Sabres Report: 2001 Draft Review

By Ken McKenna

The first day of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft could have been sub-titled “Darcy’s Lost Weekend”, but by the close of the NHL’s annual Prospectpalooza, there was more evidence provided that Buffalo GM Darcy Regier is one of the top GMs in all of hockey, if not the best.

Heading into the draft, there were high hopes amongst Buffalo fans that the weekend’s activities might yield a plethora of good, young prospects, with those players being acquired either through the draft, or through the departure of stars Dominik Hasek and Michael Peca via trades. As the first day of the draft wound down, however, the Sabres had little to show for all the rumors that had been associated with their prized trade bait, and they instead went about the business of making their first 4 choices.

Sunday was a new day, with Buffalo quickly consummating a trade with the San Jose Sharks, which sent Buffalo’s 5th round choice (formerly Montreal’s) to the Sharks in exchange for San Jose’s 5th (155th), 8th (234th), and 9th (279th) round selections. This trade allowed Buffalo to draft 4 more players over the final 6 rounds, leaving Buffalo with a total of 8 new prospects.

Darcy Regier’s day wasn’t finished, though, as he finally dealt Michael Peca to the New York Islanders for two promising young players, C Tim Connolly and LW Taylor Pyatt. Of the two players acquired, Connolly would seem to have the greater upside potential, as he is being touted by many to be a future offensive star, while Pyatt could be a solid power forward in 2-3 years. With Connolly having just turned 20, and Pyatt’s 20th birthday coming up in August, Buffalo could be said to have added 2 more high-end prospects to the 8 players that they drafted on the weekend.

As for Buffalo’s choices in the draft, the concentration was on forwards and defensemen, with a bolstering of the Sabres’ depth at center being the prime objective. 3 of Buffalo’s first 4 picks were used to draft centers, with each player bringing a different skill set to the position. 3 other picks were used on wingers, while the 2 remaining choices were used to tab defensemen. The breakdown of Buffalo’s draft by country consists of 4 Canadians, 2 Czechs, 1 Swede and 1 Slovakian.

Following is some information on each of the players drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. “CSS Ranking” is the player’s final ranking with Central Scouting, while the “THN Ranking” is where the player was ranked by the Hockey News in their Draft Preview issue.

  1. Jiri Novotny
  2. Position: Center

    Height: 6’2″

    Weight: 187

    Shoots: Right

    Team: Budejovice, Czech Sr. & Jr. Leagues

    CSS Ranking: 11th, European Skaters

    THN Ranking: 17th

    Draft Position: 1st Round, 22nd overall

    Buffalo needed to address depth problems at center in this draft, and they did so in the 1st round by choosing Jiri Novotny of the Czech Republic. Jiri certainly has the resume you look for in a top draft pick, as he has appeared in several international tournaments representing the Czech Republic, most recently as the Czech captain at the 2001 U-18 World Championships. Jiri finished 10th in scoring in that tourney (6GP, 4G, 3A, 7Pts.).

    Jiri spent most of this past season playing in the Budojevice organization, in both the Czech junior and senior leagues, with most of his time being spent with the junior team. Novotny was a leader for his junior team, while his role in the senior league was that of a 4th line checking center. Jiri may have given a hint of things to come in Budejovice’s (Sr.) last game of the year, where he was given the opportunity to center the first line. Novotny picked up 2 assists in that game (he had just 4 in 19 games), and served notice that he could be a force in the elite league next season.

    In some ways, Novotny is a prototypical Sabre, as he is described as a hard worker who is not afraid to battle along the boards for the puck. Jiri is said to have good speed, though just how good is apparently open to debate, as there are some scouts who have not been impressed with this aspect of his game. Novotny is said to possess good leadership qualities, which was evidenced by his turn as captain of the Czech U-18 team. He has good stickhandling skills, and can work in traffic to make a play. Jiri is a player a coach will put on the ice in the last minute of a game, whether it is to protect a lead or tie the game.

    On the negative side, Jiri doesn’t have a great shot, and he does not have a great touch around the net. There is also talk that his overall hockey sense is not what you would like to see in a top prospect, but he may have enough positives to overcome this fault.

    All in all, Buffalo probably landed the best player available at the 22nd choice. Jiri may not be 1st line material, but he has enough going for him that he should be able to make the Buffalo roster in 2-3 years.

  3. Derek Roy
  4. Position: Center

    Height: 5’8″

    Weight: 187

    Shoots: Left

    Team: Kitchener, OHL

    CSS Ranking: 25th, N. American Skaters

    THN Ranking: 59th

    Draft Position: 2nd Round, 32nd overall

    With their first pick in the 2nd round, Buffalo chose a center, Derek Roy, who is a living, breathing example of the adage “good things come in small packages”. Derek is an offensive dynamo playing on a weak Kitchener team, where he is by far their most talented player.

    Derek possesses a lot of the same qualities that made previous undersized stars Doug Gilmour and Thereon Fleury so successful. Roy has great determination, and a skill set to go along with that grit. He is a tireless worker, who has the speed and leg strength to put any defenseman on edge, and he is a fearless competitor.

    On offense, Derek has both a good shot and good puckhandling skills, which makes him a double threat when in the offensive zone. His 76 goals over the past two OHL seasons are evidence of his excellent scoring touch, while his 92 assists in that time frame also point to his sharp playmaking skills. Roy stepped right into Kitchener’s power play in his first season, and he has been running that unit ever since. In short, there isn’t much Derek can’t do on offense.

    Derek’s defensive work does not necessarily suffer in favor of his offense, however, as he is efficient at killing penalties, and is generally aware of his duties in his own zone. Roy is strong on face-offs, a trait he shares with top pick Jiri Novotny.

    Roy garnered several honors this season, including his being named MVP for Team Cherry in the CHL Prospects game, a berth on the OHL’s Western Conference All-Star Team, and being named Kitchener’s Most Outstanding Player. In addition to these, and other, awards, Derek has been invited to Canada’s tryout camp for the 2002 World Junior Championships.

    Were Derek 3-4 inches taller, he would probably have been top 10 material. There is some question as to whether or not he will be able to stand up to the bigger, swifter competition in the pros, but there is no question that Roy has the skill and determination to make it in the NHL.

  5. Chris Thorburn
  6. Position: Center

    Height: 6’2″

    Weight: 190

    Shoots: Right

    Team: North Bay, OHL

    CSS Ranking: 26th, N. American Skaters

    THN Ranking: 36th

    Draft Position: 2nd Round, 50th overall

    Chris Thorburn would appear to be a strong candidate for the position of checking center, although he has some skills that might set him apart from your average defensive specialist.

    Chris is a smooth-skating center with good playmaking skills who is not afraid to go to the net. Thorburn has enough speed to be an effective forechecker, and the size and toughness to go into the corners. He has a good shot, and is fairly adept at deflecting shots, but so far these skills haven’t translated into goals (22 this year).

    Thorburn is solid defensively, and is effective on face-offs (a familiar theme this year). He has seen time on North Bay’s power play and penalty killing units, which indicates some versatility to his game. Chris has even seen some time on defense, although his main position is clearly center.

    Thorburn’s game could best be summed up as workmanlike, so it remains to be seen how much upside he really has. There is some skill there, but it is not always evident to scouts who have seen Chris play.

  7. Jason Pominville
  8. Position: Right Wing

    Height: 5’11″

    Weight: 174

    Shoots: Right

    Team: Shawinigan, QMJHL

    CSS Ranking: 22nd, N. American Skaters

    THN Ranking: 69th

    Draft Position: 2nd Round, 55th overall

    While fellow Buffalo draftee Chris Thorburn saw his final CSS rating fall, Jason Pominville saw his CSS rating soar, from a mid-term rank of 45th amongst North American skaters, to his final ranking at the 22nd position.

    Pominville may have been one of the more natural goal-scorers in the 2001 draft, as he netted 46 goals for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes. Jason’s goal total was an eye-opener, considering the fact that he scored just 4 goals in 99-00. In addition to his goal-scoring prowess, Pominville also is a clever playmaker, as evidenced by his 67 assists in the 00-01 season. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Jason’s 00-01 season is that he piled up the points while playing on the Cataractes’ 2nd line and 2nd power play unit. With 2nd line talent like Jason, it is easy to see why Shawinigan is one of the top teams in the Q.

    Jason accomplished his offensive feats through a combination of speed, smarts and soft hands. He has a good, accurate shot, and a quick release that is common amongst good goal-scorers. In spite of his slight build, Pominville does not shy away from the heavy traffic, and he in fact has a knack for getting behind the opposition’s defense to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. In his own zone, Jason’s defensive skills are adequate, but there is always room for improvement in an 18-year-old prospect.

    Jason appeared in the CHL prospects game with fellow Buffalo draftees Thorburn and Derek Roy, and also was named to the Lebel Conference All-Star Team. He flirted with the QMJHL’s Offensive Player of the Week honors on a couple occasions, and actually received that honor for the week ending 11/26. Pominville’s strong 00-01 season, which saw him finish 10th in scoring in the Q, earned him an invitation to Canada’s 2002 WJC tryout camp.

    Pominville’s lack of size could hinder his progress in the pros, but he has enough speed and smarts that he might be able to overcome that deficiency. If Jason can continue his scoring ways in the pros, Buffalo’s search for a sniper may finally bear some fruit.

  9. Michal Vondrka
  10. Position: Left Wing

    Height: 6’0″

    Weight: 180

    Shoots: Right

    Team: Budejovice, Czech Sr. & Jr. Leagues

    CSS Ranking: No final rating, but ranked 63rd amongst European Skaters at mid-term

    THN Ranking: None

    Draft Position: 5th Round, 155th overall

    Michal was originally draft-eligible in 2000 (birth date 5/17/82, not 1983 as noted in some places), but was passed over in that draft. He was a teammate of Buffalo’s top pick in this draft, Jiri Novotny, and, like Novotny, spent time with Budejovice’s junior and senior clubs.

    Michal is said to be a solid all-around player, who contributes at both ends of the ice. He has good speed to go along with both a hard, accurate slapshot, as well as a good wrist shot. Vondrka functions reasonably well in traffic, mostly due to his stickhandling skills.

    On the downside, Michal is not a physical player, nor he does have a particularly good feel for the game. Because of these shortcomings, Vondrka would fall into the category of “project”, but he has enough skill that he could develop into a good 3rd or 4th line winger.

  11. Calle Aslund
  12. Position: Defense

    Height: 6’2″

    Weight: 194

    Shoots: Left

    Team: Huddinge IK, Swedish Junior League

    CSS Ranking: 75th, European Skaters

    THN Ranking: None

    Draft Position: 8th Round, 234th overall

    Aslund has played for Huddinge IK of the Swedish Junior League the past two seasons, on both their U-18 and U-20 teams. In April, Aslund represented Sweden at the U-18 tournament held in Finland, where he registered no points in 6 games while picking up 6 PIMs.

    In terms of skill, the only information I have on Calle is that he is a solid, two-way defenseman with good size and toughness. Judging by his statistics, he would appear to be more of a defensive defenseman. The fact that he played for a national team suggests that Aslund has more ability than the average Swedish defenseman of that age, but how good he is remains to be seen.

  13. Marek Dubec
  14. Position: Forward

    Height: 6’0″

    Weight: 170

    Shoots: Left

    Team: HC Vsetin, Czech Junior League

    CSS Ranking: None

    THN Ranking: None

    Draft Position: 8th Round, 247th overall

    Marek Dubec is a 19-year-old Slovak who spent the past season playing for Vsetin of the Czech junior league. Information on Marek is limited at this point, but he did have a productive regular season for Vsetin, notching 28 points (18G, 10A) in 34 games. His production increased in the Czech league’s modified post season, where he racked up another 23 points (16G, 7A) in 19 contests. Vsetin was beaten by Pardubice in the league finals, 2 games to 1.

    It can likely be inferred from Marek’s statistics that he has some goal-scoring ability, since he netted 34 goals in the 53 games that he played. Another noticeable statistic is the 72 PIMs he picked up in those same 53 games, which would indicate that he is no shrinking violet.

    Given his late draft position, and the fact that he is overage, it would seem that Dubec is a longshot to play pro hockey in North America. He would appear to have some intriguing possibilities based on his statistics, and I’m sure Buffalo’s European scout David Volek has taken more than a cursory glance at Marek’s abilities, so it’ll be interesting to see if Buffalo has turned up another late-round gem.

  15. Ryan Jorde

Position: Defense/Left Wing

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 210

Shoots: Right

Team: Tri-City, WHL

CSS Ranking: None

THN Ranking: None

Draft Position: 9th Round, 279th overall

Over the past couple of drafts, the Sabres have used the late rounds to choose players possessing one skill, namely toughness. Two years ago, it was Craig Brunel, while Sean McMorrow filled that bill in 2000. This year, that honor belongs to 19-year-old Tri-City Americans defenseman/left wing Ryan Jorde.

Ryan returned to the Americans via a trade early in the 2000-01 season, with his main focus being to open up the ice for some of the more talented players on Tri-City. Jorde’s 219 PIM indicate that he didn’t shy away from his duties, although it is interesting to note that he didn’t even have the most penalty minutes on his team.

Ryan’s main position is defense, where he plays a game that could best be described as simple. Ryan uses his size to keep the front of the net clear, and to take opposing players into the boards. Jorde does have a tendency to get burned one-on-one against quicker skaters, which may be a reason that he saw a fair amount of duty on the left wing. It’s been suggested that playing the wing might be Jorde’s future, since he can be effective at intimidating the opposition’s defense.

Once again, Ryan is a longshot to play for the Sabres, given his limited abilities. If his stint at the forward position turns out to be a successful move, Jorde could possibly carve out a decent minor league career for himself.

Overall, the Sabres drafted a fairly interesting group of players, and addressed some needs at a couple positions in the process. They have added some size to their prospect list, as well as some skill. Several of the draft picks fit the mold of a prototypical Sabres’ prospect- strong work ethic, good competitiveness – so these players shouldn’t have much trouble fitting in to Buffalo’s system.

The combination of the players drafted, plus the additions of young players Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, have definitely improved the depth of Buffalo’s prospect contingent, which means that Buffalo should remain a competitive team well into the future.

Thanks to Robert Neuhauser, HF poster projexns, and any others that provided information on Buffalo’s draftees.