The 2000-01 hockey season has come to a close, with the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche putting the finishing touches on the season that was. All other hockey leagues of note have completed their seasons, as well, with Saint John’s (AHL), Red Deer (CHL), Orlando (IHL), and Buffalo farm club South Carolina (ECHL) all winning their respective league championships. European leagues also completed their playoffs back in April, so this season cycle is complete.
The Buffalo Sabres can claim one bona fide prospect (Henrik Tallinder) as a champion, while also supporting a league champ in South Carolina. In addition to these honors, there were several other prospects that had notable playoff performances, with most of the best showings taking place in the WHL. Reputations, good or bad, can often be made during a playoff run, so it is a good bet that Buffalo’s scouts have taken a close look at how their prospects have handled the pressure of playoff hockey.
The Sabres had just 1 prospect taking part in the OHL playoffs, that being D Sean McMorrow of the London Knights. One other prospect, C Mike Zigomanis (Kingston), missed the playoffs due to an injury (Zigomanis has since gone back into the draft, as has fellow OHLer and Sabre draft pick C Brad Self).
Sean McMorrow’s playoff run ended quickly, as the London Knights were easily defeated 4 games to 1, by the Erie Otters. McMorrow had little to show on the score sheet, as he registered no points and no penalty minutes in the 5 games. Considering Erie’s offensive superiority over London in this series, Sean’s ability to finish the series with a –1 has to be seen as a small victory. McMorrow is most effective when he is using his size and toughness, however, so his lack of PIMs might point to an ineffective performance on his part.
There were several notable performances by Buffalo prospects in the WHL playoffs, perhaps none more surprising than the one turned in by Portland’s C Paul Gaustad.
Gaustad, a late-round pick in the 2000 draft, had not shown much in the way of offensive ability leading up to this year’s playoffs, but he was a major force in the Portland Winter Hawks run to the WHL finals. Paul lead Portland in playoff scoring, tallying 16 points (10G, 6A) in 16 games, while his 10 goals was tops amongst all Winter Hawk players. Gaustad’s point total also put him in a tie for 9th amongst all WHL playoff performers, with his goal output being good for 3rd amongst all WHL playoff goal-scorers.
Paul has always been known as a good defensive player, with his 1 SHG in the playoffs being a small sign of his skill in this area of the game. The one aspect of his game that opened some eyes, however, was Gaustad’s work on Portland’s power play. Paul netted 3 PPGs in the post-season, which tied him for 4th in PPGs with several other WHLers. Gaustad achieved PP success by using his big frame to his advantage in front of the opponent’s net, which is certainly an element missing from Buffalo’s current roster.
In the end, Paul and his Portland teammates eventually succumbed in the WHL finals to WHL and Memorial Cup champion Red Deer. When Paul gets over the disappointment of just missing a trip to the Memorial Cup tournament, however, he’ll probably look back on his 2001 playoff performance as a launching pad to bigger and better things. Indeed, a poll currently being taken at the Portland web site shows an overwhelming majority of Hawks’ fans think Paul should be Portland’s captain next season. Gaustad certainly displayed captain credentials in the playoffs, and I’m sure Sabres’ scouts are keeping their fingers crossed that Paul will continue to develop his offensive game, as well.
Elsewhere in the WHL, Sabre prospect LW Karel Mosovsky turned in a decent showing for Regina at the Memorial Cup tournament. Karel finished tied for 2nd in scoring for the tournament (3G, 3A), and was tops in PPGs with 3, including one game-winner. Mosovsky appears to be most at ease in power play situations, where he displays a penchant for going to the net. His work at even strength, especially defensively, leaves a little to be desired, however, and he does not seem to be particularly strong along the boards. As Karel’s game currently stands, he is probably a marginal prospect who could develop into a power play specialist for Buffalo, but it is just as likely that the Sabres may not sign him.
2000 2nd round pick D Gerard Dicaire of the Seattle Thunderbirds had a good regular season, but was not as productive in the post-season. Offense is the name of the game for Gerard, so the fact that he registered just 2 assists in 9 playoff games has to be considered disappointing. Dicaire’s 2 assists both came on the power play during Seattle’s opening series win over favored Kelowna, but he was unable to generate any offense in the next series vs. Spokane. Spokane eliminated Seattle from the playoffs.
Brandon RW Milan Bartovic got a taste of double playoff duty, as he played in both the WHL and AHL playoffs. Milan completed his junior career with Brandon, as the Swift Current Broncos bounced the Wheat Kings from the WHL playoffs, 4 games to 2. Bartovic picked up 3 points (1G, 2A) in the 6 games, which has to be a considered a disappointment given Milan’s importance to Brandon’s offense.
Following Brandon’s elimination, Milan joined the Rochester American’s in time for that team’s last 2 regular season games, as well as their cameo appearance in the AHL playoffs. Bartovic acquitted himself fairly well in his first pro duty, picking up 2 points in his 2 regular season games, while adding just 1 assist in Rochester’s 4 playoff games.
Buffalo had just 2 prospects in the Q this past season, with one of those players, ’99 draft pick LW Seneque Hyacinthe, no longer being Buffalo property due to his not having been signed by the big club.
The remaining Q prospect, G Ghyslain Rousseau of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, was not a factor in his team’s run to the QMJHL final. Rousseau appeared in just 1 playoff game, a loss, in which he gave up 3 goals. For Ghyslain, the 2000-01 season will likely be a season to forget.
The Rochester Americans, coming off a 00-01 regular season where they were said to have overachieved, took just the opposite approach in their brief post-season appearance.
Rochester finished the regular season as the top seed in the AHL’s Western Conference, but that meant little in their opening round loss to Philadelphia, a series taken by the Phantoms 3-1. The first two games went to OT, with each team winning one game. With the change of venue to Philly, however, the Phantoms were the more dominant team, as they put the clamps on an already offensively challenged Rochester team.
The only Buffalo prospects to make a decent showing in the series were G Mika Noronen and C Francois Methot, although neither player was as effective as they were during the 00-01 season. Noronen made some big saves to keep Rochester close throughout the series, but he was not able to win games single-handedly. Methot, meanwhile, was the lone catalyst of the Amerks offense, tallying 4 points (1G, 3A) in the 4 games.
Seeking more playing time in the 00-01 season, Buffalo prospect D Henrik Tallinder decided to make the move from his native Sweden to play for TPS Turku of Finland’s top league. The move turned out to be a good one for Henrik, as TPS won the league championship, 3 games to 1, over Tappara, with Tallinder playing a prominent role for TPS.
Henrik played on TPS’ top defensive pairing throughout the playoffs, where he played his usual brand of rock-solid defense. Tallinder was on the ice for just 3 GA in TPS Turku’s 10 playoff games, with his overall +/- rating being a +8. Henrik contributed offensively, as well, picking up 3 points (2G, 1A) in the post-season.
Buffalo’s top pick in the 2000 draft, C Artem Kriukov, lived the life of a nomad during the 2000-01. Artem’s travels brought him full circle, however, as he started and ended the season with the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Russian Superleague.
Kriukov played the final portion of his 00-01 season with Yaroslav’s minor club, but ended up playing in most of the parent club’s playoff games. Artem played the part of a physical checking center during the playoffs, a role he filled quite admirably, as he was often matched against the opponent’s top line. On the down side, Kriukov didn’t generate any offense, but then he apparently wasn’t expected to do so while filling the checking center’s role.
Perhaps the best news for Buffalo was that, in spite of playing physical hockey throughout the 00-01 season, Artem was able to make it through the year with no lingering effects from his major concussion of the previous season.
There were several Buffalo prospects that either didn’t participate in a league playoff, or were not included in this article due to their no longer being in the Sabres’ organization. As for South Carolina (ECHL), they are to be congratulated for winning that league’s Kelly Cup, which is the trophy given to the league champ. The Stingrays’ championship will have little impact on the Buffalo roster, however, as there were no legitimate NHL prospects playing for South Carolina.