Sabres 2000 Draft Preview

By Ken McKenna
Every June, the NHL holds its annual talent replenishment in the form of the Entry Draft. Each draft is unique in that a particular position, or perhaps one league, team or country ends up being the main fixation of NHL GMs in the draft’s early going. With that thought in mind, the theme for the first couple rounds of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft will almost certainly be “The Russians Are Coming!”

By the time the 1st round is completed next Saturday, there will likely have been 9-10 Russian players drafted, a figure that represents 1/3 of the 1st round choices. When the 15th pick comes up, a pick held by the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo may well be one of those teams that looks toward the talent-rich former Soviet Union for their top pick in the draft.

Coming into this draft, the Sabres will most likely be looking to shore up their depth at a couple of positions, center and defense. In terms of prospects, there is only one center (Mike Zigomanis) that has a realistic shot of playing in the NHL, but even he is not a sure thing. As for the defense, the solid depth Buffalo had at this position has all but been depleted, as the trades of Alexei Tezikov and Cory Sarich, as well as the pending loss of Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre in the expansion draft, have left the talent pool very shallow. Unfortunately for the Sabres, most of the draft prospects at the center and defense positions who are rated as first round material have somewhat limited abilities, so the Sabres will most likely follow their tried-and-true 1st round formula of drafting the best player available.

This year’s draft will be Sabre GM Darcy Regier’s 4th in that capacity. While Regier no doubt has great influence over the players chosen at each draft, he will often defer to Director of Player Personnel Don Luce and the Sabres’ scouting staff when they have a particularly strong feeling about a certain prospect. Given the job Luce and the scouts have done at the draft table in recent years, that is probably a wise decision on the part of Regier.

In the past couple drafts, the Sabres have been trending toward drafting smaller forwards, such as Milan Bartovic in 1999 and Norm Milley in 1998. The Sabres have had some success drafting in this manner, but they would be wise not to overdo this policy, as it could lead to the Sabres being renamed the Smurfs within the next couple seasons. Buffalo has no doubt determined that there is a trend toward smaller, more offensive-minded players having a bigger impact in coming years, but a team lacking size cannot win the Stanley Cup in today’s NHL. Buffalo’s current roster appears to have a decent mix of size and speed, but the prospect list could stand a little shoring up in the size and toughness departments.

As for which player the Sabres might choose with their first pick, your guess is as good as mine. Once you get past the top 6 or 7 prospects in this year’s draft, there is little that separates prospects in the middle of the 1st round from prospects in the mid-2nd round, so there is likely to be a wide disparity amongst the prospect-ratings lists for each NHL team.

The Sabres hold all their picks in this year’s draft, except for the 3rd round choice, which was shipped to Tampa Bay in the Chris Gratton deal. Due to deal making in the expansion draft, however, it is possible that the Sabres may have dealt one or two more of their choices to Minnesota and/or Columbus. In addition to their own picks, the Sabres should receive a compensatory pick for the loss of free agent Joe Juneau (anywhere from a 2nd to a 4th rounder), as well as San Jose’s 5th round pick as a final payment in the Steve Shields deal.