year. And hey, for a kid who could have ended up playing lacrosse, then got passed over by the San Jose Sharks, then nearly ended up pursuing the college hockey path, the Buffalo Sabres prospect isn’t doing too shabby.