The top talent in the hockey world under the age of 20 has gathered in Finland for the 2004 World Junior Championships. Included amongst the legion of talented teens are three draftees of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
This gathering of talent features players from many different countries, so it is only fitting that the trio of Sabres prospects have varied backgrounds. One player, Daniel Paille, hails from the Ontario Hockey League, one of the top developmental leagues in the world. The Sabres top pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and second WJC attendee, Thomas Vanek, has starred in the NCAA for the past two seasons. The Sabres third WJC entrant, Branislav Fabry, plays in Slovakia’s top league despite being just 18 years of age.
This is the second appearance in the WJC for Paille. He was a member of last year’s silver medal-winning Canadian squad, and this year has been named the captain of Team Canada. The left winger earned a spot on the national team after a strong first half to his 2003-04 season.
Paille plays for the Guelph Storm of the OHL, a team currently tied for first overall in that league. The Welland, Ontario native is second in scoring on the Storm, having picked up 16 goals and 22 assists in 29 games. His 38 points places him 17th in scoring in the OHL, while his goal total has Paille 10th in the league in that category.
Through three WJC matches, Paille has netted three goals for the undefeated Canadian squad. He is currently ranked fifth amongst Sabres prospects by Hockey’s Future.
The Sabres second-ranked prospect, Thomas Vanek, is having a solid season personally, but he and his Minnesota teammates are struggling in their quest to “threepeat” as NCAA champs.
Vanek is tied for sixth in scoring in the WCHA with 22 points (12G, 10A), a point total that has the left winger currently tied for 11th in the nation. So, while Vanek has done his part to aid his team in their quest to win another title, the team as a whole has struggled to recapture the magic of the past two seasons. The Gophers are not currently ranked among the top 15 teams in the NCAA, with the team having particular difficulty in their own conference, where they hold a 4-7-1 record.
As much as the Gophers are struggling this season, it does not compare to the difficulty that Vanek and his Austrian teammates have had at the WJC simply scoring a goal. The Austrians have netted exactly one goal in four tournament games, with Vanek tallying that lone marker in a 3-1 loss to Russia. All told, the Austrians have so far been outscored 24-1 in the tournament.
While Paille and Vanek have experienced opposite ends of the win-loss spectrum at this tournament, Sabres 2003 second round selection Branislav Fabry has experienced mixed results at the 2004 WJC. Fabry and his Slovakian mates have turned in a .500 record so far, with their lone victory coming against Vanek and the Austrians. Fabry has so far been used on the third line, failing to register a point in three tournament games.
Before joining Slovakia’s junior squad, Fabry was playing in Slovakia’s top league for HC Bratislava. In 31 games for that club, Fabry has registered one goal and four assists. Before moving up to the Extraleague, the young winger played four games in the Slovakian junior league for Slovan Bratislava, where he produced five goals and two assists.
Fabry is currently ranked tenth amongst the Sabres prospects by Hockey’s Future.