Sabres 2003 draft evaluation

By James Schwegler

During the summer of 2003, the Buffalo Sabres were a team in transition. As an organization, they were between the grind-it-out Hasek teams of the late 90’s, and the post-lockout offensive juggernauts. Coming into the draft, the key was to grab an impact player at fifth overall and hopefully add quality depth with the remainder of picks, particularly on defense.

Given that the NHL Draft is an exercise in projecting how 18-year-olds will develop several years down the road, viewing a draft five years later as ‘formulaic’ would likely be taken as a compliment. The formula is not an uncommon one: The premier talent at the top of the draft develops into a star (Thomas Vanek), some middle round prospects become pleasant surprises as NHL players (Clarke MacArthur, Jan Hejda, Nathan Paetsch), other picks continue to be a work in progress five years later (Denis Ezhov), while others still are out and out busts
(Thomas Morrow, Pavel Voroshnin, Jeff Weber, Louis Philippe Martin).

There has been a great disparity in the number of NHL games played amongst the Sabres’ 2003 draft picks. Vanek has been a Sabres regular for three seasons, and has played in 271 games, including 26 in the playoffs. Nathan Paetsch has appeared in 123 games, and Clarke MacArthur has played in 56. Jan Hejda has played in 120 games, though none for the Sabres. The remainder of the players have not appeared in any NHL games.

The Sabres did have a formulaic draft in 2003, with Thomas Vanek standing out as the key building block for the organization going forward.


Thomas Vanek, LW – First Round, 5th Overall, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
NHL Games Played: 271 (245 regular season; 26 playoff games)
Status: NHL Regular
2007-08 Team: Buffalo Sabres (NHL)


When the Sabres drafted Thomas Vanek, the hopes were that he could recreate his success as an offensive force and Most Outstanding Player on the Minnesota Golden Gophers 2003 NCAA Championship team. The Sabres front office had a good look at the Austrian forward, as the Frozen Four was held in Buffalo two months prior to the draft. 

After spending one year in the AHL with the Rochester Americans during the NHL lockout season, Vanek joined the Sabres in 2005-06. He had a very respectable rookie year with 48 points (25 goals / 23 assists), a – 11 rating, and 72 penalty minutes. The big forward had his breakout season in 2006-07 with 43 goals, 41 assists, a + 47 rating, and 40 penalty minutes. He scored 36 goals with 28 assists in the 2007-08 season, with a – 5 rating and 64 penalty minutes. He has become deft at redirecting shots from the point in front of the net, particularly when his team has the man advantage. Of his 104 career goals, 45 have come on the power play. 

Vanek is one of the NHL’s bright young stars. Though not on par with Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, he does possess elite NHL ability, and still has room to improve. After the Edmonton Oilers forced the Sabres’ hand with an offer sheet, Buffalo locked up Vanek with a 7 year / $50 million contract in the summer of 2007. Based on the massive deal, he was saddled with lofty expectations. His contract, along with the off-season departures of several team leaders, served as an albatross for the young forward early in the 2007-08 season. He rebounded as the team went on a playoff run down the stretch, and began to exert his will on games as the season came to a close. He has continued to build a rapport with center Derek Roy, who also served as his setup man in Rochester.


Branislav Fabry, RW – Second Round, 65th Overall, Bratislava Jr. (Slovakia)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Bust
2007-08 Team: HK 31 Kezmarok, Slovak Extraliga (SVK); SK Kadan, Czech Extraliga (CZE)

The selection of Branislav Fabry at 65th overall was somewhat surprising, given that most scouting services did not consider him a second-round talent. Hockey’s Future editor Ken McKenna spoke with Sabres GM Darcy Regier shortly after the draft, and Regier spoke to that gap: “David Volek, our scout over there, felt very strongly about (Fabry), and he thinks (Fabry) could be a good player. Sometimes you go out a little bit more for certain attributes that you feel strongly about, and we feel that (Fabry) has some of those.” 

The right winger has not developed as expected, and remained in Eastern European leagues for the past five years, rotating between the Czech Extraliga and the top Slovakian league. The Sabres were unable to come to terms with Fabry in 2007, severing the relationship with the player.


Clarke MacArthur, LW – Third Round, 74th Overall, Medicine Hat (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 56
Status: NHL Player
2007-08 TeamsRochester Americans (AHL); Buffalo Sabres (NHL)

MacArthur has played at the NHL level, providing stretches of solid play on offense and the willingness to finish his checks. He has been inconsistent, however, and based on those struggles has shuffled between Buffalo and AHL Rochester the past two seasons. He will be given an opportunity to stick with the parent club in 2008-09, but will need to prove to Coach Ruff that he can be a steady presence on the wing.


Jan Hejda, D – Fourth round, 106th overall, Slavia (Czech Republic)
NHL Games Played: 120
Status: NHL Player
2007-08 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)

Hejda was the first of Buffalo’s five consecutive defenseman selected. The book on him dictated that with some development he could chip in on offense and use his big frame to be a physical force on defense, although he needed to improve in the way of agility.

The Sabres traded Hejda to Edmonton in July of 2006 for a 2007 seventh round pick. After playing in 39 games with the Oilers, he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2007 offseason. 

In the 2007-08 season, he led the Blue Jackets with a + 20 rating, while adding 13 assists and 61 penalty minutes in 81 games. Columbus showed how much they value the defenseman this offseason by signing him to a three year / $6 million contract extension.


Denis Ezhov, DFourth round, 114th overall, Togliatti (Russia)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL Prospect
2007-08 Team: Chelyabinsk (Russian Super League)

Around the time of the 2003 draft, Ezhov was considered a potential stay-at-home NHL defenseman with marginal upside. He has lived up to those characterizations, for good and ill. He has been a steady player while progressing through the Russian leagues, but it is unclear whether he will make the leap to North America.

If Denis Ezhov is to make a name for himself at the NHL level, it will be as a safe, reliable defenseman. He still projects as a depth player, in the mold of current Buffalo blueliner Nolan Pratt.


Thomas Morrow, DFifth round, 150th overall, Des Moines (USHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
2007-08 Team: Hannover Indians (German Oberliga)

Thomas Morrow was a very interesting prospect in 2003, most notably for his uncommon size. At the time of the draft, he was listed at 6-6, 198 pounds. After being drafted in 2003, the rangy defenseman enrolled in Boston University and had a nice career as a four-year starter. In college, he was a classic stay-at-home defenseman, compiling only 13 points in his four years. While at BU, his physique developed, and he measured 6-7, 220 pounds at the end of his time in Boston. 

His game did not similarly evolve. Now playing for the Hannover Indians in the third-tier league in Germany, at the present time Morrow is far from being able to contribute at the NHL level.


Pavel Voroshnin, D – Sixth round, 172nd overall, Mississauga (OHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
2007-08 Team: Mytische (Russian Super League)

Leading up to the draft, Pavel Voroshnin showed promise as an offensive contributor from the defense position at the OHL level. With the Mississauga Ice Dogs, he registered 36 points in 62 games. In the OHL season following the draft, the Russian added 25 points in only 40 games. 

Since 2005, Voroshnin has played in his native country. Although he is in the well-regarded Russian Super League, he has played in only 30 games over the past two seasons, and has not registered any points. Hockey’s Future does not consider the 24-year-old defenseman to be an NHL prospect of note.


Nathan Paetsch, DSeventh round, 202nd overall, Moose Jaw (WHL)
NHL Games Played: 123
Status: NHL Player
2007-08 Team: Buffalo Sabres (NHL)

Nathan Paetsch was placed back into the NHL Draft after having been a second round pick by Washington in 2001. Despite establishing himself as a quality offensive-minded defenseman at the WHL level, he could not come to terms with the Capitals before the deadline in 2003. The Sabres decided to take a flyer on the 20-year-old, in the hopes that he could add a spark from the blueline and possibly contribute on the power play. 

He stepped in to the Rochester Americans lineup shortly after being drafted by the Sabres, and improved offensively each year. He jumped from 10 points in 2003-04 to 23 points in 2004-05, and to 50 points in ’05-’06. His one NHL game in 2006 was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as the team called on him to help fill in on their injury-decimated defensive corps. From there, he joined the big league club in earnest, and played in 63 games during the Sabres’ President’s Trophy season in 2006-07, contributing 24 points (2 G, 22 A), 50 penalty minutes, and a + 10 rating. This past season, Paetsch and the Sabres took a step back. He fell back to 9 points (2 G, 7 A), 27 penalty minutes, and a + 4 rating while the team limped to a 10
th place finish. He looks to be in Buffalo’s plans on defense, but will have to compete with fellow youngsters Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera to make the permanent jump into the top six.


Jeff Weber, G, Eighth round, 235th overall, Plymouth (OHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
2007-08 Team: Calgary Dinos (
Canadian Interuniversity Sport)

Based on goaltender
Jeff Weber’s promising rookie campaign with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, the Sabres brought him into an organization that already had bright young talents Martin Biron, Ryan Miller, and Mike Noronen at the position. 

From 2003-2005, Weber played in 74 games at the OHL level for three different teams. He allowed 222 goals during that period, and his save percentage hovered between 0.903 and 0.913. Weber appeared in only a handful of games in 2004-05 and 2006-07. He did get an opportunity with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL in 2005-06, appearing in 36 games. While playing against relatively low level competition, he won 4 games, lost 21, and tied 6. Weber’s goals-against average was 3.64, while his save percentage was .899.

After
failing to distinguish himself in the OHL and ECHL, Weber is now with the Calgary Dinos, representing the University of Calgary. He is not an NHL-caliber prospect at this point.


Louis Philippe Martin, RW, Ninth round, 266th overall, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: Bust
2007-08 Teams: Thetford Mines Isothermic (LNAH); Tulsa Oilers (CHL); Wichita Thunder (CHL)

In the ninth round, the Sabres selected Louis Phillippe Martin, a slender right winger who slipped down the draft boards considerably. He showed promise in the season leading up to the draft, scoring 76 points (23 goals, 53 assists) in 65 games with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. The following season, he showed similar production, contributing 79 points (27 goals, 52 assists) in 65 games with another QMJHL team.
   

After a fourth year in the QMJHL in 2004-05, his career went in a downward direction. Even as the level of competition has gotten worse, his game seems to have devolved. After playing in 69 games for two different teams at the UHL level and contributing a total of 72 points in 2005-06, he has had a very colorful journey in the following years. In 2006-07, he played in 14 games for the CHL’s Arizona Sun Dogs, adding 7 points and 41 penalty minutes. From there, he transitioned to Quebec’s rough and tumble
Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, and had 18 points and 35 penalty minutes for two different teams from 2006 to 2008. Seemingly unsatisfied with his LNAH tenure, he went to Middle America. He was able to supply 5 points in 15 games with the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers, but only 8 penalty minutes in 5 games for the Wichita Thunder of the same league. 

Louis Philippe Martin is far from the NHL level at this point. Further, his short shelf life with each respective team does not appear to be a coincidence.