With the dust now cleared following the completion of the 2003 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres appear to have a slightly more balanced prospect chart than they had going into the draft. Positions that were wanting for prospects have now had some depth added, while the team continued to add some depth at positions where there isn’t that great a need.
Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and his scouts clearly saw that they needed to add some depth on defense, as evidenced by the five defensemen selected on the second day of the draft. Also addressed was a lack of compelling youngsters for the left wing, a need that was convincingly filled with the selection of University of Minnesota sniper Tomas Vanek. The Sabres also added some depth to the center, right wing and goaltending positions, which were areas that didn’t necessarily need attention.
The breakdown by country of the players chosen by the Sabres is the following: Canada (4), Russia (2), United States (1), Czech Republic (1), Slovakia (1), and Austria (1). The 10 selections the team made equaled the number of players chosen by the Sabres in the 2002 NHL Draft, and marked the fifth time during Darcy Regier’s tenure as GM that the Sabres have had 10 or more selections in an NHL Draft.
In each of the profiles below, CSS= Central Scouting Service, while PA= Prospect Adviser, Hockey’s Future’s own scouting service. The height and weight for each player is taken from the CSS Final Rankings.
2003 Draft Selections of the Buffalo Sabres
- Tomas Vanek
- Branislav Fabry
- Clarke MacArthur
- Jan Hejda
- Denis Ezhov
- Thomas Morrow
- Pavel Voroshnin
- Nathan Paetsch
- Jeff Weber
- Louis Philippe Martin
Position: Left Wing
Team: University of Minnesota (WCHA)
CSS Rank: 3rd, North American Skaters
PA Rank: 6th overall
Draft Position: First round, 5th overall
Thomas Vanek opted out of the 2002 NHL Draft, a move that paid off in spades for both Vanek and the team that chose him, the Buffalo Sabres. The 19-year-old Austrian had already established his credentials as a top prospect during the 2002-03 season, but he cemented his reputation as a big game player at the Frozen Four Tournament held in Buffalo, where he was the driving force in the University of Minnesota’s second consecutive national championship.
Vanek earned many honors following his breakout year, including the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year award, as well as a second team berth on the All-WCHA squad. His clutch performance at the Frozen Four earned Vanek the Most Outstanding Player Award for that tournament, which was only the fourth time since 1948 that a freshman has won that award.
What Vanek brings to the Sabres is the ability to score goals, a talent that the team has sought since Alexander Mogilny was traded to Vancouver in 1995. The winger has shown a knack for scoring big goals, a reputation earned as a result of the 17 goals he scored in the third period or overtime of games last season. In addition to his goal-scoring prowess, Vanek also possesses a deft passing touch, as well as a panic point only found in players of special ability.
The areas of the Graz, Austria native’s game that need some work are his skating and defensive play. Vanek probably has enough foot speed to play in the NHL, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against the more talented defensemen in the pros. And, like every young player, Vanek certainly needs to be more defensively aware in his own end, since he does have a tendency to float outside his own blue line.
Position: Right Wing
Team: Bratislava Jr. (Slovakia)
Weight: 185 lbs.
CSS Rank: 31st, European Skaters
PA Rank: 169th overall
Draft Position: Second round, 65th overall
Another player whose stock rose late in the 2002-03 season was the Sabres second round selection, right wing Branislav Fabry. Like Vanek, Fabry increased his draft value with a strong performance at a tournament held in April, except Fabry’s showcase was the World Junior Championships (Under 18) held in Yaroslavl, Russia. Fabry was a key player for the silver medal-winning Slovakian squad, as he notched three goals and two assists in seven games.
The Bratislava, Slovakia native played junior hockey in his hometown this past season, where he posted five goals and six assists in 13 regular season games for a strong Slovan Bratislava squad. In 17 post-season games, Fabry netted six goals and eight assists, while leading the team in penalty minutes with 55.
The description of Fabry’s skills brings to mind former Sabres first round pick Barrett Heisten, in that the Slovak skates well and has good balance, but his overall skill level is not well-developed. Additionally, Fabry’s hockey sense may not be a strong point, but he did show improvement in that area over the course of the 2002-03 season.
Position: Center/Left Wing
Team: Medicine Hat (WHL)
Weight: 180 lbs.
CSS Rank: 70th, North American Skaters
PA Rank: 84th overall
Draft Position: Third round, 74th overall
For their last pick of the NHL Draft’s first day, the Sabres continued their focus on forwards with the selection of center/left wing Clarke MacArthur. MacArthur played for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL during the 2002-03 season, where he was able to showcase his offensive skill with the likes of talented teammates Joffrey Lupul, Stefan Meyer and Chris St. Jacques.
MacArthur was a surprise in the Tigers 2002 training camp, in part because he showed up four inches taller after a summer growth spurt. The native of Lloydminster, Alberta showed early on that he could be a force on offense, but MacArthur also failed to display a grasp of the defensive side of the game, which showed in his dreadful –27 plus/minus rating. MacArthur managed to get that portion of his game under control as the season progressed, however, which was no doubt a major reason for the improvement from 91 to 70 in his Central Scouting ranking.
In terms of talent, MacArthur’s main attributes are his skating and his ability to see a play develop. MacArthur, who finished second in the WHL amongst rookie scorers, is definitely more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, while his 104 penalty minutes suggests that he has at least some grit in his game. To become a NHL player, however, MacArthur must continue his improvement on defense, while also adding some muscle to his currently skinny frame.
Team: Slavia (Czech Republic)
CSS Rank: Not ranked
PA Rank: Not ranked
Draft Position: Fourth round, 106th overall
Day 2 of the Sabres draft began with the first of five consecutive defensive selections. Jan Hejda, a 25-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic, was the first of the Sabres two fourth round selections.
Hejda played for Slavia in the Czech Extraleague during the 2002-03 season, where he developed into a steady defenseman with some offensive ability. He was the leading scorer amongst defensemen in the 2003 Extraleague playoffs, which made Hejda a key player in Slavia’s championship season.
The big Czech defender generates most of his offense with his hard shot and solid passing skills, but he does not have the foot speed to be a puck-rushing defenseman. Defensively, Hejda can play a sound positional game, and he uses his long reach to his advantage. The lumbering rearguard has been known to dish out some good hits, but he can also have trouble when facing faster opponents. With continued development, Hejda could join the Sabres sooner rather than later.
Team: Togliatti (Russia)
Weight: 200 lbs.
CSS Rank: 21st, European Skaters
PA Rank: 36th overall
Draft Position: Fourth round, 114th overall
The Sabres second pick of the fourth round, Russian defenseman Denis Ezhov, was a player the team expected would not be available at that point in the draft. Ezhov was generally considered to have second round talent, but his stock dropped leading up to draft day.
While the stocky rearguard’s talent may have been questioned by some NHL talent evaluators, he has been an integral part of Russia’s national program the past couple of seasons. Ezhov has appeared in the Under-18 and Under-20 World Junior Championships, and he would appear to be a lock to play in the U20 again this year.
Ezhov is considered to be a defensive defenseman. His skating is best described as adequate, and he is hard to knock off of the puck. Ezhov is physical enough to play in the NHL, but there are those who think his upside is questionable. In some ways, the description of Ezhov’s game parallels that of Sabres prospects Doug Janik and Denis Denisov, with both of those players being very much “what you see is what you get” types of players. Ezhov won’t dazzle people with skill, but he could be a good depth player if he plays within himself.
Team: Des Moines (USHL)
Weight: 198 lbs.
CSS Rank: 82nd, North American Skaters
PA Rank: 157th overall
Draft Position: Fifth round, 150th overall
The Sabres fifth round selection, defenseman Thomas Morrow, is one of the tallest players the team has ever drafted. The lanky rearguard starred in the USHL last season, and, after being heavily recruited by several NCAA programs, will start his college career this fall at Boston University.
Morrow began the 2002-03 season with the Tri-City Storm, but was dealt to the Des Moines Buccaneers shortly before the season’s midpoint. He was named to the Team World squad for the 2003 USHL All-Star game held in February. Morrow picked up 11 points in 57 regular season games to go along with 104 minutes in penalties. He registered no points and just four penalty minutes in four playoff games for Des Moines.
Because of his size and skating ability, Morrow is an intriguing prospect. He is not as awkward as one would expect someone of Morrow’s young age and skinny build to be, while his skating ability is advanced enough that he is unafraid to occasionally lead a rush up the ice. Morrow’s major shortcoming would appear to be his positional play in his own end, and he generally lacks a physical dimension to his game.
Team: Mississauga (OHL)
Weight: 175 lbs.
CSS Rank: 52nd, North American Skaters
PA Rank: 92nd overall
Draft Position: Sixth round, 172nd overall
The Sabres selected another offensively oriented defenseman in the sixth round, Russian Pavel Voroshnin of the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dogs. Voroshnin is another Sabres selection whose stock dropped a bit at the NHL Draft, with most scouting services rating the puck-rushing defenseman much higher than where he was actually selected.
As a rookie in 2002-03, Voroshnin finished tenth in OHL rookie scoring with 36 points. It appeared that the skinny rearguard might be on his way to a much bigger season, as he had accumulated 32 points in 48 games. Over the last 20 games of the season, however, Voroshnin tallied just four points, a fact that may have contributed to the drop in his draft position. In spite of the falloff in his offensive output, Voroshnin was Mississauga’s nominee for the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman Award.
Voroshnin loves to have the puck on his stick, and at this point in his development is more inclined to take off on an offensive rush than he is to mind his defensive duties. He can quarterback a power play, with his passing being a more effective weapon than his shot. Voroshnin will need to improve his work in his own end of the ice, and he’ll need to add some bulk to his skinny frame to handle the bigger competition in the pro game.
Team: Moose Jaw (WHL)
Weight: 195 lbs.
CSS Rank: Not ranked
PA Rank: Not ranked
Draft Position: Seventh round, 202nd overall
The last of the Sabres five consecutive defensive picks was Nathan Paetsch, a defenseman with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Paetsch originally was a second round selection for Washington in the 2001 NHL Draft, but he did not come to terms on a contract before this year’s June 1st deadline.
Paetsch has been a solid offensive performer throughout his WHL career, with the 2002-03 season bringing a couple more honors his way. The Humboldt, Saskatchewan native was named to the WHL squad in the CHL’s Hershey Cup Series, and at season’s end was selected as a Second Team WHL All-Star. In addition to those league honors, Paetsch played for Canada at the 2003 World Junior Championships, his second consecutive appearance with that team, and his fourth with a Canadian national team.
The 20-year-old defender has made his reputation in the offensive zone, as he possesses both a good shot and an accurate passing touch. Paetsch has quarterbacked Moose Jaw’s power play the past few seasons, so he could have some value to the Sabres moribund power play unit. The rest of Paetsch’s game is not nearly as impressive, however, as his defensive skills are average, while his physical play is at times non-existent.
Team: Plymouth (OHL)
Weight: 183 lbs.
CSS Rank: 24th, North American Goaltenders
PA Rank: Not Ranked
Draft Position: Eighth round, 235th overall
The Sabres added another goaltender to their depth chart with the selection of the Plymouth Whalers’ Jeff Weber. Weber was acquired from the Soo Greyhounds early in the 2002-03 season, where he spent his rookie season as a backup to Whalers veteran goaltender Paul Drew.
Weber won the OHL’s F.W. Dinty Moore Award for the lowest rookie goals-against average while also sharing with his teammate Drew that league’s Dave Pinckney Trophy for the lowest team goals against. Weber’s .925 save percentage was also the best in the OHL.
The lanky native of Burlington, Ontario is described as a more of a stand-up style of goaltender that relies on his positioning to thwart opposing shooters. Weber has good lateral movement, and for the most part does not wander from his crease. His puck handling is described as just adequate, which may be the reason he doesn’t stray from his net too often.
Weber is expected to backup Paul Drew again in the coming season should Drew return as an overage player.
Position: Right Wing
Team: Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Weight: 172 lbs.
CSS Rank: 50th, North American Skaters
PA Rank: 80th overall
Draft Position: Ninth round, 266th overall
For their final selection in the 2003 NHL Draft, the Sabres chose a player experiencing a complete free fall in his predicted draft position. Louis Philippe Martin, a right wing playing for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, is a player who was thought to be a potential third or fourth round selection, but wound up sitting through eight complete rounds before having his name called.
The Drakkar were the top team in the QMJHL, both in points and offensively, with four players finishing above the 100-point mark. Martin finished fifth in scoring on his team during the regular season, but lead Baie-Comeau in scoring during the playoffs with 13 points (5G, 8A) in 12 games.
Martin is said to have some high-end skills, including his skating and passing, so it is a little surprising that he fell to the ninth round. The Montreal native does have a slight build, and he is generally not thought of as a gritty player, so those may be reasons for the skepticism of NHL personnel people. Nevertheless, the Sabres appear to have gotten good value for this late pick, and Martin will no doubt have some motivation to prove people wrong.