If the occasion is a NHL Draft, then expect the Buffalo Sabres to do something unexpected. For “The Team Without Ownership” it was business as usual at the draft table, which for the Sabres translates into trades, as well as one or two surprising draft choices.
On the trade front, the Sabres completed the following deals during the first day of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft:
- Buffalo sent their second 1st round selection in the 2002 Entry Draft (30th overall) and the rights to unsigned draft choice Mike Pandolfo to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for the 20th pick overall in the 2002 Entry Draft, previously acquired by Columbus from New Jersey
- The Sabres then traded Vyacheslav Kozlov and their 2nd round pick in the 2002 Entry Draft (41st overall) to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for Atlanta’s 2nd round pick in the 2002 Entry Draft (31st overall) and a 2002 3rd round pick (82nd overall) previously acquired from Florida
- Buffalo followed that trade with a trade of two draft picks, its second 3rd round pick (88th overall) and their 2nd round choice in 2003, to Nashville for the Predators’ 2002 2nd round pick (36th overall)
- Finally, the Sabres moved the 2002 2nd round pick (31st overall) that they received from Atlanta, as well as the 2002 2nd round pick (36th overall) that they acquired from Nashville, to Edmonton in exchange for LW Jochen Hecht (pronounced Yoke-en Hesht)
For all intents and purposes, the Sabres acquired Hecht (LW, 6’1″, 200 lbs.) in exchange for Kozlov and the 2003 2nd round pick. Put another way, the Sabres gave up a damaged and disgruntled veteran with a couple Stanley Cup championships under his belt, plus a 2nd round pick in a deep draft in exchange for a younger player who may or may not have some upside to his game.
The trade flurry also saw Buffalo improve the position of their second 1st round pick, going from 30th overall to the 20th slot. The Sabres held onto their top choice, 11th overall, which they used to dumbfound many observers in the Air Canada Centre with their selection of University of Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard. Ballard was tabbed by most to be a 2nd round pick, with possibilities of moving up to the lower portion of the 1st round. Keith’s Central Scouting Bureau rating improved little from the mid-term to the final rankings, which was a big reason for the cries of “who?” that were heard after Buffalo selected the stocky defenseman. The fact that names like Steve Eminger, Jiri Hudler and Alexander Semin were still on the board made this choice truly look like a leap of faith.
With their second 1st round selection, the Sabres chose left wing Daniel Paille (pronounced pay-lee) from the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Paille has the size and speed to be an effective power forward in the NHL, except that he doesn’t always play like a power forward. Daniel would then appear to be a project, but he was probably as good a choice as Buffalo could have made at this position, with the possible exception of Hudler.
Buffalo may have stumbled upon some good fortune during Day Two of the Entry Draft, as they were able to draft a couple European players who were much more highly rated than their ultimate draft positions. Maxim Sheviev, the Sabres’ choice in the 6th round (178th overall), was ranked 51st by The Hockey News and 16th in Europe by the CSB. Max, who played for Elektrostal in Russia, is considered to be a smart player who plays a conservative game. THN likened him to Sergei Nemchinov, which isn’t bad company for a player drafted in the 6th round.
One prospect that fell even further than Sheviev was defenseman Martin Cizek, Buffalo’s choice in the 9th (271st overall) and final round of the draft. Cizek, who played for Slavia in the Czech junior league, was rated 25th amongst European skaters by the CSB.
Overall, the Sabres used five draft picks on defenseman, two on left wings, two on centers and one on a goaltender. The individual draft picks were as follows:
- Keith Ballard, D, Minnesota (WCHA)
- Dan Paille, LW, Guelph (OHL)
- Michael Tessier, LW, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
- John Adams, D, Boston College (Hockey East)
- Jakub Hulva, C/W, Vitkovice (Czech Republic)
- Marty Magers, G, Omaha (USHL)
- Maxim Sheviev, C, Elektrostal (Russia)
- Radoslav Hecl, D, Bratislava (Slovakia)
- Dennis Wideman, D, London (OHL)
- Martin Cizek, D, Slavia (Czech Jr.)
The Sabres may have gambled a bit in the early portion of the 2002 Draft, but they also appear to have found some value in later rounds. If Keith Ballard turns out to be everything the Buffalo scouting staff thinks he is, it will go a long way towards making this draft a success. As it is, the Sabres may still be able to salvage a decent draft even if Ballard doesn’t live up to his high draft position. It will, however, be at least a couple seasons before we can begin to gauge the success or failure of Darcy Regier & Company’s two days of work in Toronto.