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Sabres sign Pouliot and Johnson and improve Rochester Amerks roster

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Free agency started at noon today and the Sabres are keeping busy.

They've signed left winger Benoit Pouliot for one year at $1.15 million. The 30-year-old was bought out by the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week after having a down year. He provides depth for the Sabres at a position that's much thinner after recently trading away Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis.

Pouliot has played with Connor McDavid and knows what a player like Jack Eichel is capable of.

“Jack’s been linked to Connor’s name by going one and two," said Pouliot. "Jack’s proven that he’s a really very good hockey player. Guys like that make the game so much easier for the guys that play with them."

The Sabres have also brought back goalie Chad Johnson on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. During his 2015-16 season with Buffalo, he posted a 22-16-4 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average.

Johnson said Buffalo helped him take his game to the next level a couple of years ago.

“Buffalo I had a good year as a backup in a backup role," said Johnson. "It was probably statistically one of my better years. I think being able to get in 46 games really established myself as an elite number 1B or kind of getting into that sort of a role… was huge for my career and taking those next steps.”

Having an opportunity to win has been a key factor in Johnson deciding where to play over the past few years.

“Being able to come back and be a part of the organization again and have that drive to win and get back in the playoffs is special for me," said Johnson. "I guess I always felt like there was unfinished business and I see the organization is going in the right direction. They’re committed to winning… I want to be a part of an organization that wants to win.”

Johnson said he believes Andrew Allen will be back as the Sabres goalie coach, who he specifically credits for improving his play.

Johnson is projected to play behind Robin Lehner this year, which means Sabres goalie prospect Linus Ullmark will spend another year in the AHL. WBFO's Behind the Bench, Buffalo Sabres reporter Bill Hoppe said Ullmark will benefit from more playing time with the Rochester Amerks.

"Linus Ullmark could be an NHL starter someday. He’s that good of a prospect," said Hoppe. "This just gives him another year in the AHL where he can play 50 or so games. I think that’s good for him. There’s nothing wrong with playing another season in the AHL if you’re a goalie. In Chad Johnson, the Sabres went out and got maybe the best backup available on the market.”

New GM Jason Botterill has backed up his word to improve the Rochester Amerks. He's signed several high talent AHL players. Hoppe said Botterill's experience as a former AHL GM bodes well for Rochester and the organization as a whole.

“He’s stocked them. He’s gone out and gotten some of the best AHL talent," said Hoppe. "Seth Griffith, Kevin Porter, who was the Amerks captain a few years ago. He signed about 4 or 5 players already that will probably wind up on the Amerks. I think it’s a strong statement that (Boterill) wants to win in the AHL. When you win in the AHL, a lot of times winning in the NHL follows.”

Hoppe believes the Sabres are better today then they were a year ago.

“Are they a playoff team? I’m not sure," said Hoppe. "My gut right now still tells me no, but at times last year they were still pretty good. They improved the team. I think they have a coach now in Phil Housley that will play a different style that’s more suited to its players and the way the NHL is going. I think maybe they can contend for a playoff spot. I think they’re much improved and I think they should be a lot more fun to watch.”

Most analysts believe the Sabres are headed in the right direction after several consecutive losing seasons.

Other notable signings:

  • Defenseman Matt Tennyson has agreed to a two-year contract. The first year is a two-way deal, and the second year is one-way. Tennyson played 45 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last year and posted six assists.
  • Forwards Kevin Porter and Kyle Criscuolo have each agreed to two-year, two-way contracts. Porter led the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with 35 assists in the 2016-17 AHL regular season. Criscuolo won a Calder Cup this past year with the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL). He recorded 41 points in the regular season as a rookie with the Griffins.
  • Goaltender Adam Wilcox has signed a one-year, two-way contract. He played 47 AHL games for the Syracuse Crunch and the Springfield Falcons last season. He had a 25-13-7 record with a .906 save percentage.
  • Forward Seth Griffith has signed a one-year contract worth $650,000. Griffith played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers last season.

We will keep you updated throughout the afternoon as the free agency period progresses. {UPDATED AS OF 5 PM}

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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