With five prospects at the World Junior Championships, the Buffalo Sabres were among the most fortunate NHL teams in North Dakota in term of numbers.
American Drew Stafford (2004, 1st round), Canadian Clarke MacArthur (2003, 3rd round), Russian Denis Ezhov (2003, 4th round) and Slovaks Branislav Fabry (2003, 2nd round) and Andrej Sekera (2004, 3rd round) represented the Sabres.
During the tournament in Grand Forks, Sabres Western Amateur Scout Darryl Plandowski talked with Hockey’s Future about these prospects.
HF: Please talk about Drew Stafford.
DP: We are really happy about Drew. He is big and strong, he’s got talent. You know, we’ve got big plans for Drew in the future. He is not signed yet. Like we did with Thomas Vanek, we traditionally leave our guys where they are for a while. Now, I guess that with college hockey players, you want to make sure they keep getting pushed. Because at some point there, they not getting pushed anymore and then they have to go to a next level and be pushed again. I guess, for us, he’s got skills and is big. You like to have some team size and he has size.
HF: From what we have seen here in Grand Forks, Drew seems very comfortable with the media, is it important for your organization?
DP: He is a 18-year-old kid. It shows maturity, confidence. Sometimes, when you draft these guys, you don’t know that part. You see him on ice and you meet the boy. You are trying to meet his parents, you try to know some background. It is nice when they are comfortable in different environments. It is great when they can adjust to different situations. I think that the more all-round the person is the better his chances of coming a better player.
HF: Does Ezhov has any chance to make the Sabres team and does he want to make it?
DP: Well, I don’t know if he wants to, but I guess he does. That is a problem we have with these kids. The whole environment with the Russians has changed a lot. They get paid some pretty good money over there now. He is a small skilled defenseman. As some organizations do with their Russian prospects, we let him develop in his country. Some organizations try signing those kids to come in the American Hockey League. Now, with the money being pretty good over there, I think it will be harder and harder to sign guys and bring them over. Obviously, those Russians have skills, but they have to spend some time in the AHL in the small ice rink surfaces to get accustomed to the language. There are barriers for those kids. But Ezhov is a talented player.
HF: Are the better salaries paid in Russia have now an impact on the Sabres’ decision when comes the draft?
DP: The better salaries paid in Russia do have an effect. Last year’s draft was the first one we haven’t taken a Russian in a long time. We selected two Slovaks and the rest were North American kids. We had some Russian kids on our list, but you’ve got to think a little bit about that. It is nice to draft those players, but they have to play on your team or it’s a waste.
HF: What about Clarke MacArthur?
DP: I have watched Clarke since he is 16. He has a lot of energy. He’s always been a skilled player and he’s always worked hard. The best thing about Clarke is that he is listening to what you say. When he was young, he was used to take two-minute shifts, he used to be a minus hockey player. Offense was kind of the only thing that counted. But the last two years, he had a really good coach, a really good team environment. Clarke listened to his coach and to what we would say like go hard for 50 seconds. His coach taught him that if he can’t play on defense, he can’t play. The NHL is so oriented defensively now that he’s done a really good job of being aware of his defensive game. For us, he has improved steadily every year. Some draftees think that everything is done since they are drafted. We are looking for guys that once they get drafted it is almost the beginning for them. And for Clarke, it is almost like that, it is almost the beginning.
He is almost the top scorer in the WHL but he is now very conscious of his defensive game, he is a well all-around player now. You can rely on Clarke to kill penalties, you can rely on him on power play. You can rely on him to create energy and use him as a defensive hockey player.
HF: Could you talk about the Slovaks Sekera and Fabry?
DP: Sekera is 6 foot, which is a little bit small for a defenseman, but he is strong and he’s got skills. He is learning and we have seen improvement in his game as far as he is adjusting to the North American style. In the CHL, sometime, you are playing five games in a week. That is a big adjustment for the Europeans kids. He is adjusting very well. We are excited about his future. We want to be big on defense, just like everybody else in the NHL. To be big and talented is the ultimate goal. But maybe in a way, sometime it is unrealistic to have both the biggest and the most talented players. You have to have a mixture of players. We are hoping he could be part of this kind of mixture.
Fabry is a more skilled hockey player than anything. His big thing will be learning defense and becoming a complete player. At what time we decide to bring him over? He will probably need to play in the AHL.
HF: Overall, are you satisfied about the prospects in the Sabres organization?
DP: Overall, we are happy with the talent level in our organization. I guess one of area concern right now is the defensemen. We have only one defenseman here and four forwards. I think that going forward we would not pass a forward that we really like, but we had liked to add some defensemen to our group of guys.
Simon Richard is the author of La Serie du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.