If the Buffalo Sabres had adopted a theme for their selections at the 2002 Entry Draft, it might have been “Coming to the Defense”.
The Sabres used half of their allotment of 10 choices to draft defenseman, which is an area of definite need in the organization. One of those rearguards, Keith Ballard, was Buffalo’s top draft pick in the first round, going 11th overall to the club. The choice of Ballard surprised many observers at the Draft, due to the lack of consensus amongst scouts as to where Keith would be chosen. This uncertainty did not deter Darcy Regier and the Buffalo draft table, however.
So just how good a player is Keith Ballard? How soon can Buffalo’s other 2002 first round choice, Dan Paille, land a spot on the Sabres’ roster? For that matter, how successful will this group of Sabres’ 2002 draftees ultimately be? The answers to these questions will become apparent over the next 2-3 seasons, of course, but it is possible to initially lay out the current strengths and weaknesses of each player.
Below is more detailed information on each of the draftees. Information has been somewhat difficult to come by for one or two of the prospects, but there should be enough intelligence available to create a basic profile of each player.
In each of the profiles, CSB= Central Scouting Bureau. The height and weight for each player, with two exceptions, is taken from the CSB Final Rankings.
2002 Draft Picks of the Buffalo Sabres
- Keith Ballard
- Dan Paille
- Michael Tessier
- John Adams
- Jakub Hulva
- Marty Magers
- Maxim Sheviev
- Radoslav Hecl
- Dennis Wideman
- Martin Cizek
Weight: 200 lbs.
Team: University of Minnesota (WCHA)
CSB Ranking: 19th, North American Skaters
Draft Position: First Round, 11th overall
Keith Ballard has achieved a good deal in his young life. He has been a member of championship teams the past two seasons, in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers, and this season as a member of the NCAA-champion University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. He has represented his country, the U.S., at the World Junior Championships, and is a graduate of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Ballard has even received recognition in another sport, as he was an All-Conference football player in high school.
When you look at a resume such as Keith’s, it might go a long way towards explaining why the Buffalo Sabres decided to pass over several more highly-regarded players to select Ballard with their first pick in the 2002 Entry Draft. The selection certainly should have made Keith happy, since he opted out of the 2001 Draft (he turns 20 in November) in the hopes that he would be drafted at a higher position in 2002. The move paid off in spades.
Beyond his obvious achievements, there is a good bit to like about Keith as a hockey player. At 5’11″, Ballard may not be as tall as you would like a NHL defenseman to be, but he has the skill and bulk to make up for this shortcoming.
Keith is best described as an offensive defenseman, given his excellent skating and passing skills, as well as his penchant for joining the offensive rush. Ballard possesses a hard shot, and is equally effective with his slap or wrist shot. Unlike most offensive defenseman, however, Keith brings his football mentality onto the ice in the form an aggressive, no-nonsense style of play. Ballard isn’t afraid to take the body, and he has the bulk to let the opposition know that he isn’t a lightweight.
Ballard would appear to have some leadership qualities, as well, if the confidence Minnesota coach Don Lucia has shown in Keith is any indication. The stocky defenseman is used in all types of situations, including the special teams units, or late in a game. Using a freshman defenseman in this manner is unusual, and is an indication that Keith could be a very special prospect.
As with all young defensemen, Keith will need to improve his defensive play and positioning to ultimately make the jump to the pro game. In spite of these deficiencies, Keith may have enough pure talent to turn pro as soon as 2003, so Sabres’ fans may get a look at him in a Buffalo uniform sooner than they think.
In terms of comparisons, many observers are quick to mention the name of Keith’s former Minnesota teammate, and recent Calgary signee, defenseman Jordan Leopold. While the comparison has some merit due to Leopold’s offensive style of play, Ballard may actually more closely resemble current Sabres’ defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. Both players are short, stocky defensemen who can rush the puck, with Zhitnik being a little less physical player than Ballard.
While landing the heir to Alex Zhitnik may not excite many Buffalo fans, there is a possibility that Keith could ultimately be a better player than the Russian rearguard. Sabres’ management will certainly be happy if Keith ends up being as physically talented as Alexei, but they’ll be ecstatic if Ballard displays more brainpower than the inconsistent Zhitnik
Position: Left Wing/Center
Weight: 200 lbs.
Team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
CSB Ranking: 12th, North American Skaters
Draft Position: First Round, 20th overall
After addressing a need at defense with their top choice in the draft, the Sabres used a second 1st round pick to add some depth to their left wing corps. With a pick acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Sabres selected Dan Paille of the OHL’s Guelph Storm.
There seems to be agreement amongst many NHL scouts that Dan is a solid two-way forward who possesses excellent speed and good stickhandling ability. There is also talk that Paille could have some offensive upside to his game, but that view is not held by a majority of scouts. Most descriptions of Dan’s playing style seem to indicate that he is a power forward that doesn’t always play like one, indicating a lack of consistency to his game.
In terms of situational play, Paille is adept at penalty killing, but he does not see as much time on Guelph’s power play unit. The Storm coaching staff also thinks highly of Dan’s character, and they are not afraid to throw him on the ice in tight situations late in a game.
It’s roundly agreed that Dan will play in the NHL, but where he ultimately fits into the Buffalo lineup will likely depend on how much his offensive game improves. At worst, the Sabres appear to have landed themselves a solid candidate for 3rd-line duty who has the versatility to play left wing or center. In some ways, the drafting of Paille could be seen as a replacement of Buffalo’s 1999 1st round pick Barrett Heisten, since the two players are very similar in their style of play. Where the Sabres hope Dan doesn’t emulate Heisten is in the area of contract negotiations, since Heisten decided to become an UFA rather than sign with Buffalo (Paille won’t have that option, however).
Dan could find himself on the world stage later this year, due to his invitation to Team Canada’s National Junior Team Development Camp taking place in August. He will join fellow Buffalo prospect Derek Roy, as well as forty-two of Canada’s best young players, in Nova Scotia for the 10-day camp, which will be used to help assemble Canada’s entry for the 2003 World Junior Championships. The experience can only be a good one for Paille, as he’ll get the opportunity to test his skills against his peers, which he was also able to do in this year’s CHL Prospect game.
Position: Left Wing
Weight: 180 lbs.
Team: Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
CSB Ranking: 72nd, North American Skaters
Draft Position: Third Round, 76th overall
To some, the selection of Michael Tessier (pronounced Tes-see-ay) by the Sabres in the third round of the draft was a bit of a steal. While that point may be debatable, there is no question that Tessier has some skills that make him an intriguing selection.
There is certainly a good bit to like about the left winger. Michael is a solid, all-around player whose offensive talent blossomed some this year. It isn’t likely that Tessier will ever be a goal-scorer, but he has the playmaking ability to set up more offensively talented teammates, and he isn’t afraid to go into the corners to help create those offensive chances. Tessier’s motor is running every shift, so you know that he’ll never shortchange a team in the effort department.
The two things that ultimately might be working against Tessier are his average skating ability and his slight build. Adding bulk shouldn’t be a problem, of course, but that might have a negative effect on his already mediocre foot speed. If Michael can add some weight to his frame, and make up for his skating deficiency with his overall effort, the Sabres could have themselves a solid offensive prospect on the left side.
Weight: 188 lbs.
Team: Boston College (Hockey East)
CSB Ranking: 63rd, North American Skaters
Draft Position: Third Round, 82nd overall
When you draft a player with the name John Adams whose current address is Boston, MA, visions of men in powdered wigs come to mind rather than hockey players in maroon and gold jerseys. In an ironic twist, the John Adams drafted by the Sabres is not a Boston native at all, but instead originally hails from the hockey hotbed of Minnesota.
Adams is lanky defenseman currently playing for Boston College in the NCAA’s Hockey East conference. Before joining BC, John was a top defenseman in Minnesota high school hockey where he earned several honors, which included being a finalist for that state’s “Mr. Hockey” award, given to the top hockey player in the state. In addition to being an excellent hockey player, Adams was also a very good baseball player, earning accolades as a shortstop and pitcher.
His freshman season with Boston College was a learning experience, as he and his BC teammates struggled through a campaign filled with injuries and inconsistency. The team started to come together later in the season, with the play of freshmen like Adams being a key to the team’s resurgence.
In terms of his skill, it would appear that John is concentrating more on his defensive duties at the expense of other parts of his game. Adams showed in high school that he could generate some offense, which he also exhibited late in the 01-02 season for BC. Unfortunately, information of John’s overall play is limited, but he certainly has the size to eventually become a NHL defenseman.
Position: Right Wing/Center
Weight: 172 lbs.
Team: Vitkovice (Jr.), Czech Republic
CSB Ranking: 110th, European Skaters
Draft Position: Fourth Round, 108th overall
It took them four rounds, but the Sabres finally chose a player from one of their favorite hockey factories, the Czech Republic, when they chose right wing Jakub Hulva from the Vitkovice organization.
There is no mystery to Jakub’s game, as he is a pure finesse player. Hulva won’t ever deliver bone-crunching hits, or receive quality time late in a game when his team is defending a lead. But the swift winger just might be the kind of guy Buffalo would want on the ice when they need a tying, or winning, marker.
Hulva does have some versatility to his game, since he can play both the wing and center. This flexibility is reminiscent of current Sabre prospect, and fellow Czech, Ales Kotalik, who has also proven to be a valuable player at both right wing and center. In spite of this comparison, a more precise comparison for Jakub, at least in terms of style of play, might be current Buffalo winger Miro Satan. Satan was very much a finesse player early in his career, but he has developed into a decent two-way player in recent years. This might be a wise career path for Hulva, as well.
Jakub has good, but not blazing, speed, and the ability to make plays at a high tempo. He has a decent scoring touch, but it is said that he tends to favor the pass over a shot. Because of this trait, his best position might be as a center, where his playmaking talents can best be put to use. To be a center or a winger in the NHL, however, Hulva will have to add some bulk to his skinny frame.
Weight: 180 lbs.
Team: Omaha Lancers (USHL)
CSB Ranking: 9th, North American Goaltenders
Draft Position: Fourth Round, 121st overall
With Buffalo’s decision not to sign goaltender Ghyslain Rousseau, as well as the rumblings that top prospect Ryan Miller might try to go the free agent route, it was not that surprising that Buffalo chose to use a pick on a netminder.
The netminder they chose, Marty Majers of the Omaha Lancers in the USHL, was a teammate of Buffalo’s 1st round pick Keith Ballard when the two played for Omaha’s championship squad back in the 00-01 season. While Ballard clearly has been a star on most of the teams for which he has played, Magers has not been the go-to guy in goal when Omaha has needed a win. Last season, Ray Fraser (now in the UHL) overshadowed Marty while receiving the lion’s share of the work in the playoffs. This year, Domenic Vicari stole some of the limelight from Majers, with Vicari seeing action in most of Omaha’s crucial playoff games.
In spite of the lack of total faith his Omaha coaches have shown in Marty, the Sabres obviously see something in his game that they feel could make Majers a solid goaltender down the road. The coaches at Michigan Tech must feel the same way, as they have recruited Marty to play for them starting with the 2002-03 season, where they expect the Illinois native to compete for the starting job.
The book on Majers is that he is a solid competitor, to the point of getting into fights with goaltenders on opposing teams. Marty is considered to be a competent technician who possesses good puckhandling skills and communicates well with his defense. What remains to be seen is how well Majers can handle the pressure of being the #1 goaltender, especially in the highly competitive WCHA.
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Elektrostal, Russia
CSB Ranking: 16th, European Skaters
Draft Position: Sixth Round, 178th overall
The stock of a player can rise or fall on Draft Day, with the latter being the case for Buffalo’s sixth round choice, center Maxim Sheviev. Maxim’s fall was a little surprising, considering that he was roundly considered to be a solid second round prospect. Perhaps teams were scared away by his slight build, but that may end up being a case of not seeing the forest through the trees.
Sheviev (pronounced She-vyev) is a player who gets by on his smarts rather than any great physical ability. He would appear to be an excellent candidate to one day be a checking center, given his attention to the defensive side of the game. Maxim is said to be a very reliable player, with enough grit to handle the tougher going in the NHL. He’ll definitely need to add some weight to be able to handle some of the larger centers in the NHL, but there is little question that he has the maturity to carry out his defensive duties.
In terms of a comparison, The Hockey News offers up winger Sergei Nemchinov as an example of the kind of player Sheviev can become. Given the fact that Maxim is a center, a better comparison might be a player like former NHL star, and Selke trophy winner, Guy Carbonneau. Sheviev may not be the offensive threat that Carbonneau was in his younger days, but the two players share the same attention to defense that is necessary for all successful NHL checking centers. Regardless, if the Sabres can come away at this pick with a player the caliber of a Nemchinov or Carbonneau, they will have done very well for themselves.
Weight: 196 lbs.
Team: Bratislava, Slovakia
CSB Ranking: NR
Draft Position: Seventh Round, 208th overall
Buffalo or Bust! No, that isn’t the new slogan for Mark Hamister’s ownership group, but rather the situation that the Sabres’ seventh round selection, defenseman Radoslav Hecl, will be in come September.
Hecl is a 28-year-old from Slovakia who also happens to be a boyhood friend of current Sabre Miroslav Satan. Radoslav put in a good showing at the 2002 World Championships, where he and Satan picked up gold medals as members of the victorious Slovakian team. Perhaps as a favor to Miro, as well as an acknowledgement of Buffalo’s shaky depth at defense, the Sabres decided to take a chance on the solidly built defender.
Radoslav would appear to be more of a defensive defenseman, although he does have some offensive ability. Hecl isn’t afraid to clear the front of the net, and he doesn’t shy away from battles along the boards, so the Slovakian rearguard might be a welcome addition to the Sabres’ defensive corps. Radoslav’s skating is described as average, however, so that may keep him from being a regular in the Buffalo lineup.
In an interview in a Slovakian newspaper, Hecl stated that he has no desire to play in the AHL, so he’ll have to make Buffalo’s roster in training camp. Should Radoslav fail to make the team, he has indicated he will return to Slovakia to play for Bratislava.
Weight: 200 lbs.
Team: London Knights (OHL)
CSB Ranking: NR
Draft Position: Eighth Round, 241st overall
The Buffalo Sabres’ scouting staff seems to have an eye for defensemen under 6’, if the drafting of Ballard and their 2002 eighth round pick, Dennis Wideman, is any indication. Both Wideman and Ballard qualify as offensive defenseman that play a robust style of hockey, with Ballard being the more talented player, overall.
Wideman, a 19-year-old, entered the 01-02 season with little fanfare, having been passed over in his draft year. The disappointment of sitting through two days of last year’s NHL Draft without hearing his name called apparently spurred Dennis on to greater heights, as he was one of the OHL’s top defensemen this season. The effort did not go unnoticed, with Wideman being voted the Most Improved Player (as well as the Hardest Shot) in the 01-02 OHL Coaches Poll. In addition, the stocky rearguard was London’s nominee for the OHL’s MVP and Top Defenseman awards.
With 69 points (27G, 42A) in 65 regular season games, Dennis finished 2nd in scoring amongst OHL defensemen. A good portion of Wideman’s point total- 43 points, to be exact – came on the power play, where he was able to make use of his hard, accurate shot and playmaking abilities. The London defender also has earned a reputation of being one of the best hip-check artists in the CHL, which goes along with his gritty style of play.
In terms of Wideman’s weaknesses, his defensive play in his own zone is average at times, while his overall creativity may not be what an NHL team is looking for in an offensive defenseman. Dennis has certainly shown a will to compete, so that may go a long way in helping him overcome his shortcomings.
Weight: 192 lbs.
Team: Slavia (Jr.), Czech Republic
CSB Ranking: 25th, European Skaters
Draft Position: Ninth Round, 271st overall
If it can be said that Maxim Sheviev’s stock dropped on Draft Weekend, then, by comparison, Martin Cizek’s rating was in a full-blown free fall. Cizek, who was rated 25th amongst European Skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau, fell all the way to the 271st position, with the Buffalo Sabres being only too happy to scoop him up.
Martin, a defenseman from the Czech Republic, might simply be an example of a player whom the scouts think could show more talent than is being put on display. Cizek is not a flashy player, having been described as a stay-at-home defenseman. His game is all about making the safe play and moving the puck out of his own end, rather than taking the puck end-to-end on an offensive rush. There is no question that Cizek has the size and speed to be a NHL defender, so it’s a little mystifying as to why his star fell so far during the Draft.
In addition to being chosen by the Buffalo Sabres, Martin also had his name called in the CHL Import Draft by the Plymouth Whalers. This will be an excellent chance for Cizek to prove the other 29 NHL teams wrong, as well as get himself acclimated to the North American style of play. The Czech rearguard will have to show that he can stand up to the grittier style of play employed by many OHL teams, an approach that may not have been as prevalent in the Czech junior league that produced Martin.
Overall, the Sabres would seem to have had a pretty good Draft Weekend in Toronto. Once the initial disappointment with the Keith Ballard selection had passed, it became clear that there is a good bit to like about the University of Minnesota defenseman. Moving up to draft Dan Paille was a solid move to help shore up a deficiency in the organization, as was the selection of 5 defensemen. Landing both Sheviev and Cizek in the later rounds could ultimately be the two moves that make this draft a success for the Sabres, but those two players will need to prove their worth against better competition.
Thanks to Robert Neuhauser, Thomas Ergy and Jake Dole for their input on some of the draftees.