Sabres Report: Artem of Hooks and Other European Tales

By Ken McKenna

In my search for information on some of the Buffalo Sabres’ European prospects, I sometimes make use of a language translation web site. In particular, this site features a Russian-to-English translation feature which, when translating the name of Buffalo’s 2000 1st pick Artem Kriukov, spits out the curious moniker “Artem Of Hooks”. Perhaps Artem’s ancestors envisioned future generations of Kriukov’s spending large blocks of time in the penalty box, but I’m sure the Sabres would rather see Artem’s name appearing amongst the NHL’s scoring leaders at some future time.

In spite of the available translation site, however, finding information on both Artem and Buffalo’s 2000 5th Round pick, D Denis Denisov, has been difficult. With regard to Kriukov, he is currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian Superleague (RHL), which is Russia’s equivalent to the NHL. Artem began the 2000-01 season playing for Yaroslavl of the RHL, where he appeared in just 2 games, registering no points. He also spent some time with Yaroslavl’s farm team, where he apparently registered 5 goals in 9 games. Prior to moving to St. Petersburg, Artem played for Russia in the Four Nations Cup Tournament which took place in Uddevalla, Sweden November 10-12. The Russian team finished the tournament 2-1, with Artem registering no points in the 3 games played.

Now that Artem is playing for St. Petersburg, he should receive more playing time than he would have received in Yaroslavl. The experience may not be the most pleasant one for Kriukov, mind you, as St. Petersburg is the worst team in the RHL, having won just 1 game in 23 starts. It is debatable how beneficial it will be for Artem to develop while playing for such a poor team, so it would not be surprising to see Buffalo make an extra effort to bring Kriukov to North America. This could happen as soon as the RHL season ends, but more likely will take place prior to Buffalo’s 2001 training camp.

While finding information on Artem has been difficult, it has been nearly impossible to track down the slightest nugget of data on Kriukov’s fellow countryman Denis Denisov. The main reason for this difficulty is that Denis is playing in Russia’s High League, which is a step below the RHL (note- there is a Denis Denisov playing in the RHL, but he is not Buffalo’s prospect). Even for someone living in Russia, finding High League statistics is next to impossible. What can be told is that Denis is currently playing for the HC Moscow club, where he has registered 2 assists in 22 games played.

It should be remembered that both Artem and Denis are playing against mostly older competition, so their low offensive totals should not be used as an indicator of future performances. Of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story for any player, as there are many skills to be mastered before a player can make it to the NHL. In Artem’s case, however, he is a gifted center who will be expected to create offense, so his offensive progress will be monitored closely. Denisov does not have these same expectations, as he is more of defensive defenseman with some offensive skill.

Both Kriukov and Denisov should have a chance to put their talents on display internationally later this month in the World Junior Championships, which will be taking place in Moscow. Denisov should be a sure thing, as he was one of the better players for Russia last year. Artem certainly has the talent to make the national team, but Russia has an exceptional crop of players in the U-20 age group, so Kriukov may be hard-pressed to make the Russian roster.

To the north of the Russian border, in Finland, is where ’97 2nd Round pick D Henrik Tallinder can be found. Henrik, a Swede, moved from AIK of the Swedish League to play for TPS Turku of the Finnish League. Henrik was apparently not receiving the playing time he felt was necessary to improve his game while playing for AIK, so he followed a route that other Swedes have taken in hopes of receiving increased ice time. The move seems to have paid off, as Henrik has played on Turku’s top defensive pairing for a good portion of the season. Some observers feel that Tallinder is the top defensive defenseman in the Finnish League, which would seem to cement his reputation as a stay-at-home defenseman. Henrik is not all defense, however, as he has also shown some offensive ability, picking up 6 points (3G, 3A) in 28 games for Turku. This is a great improvement over his point-less showings with AIK the last couple years.

In spite of these glad tidings, it would seem Henrik’s move to Finland is curious, at best. If he really wanted to prepare himself for the North American game, it would seem more logical for Tallinder to simply sign with Buffalo and begin his pro career with Rochester. His mandatory military stint should be completed, so that shouldn’t be holding him back from signing with the Sabres. Henrik could be playing the negotiating game, of course, but it is doubtful he is talented enough to make big contract demands.

Should Buffalo sign Henrik, they will have a solid addition to their defensive corps who could be a fixture at the blue line for many years to come.

Moving to the Czech Republic, we find the last of Buffalo’s European prospects, C Kamil Piros and RW Ales Kotalik. Both players are currently playing in the top Czech League, Piros for Litvinov, and Kotalik for Budojovice.

Of the two players, Kotalik seems to be the more accomplished, at least offensively. Ales appears to have taken his game to the next level this season, as he is currently amongst the top 15 scorers (24 GP, 9G, 15A) in the Czech league. He has already surpassed his point totals of the previous two seasons, which is impressive considering that he is playing against older competition. Ales is not the most robust winger, but he has enough size that he could probably withstand the more physical North American game.

Piros has shown offensive improvement, as well, as he too is on pace to top his point totals of the previous two seasons (26 GP, 7G, 7A). Kamil is not a physical player, a problem further compounded by the fact that he is slight of build. Piros’ fragility could determine whether or not he plays in the NHL, but he is skilled enough that he could overcome this shortcoming. Whether he’ll come to North America to play is another story, however.

Piros just turned 22 in November, while Kotalik will turn 22 before the end of the year. Following their appearance in Buffalo’s training camp last year, there was talk that the two Czechs would return this year for the purpose of beginning their pro careers. To the best of my knowledge, however, neither player was in the Sabres’ 2000 camp, so that could be an indication that Buffalo no longer sees them as viable prospects. Kotalik has certainly improved himself this year, so perhaps Buffalo will give him another look. For now, though, both players should be viewed as fringe prospects that are long shots to ever play for the Sabres.