Sabres Report: Y’all Caught?

By Ken McKenna

The sweltering heat of the past couple months is now giving way to the cooler temperatures associated with the onset of fall. Before you know it, the leaves will be falling outside, while the sticks and gloves will be dropping in hockey rinks across North America.

While this writer was enjoying the fine Western New York summer weather, he was also neglecting his duties in keeping Buffalo Sabre fans abreast of any new developments with prospects in the Sabre organization. Helping fans get caught up won’t be difficult, however, as there has been little activity of note during the Sabre’s offseason. In the interest of keeping Sabre fans informed (as well as all readers of HF), this article will be devoted to pulling together some of the Sabre moves that have come to pass, as well as provide information regarding events which have yet to take place.

Prospect Signings
Sabre GM Darcy Regier has had his hands full attempting to re-sign several veterans, but he managed to find the time (and money) to sign Sabre prospects Jaroslav Kristek (RW), David Moravec (W) and Luc Theoret (D).
Of the three signees, the player most ready to play in the NHL is 26 year-old Moravec, although he is by no means a shoo-in to make the Sabres roster. David played for Vitkovice in the Czech Elite League last season, where he totaled 38 points (19G, 19A) in 46 games. Moravec also was on the Czech Republic roster for the ’99 World Championships, where he went scoreless in 12 games. His 97-98 season was much more memorable, however, as he racked up 64 points (38G, 26A) in 51 games for Vitkovice, while also earning a gold medal as a member of the Czech Republic team at the ’98 Olympics. If David is to make the Sabre roster, he will have to show he can score against the tougher competition provided by the NHL. His point totals in the Czech Elite League suggest that he has the ability to score goals, but his international play has not been nearly as prolific. He signed just a 1-year deal, so it appears that it’s the NHL or bust for Moravec.

Jaroslav Kristek played well for most of the 98-99 season in Tri-City (WHL), but his production tailed off towards season’s end. Kristek’s drop-off in production was no doubt a product of his not being used to the longer schedule of the WHL, but his signing suggests the Sabres were quite pleased with his overall performance. Kristek, another product of the Czech Republic, is a feisty winger with decent speed and solid offensive skills. It isn’t likely that Jaroslav will make the Sabre roster this season, so, given the fact that he is still eligible to play in the WHL, it’s likely that he will return to Tri-City for one more season.

Back around the time of the signing deadline for ’97 draft choices, I was under the impression that the Sabres decided not to sign rearguard Luc Theoret. In fact, the Sabres did sign Luc right at the deadline, with his likely destination being the Rochester Americans. Theoret (pronounced Thee-or-ay) finished the season as a member of the Portland Winter Hawks, but he appeared in just 3 games for that team due to a knee injury. He was having a fine 98-99 season while playing for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he was the team captain and one of the Hurricanes’ leading scorers. Theoret has the size to play in the NHL, and, should he recover sufficiently from his knee injury, he could also develop into a good NHL defenseman. This season, however, will see Luc plying his trade on the Rochester blueline.

Desperately Seeking Maxim
There are indications that Maxim Afinogenov, the flashy Russian RW considered to be the Sabres best prospect by some, will be coming to North America this season. Maxim has played in just one pre-season game for Moscow Dynamo (his team of last season), and he is currently not under contract with that team. Maxim’s agent, Mike Gartner, has indicated that Afinogenov intends to play in the NHL this season, so all signs would seem to point to his signing with the Sabres. Maxim will no doubt be asking for the highest salary allowed under the rookie salary cap, so there is no guarantee he will join the team in time for training camp.
As to where Maxim would fit into the Sabre organization once he signs is another matter, but it is not inconceivable that he could make the Sabre roster. Some development time in Rochester probably would not hurt Afinogenov, but the Sabres could certainly use the offensive spark that he might be able to supply. Regardless, the Sabres appear to be on the verge of bringing into the fold the most exciting prospect they’ve had since Alexander Mogilny. Stay tuned!

Minding the Farm
The Sabres’ signing of D Doug Houda and C Chris Taylor should be considered moves to help improve the organization’s overall depth, while helping Rochester fill a couple holes created by the departures of Mike Harder and Dean Melanson. Houda will provide toughness and steady play, while Taylor will attempt to provide the timely scoring that Harder so ably provided last season for the Calder Cup-finalist Americans. Of the two players, Houda is the more likely to receive a call-up to the big club should there be a need, although both players have NHL experience.
With the signing of Houda, the Americans will have a potential defensive corps that includes Houda, Cory Sarich, Brian Campbell, Dimitri Kalinin, Luc Theoret and Jason Holland. Even without Sarich, Rochester should be solid along the blueline. Not a bad crop of defenseman for a minor league team!

Draft 2000
I’ll take this opportunity to correct an error from a previous column. I had stated in my 1999 Draft Preview column that the Sabres would be receiving a ’99 5th round pick from San Jose as future considerations from the Steve Shields trade. This statement was only partially correct, however, since the Sabres will be receiving a 5th round pick from San Jose in the ‘00 draft, rather than the ’99 draft. If Joe Juneau should sign with another team, which is fairly certain, the Sabres will receive a compensatory pick in the 2000 draft; the placing of that pick will be determined at a later date. This means that the Sabres already have 2 extra picks coming in the 2000 draft, which is a nice luxury to have.
Rookie Camp
The Sabre’s rookies will be taking part in a mini-camp to be held in Kitchener, ON from 9/1 to 9/4. Other teams taking part in this camp will be Toronto, Carolina and the NY Rangers. The Sabres took part in this camp last year, as well. Kitchener is a relatively short drive from Buffalo, so fans that attend this camp will get their first look at Sabre prospects like Mika Noronen and Milan Bartovic. For further information regarding this camp, you can contact the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium at (519) 576-3700, or via e-mail at rangers@chl.ca.
Training Camp Approaches
Should Sabre fans not have the opportunity to attend the rookie camp, fear not, because the Sabres training camp begins on 9/5. The training camp will take place primarily at the Pepsi Center in Amherst, NY. Given the fact that there are very few roster spots to be had on a Stanley Cup finalist, you will likely have to attend the practices at the beginning of camp to have any real chance of viewing the younger prospects. Practice times can be obtained by contacting the Sabres Office of Communications at (716) 855-4526.
Welcome To the Exhibition
The Buffalo Sabres’ exhibition schedule has been released, with the team playing just 7 games in 16 days. The Schedule looks like this:
Sept. 11 vs. Boston @ Rochester, NY — 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Tampa Bay @ Cleveland, OH — 8:00 p.m.
Sept. 19 vs. Tampa Bay @ Erie, PA — 6:00 p.m.
Sept. 22 vs. Detroit @ Detroit, MI — 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 vs. Washington @ Buffalo, NY — 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. Boston @ Boston, MA — 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Toronto @ Hamilton, ON — 7:30 p.m.

While there is only one game being played in Buffalo, several of the games are being played in cities that are just a short driving distance from the Buffalo area. It is possible that a couple of these games will be televised on the Empire Sports Network, but no broadcast schedule has been released at this time.
Coming Attractions
While we Sabre writers have not been very active in the past couple months, there will be plenty to write about in the near future. I’m going to put together a series of 99-00 (that still looks weird) preview stories that will breakdown the prospects by position (C, LW, RW, D, G). In these stories, I’ll try to point out which players have the best chance of making the Sabre roster (not very many), and where these players will play should they not make the big club. Also, a new format for the player profile pages will be implemented which will be somewhat similar to the NHL player profiles you’d find at the ESPN site. The stories and profiles should be appearing over the next couple weeks, so be sure to visit the Hockey’s Future site as often as you can.
In addition to continuing my duties as Sabre Editor, I’ll also be working on a column for HF that is tentatively set to appear on a bi-weekly basis. More details regarding this column will be given as the details are firmed up, but this column should begin at HF sometime in September. Once again, stay tuned!

That’s all for now!