Sabres 2000 draft evaluation

By Ken McKenna

The Buffalo Sabres were just one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals at the time of the 2000 NHL Draft. But the team barely made the playoffs in 2000, and, as a result finished in the middle of the overall standings, leaving them with the 15th selection in the draft.

With a roster that sported an aging Doug Gilmour, plus two younger, defensively-oriented centers in Mike Peca and Curtis Brown and little else at that position, the Sabres entered the 2000 NHL Draft looking to possibly upgrade their depth at center. The crop at that position, however, at least in the first round, was a modestly skilled group with no one player truly standing out. So, the expectation was that the Sabres would follow the tried and true “best player available” scenario in making that first round pick.

There was some thought that Darcy Regier and his scouts would be interested in choosing Czech center Vaclav Nederost if he fell to their position, but Nederost was chosen with the 14th pick by Colorado. With the Sabres pick up next, there were a few interesting names left unselected, including Russian winger Alexander Frolov, Buffalo-born defenseman Brooks Orpik, and Russian defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Instead, the Sabres made what many termed a “reach” by choosing center Artem Kriukov,, a large but largely unknown player in the Russian junior leagues. Kriukov had suffered a serious concussion in his draft year which limited the opportunities to see him in action, but the Sabres hockey braintrust liked his potential and felt that he wouldn’t be available when their second pick came along.

All told, the Sabres chose eight players in this draft, with four of those selections still having the potential to one day wear the Sabres uniform. Only two have played any NHL games thus far, Paul Gaustad and Sean McMorrow with one game each, for a draft class average of under one NHL game per pick.

Here’s a rundown of what has transpired for those players in the past five years.

Artem Kriukov, Center (15th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL prospect
2004-05 Team: Yaroslavl (RUS)

In the four seasons following his selection by the Sabres, Artem Kriukov seemed destined to be the answer to the question, “What player was the all-time worst first round selection by the Sabres?” Kriukov may yet be the answer to that question, but he seemed to make progress this past season. With Kriukov, of course, part of that progress is simply staying healthy, something he managed to do for the first time since being drafted. He may ultimately not be as offensively gifted as the Sabres may have thought, but there is still some potential for Kriukov to develop into a tough checking center with some offensive ability. The next step for him, it would seem, would be to play in Rochester in the 2005-06 season.

Gerard Dicaire, Defenseman (48th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL prospect

2004-05 Team: Springfield (AHL)

Defender Gerard Dicaire was drafted to potentially fill a need for an offensive defenseman with a bit of size. But the Sabres elected not to sign Dicaire by the deadline in 2002, making him available for the 2002 NHL Draft. The Tampa Bay Lightning in the fifth round of that draft chose Dicaire and he remains in their system today. He has bulked up since being chosen by the Lightning, but Dicaire’s overall game has yet to round into shape. He has played the last two years at the AHL level.

Ghyslain Rousseau, Goaltender (111th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2004-05 Team: Thetford Mines (LNAH)

The Sabres were on a bit of a hot streak in terms of selecting goaltenders, having selected Martin Biron, Mika Noronen and Ryan Miller in three of their previous five drafts. The selection of QMJHL goaltender Ghyslain Rousseau in the fourth round of the 2002 NHL Draft brought that streak to an end, however. Rousseau had been the starting goaltender for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in his draft year, but lost that job the following season. It was essentially all downhill from there for the Thetford Mines, Quebec native, as the Sabres elected not to sign Rousseau before the 2002 deadline. He has spent the past few seasons playing in Quebec senior leagues, including his hometown club in the LNAH.

Denis Denisov, Defenseman (149th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL prospect
2004-05 Team: Ak Bars Kazan (RUS)

There have been rumors in previous seasons that the Sabres were looking to sign Russian defenseman Denis Denisov. Denisov, a fifth round pick for the Sabres in this draft, has steadily improved his game since being drafted by the club. He has spent four seasons in the Russian Superleague, including this past season with Ak Bars Kazan. Denisov was chosen to play for Russia at this year’s World Championships, an indication of how highly his talent is regarded. Size may still be an issue with Denisov, but talent can sometimes overcome that deficiency.

Vasily Bizyayev, Right Wing (213th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2004-05 Team: ?

The first of two seventh round picks for the Sabres, Vasily Bizyayev was drafted as a possible offensive winger. Bizyayev spent a mostly forgettable 2000-01 season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He then returned to Russia the following season, where he played just three games in the Russian Superleague for HC CSKA. Since then, in terms of the hockey universe, Bizyayev has dropped out of contention.

Paul Gaustad, Center/Left Wing (220th overall)
NHL games played: 1
Status: NHL prospect
2004-05 Team: Rochester (AHL)

While the selection of Bizyayev did not work out, the Sabres second selection of the seventh round, forward Paul Gaustad, looks like a good one. Gaustad was not rated by CSS in his draft year, but the Sabres saw something in the former Portland Winter Hawk’s game that many didn’t. Gaustad steadily improved his game in the next couple of seasons with Portland, going from just four goals and 14 points in 56 games in 1999-00 to 32 goals and 80 points in 72 games in his final WHL season in 2001-02. The North Dakota native also wasn’t afraid to use his size, picking up 480 penalty minutes in his three WHL seasons. Gaustad has continued his development into a bona fide NHL prospect during his time with the Sabres farm club in Rochester, including his best all-around season this past season. He should be given every chance to make the Sabres roster whenever play in the NHL resumes.

Sean McMorrow, Right Wing (258th overall)
NHL games played: 1
Status: NHL prospect
2004-05 Team: Rochester (AHL)

The Sabres went for more size and toughness with their eighth round selection by choosing OHL defenseman Sean McMorrow. McMorrow’s claim to fame are his hands — not for their soft scoring touch, but instead for their pummeling ability. The big defenseman was one of the most feared fighters during his time in the OHL, amassing 443 penalty minutes in three junior seasons while tallying just 12 points in that period. McMorrow signed with the Sabres in 2002, spending the past three seasons with the AHL’s Rochester Americans. He has moved to right wing in his pro career, but his role hasn’t changed. McMorrow has so far rolled up 890 penalty minutes in the AHL, which certainly makes him a candidate to eventually become the Sabres enforcer.

Ryan Courtney, Center (277th overall)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL bust
2004-05 Team: Cambridge (OHA Sr.)

The Sabres final selection of the 2000 NHL Draft was OHL center Ryan Courtney. Courtney was another sizable player, but he was only modestly skilled. He played for three different clubs during his OHL career, and has since spent time in the UHL, CHL, and this past season in the OHA’s senior league.


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