Sabres 1999 draft evaluation

By Kristofer Baker





Fans in Buffalo considered the 1999 NHL Draft to be the Sabres<br />first visit to the woodshed

Basking in the bittersweet feeling of two successful seasons
culminating with a controversial loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, fans in
Buffalo considered the 1999 NHL Draft to be a monumental visit to the
woodshed.  The reason?  At a downtown rally after his franchise fell
short against Dallas, then-Sabres owner and Adelphia Communications magnate
John Rigas, promised fans that he “was prepared to give (the Sabres) the tools
to finish the job”.  With organizational
depth at defense, the Sabres approached a relatively weak pool of players in
desperate need for a pure scorer, as well as size up front.  With a total of 12 picks, the Sabres stocked
the shelves on draft weekend with nine forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender.  

 

Five years later, Rigas is behind bars for stealing millions
of dollars from Adelphia, and the tools have yet to arrive.  Of the 12 players selected by Buffalo in
1999, five have seen NHL action, with just three playing a total of 54 games in
a Sabres sweater (average of only 5 NHL games per pick).  Aside from Coach Lindy Ruff refusing to
shake hands with Commissioner Gary Bettman, the 1999 NHL Draft will be
remembered by Sabres fans for tenuous negotiations with the top pick, a faulty
fax machine, and a mid-round backstopping surprise. 

 

 

Barrett Heisten—1st Round, 20th
overall (NCAA – University of Maine)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 10

 

After missing with Wayne Primeau (17th overall,
1994) and Erik Rasmussen (7th overall, 1997), the Sabres continued
their search for a gritty, scoring winger in the first round by selecting
Barrett Heisten from the NCAA Champion Maine Black Bears. After posting 12
goals and 28 points his freshman year, the 6’1”, 200-pound Alaska native upped
his production to 13 goals and 37 points in 1999-2000, good for second on the
team.  Sabres management made a serious
pitch to sign Heisten after the season, but their offer was deemed less than
flattering.  Being a former first
rounder, as well as an integral component of USA World Junior entries in 1999
and 2000, Heisten felt that the Sabres organization wasn’t giving him fair
value, and he soon grew estranged.

 

In a move to extricate himself from the Sabres organization,
the unhappy Heisten left the collegiate ranks to skate for the Seattle
Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. 
By doing this, he followed the precedent set by Mike Van Ryn, who jumped
from the University of Michigan to the Sarnia Sting of the OHL for the purpose
of being classified as a junior player, thus shortening the New Jersey Devils’
time period to sign him from three years to two.  Already with one season at Maine as a Sabres property under his
belt, Heisten became a free agent after notching twenty goals and 77 total
points for Seattle in 2000-2001.

 

With many teams in pursuit of his services, Heisten settled
on a contract with the New York Rangers in June of 2001.  His tenure on Broadway wouldn’t last
long.  In 10 NHL games with the Rangers,
he was unable to crack the scorer’s sheet, and was relegated to duty with their
AHL affiliate in Hartford.  Producing
just nine goals and 18 points in 49 games with the Wolfpack, the impatient
Rangers traded Heisten and Manny Malhotra to Dallas in exchange for Martin
Rucinsky and the since deceased Roman Lyashenko. 

 

Heisten finished out the 2001-2002 season with the Stars
farm team in Utah, and still has yet to see action for the big club.  He scored ten goals for 20 points in 58
games in 2002-2003, and tailed off to a paltry four goals for 13 points in 73
games this past season.  While his
production dropped after a concussion in 2003, the big winger has never seemed
to find the scoring touch that many thought he would be able to display at the
pro level.  In a Dallas organization
rich in prospects, the 20th overall choice of the 1999 NHL Draft is
in danger of completely falling out of the Dallas radar.  Two notable players taken off the board
following Buffalo’s choice of Heisten: Nick Boynton (21st to
Boston), and Martin Havlat (26th to Ottawa).

 

 

Milan Bartovic—2nd Round, 35th
Overall (Slovakia)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games: 26

 

Looking to add more speed to their offensive corps, the
Sabres chose Slovakian winger Milan Bartovic with their second round
choice.  Bartovic moved to North America
following his selection to play for Tri-City of the WHL, only to finish his
first season playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings.  In 56 games between the two teams, Bartovic tallied 26 goals for
57 points.  He also helped Team Slovakia
win a silver medal at the 2000 World Juniors.

 

In 2000-2001, Bartovic went on to net 15 goals for 40 points
in just 34 games for Brandon, and found himself playing the season out in
Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. 
The offensively gifted winger made his mark immediately, notching a goal
and an assist in his only two regular season appearances.  In four playoff games, the AHL rookie posted
an assist.

 

The next two seasons for Rochester, Bartovic was a model of
consistency.  He scored 15 goals for 26
points in 73 games in 2001-2002, and eighteen goals for 28 points in 74
contests the following season.  His
defensive game, especially penalty-killing, improved greatly from season to
season. The 2002-2003 season marked the speedy Slovakian’s first ever NHL
action, with an output of one goal in a brief three-game stint.

 

The 2003-2004 season turned into a breakout year for the
6’0”, 195-pounder.  In 52 AHL games,
Bartovic put up 18 goals and 11 helpers. 
He earned AHL Player of the Week honors on January 19, 2004, and a
call-up to Buffalo, after scoring goals in five consecutive games amidst a ten
game point streak for the Amerks.  While
in Buffalo, he received nearly 13 minutes of ice time per game while being
teamed with fellow prospect center Derek Roy to form two-thirds of the Sabres
“energy line”.  Despite scoring just one
goal for 9 points in 23 games, Bartovic was praised for his constant
hustle.  His speed is a great complement
to that of Russian speedster Maxim Afinogenov, a factor assuring his upward
mobility on the Sabres depth chart for years to come.

 

 

Doug Janik—2nd Round, 55th
Overall (NCAA – University of Maine)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games: 10

 

The Sabres went back to Orono, Maine for their second pick
of Round 2, grabbing defenseman Doug Janik of the NCAA champion Black
Bears.  Like his University of Maine
teammate Barrett Heisten, Janik was a member of team USA at the 1999 and 2000
World Junior Championships.  After three
seasons at Maine, he made the jump to the professional ranks by joining the
Rochester Americans for the 2001-2002 season. 

 

Janik’s pro career has been marked by gradual improvement
each season.  In his first year on the
farm, the Massachusetts native played in all 80 games en route to being named
the team’s rookie of the year, unsung hero, and most improved player.  This past season as an alternate captain for
Rochester, Janik developed into the team’s steadiest rearguard, exhibiting more
leadership and physical play in his own end.

 

Not an offensive juggernaut by any means, Janik has 11 goals
and 55 points through three seasons with Rochester after scoring 12 goals and
53 points over the course of three collegiate seasons.  During a four-game cup of coffee with the
big club this past season, Janik appeared comfortable with the game speed, and
confident in his defensive angles.  Not
considered an enforcer, he did manage to amass 19 penalty minutes in the four
games, 17 of which came late in February match-up against Atlanta. 

 

A little more “pop” offensively would probably have Janik in
Buffalo more often.  After 10 career
games for the Sabres, the defenseman remains pointless.  All in all, it looks as if Buffalo snagged
themselves a solid, stay-at-home blueliner with the 55th
selection.  A jump to the NHL in the
next season or two is a very real possibility for the 6’1”, 200-pound New
Englander. 

 

 

Michael
Zigomanis
—2nd Round, 64th
Overall (OHL – Kingston Frontenacs)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games: 36

 

Buffalo’s third pick of Round 2 yielded them a flashy,
creative center with great offensive instincts.  Playing with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs in 1998-1999,
Zigomanis was their second leading scorer with 29 goals and 85 points.  Besides his lack of burning speed, the knock
on Zigomanis coming into the draft was his propensity to float in his defensive
zone.  Still, his playmaking efforts
offered too much of an upside for the Sabres to pass up.

 

After being selected 64th overall, the York,
Ontario native had an impressive campaign for Kingston in 1999-2000, leading
the team in goals (40), and assists (54). 
His 94 points ranked fifth overall in the OHL, and his stock was on the
rise.  In five playoff games that year,
Zigomanis had no goals and four assists in a first round loss to Sudbury.  Zigomanis would go on to finish his junior
career in Kingston with his second straight 40-goal season in 2000-2001.  Despite appearing in just 52 games, he again
was the team leader in points with 77. 
The 6’0”, 190-pound winger was poised to take his game to the next
level.

 

The Sabres and Zigomanis negotiated right up to the final
hours of the league’s deadline for signing major junior players.  This is where the story takes the oddest of
turns.  Just when it looked as if the
two sides had struck a deal, the Sabres’ last minute scramble to file the
necessary paperwork with the league offices came up short due to a broken fax
machine.  When it was all said and done,
Buffalo missed the deadline, Zigomanis went into back into the draft pool for
2001, and Buffalo GM Darcy Regier took the company credit card to Office Max.

 

The biggest benefactors of the Sabres malfunctioning office
equipment?  The Carolina Hurricanes, who
plugged in their own fax machine and signed the playmaking centerman after
selecting him with the 46th pick in 2001.  In his first professional season with Lowell of the AHL, “Ziggy”
played in 79 games, scoring 18 goals and 48 points.  He returned to Lowell for the 2002-2003 season, where he posted
31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 38 games. 
He earned his first call-up on February 26, 2003, scoring a goal in his
NHL debut against Phoenix.  He would
also record a goal and an assist four days later versus Pittsburgh to round out
the scoring in his 19-game stint with the ‘Canes.

 

With Carolina wanting him to fortify his defensive play,
Zigomanis once again started the 2003-2004 season in Lowell.  In 61 games with the Lock Monsters, he
scored 17 times totaling 52 points.  He
would go on to be named MVP of the AHL All-Star Classic in Grand Rapids,
scoring the game winner to go along with two helpers.  He finally got the call from Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, and went
on to record three assists in the final 17 games of the season.   Zigomanis has added 10 pounds to his frame,
and possesses the offensive flair to make it as an NHL regular.  Expect him to work his way through the
defensive shortcomings, becoming part of the mix in Raleigh next season.

 

 

Tim Preston—3rd Round, 73rd
Overall (WHL – Seattle Thunderbirds)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

We should have seen this third round flop coming.  After being taken 73rd overall,
Seattle’s Tim Preston went on two average just 34 points over the next two WHL
seasons.  Unimpressed, the Sabres
decided to pass on signing the native of Langley, BC.  Continuing the decade long trend, Preston joined the likes of
Jason Young (1991), Ondrej Steiner (1992), Ethan Philpott (1993), Mathieu
Sunderland (1995), Francois Methot (1996), and Jeff Martin (1997) as players
taken by Buffalo in Round 3 that never had a sniff of the NHL.  Three picks after Preston had his name
called, current Atlanta defenseman Frantisek Kaberle (111 points in 309 NHL
games) was chosen by Los Angeles.

 

After playing his overage season in Saskatoon (WHL), Preston
played one professional season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers in 2002-2003,
scoring four goals and four assists in 22 games. 

 

You won’t find Preston’s name on any professional roster for
2003-2004.  Instead, with the days of
chasing hockey greatness behind him, Preston skated as a member of Team Russia
in the 2004 Walt Disney movie “Miracle”, chronicling the 1980 United States
Olympic hockey team’s run to the gold medal.

          

Karel Mosovsky—4th Round, 117th
Overall (WHL – Regina Pats)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

Buffalo added another big body with the selection of forward
Karel Mosovsky in the fourth round. 
Leaving his native Czech Republic to play for Regina in 1998-1999, the
6’2” 200-pound winger caught the eye of Buffalo scouts by finishing third on
the Pats in scoring (26-25-51) in his first year of North American hockey.  He would play the next two seasons in
Regina, scoring 24 goals and 58 points in 1999-2000, and 25 goals for 51 points
in 2000-2001.  Buffalo signed to him to
three-year entry-level contract following the 2000-2001 campaign.

 

Assigned to Rochester, Mosovsky was injured five games into
his career, and missed the rest of the 2001-2002 season.  Returning to Rochester the following season,
Karel appeared in 62 games, netting five goals and four assists.  His 2003-2004 season was cut short due to a
shoulder injury after scoring five goals and an assist in 46 games.

 

Mosovsky has been unable to find the scoring touch in his
injury-riddled time in the AHL.  He had
seemingly turned the corner on being more of a physical, grinder type of player
this past season before getting hurt. 
With his contract expiring at season’s end, so too has his shot at
making the ascent to the NHL as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

 

 

Ryan Miller—5th Round, 139th
Overall (USHL – Soo Indians)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games: 18

 

The drafting of goaltender Ryan Miller prior to his freshman
year at Michigan State University provided the Sabres a tiny glimmer of hope
for their future between the pipes. 
Miller made an immediate impact, though, as he stepped in and notched a
16-4-3 record, with a 1.36 GAA, and 7 shutouts in his first season for the
Spartans. The 6’2”, 165-pound youngster was being referred to as the “steal of
the draft”.  However, with Dominik Hasek
manning the crease in Buffalo, Miller would not be rushed into the NHL.

 

The East Lansing, Michigan netminder continued his dominance
in NCAA play in 2000-2001, posting a record of 31-5-4, with a 1.32 GAA, and a
record 10 shutouts.  Dismissing any
thoughts of a sophomore jinx, Miller set an NCAA single season mark for
goaltenders by posting .950 save percentage en route to his team’s berth in the
Frozen Four.  He also set a CCHA league
mark with a 1.24 GAA.  His brilliant
play earned him the CCHA Player of the Year honors, as well as the Hobey Baker
award as college hockey’s player of the year. 
Miller was only the second goaltender to ever win the award. 

 

In the summer of 2001, Dominik Hasek was traded to the
Detroit Red Wings.  With the goaltenders
all moving up a peg on the depth chart, some wondered if the lanky Hobey Baker
winner was ready to forego his college eligibility for a chance to accelerate
his development in the Buffalo system. 
Miller instead returned to MSU in 2001-2002 for his junior year, further
cementing his place in NCAA hockey history. 
He finished 26-9-5 with a 1.77 GAA on his way to being once again named
a finalist for the Hobey Baker.  Miller
recorded eight more shutouts to finish his career with an astounding 26, an
NCAA record.  Overall, Miller posted a
collegiate record of 73-19-12, and rewrote the CCHA and Michigan State record
books for goaltenders in the process. 
Miller was signed by Buffalo and welcomed into the revolving carousel
that is the Buffalo Sabres goaltending situation.

 

Miller’s three years of college domination, coupled with his
participation in the 2001 and 2002 IIHF World Championships for Team USA, led many
in the Buffalo media to believe he was ready to challenge Mika Noronen and
Martin Biron for the Sabres top netminder position.  He played most of the 2002-2003 season in Rochester, compiling a
23-18-5 record, with a 2.34 GGA, good for fifth in the AHL.  He was called up to Buffalo on two separate
occasions, going 6-8-1, including his first NHL shutout against Minnesota in
January.  His starts in Buffalo were
marked by inconsistency.  Flashes of
brilliance would often be interrupted by the untimely soft goal.  Miller put together a hot streak upon his
return to Rochester, winning five of six games to vault the Amerks into the
playoffs.  He was named Amerks rookie of
the year at season’s end, and would go on to once again represent Team USA at
the IIHF Worlds.

 

Entering the 2003-2004 campaign, Buffalo still had not
identified a clear-cut No. 1 goalie. 
The Sabres brass was hoping Miller would get off to a strong start, in
effect ending the goaltending quandary. 
Miller was tabbed as the opening night starter, and played in two
shutout losses before being shuttled to Rochester.  He was recalled for a December contest against a merciless
Detroit team, who handed the overmatched Sabres a 7-2 defeat.  After the game, Miller tearfully walked away
from reporters, and questions about his mental toughness surfaced.  He would find himself in a brief slump upon
returning to Rochester.  Ultimately
Miller regained his edge, and went on to finish the regular season with a
record of 27-25-7.

 

Miller clearly has the talent to win games alone.  A strong 2004 postseason performance could
improve both his confidence and consistency under pressure; two mental
adjustments that are vital to his success as a top NHL stopper.  Until these areas progress, Miller’s final
NHL numbers for 2003-2004 (0-3-0 with a 5.08 GAA) suggest more time might be
necessary before making a roster decision on Noronen or Biron. 

 

 

Matt Kinch—5th Round, 146th
Overall (WHL – Calgary Hitmen)

Status: NHL Prospect

NHL Games: 0

 

After a dramatic increase in offensive production, Calgary
Hitmen defenseman Matt Kinch was taken by Buffalo in Round 5.  In the 1998-1999 season, the speedy
blueliner totaled 14 goals and 83 points, a 52-point jump from the previous
year.  Despite his smallish frame,
Buffalo went ahead and added the 5’11”, 185-pound Alberta native to their
prospect stable.

    

Kinch continued to pile up hefty offensive numbers from the
point in Calgary, gathering 75 points in 1999-2000, and another 84 in
2000-2001.  His playoff numbers were
impressive as well, collecting 58 points in 64 games.  Still, the Sabres decided that the runner up in 2001 WHL
Defenseman of the Year voting would have trouble with his size at the NHL
level, and opted not to sign him. 

    

Kinch didn’t last long on the free agent market, signing
with the New York Rangers in June of 2001. 
After splitting time between Charlotte (ECHL) and Hartford (AHL) in his
first pro season, Kinch has evolved into an important component of the Hartford
power play over the course of the past two years.  He collected a career-high 29 points in 2002-2003, while totaling
20 this past season.  He won’t ever put
up numbers like he did in junior, but the undersized Kinch still has value as a
longshot NHL prospect. 

 

 

Seneque
Hyacinthe
—6th Round, 178th
Overall (QMJHL – Val d’Or Foreurs)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

After averaging 22 goals and 57 points over five seasons in
the “Q”, the hard working Hyacinthe wasn’t signed by the Sabres.  The 6’0” winger took his game to the Verdun
Dragons of the Quebec Semi Pro League in 2002-2003, scoring 21 points in 22
games.  That season, he also went
pointless in three games for the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL.  In 2003-2004, Hyacinthe was still chipping
away at it with Verdun, this time in the QSMHL.  An NHL future is out of the question for the 23-year-old Montreal
native.

 

Riku Hahl, who has 92 regular season and 34 NHL playoff
games under his belt for the Colorado Avalanche, was taken eight picks after
Buffalo’s choice of Hyacinthe.  Eight
picks after that, Nashville drafted Martin Erat (90 points in 183 NHL games)
with the 191st pick.

 

 

Bret DeCecco—7th Round, 206th
Overall (WHL – Seattle Thunderbirds)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

Coming off a season which saw him hit the 100 point barrier
(57goals, 43 assists) for Seattle of the WHL, Bret Dececco was picked up by
Buffalo in the seventh round.  The 5’11”
scoring winger had a considerable dropoff in offensive output over the next two
seasons, averaging just 32 goals and 60 points.  Concerned about the decreased production, and a need to sign
players with more size, Buffalo passed on Dececco.  Entering the ECHL in 2001-2002, Dececco is currently a member of
the Alaska Aces, his fourth team in three seasons.  Four picks after Dececco, the Detroit Red Wings selected
promising forward Henrik Zetterberg (87 points in 145 NHL games).

 

Brad Self—8th Round, 235th
Overall (OHL – Peterborough Petes)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

Round 8 saw Buffalo go back to the OHL, picking 5’10”,
165-pound Brad Self of Peterborough. 
The crafty forward averaged nineteen goals and 51 points over four OHL
seasons.  Not having the size to absorb
the rigors of the NHL, Self went unsigned. 
Also a lacrosse stand-out, Self currently plays professionally for the
Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League.

 

 

Craig Brunel—9th Round, 263rd
Overall (WHL – Prince Albert Raiders)

Status: NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0

 

Buffalo’s final pick of the 1999 draft was used to select
6’0”, 220-pound WHL enforcer, Craig Brunel. Originally a sixth rounder by
Nashville in 1998, Brunel racked up over 800 penalty minutes in four junior
seasons with Prince Albert and Red Deer. After brief AHL stays with Rochester
and Philadelphia, Brunel has punched out a niche as an enforcer for six
different teams at the “AA” level.  The
Minnedosa, Manitoba native has amassed 772 minutes in penalties throughout his
four-year career.

 

    

Summary

 

With 12 players brought into the fold in 1999, three
(Bartovic, Janik, and Miller) should make significant contributions in the
Sabres future.  Miller is the key to
this draft class.  He has been a victim
of high expectations from the Buffalo media thus far, but at 23 years of age,
is still considered a top-five NHL goaltending prospect.

   

For two others from this crop, Zigomanis and Kinch, the
dream is still alive with other franchises. 
Zigomanis has time to push his way up the depth chart in Carolina and
make his mark as a steady playmaker. 
Kinch looks more like a career minor leaguer, but still has a distant
chance to test his offensive abilities from the point in “the show”.

 

The highly touted Heisten has been unable to put it together
at the pro-level, making him a complete bust for the Sabres, Rangers, and
Stars.  With Dallas reportedly ready to
slash payroll for 2004-2005, Heisten has perhaps his last chance to shine
amongst a talented group of Stars hopefuls.

    

It’s worth noting that three players from the 1999 draft,
Tim Connolly (5th overall, 325 NHL games), Taylor Pyatt (8th
overall, 267 NHL games) and Michael Ryan (32nd overall, prospect),
were acquired later by Buffalo via trades, and are expected to produce as NHL
regulars.  Connolly and Pyatt were
thrust into the NHL right away with the Islanders, who at the time were short
on talent.  Islanders GM Mike Milbury
grew impatient with the slow development of the two, and packaged them together
to get Mike Peca from Buffalo.

 

Connolly suffered a concussion at the end of the 2002-2003
regular season and missed all of the 2003-2004 season.  The Syracuse, NY native has scored 99 points
in four NHL seasons.  So far, Pyatt has
also been a disappointment in Buffalo. 
A player who possess great size (6’4”, 215 lbs.), Pyatt has yet to use
this to his advantage, and seems light on his feet at times on his way to 36
career goals. 

 

Ryan was acquired from Dallas in the 2003 deadline deal that
sent Stu Barnes to Dallas.  Unlike
Connolly and Pyatt, Ryan has been given time to develop properly in
Rochester.  With a degree of chippiness
to his game, Ryan scored 12 points in 49 games for the Amerks this past season,
his first as a pro.