In a tourney that answered the question "What would happen if a hockey tournament was held in Skelleftea, Sweden and no one showed up?", the Buffalo Sabres had ample representation amongst several teams taking part in the 2000 World Junior Championships. In total, five Buffalo Sabre prospects- LW Barrett Heisten and D Doug Janik (USA), RW Jaroslav Kristek (Czech Republic), D Matt Kinch (Canada) and LW Milan Bartovic (Slovakia)- took part in this year’s WJC. Unlike last year’s stellar showing by Sabre rookie Maxim Afinogenov, there were no spectacular performances put forth by these prospects, although a couple of the players played solidly enough to merit some mention.
Solid – …Of a satisfactory or substantial character. …Upstanding and reliable. Sound : valid. … Without gaps, crevices, or breaks : compact. – Webster’s Dictionary
With their second pick in the second round of the 1999 NHL entry draft, the Sabres drafted a 6′ 1″ 195 pound defenseman named Doug Janik. Doug had just completed his Freshman season with the Black Bears of Maine. It was a season that saw the University of Maine Hockey program win its second NCAA Division I championship this decade and Doug played an important role in winning this championship. Doug didn’t really do anything too spectacular, but he did do everything that was expected of him. I guess you could have called his performance SOLID.
Solid is probably the best way to describe Doug as a hockey player. He has excellent hands and is a gifted, but unspectacular skater. The combination of these abilities allows him to be able to carry the puck through the neutral zone when the situation requires that. The real strength of Doug’s game however is how he plays on either side of the neutral zone. This is where the word Solid comes into play as the dominant adjective to describe Doug’s game.
In the offensive zone, Doug possesses a NHL caliber slap shot. This makes him a threat to score from the blue line. So far, in 15 games this season, Doug has scored 4 goals to go along with 5 assists for 9 points. His ability to place his shot on net is evidenced by his 44 shots on goal, which ties him for third on his team.
The Buffalo Sabres entered the 1999-2000 season with one of the most impressive prospect lists in the NHL. Little has occurred during the 1st quarter of this season that would change Buffalo’s standing as one of the more talent-rich clubs, so it is time to reflect on the more notable performances given by the top Sabre prospects thus far.
The order at the top of the prospect list has changed a good bit since my last offering (there is no truth to the rumor that this writer is suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover), with Cory Sarich losing the top perch he had held throughout most of last year, and a couple of new names entering the top 10. Several players near the top of the list started the season in Rochester, where they helped get the Americans off to a blazing start. The Amerks have since come back to earth, as 3 of their best players were called up to Buffalo, but there are still some strong prospects to watch in Rochester.
As for the prospects in juniors, some of the more prominent prospects (Kristek, Milley, Zigomanis) started slowly, but have recently improved their play. And, in the college ranks, ’99 draft picks Barrett Heisten, Doug Janik and Ryan Miller have been very impressive so far this season.
Players such as Martin Biron, Maxim Afinogenov and Cory Sarich are still on the list, in spite of the fact that they are with the Sabres. None of these three players have played 25 NHL games to this point, so I have decided to keep their prospect status intact.
And now, on with the show!
With the start of the Buffalo Sabres’ 1999-2000 season just hours away, it would probably be a good idea for this writer to tie up the loose ends left over from a mildly interesting training camp. Some new faces will be with the club to start the season, due mostly to the fact that four players are still holding out, but the 99-00 edition of the Sabres will still be pretty much the same team that made it to the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.
Sabres “Improve” On Last Year’s Pre-Season Effort
Okay, maybe improve is stretching things a bit, since the Sabres finished the exhibition slate with a 2-4-1 record. The Sabres coaching staff appeared to adopt the “Marv Levy Approach” to pre-season games, which means they used veterans sparingly while taking a long look at several younger players. While this approach virtually guarantees a losing pre-season record, it also gives the coaches a good idea of where their younger players are at in their development. Players such as Maxim Afinogenov, Cory Sarich, Brian Campbell and Domenic Pittis received plenty of playing time throughout the exhibition schedule, with some of those players making good use of the opportunity, and others making it clear they are in need of more playing time in the minors.
Just three short months removed from their gut-wrenching Stanley Cup Final loss, the Buffalo Sabres opened their 1999 training camp with high hopes for a return to the Big Dance. Although some of the pieces to the puzzle are currently missing (free-agent holdouts), the Sabres have enough good prospects to keep things interesting during the drudgery of the exhibition season.
Prospect junkies view the NHL pre-season as a good time to evaluate where certain prospects are at in their development, so they look forward to receiving any scrap of information they can get regarding their favorite team’s prospects. People such as this writer are only too happy to provide the prospect junkies with their fix, but getting information from NHL training camps is sometimes easier said than done. In the case of the Buffalo Sabres, the embargo on information regarding the current camp has been truly disappointing. Given the small numbers of people that attend practices, as well as the limited number of news outlets covering camp, it has been somewhat difficult to cobble together worthwhile information on the play of some of the prospects in camp.
Still, rather than make excuses, I will take the information I have and present as accurately as I can the noteworthy events of the first two weeks of the Buffalo Sabres ’99 training camp.
“Defense? What’s that?”