With the beginning of the Buffalo Sabres ’99 training camp just a day away, this would be a good time to present a camp preview. The main purpose of this article will be to speculate which Sabre prospects, if any, will make a push to stay with the big club. The Sabres have seven restricted free agents, as well as one unrestricted free agent, so it is possible that some younger players will be thrown into the fire until the veterans arrive. Given the fact that the Sabres are coming off a Stanley Cup final appearance, however, it is unlikely that many of the prospects will make the Sabres roster on merit, since there would be few roster spots available without the training camp holdouts.
I’m going to break down each position, listing the incumbents (veterans) and prospects at each position, and follow that with a brief analysis identifying which prospects, if any, have an opportunity to make the Sabre roster. An asterisk (*) next to a name denotes either a restricted or unrestricted free agent. There will be instances where a player’s name will appear at more than one position, which means that the player is not exclusively used at a certain position.
Incumbents– Mike Peca, Curtis Brown *, Stu Barnes *, Wayne Primeau *, Joe Juneau *, Brian Holzinger
Prospects– Mike Zigomanis, Brad Moran, Francois Methot, Aaron Goldade, Kamil Piros, Brad Self
Analysis– In terms of prospects, one of the weaker positions for the Sabres. It is unlikely that any player from this group will make a serious push to make the Sabre roster. While some of these players (Zigomanis, Moran, Methot, and Piros) are intriguing, none are ready to handle the rigors of NHL play. Look for the Sabres to quickly sign the majority of their potential holdouts at this position.
Incumbents– Miroslav Satan *, Vaclav Varada *, Brian Holzinger, Rob Ray
Prospects– Maxim Afinogenov, Norm Milley, Jaroslav Kristek, Milan Bartovic, Matt Davidson, Mike Pandolfo, Bret Dececco, Edo Terglav, Craig Brunel
Analysis– The Sabres have good depth at this position, but the only prospects that might push for a roster spot would be the newly signed Afinogenov or the improved Davidson. Afinogenov is most valued for the offensive spark he could provide, while Davidson has good defensive skills to go along with a decent scoring touch. The other RW prospects need more development time in juniors, college or the minors.
Incumbents– Michal Grosek, Geoff Sanderson, Joe Juneau *, Dixon Ward, Paul Kruse
Prospects– Barrett Heisten, Darren Van Oene, Denis Hamel, Karel Mosovsky, Tim Preston, Andrew Peters, Ales Kotalik, Seneque Hyacinthe
Analysis– The quality of player at this position falls off after the first couple prospects (Heisten and Van Oene). The prospects most ready to challenge for a spot are Darren Van Oene and Denis Hamel. Van Oene came on strong in the second half of last season in Rochester, and could make a serious push to make the Sabre roster, particularly if Juneau signs with another team. Hamel was a disappointment last season, so this will be a make-or-break camp for him. Heisten will return to the University of Maine, while the other prospects at this position will continue developing in either the juniors or in Europe.
Incumbents– Alexei Zhitnik, Richard Smehlik, Jay McKee *, Rhett Warrener *, Jason Woolley, James Patrick
Prospects– Cory Sarich, Dimitri Kalinin, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Brian Campbell, Henrik Tallinder, Doug Janik, Luc Theoret, Matt Kinch, Jason Holland
Analysis– From the big club, right on down through the prospect ranks, this is probably the strongest position in the Sabre organization. This is good news for the Sabres, but bad news for some of the prospects, since there will be few roster spots to be had for the foreseeable future. One player who is virtually certain to be on the Sabre roster is J-L Grand-Pierre, who finished the season on the Sabre roster, and had a strong 98-99 season in Rochester. Another player with a good chance of making the Sabre roster is Cory Sarich, who also was solid for Rochester last season. If the Sabres carry 8 defensemen, Sarich should be a shoo-in to make the team. Jason Holland is a player with some NHL potential, but his chance is likely to come with another organization. Campbell, Theoret and Holland will continue to develop in Rochester, while the remaining defensive prospects will continue their development with their respective teams in juniors, college or Europe.
Incumbents– Dominik Hasek, Dwayne Roloson
Prospects– Martin Biron, Mika Noronen, Ryan Miller
Analysis– With Hasek’s announcement that this will be his last season, the competition to replace Dom as the #1 goalie unofficially begins now. Martin Biron would appear to be the heir apparent to the Dominator, but he could make the Sabre roster this season as Hasek’s back-up. Mika Noronen has signed with the Sabres, and will see plenty of playing time in Rochester this season. Ryan Miller will begin his freshman season at Michigan State, so he is several years away from challenging for a spot on the Sabre roster.
Buffalo Chips– Maxim Afinogenov has come to terms on a 3-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. The terms of the agreement were not immediately disclosed…’99 2nd round pick Milan Bartovic will play for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, joining fellow Sabre prospect Jaroslav Kristek…’99 pick Ryan Miller is a cousin of NHL players Kevin, Kelly and Kip Miller…Several Sabre prospects attended the recently completed 2000 World Juniors Team Canada Evaluation Camp, which could eventually lead to their playing in this year’s World Junior Championships. Sabre prospects attending this camp were Mike Zigomanis, Norm Milley, Bret Dececco and Matt Kinch…The Sabres rookies were trounced by the NY Rangers rookies 10-5 in Kitchener, ON on Thursday. Goal scorers for the Sabres were Milan Bartovic (2), Norm Milley (2) and Kamil Piros. I don’t yet have a complete report from Friday’s rookie game between the Sabres and Hurricanes, but the ‘Canes apparently outplayed the smaller Sabres by a good margin. Not surprisingly, Sabre management is not crazy about the performance of the rookies at this camp.