Buffalo Sabres Defensive Prospects: Mid Season Report Card

By pbadmin

Today I will cover all the Sabres Defensive prospects.

Star rating read as follows:

5 stars = Superstar potential.

4 stars = A First Rate NHL player. Above average player.

3 stars = Good NHL future. An average NHL player.

2 stars = Good minor league player. A below average NHL player.

1 star = Career minor leaguer. Emergency NHL help.

1/7/98

Defensemen:

Brian Campbell        5-11    186     18      Ottawa (OHL)  2 stars

Acquired: 1997 5th Round Pick, 156th overall.

Stats look: as of 1/3/98

39 gm 10 G 24 A 34 pts +21 15 pim

Brian was an unknown to me, before the 97′ draft. I’ve tried hard to uncover
as much information as I could about him (long with many of the other
relatively unknown prospects). This redheaded kid from Strathroy, Ontario has
progressed nicely throughout his career. He has been blessed by playing on a
very good team featuring several other highly touted defensive prospects,
including Sean Blanchard (last year’s OHL defensemen of the Year) and first
round pick, Nick Boynton. Brian benefited greatly from playing along side
these quality players, but it was an injury to Boynton which may have helped
him improve the most.


Brian is an offensive minded defensemen. He has played second fiddle to
Boynton last year, but he was given the top defensive billing this year after
Boynton was injured. He has responded with a good season. Currently tied for
5th overall in the OHL in defensive scoring (along with teammate Blanchard),
Brian is also tied for 10th in league in +/- rating,

Brian biggest strength is his skating and passing skills. His biggest
weakness is his lack of size and strength, plus he is not the fastest or
quickest player. This hurts him when he gets caught out of position.

It is far too early to tell if Brain has a legitimate NHL future. Though if I
was to venture a guess, I’d say no, at least not with Buffalo. The Sabres
have several other offensive minded defensemen in the organization who appear
to be better and more complete players. If Brain has an NHL dream, he must
work a lot harder and hope for some luck.

NHL Future: More than likely a longshot

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre   6-3     207     20      Rochester (AHL) 2½ stars

Acquired: Trade with trade with St. Louis, March 1996.

Stats look: as of 12/29/97

31 gm 2 G 3 A 5 pts -2 95

I just got to see Rochester play on Sunday night (1/4/98). I was watching
Jean-Luc very closely. He has vastly improved his skating, which was long
viewed as the one skill which would prevent an NHL career. Though he hasn’t
suddenly become “fleet of foot”, he most certainly has improved the quality
and efficiency of his stride. Last year with Val d’Or, Jean-Luc was slow and
awkward, and at times very clumsy, now he skates much smoother.

Aside from the improvement in his skating, Jean-Luc has maintained his quality
overall defensive game. A big defensive defensemen, Grande-Pierre possess a
good understanding of the game. He uses his size and strength to his
advantage , plus he has a bit of nasty side. J-L also has a god shot, but he
rarely uses it. He scored goals on back to back nights early in December, but
then he stop shooting yet again. Maybe the coaches want him to concentrate
more on his defensive game, but if can improve his offensive numbers, maybe he
can improve his chances of making the Sabres.

J-L biggest strength is just that, his strength, coupled with his size and
sound overall defensive game. His biggest weakness is his overall lack of
mobility.

Jean-Luc Grande-Pierre definitely has an NHL Future. He will be the man
called up if someone goes down on the Buffalo blueline. He has surpassed
Rumun Ndur and Sergei Klimentiev in the minds of Buffalo’s brass. I am not
going to lie and tell you he will be become a regular NHL defensemen, though
by the year 2000, he may very well be that type of a player. However, that
would more than likely be in another city.

NHL Future: Promising but not great.

Mike Hulbert            6-2     200     31      Rochester (AHL) 2 ½ stars

Acquired: Signed as a free agent August of 1997.

Stats look: as of 12/29/97

25 gm 5 G 7 A 12 pts -13 16 pim

I will not take up a lot of space with Mike Hulbert. What you have here is a
31 year old veteran, who can help out in an emergency situation. He can
provide several different things, including veteran leadership, a point man on
the power play, and some offensive spark from the blueline.

NHL Future: Expansion team might be calling.

Dylan Kemp              6-2     191     18      Saskatoon (WHL) 1 stars

Acquired: 1997 9th Round Draft pick, 238th overall

Stats look: as of 1/3/98

26 gm 0 G 4 A 4 pts -16 24 pim

I haven’t discovered all that much about Dylan Kemp. I know that he is a big,
physical player, who lacks mobility. Last year he played very well, and he
was putting up much better statistics. This year, he was benched for over a
month, and then traded to Saskatoon for a late round draft choice. Since his
arrival at Saskatoon, he has played much better. He has also benefited from
Cory Sarich’s absence due to the World Junior Championships.

NHL Future: Not good, but he still has time to work hard and chance people’s
views.

Sergei Klimentiev       5-11    200     22      Rochester (AHL)  2 stars

Acquired: 1994 5th Round Draft Pick, 121st overall.

Stats look: as of 12/29/97

30 gm 3 G 8 A 11 pts +1 43 pts

If I could tell Sergei Klimentiev one thing, I’d tell him “shoot the puck!”
Sergei was very highly though of last year at this time. He seemed to be
taking his game to another level in the AHL. The one things scouts noticed
was he didn’t shot the puck often enough. It seems he is even more reluctant
to do so. This has really hurt him overall, it has cut into his ice time and
it may be knocking him out of the picture, as far as the Sabres brass are
concerned. Sergei was penciled onto the Sabres roster before training camp
opened. The job was supposed to be a fight between him and Rumun Ndur,
however, Ndur was injured and the job was his for the taking. Nevertheless,
Sergei didn’t take the job.
After Sergei failed to impress the new coaching staff, Buffalo went out and
acquired Jason Wooley to fill the teams need for an offensive defensemen.

Aside from Sergei lack of offensive willingness (which is what he was
originally drafted for), Sergei is not very physical, and he doesn’t possess
the size to truly neutralize opponents big forwards. Though that is not to
say that Sergei is a poor defensive player. He rarely gets caught out of
position, he rarely gets out worked, but he just doesn’t have enough overall
talent to overcome his lack of size.

Sergei’s biggest strength should be his ability to provide offense to his team
from the blueline. His biggest weakness is that he simply doesn’t use his
greatest strength. In the end, that is why Buffalo has never called him up
for a cup of coffee. Therefore, he has little NHL Future.

NHL Future: None, unless he changes his attitude. Or maybe his address.

Mike Martone*           6-4     210     20      Peterbrough (OHL)  2 stars

Acquired: 1996 4th Round pick, 106th overall (4B)

Stats look: as of 1/3/98

22 gm 1 G 13 A 14 pts +5 52 pim currently injuried

Mike Martone is currently Buffalo’s biggest prospect in terms of size. Mike
may also be one of the strongest players they have. However, Mike found the
jump from the OHL to the AHL to be much more difficult than expected.
Mike was with Buffalo at training camp, and he did not look out of place. He
played well in all three prospect games and then he was re-assigned to
Rochester. However after several pre-season AHL games, Mike asked Buffalo
management if he could return to the OHL as an overage player. Buffalo
agreed, feeling he could still benefit from junior hockey. Actually, when he
was healthy, Mike was seeing upwards of twenty minutes a night of ice time,
and that has to be positive. Mike has a three year contract with Buffalo so
they didn’t just get rid of him, thinking he could cut it. Buffalo may have
also been thinking about the team’s budget, when they made the decision.

I don’t know the extent of Mike’ injury but he has been out for several
weeks. Hopefully he will be able to get back on the ice soon and continue to
play solid hockey.

Overall, Mike is a physical defensive minded defensemen. He really doesn’t
bring much offensive to the table, but that’s ok because he possesses size and
he is willing to use it. Though Mike is not a big nasty like some, he is a
player who will knocked guys on their butts when he has to. One of the things
I like is that he doesn’t take many dump penalties and he doesn’t try to do
things he isn’t capable of doing.

Mike’s biggest strength is this size, strength, and sound fundamental play.
His biggest weakness is he isn’t the greatest skater, though he isn’t as
immobile as Ndur or even Jean-Luc Grande-Pierre.

Mike may have an NHL future, but it is years away. First he must make the
jump to the AHL. That could take place sometime this, if Rochester suffers
several injuries on their blue liner, or at the end of this season, following
Peterborough’s departure from the OHL playoff’s. Once he makes that jump, he
must learn to dominate physically at that level. Once that is done he will
get his chance to play at the NHL level. His size, and overall ability
warrants a chance somewhere and sometime. This is another guy who more than
likely will benefit from expansion in the NHL.

NHL Future: Somewhere, sometime, he’ll play in the NHL.

Jay McKee               6-3     195     20      Buffalo (AHL)  4 stars

Acquired: 1995 1st Round Draft pick, 14th overall (1A)

Stats look: as of 12/29/97


Buffalo (NHL) 23 gm 1 G 6 A 7 pts -4 18 pim
Rochester (AHL) 13 gm 1 G 7 A 8 pts +6 11 pim
recalled 12/31/97

“Two steps forward, two steps back.” That’s a good way of describing Jay
McKee’s overall development so far. Last year, he played 48 games in the NHL
as a 19 year old. Though he would have zero if Ted Nolan had his way. The
Sabres coach wasn’t outspoken about the issue but it was a well known fact
that McKee was on the Sabres roster because former GM John Muckler wanted it
that way. Nolan has stated at the end of the 95-96 season that he felt McKee
had to learn to dominate at the junior level before he’d give him a fair shot
in the NHL. Jay wasn’t given a forth junior year and he really never got much
of a chance in Buffalo.

As a result of all the in-fighting, Jay McKee lost the better part of a year
worth of development. However, Jay is still a premium talent, and with some
fine tuning, he should be a dominating NHL blueliner. Buffalo started that
fine tuning by sending him down to Rochester in late November. He struggle
for a few games then he quickly became Rochester top defensemen. Recalled on
December 31, Jay play his best game in a Saber uniform. Though he scored no
point, Jay was a completely dominating physical presence, landing at least
five solid hits. Including one highlight real hit. A few nights later
against Colorado he played a sound game. Jay admitted that he had become to
“content” playing in the NHL. He forgot how much work it truly requires.
Hopefully he will need no more AHL time, but if he does, he has promised to
approach the assignment as a professional.

Jay’s biggest strength is his complete game. He is a big, physical, mobile
and offensively gift player. He provides Buffalo with the complete package.
In time Jay should score 10 to 15 goals a season and provide somewhere in the
50 point range. He should also provide the team with tough leadership. His
biggest weakness right now is lack of strength. Jay has struggle to bulk up
and fill out. However he is only 20 years old, and he will fill out and get
stronger as he get older.

NHL Future: Good as Gold

Rumun Ndur         6-2     200     21      Rochester (AHL)  2 ½ stars

Acquired: 1994 3rd Round Draft pick, 69th overall

Stats look: as of 12/29/97

20 gm 1 G 6 A 7 pts +8 101 pim

I think it is a safe bet to say that Rumun Ndur is the only player from
Nigeria to ever play in an NHL game. That may end up being his claim to fame.
Rumun is a big physical player and he is exclusively a defensive minded
defensemen.
Rumun is big, but he is also very slow. He is a very poor skater, though he
has improved quite a bit since he was drafted. However, what I like about
Rumun is that he has learned to be a professional hockey player. He comes to
the rink every single night and gives you all he has, which isn’t much in
terms of talent, but quite a lot in terms of heart and toughness.

Rumun’s NHL career was his for the taking prior to the 97-98 season. However,
an abdominal injury in one of the first few training camp practices destroyed
his chances. He didn’t play an organized game until the end of October and
that may have represented his last shot at Buffalo. The belief was that
either he or Sergei Klimentiev would grab
a hold of the seventh defensemen spot this year while Buffalo waited for stud
prospects Cory Sarich and Alexie Tezikov to be finish their junior careers.
Neither took the job and Buffalo acquired Jason Wooled to fill the role.

Rumun’s biggest weakness is poor skating. Rumun is so slow, that you might
wonder whether he could beat Kjell Samuelsson in a foot race. I’m not
kidding. However, his strength is that he provides toughness and he rarely
tries to play beyond what he is capable of doing. You will not see mental
blunders from Ndur, just lack of talent errors.

Since he is only 22 year old, I do not want to close the book on a potential
NHL career. It is unlikely though. However, with expansion there could be a
place. Why? Because a guy like Ndur could prove to be an asset to a team.
He is tough, he provides leadership and he is a professional. Plus he plays
very consistent, even if his skill level is not quite up to par. Remember,
the talent bar is going down even if the number of teams is going up.

NHL Future: Not Great, but hardly out-of-the-question.

Cory Sarich          6-3     182     19      Saskatoon (WHL) 4 stars

Acquired: 1996 2nd Round Draft Pick, 27th overall

Stats look: as of 1/3/98


Saskatoon (WHL) 28 gm 2 G 23 A 25 pts -4 65 pim
Team Canada (WJC) 6 gm 0 G 0 A 0 pts N/A N/A

Cory Sarich is the jewell (my opinion) of the Buffalo system. He is still a bit
thin, but don’t let that fool you. Cory is a nasty hockey player. A complete
defensemen and in many ways very similar to Jay McKee. Cory is a guy who can
help out offensively, but he shines when defending. A tremendous hitter, Cory
is very active when it comes to throwing around his weight, and laying down
the lumber. He possess most the skills you look for in a defensemen. The
one skill he really doesn’t have is a great shot. Cory will probably never
amount to much of a power play guy. However he looks like one hell of a
penalty killer.

There was some talk that Cory would actually make Buffalo’s roster this year.
However he clearly wasn’t ready and Buffalo sent him back to Saskatoon. The
results have showed. Cory is clearly one of the top defensemen is the WHL and
he was arguably Canada’ most consistent defensemen at the recent World Junior
Championships. That was Cory’s second trip to that tournament, though I doubt
he would rate that as an enjoyable experience (being that Canada finished a
disastrous 8th!).

The key reason why Buffalo is so high on Cory, is his physical style. Right
now, Buffalo biggest weakness defensively is it basically possess a wimp
defense. There is no one who hits on an every night basis. If Cory does that
he’ll be a star, at least with the fans. If he doesn’t, he’ll be taking a
trip down Highway 90, to Rochester.

As I stated before, Cory biggest strength is his complete game, combined with
his physical style. Weakness is simple, he needs more bulk, strength and he
could use some work on his shot.

NHL Future: Bank on it!

Henrick Tallinder       6-3     194     18      AIK (Sweden)  2 stars

Acquired: 1997 2nd Round Draft Pick, 48th overall

Stats look: as of 1/3/98


AIK (Sweden) 17 gm 0 G 0 A 0 pts -6 6 pim
Team Sweden (WJC) 4 gm 1 G 0 A 1 pts N/A N/A

I’m not all that high on Henrik Tallinder, though I must admit I really do not
all that much about him. What I do know is that he is a typical Swedish
defensemen. Which means, he has been well coached, and that means that he is
very fundamentally sound. He is a good positional player, and he is a
physical player. Well as physical in a Swedish sense. He doesn’t have much
to offer in terms of offensive upside. Though he does have a fair amount of
skill, Swedish coaches tend not to want defensemen jumping into the rush.

So far, the 1997-98 season has been a tough one for Henrik. From the reports
I’ve read, he has plays in about half his team games, and he only gets six to
nine minutes of playing time per game. He has no points what-so-ever and he
finally picked up some penalty minutes in his last two games. Henrik’s main
problem is that his club, AIK Stockholm, is struggling badly. They are
currently in tenth place (out of twelve teams). If they finish either
eleventh or twelfth, they are relegated out of the Elite league. Now AIK
management has no intention of letting that happen, therefore, they are not
going to give quality ice time to a developing player whom they know will jump
to the NHL whenever he feels he is ready.

Having said that, it would serve Henrik Tallinder best if he left Sweden next
year and came to North America. He would surely get picked in the CHL import
draft and he could then play a year of junior hockey. His lack of playing
time hurt him when the World Junior Tournament came around. I’m not positive
how many games Henrik played in for Team Sweden. I know he played in four,
but maybe in five. He did score a goal in Sweden’s 8-0 route of Germany, his
first in a real game since last March!

Henrik’s biggest strength is his overall understanding of the game. This
comes from the quality coaching he has received in his short career. His
main weakness is his lack of an offensive game. Couple that with limited
physical play, and that could spell trouble. However I reall do not want to
speculate on Henrik’s NHL future. I simply don’t know enough to truly venture
a guess. However, he was a second round pick and that means that the Sabres
scouts felt he has NHL qualities. This is a classic case of time will tell.

NHL Future: He has the fundamental, but only time will tell.

Luc Theoret          6-2     197     18      Lethbridge (WHL)  3 ½ stars

Acquired: 1997 4th Round Draft Pick, 101st overall

Stats look: as of 1/3/98

42 gm 11 G 28 A 39 pts +14 60 pim

Luc Theoret is currently having a fantastic season. He was just named to the
WHL Eastern Conference All Star team. As of now, he is currently forth on the
WHL in scoring among defensemen, which is a vast improvement over last year,
when he muster but 10 points in 43 games. However, all is not perfectly rose.
Luc is being heavily criticized by local Lethbridge fans for his “over
aggressive” play.

Luc is a pure offensive defensemen. He is the type of player who will jump
into the offensive rush at any time. As a result he tends to make ill
decisions and that leads to plenty of odd man rushes given up. If he is to
become a force professionally, he must learn to pick his spots much better.
This aggressiveness may come from the coaching staff. It could very well be
that he has been instructed to help out offensive whenever possible. I bring
that point up because he was much more fundamentally sound last year, though
he did receive only about half the ice time he currently does.

Luc’s biggest strength is his passing and skating. He plays the game head up,
and he can cause serious problems when the puck is on his stick. Defensively
is where the weaknesses come into play. Luc has size but he doesn’t use it to
his advance. At least not nearly enough. He must get stronger, and play with
more desperation when defending. He must also cut down on the lazy penalties,
many of which come directly from him getting caught out of position.

Luc has a future in professional hockey. He looks like a player who could
develop into a top power play guy. He also looks like a quality offensive
defensemen, though there is quite a bit of work he needs to do. If he works
hard, and improves in areas where the coaches and scouts tell him, he will
play at the top level.

NHL Future: With work, he’ll make it.

Alexei Tezikov         6-1     198     19      Moncton (QMJHL) 4 ½ stars

Acquired: 1996 5th Round Draft Pick, 115th overall

Stats look: as of 1/3/98


Moncton (QMJHL) 33 gm 12 G 16 A 28 pts +4 108 pim
Team Russia (WJC) 6 gm 0 G 3 A 3 pts N/A 8 pim

Another jew within Buffalo’s system. I along with many other people thought
Alex was merely a pure offensive defensmen. That perception is changing rather
quickly. Alex is his first season in the QMJHL, has surprised everyone by
quickly becoming one of the best defefensemen is in the entire league. He has
proven to be a more well rounded player, showing good physical ability and a
nasty side. He also does understand that a defensemen has to work hard at
both ends, but his primary asset is that he bring a ton of offensive skill to
the table.

Before the World Junior Championship, wherein, Alex was a late addition to
Team Russia, he was one of the top scoring defensemen. He also had the most
penalty minutes and fights among those top scorers. Overall Alex is a
fantastic passer and he possess a great shot. He also skates very well and he
plays smart defensive hockey. Making safe plays instead of taking unnecessary
risks.

Though Alex did not play fantastic at the recent World Junior Championships,
he also did not play badly. He contributed offensive early in the tournament
then he was used more primarily in defensive roles. He did not see hardly any
power play time but he saw plenty of penalty kill time.

Alex was a real head turner at training camp back in September. He was the
Sabres best defensemen in their first two pre-season games and he will be
given every opportunity to secure a roster spot next year. He will have to
fight for that spot along with Cory Sarich, though both bring different needs
to Buffalo. Alex’s explosive offensive potential is badly needed, and the
free agent status of Alex Zhitnik could help him. However, he will need to
continue is aggressive style both offensively and defensively if he is to
stick in Buffalo next year. Rochester seems like a more natural fit but
anything can happen in Buffalo.

Alex biggest skill, or asset in his case, is that he is by far the most
skillful player in Buffalo’s entire system. He does things the other
defensive prospects can dream about doing. His shot and pure scoring
potential are something Buffalo needs desperately. As far as a major
weakness, I don’t see any, except his lack of experience in North America
hockey. Though playing in the Quebec Junior league is closing that gap,
quickly.

NHL Future: Potential Superstar

Mike Wilson             6-6     215     22      Buffalo (AHL)  3 stars

Acquired: Trade with Vancouver, June 1995.

Stats look: as of 1/5/98

37 gm 1 G 4 A 5 pts +5 34 pim

Big Mike Wilson is a frustrating player to take about. Mike spent the off-
season getting stronger and bulking up his thin frame. At 6-6, Mike is a
giant of a man, yet he plays the games about as soft as anyone. Wilson does
use his size to his advance but he does not do so to the fullest possible
extent. Mike knows how to use his reach, and body frame to slow people down
and cut off players off driving the net, however, Mike rarely actually
physically dominates anyone. He hits even less frequently.

His size and soft play have brought anger from most fans. Many feel he has
been given far to many chances to change his game, attitude and toughness and
most want him shipped out of town. I’m not going to say I want that, Buffalo
has trade far too many good young defensemen then watched as they blossomed
into solid players elsewhere. Calle Johansson, Joe Reekie, John Carney, Kevin
Haller, Bill Houlder, and the list goes on are just a few of those players who
were drafted by Buffalo. However, I think Mike Wilson should be put down in
Rochester and told, he isn’t coming back up until he plays more physical.
Until he does that, Mike Wilson will be nothing more than a big guy, not
living up to his potential.

Another frustration is that Wilson has more offensive ability than he
currently shows. Maybe he is concentrating more on his defensive game, but if
he isn’t going to physically dominate, at least he could help the Sabres
pitiful offense out. He does neither so I don’t see why he continues to see
large quantities of ice time. If the right deal came along, I wouldn’t be all
that unhappy about seeing him go, though I’m not looking to see him dealt.

Wilson biggest strength is his skating. For a guy 6-6, Mike skates very well.
He has good speed and he plays smart hockey. Weakness is he plays the game
like a wimp!

NHL Future: It’s here, but will be ever live up to his potential?

Shane Wright          6-0     189     22      Rochester (AHL) 1 stars

Acquired: 1994 11th Round Draft Pick, 277th overall

Stats look: as of 12/29/97

33 gm 0 G 10 A 10 pts +1 50 pim

Shane is a solid all around defensemen. He has worked very hard to get where
he is and I feel he should be given full credit for accomplishing all that he
has. This guy was the longest of long shots to ever make the AHL, let alone
the NHL. He was an 11th round draft pick, and how many players picked that
late ever even get the chance. The big problem with Shane is that he doesn’t
possess enough size, strength, toughness or skill to make the next jump.

Shane plays the game hard but he can’t really help out any team offense. He
has a below average shot. He isn’t all that strong. He skates ok, but not
well enough for him to go by anyone. If he gets caught up ice, he isn’t going
to be able to correct the mistakes. Shane needs to play smart hockey.

NHL Future: None