Buffalo Prospect Update

By Ken McKenna

Welcome to this belated edition of the Sabres’ Top 20.
There has been only slight movement since my last
offering, but there have been noteworthy
accomplishments by some of the prospects since November. The most notable achievements took place in the recently completed World Junior Championships, but there were also some individual game heroics by other prospects that deserve a mention. Here is the latest edition of the Top 20 prospects of the Buffalo Sabres.

1)Cory Sarich D6’3182

Holding steady in the top spot is Cory Sarich, the fine
young defenseman playing in Rochester. Cory has shown
continued improvement as the season has progressed, to
the point where some are referring to him as the total
package. He makes few mistakes for a rookie, plays the
body very well, has a good shot and contributes
offensively. The coaches have shown a lot of faith
in Cory, using him to kill penalties, play the point
on the power play, and play in the final minutes of
tight games. Recent offensive highlights for Sarich
have been two-assist games on 12/2 and 12/27, as well
as a first star award in the 11/27 contest. In short,
Cory is becoming the player that the Sabre scouts thought
he would be.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 34 3 16 19 42 N/A 0

2)Erik Rassmussen C6′ 2″207

Erik received a call-up to the big club at the end of
November, and he has made the most of his opportunity.
While there are no offensive highlights to report for
Erik, he has made a favorable impression due largely to
his physical play. In addition, he has not been a
liability defensively, which is unusual for a young
player in the NHL. While his offensive prowess is
not yet evident at the NHL level, it will likely
surface as he gains more experience. When things
do fall into place for Erik, he should be a
formidable power forward for years to come.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 15 5 6 11 17 N/A 0
Buffalo (NHL) 20 2 4 6 23 8 0

3)Martin Biron G6′ 1″160

One player that must be bringing a smile to scout’s
faces is Martin Biron. Martin has been much more
consistent this season, so much so that he has been
named to the Canadian all-star team for the upcoming
AHL All-Star game. Clearly, Biron has come back from
his sub-par play of the past couple seasons to the
point where he is one of the top goaltending prospects
in the minors. Rochester has generally been a good
defensive team this season, but Martin has had a few
games where he has been called on to stop 35-40 shots
and has been equal to the task. He has a Hasek-like
save percentage of .931, which is amongst the best in
the AHL. In addition, Martin leads all goaltenders
in wins (16), and is tied for the lead in shutouts (4).
Martin has earned his berth in the All-Star game, and
will likely earn a spot on the Sabres squad in the
future with continued stellar play.

Team GP Min. Shots GAA Save% SO
Rochester (AHL) 26 1557 756 2 0.931 4

4)Dimitri Kalinin D6′ 2″198

There is little to report on Dimitri because he missed
several weeks due to a knee injury. This injury likely
cost Kalinin a spot on the Russian national junior team,
where he would have been able to put his considerable
talents on display. Like fellow Sabre defensive prospect
Cory Sarich, Dimitri appears to be a fairly complete
package, as he has displayed an ability to contribute
offensively while taking care of business in the
defensive zone. Kalinin’s injury was a setback in
his development, but he has the talent to pick up
where he left off with little fall-off in his play.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Moncton (QMJHL) 13 2 7 9 25 3 0

5)Mika Noronen G6′ 1″191

Mika has had a rough season thus far, so much so that I
was tempted to drop him to a lower spot in the ratings.
Most recently, Noronen was named the starting goalie for
Finland in the WJC, where he turned in some uneven
performances before being lifted in favor of backup
Mika Lehto. Noronen could not match the performance
he gave in last year’s WJC, and, in general, he seems
to be in a bit of a funk. Mika has had his good
moments this year, to be sure, but he usually follows
up the good games with mediocre or poor efforts. It
hasn’t helped that Mika’s Finnish team, Tappara, is
one of the worst in the Finnish league, but that is
not the only reason for his diminished play. It has
been said that Noronen would like to sign with the
Sabres following the completion of the Finnish season,
so perhaps his first taste of North American hockey
might shake him out of his slump.

Team GP Min. Shots GAA Save% SO GAA
Tappara (Fin) 23 1282 612 3.51 0.878 1 75
Finland (WJC) 3 159 65 4.14 0.831 0 11

6)Alexei Tezikov D 6′ 1″198

With the departures of Donald Audette and Rumun Ndur,
the Sabres freed up some cash to sign promising young
defenseman Alexei Tezikov. Alexei had nothing left to
prove in juniors, so jumping to the next level was a
wise move for him. He played his first pro game for
Rochester on 1/5, and did not look out of place.
Tezikov is valued primarily for his offensive skills,
but he also can play physically when necessary. One
aspect of Alexei’s physical game that he seems to have
mastered is the lost art of the hip-check; he doled out
a couple of these in his first game, much to the
surprise of his opponents. Tezikov has a good shot
from the point, and should see a good bit of time on
the Amerks power play. Now that Alexei has made the
next step, the future can only be brighter for him
and the Sabres defense corps.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Moncton (QMJHL) 25 9 21 30 52 12 2
Rochester (AHL) 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0

7)Maxim Afinogenov RW5′ 11″176

Maxim wowed ’em at the just-completed WJC, as he was
named the top forward in the tournament (oddly enough,
he didn’t make the all-tournament team at his position-
go figure!). He capped off his fine performance with a
two-assist performance in the gold medal game, including
the primary assist on the gold medal-winning goal. WJC
observers were impressed with Maxim’s blazing speed and
good shot, as well as his gritty play. I was concerned
that Maxim had not come through in big games in the
past, but he put those fears to rest with his play
in the WJC’s exciting gold medal game. The Sabres
could use a player like Afinogenov (or Afinoguenov,
as some are now spelling his last name) to stir up
some excitement, but he probably won’t get the
opportunity until next year’s training camp.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Moscow Dynamo EHL 5 3 5 9 29 6 N/A
Moscow Dynamo Rus 25 4 9 13 10 14 1
Rusia (WJC) 7 3 5 8 0 5 2

8)Henrik Tallinder D6′ 3″194

Henrik is another Sabre prospect who participated in
this year’s WJC, but he did not have as memorable a
tournament as a couple other Sabre prospects. He
was the captain of a strong Swedish squad, but was
apparently hobbled by an injury that caused him to
miss 4 games. Tallinder played his usual solid game
when in the line-up, but did not register a point.
He was +4 for the tourney, which suggests that he
wasn’t a defensive liability, and the fact that he
was named the captain of the team speaks well of
Henrik’s leadership abilities. He has been providing
the same steady play for AIK of the Swedish league,
and will likely do the same for Sabres down the road.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
AIK (Sweden) 24 0 0 0 22 -4 0
Sweden (WJC) 3 0 0 0 2 4 0

9)Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre D6′ 3″207

Jean-Luc has been chosen to play for the Canadian
all-stars in the upcoming AHL All-Star game.
Grand-Pierre received this honor largely on the
strength of his play over the last couple months,
which was an improvement over his early season play.
He is a physical presence on the blue line, which is
something the Sabres could use, and his improved play
likely made the less-talented Rumun Ndur expendable.
If Jean-Luc can continue his strong play, it will be
difficult to keep him down on the farm for long.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 35 3 2 5 61 N/A 1

10)Norm Milley RW5′ 11″185

Milley, currently the 3rd leading scorer in the OHL,
has had a fantastic season to this point. He has had
several multi-point games this season, including an
eye-popping 7 assists in the 12/18 contest vs. Barrie.
Norm’s lack of size is always a consideration, but he
has undeniably taken his game to another level this
season, which is something scouts like to see. What
Milley will have to show is whether he is another
Jeremy Adduono (a good junior player), or a bona fide
NHL prospect. Only time will tell, but the feeling
here is that he is definitely NHL material.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Sudbury (OHL) 39 25 40 65 22 2 2

11)Jaroslav Kristek RW6′ 0″183

Jaroslav has been the picture of consistency from day
one in the WHL. While Kristek has benefited from his
pairing with Scott Gomez, Jaroslav has also been
productive when not playing with his talented
linemate. Jaroslav has had several multi-point
games throughout the course of the season, and he
had an 8 game scoring streak in late November/early
December. Kristek is one of the main reasons that
the Americans have one of the better power plays in
the WHL, and why that team is amongst the top teams
in the league. Tri-City fans appreciate Kristek’s
gritty style of play, as do his coaches and teammates.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Tri-City (WHL) 40 19 28 47 31 8 3

12)Luc Theoret D6′ 2″197

Luc had a slow start to the 98-99 season, but his game
has improved to the point where he has been named to
the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the WHL.
Theoret has taken on a leadership role for a young
Lethbridge team, and seems to have responded well
to his status as team captain. Luc’s game is more
complete, as he has chipped in both offensively (8
game point scoring streak in November) and defensively
(penalty killing). Theoret was a co-winner of the
WHL defenseman-of-the-month award in November, which
is further proof of the league-wide recognition he is
receiving. I was tempted to place him higher in the
rankings, but this ranking is just further proof of
the depth that the Sabres have in their prospect pool.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Lethbridge (WHL) 37 9 30 39 76 3 2

13)Denis Hamel LW6′ 2″205

Denis missed some games due to an injury, but he has
come back without showing any ill effects from the
layoff. He is getting the opportunity to play with
offensively talented Dominic Pittis and Craig Fisher,
which is a major factor in the 5 game scoring streak
he currently has going (1 goal, 5 assists). While the
toughness Hamel has displayed in the past has not been
as evident this year, it appears his offensive game has
improved. Whether Denis has improved his game enough
to catch the eye of Sabres’ management remains to be
seen, but the fact that his game has improved may
help him receive consideration from another team
should the Sabres not be interested.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 32 10 9 19 47 N/A 1

14)Mike Pandolfo RW6′ 3″226

Mike played for the U.S. in the WJC, but he received
only limited playing time for an U.S. team that once
again turned in a lousy performance. Pandolfo’s
performance for Boston University has been more
promising, as he has played well for a freshman.
He was named Hockey East rookie-of-the-week in
early November, based largely on a 3-goal performance
against Princeton. He has chipped in with 2 power
play goals, and in general has impressed with his
skating ability and heady play. He is at least a
couple years away from turning pro, but there is
no reason to think that he won’t take a good run
at a spot once he has the opportunity.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Boston U (HE) 17 7 3 10 N/A N/A 2
USA (WJC) 6 0 1 1 4 -1 0

15)Brian Campbell D5′ 11″185

Brian is another Sabre prospect who turned in a stellar
performance at the WJC. Campbell’s strong play earned
him a berth on the all-tournament team as one of the
two-best defensemen in the WJC, and he is continuing
to catch the eye of people who had previously written
him off as too small. Before he joined the Canadian
team for the WJC, Brian was amongst the top 10 scorers
in the OHL, where he has put his play-making skills on
display. It remains to be seen whether Brian can
handle the rigors of an NHL season, but a season
that could culminate with his team (Ottawa 67s)
winning the Memorial Cup would be another feather
in his cap.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Ottawa (OHL) 32 4 48 52 13 29 0
Canada (WJC) 7 1 1 2 0 12 1

16)Matt Davidson RW6′ 2″190

Matt is a player whose stock could be rising. Matt got
off to a slow start offensively, but he appears to be
gaining confidence in his shot. He picked up a hat
trick 12/29 vs. Hartford, and in general has been
scoring goals more consistently of late. Davidson
appears to have a flair for the dramatic, as he has
netted 5 game-winning goals for Rochester, which is
tied for the AHL lead in that category. In addition
to his improved offensive play, Matt has shown
himself to be an effective penalty killer on the
2nd best PK unit in the AHL. Davidson started the
season as a fringe prospect, but he should now be
receiving some attention as a viable NHL prospect.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 36 13 5 18 16 N/A 5

17)Jeff Martin C6′ 1″177

This has been a mostly forgettable season for Jeff, as
he is playing for one of the lesser teams in the OHL.
He has been contributing offensively, but he is not
having the season that he had last year. His name
has been mentioned in trade rumors, so it is possible
that he will get the chance to play for a playoff
contender. There are some fans that feel that Jeff
is a definite NHL prospect, while others say that he
doesn’t have what it takes to play in the “bigs”. A
player that inspires opinions that divergent is a
player that is likely inconsistent, so it is difficult
to rate him any higher at this point.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Windsor (OHL) 36 17 18 35 18 -25 2

18)Kamil Piros C6′ 1″183

Aside from statistics, it has been hard to find any
further information (at least info that I can read)
on Kamil. Piros is playing in the top Czech league,
and he appears to be holding his own against mostly
older players. It was a little surprising that Kamil
wasn’t chosen to play for the Czech team in the WJC,
since he played so well in last year’s tournament.
Based on his low total of penalty minutes, Piros would
appear to be a soft player. This may be an influencing
factor in whether or not Kamil comes to North America,
since he might not be able to handle the more physical
style played on this continent.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Litvinov (Cze.) 24 7 4 11 2 N/A N/A
Ltvinov (ECHL) 5 2 1 3 6 1 N/A

19)Francois Methot C6′ 0″175

Francois has seen limited playing time for Rochester.
Methot is a rookie playing for a team that has a tough
line-up to crack, so he is being brought along slowly.
Francois is not a player that is going to throw his
weight around, but is instead a nifty player who can
create offense a la Derek Plante. Methot will no
doubt end up in Rochester again next season, where
he will likely be used more extensively as he gains
more experience.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 24 0 4 4 2 N/A 0

20)Darren Van Oene LW6’3207

Darren is another first-year player that has been used
sparingly in Rochester. Darren appears to be a decent
skater for his size, and he certainly can handle the
rough going because of his physical stature. Like
Methot, Van Oene will probably be given more of a
chance to shine next season, so he is using this
season to gain some needed experience.

Team GP G A Pts PIM +/- GWG
Rochester (AHL) 28 3 1 4 54 N/A 0