Some Sabres fans have been scratching their heads lately wondering who this #46 is on the right wing. When he made his NHL debut in a home game against the New Jersey Devils, it was for the most part unexpected. Most fans are somewhat familiar with young stud prospects Erik Rasmussen and Dominic Pittis, but have no idea who this 26 year-old Dean Sylvester is.
With Miroslav Satan sidelined and Coach Ruff sending inconsistent winger Michal Grosek a message by benching him, Sylvester found himself in the lineup for the last few games of the ’98-’99 season, and has seen considerable playing time in the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dean Sylvester, at 6’2″ and 205 lbs, has the size to be a NHL forward. He was born in Hanson, Massachusetts and attended college at Kent State. After Kent State did away with their hockey program, Dean transferred to Michigan State for his senior year. As a senior, he was named to the Academic All-Big Ten Conference At-Large Team. After a strong senior year, he graduated at age 23 and was drafted 2ndoverall in the 1993 Supplemental Draft by the San Jose Sharks.
Sylvester is somewhat of a late bloomer, having just broken into the NHL at the age of 26. He was signed to a free agent contract by Rochester in July of ’98 after spending time in the San Jose minor league program with Mobile (ECHL) and Kansas City (IHL). He led Kansas City with 33 goals in the 1997-98 season and also scored 5 playoff goals in 11 games.
Sylvester plays a physical game but also has a goal-scorer’s touch. For the ’98-’99 season he was ranked 4th in total points on the Rochester Americans with 65 (35 G, 30 A) ; no small achievement considering the fact that the 3 highest-scoring Amerks were all ranked in the top 12 for points in the entire AHL. He was ranked 7th in the league with 35 goals and perhaps most impressively, lead the league in game winning goals with 10. Those 10 goals in particular had a lot to do with the Sabres calling him up, as it showed the big club that he has developed a reputation as a player who can perform under pressure. It should also be noted that 13 of his goals came on the power play.
When one looks at Sylvester’s statistics from college up until present, a trend emerges in the penalty minutes column. In his freshman year at Kent State, he received only 10 penalty minutes. That number increased to 28 during his sophmore and junior years and, during his senior year at Michigan State, he racked up 38 PIM’s. During his time in Mobile and Kansas City, the minutes continued to increase. After transferring to Kansas City from Mobile, he got only 15 minutes in penalties. For the next two seasons, that number jumped to 47 and then 63 PIM’s. In Rochester this year he logged 46 penalty minutes, a number which I expect will be around the average for him. What all of these statistics mean is that, as his confidence as grown, so has his physical play and toughness. He’s shown grit in Buffalo by throwing some thundering hits in playoff games, as well as sticking up for teammates.
Originally recruited by Buffalo as a depth player, Sylvester’s future with Buffalo doesn’t seem half bad. For a player that most people once thought would spend his entire career in the minors he’s been making the most of his recent oppurtunities. The fact remains that the Sabres don’t have great offensive depth in their prospects. Buffalo will need players to step up when a player becomes injured or a trade is made and Sylvester fits that role to a T. He can perform under pressure and bring some amount of goal scoring to an anemic offense as well as provide a toughness that the Sabres badly need in their forwards.
Although Sylvester won’t get the attention of a Rasmussen or Pittis, I would expect that he will see a limited amount of playing time with the Sabres next year, and maybe even find himself there permanently. Not bad for a late bloomer.