Sabres Report: A Roy of Hope

By Ken McKenna

The on-ice fortunes of the 2002-2003 Buffalo Sabres have been equally as dismal as the uncertain off-ice situation that currently surrounds the club. The team has sunk to the bottom of the NHL standings, due mostly to the uninspired play of many of the players on the roster. To make matters worse, there does not appear to be a player on the Buffalo roster that can provide the spark that is necessary to lift the team out of their funk.

While it may not come as much comfort to Sabres’ fans in these bleak times- who knows if the club will be here next season, after all – there are some future reinforcements in the team’s prospect pool that could bring some vigor to the currently moribund bunch that wears the red-and-black. Some of those prospects are currently showing their stuff with the red-hot Rochester Americans of the AHL, but the most promising offensive prospect might be center Derek Roy of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

Derek had a strong showing in Buffalo’s training camp and preseason, but was returned to Kitchener for further development. Rather than sulk over the missed opportunity of landing a spot on a NHL roster, Roy instead has been one of the top performers in the OHL so far this season. The Rockland, ON native is currently 7th in total points (25GP, 15G, 35A) in the OHL, while leading the Rangers in that category. Roy is also in the top ten in other league categories, including assists (4th), short-handed goals (9th), and plus/minus rating (6th).

Offense isn’t the only part of Derek’s game that has been impressive this season, however, since he has shown the leadership capabilities to be named captain of both the Kitchener Rangers and the OHL’s Western Conference All-Star squad that took part in the CHL’s Hershey Cup series (Roy scored the winning goal in a 2-0 victory in that game). Kitchener is currently tied for 2nd overall in the OHL, while also being ranked 4th in the CHL’s top ten rankings, so Derek may eventually have a chance to lead his teammates to the Memorial Cup tournament.

Roy will have a more immediate showcase for his talents, however, as he has been named to Canada’s 2003 World Junior team. Derek will be joined at this tournament by at least two other Buffalo prospects, with Daniel Paille (Canada) and Jiri Novotny (Czech Republic) being named by their respective countries to play in the WJC. Another Sabres’ prospect, defenseman Calle Aslund, has been named to Sweden’s preliminary roster, but his status won’t be known until shortly before the tournament.

While Daniel Paille doesn’t come into the WJC with quite the credentials that Roy has established this season, he is nevertheless having a good year for the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Daniel got off to a hot start in the 02-03 season, including a 5-game scoring streak in October where he racked up 9 points. The native of Welland, ON was amongst the OHL’s top 10 goal-scorers before leaving for the WJC Selection Camp, but he currently sits in 13th place in that category with 19 goals.

Jiri Novotny’s selection to the Czech Republic squad comes at a time when it appeared the 19-year-old center was starting to warm up to the competition in the AHL. Novotny had gotten off to a slow start this season in Rochester as he tried to acclimate himself to the North American pro game. Jiri seems to be settling in more recently, however, if the goals he scored in two consecutive games this past weekend are any indication. Novotny will be playing in his 2nd straight WJC tournament.

The last of Buffalo’s potential quartet of World Junior participants, Calle Aslund, would also be making his 2nd appearance at the WJC if he were selected. Aslund most likely would be chosen for his defensive skills, since that is the role he has played this season for Huddinge HK in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league.

Roy and Paille will be members of the "home" team at this WJC, since Canada is the host this year. The tournament begins on December 26th, with games taking place in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia.