Back in the early 70s, the British rock band The Who released the album “Odds & Sods”, which was a collection of songs that had been left off of previously released albums for various reasons. In the spirit of that recording, I’ve decided to break from my usual Top 20 format to make this season wrap-up column a review of the playoff performances of certain Sabre prospects, as well as other random items from the post season.
The big news is, of course, that the Buffalo Sabres will be appearing in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 24 years. Meanwhile, down the I-90, the Rochester Americans liked the idea of the Sabres appearing in the finals so much that they defeated the defending Calder Cup champs from Philadelphia to return to the Calder Cup finals for the 5th time this decade. Based on these events, it is clear that the Sabres organization has finally become one to be envied by the rest of the NHL for the first time since Punch Imlach was GM of the Sabres. The Sabres may not land their first Cup this year, as they are definite underdogs against Dallas, but they will almost certainly be contenders for the foreseeable future. Their contender status is the result of good drafting and shrewd trading, not to mention excellent coaching. Rather than praise those responsible for the Sabres success (others have done this better than I could), I will simply wish the Sabre organization good luck in the NHL and AHL finals, and, like all other Sabre fans, I’ll sit back and enjoy the moment.
CHL Playoffs and Memorial Cup
The Sabre organization already has one prospect that has experienced the thrill of victory, as well as one prospect that has felt the sting of defeat. Brian Campbell capped a wonderful season as he and his Ottawa 67s teammates defeated Brad Moran and the Calgary Hitmen in the Memorial Cup final. Both players had productive performances in the tournament, with Moran placing 6th amongst all scorers in the tourney, and Campbell finishing 3rd in points amongst defensemen. Campbell was voted the Most Gentlemanly Player in the tournament, an honor he can add to the other awards he has garnered throughout his amazing season.
Aside from the performances of Campbell and Moran, there were few highlights from the other Sabre prospects that appeared in the CHL playoffs. This isn’t to suggest that players such as Jaroslav Kristek, Norm Milley, Dimitri Kalinin and Andrew Peters didn’t play well (although that is certainly a possibility), it is simply that their teams didn’t advance far enough for them to make their mark.
Calder Cup Playoffs
The Rochester Americans are attempting to win their 2nd Calder Cup of the 90s, with their drive to the Cup being bolstered by the play of a handful of Sabre prospects. The most notable performances have come from goaltender Martin Biron and right wing Dean Sylvester. In spite of a couple sub-par performances, Biron has been as dominating as he was during the regular season (15 GP, 1.85 GAA, .943 SP), while Sylvester has continued his scoring hot-streak (11 goals in 13 games). On defense, Cory Sarich has been steady (+6 in 15 games), while Jason Holland has chipped in with some timely scoring from the point. And, contrary to what I had said in my previous column, Dimitri Kalinin has played in 4 playoff games for the Amerks, and has not looked out of place.
Amongst the other forwards, only LW Darren Van Oene has continued his strong play from the regular season. Matt Davidson and Denis Hamel have been relegated to the checking line, and, although they have done a good job defensively, it would be nice to see these 2 players contribute more offensively. Francois Methot has played sparingly to this point, which was also the case during the regular season.
Only 2 Sabre prospects, Maxim Afinogenov (Russia) and David Moravec (Czech Republic) played in this tournament, and neither player turned in a stellar performance. Afinogenov, who is considered by some to be the best offensive player not playing in the NHL, picked up just 3 points in 6 games, while Moravec was held pointless in 12 games. In the case of Afinogenov, his lesser performance in this tournament should not be cause for alarm, as he had a great season while playing against both his peers as well as older competition. Moravec, on the other hand, is a longshot to ever wear a Sabre uniform. He is 26 and, while he is a good scorer in the Czech Elite League, he has rarely displayed those skills in international play.
1997 Draft Signings
The midnight deadline for signing certain 1997 draftees came and went on June 1st, with the Sabres only signing being that of D Brian Campbell. Campbell’s stock rose dramatically this season, as he helped lead the Ottawa 67s to the Memorial Cup. Brian was voted the best player in the OHL, and he is a finalist for CHL Player-of-the-Year. All the accolades earned Campbell a nice contract that will pay him $2 million over 3 years. As for other notable eligibles included in this ’97 signing deadline, C Jeff Martin and D Luc Theoret were apparently not offered contracts. Martin was not able to duplicate the season he had last year, and is considered a marginal player, at best. Theoret does not lack talent, but he is coming off a serious knee injury that will keep him out of action until December. Both Martin and Theoret will be available in the ’99 Draft, so they may still have a future in the NHL, if not in Buffalo, then with some other team. Players not affected by the signing deadline include RW Maxim Afinogenov, D Henrik Tallinder and C Kamil Piros. The Sabres hold their draft rights for 2 more seasons, so there is not a rush to get these players signed. All 3 will likely spend another season in Europe, although the Sabres would like to sign Afinogenov in time for the ’99 training camp.
I thought I would put together a list of the best and worst of what the Sabre prospects have to offer in a few categories:
Best Overall Prospect- Cory Sarich
Best Skater- Maxim Afinogenov
Best Offensive Skills- Maxim Afinogenov
Best Defensive Skills- Cory Sarich
Best Shot- Norm Milley
Most Surprising Prospect- Brian Campbell
Most Disappointing Prospect- Tie between Andrew Peters and Denis Hamel
Toughest Prospect- Darren Van Oene
In my next article, which will follow shortly, I’ll be giving my thoughts on what the Sabres might do in the ’99 Draft. Also, HF will be holding a mock draft on Monday, June 7th at 8:00 EST (first round only). I’ll be making a pick in this draft, although my opinion on which player the Sabres might pick could change over the next couple weeks, so don’t put too much stock in my choice in the mock draft.
In the meantime, go Sabres and Amerks!