With the beginning of the Buffalo Sabres ’99 training camp just a day away, this would be a good time to present a camp preview. The main purpose of this article will be to speculate which Sabre prospects, if any, will make a push to stay with the big club. The Sabres have seven restricted free agents, as well as one unrestricted free agent, so it is possible that some younger players will be thrown into the fire until the veterans arrive. Given the fact that the Sabres are coming off a Stanley Cup final appearance, however, it is unlikely that many of the prospects will make the Sabres roster on merit, since there would be few roster spots available without the training camp holdouts.
I’m going to break down each position, listing the incumbents (veterans) and prospects at each position, and follow that with a brief analysis identifying which prospects, if any, have an opportunity to make the Sabre roster. An asterisk (*) next to a name denotes either a restricted or unrestricted free agent. There will be instances where a player’s name will appear at more than one position, which means that the player is not exclusively used at a certain position.
- Mike Peca, Curtis Brown *, Stu Barnes *, Wayne Primeau *, Joe Juneau *, Brian Holzinger
- Mike Zigomanis, Brad Moran, Francois Methot, Aaron Goldade, Kamil Piros, Brad Self
The sweltering heat of the past couple months is now giving way to the cooler temperatures associated with the onset of fall. Before you know it, the leaves will be falling outside, while the sticks and gloves will be dropping in hockey rinks across North America.
While this writer was enjoying the fine Western New York summer weather, he was also neglecting his duties in keeping Buffalo Sabre fans abreast of any new developments with prospects in the Sabre organization. Helping fans get caught up won’t be difficult, however, as there has been little activity of note during the Sabre’s offseason. In the interest of keeping Sabre fans informed (as well as all readers of HF), this article will be devoted to pulling together some of the Sabre moves that have come to pass, as well as provide information regarding events which have yet to take place.
Sabre GM Darcy Regier has had his hands full attempting to re-sign several veterans, but he managed to find the time (and money) to sign Sabre prospects Jaroslav Kristek (RW), David Moravec (W) and Luc Theoret (D). Read more»
Two of the most promising players the Sabres picked up in the 1999 draft are Buffalo’s first round selection Barrett Heisten (Left Wing, 20th overall), and one of their second round picks, Doug Janik (Defense, 55th overall). The two draft Sabre picks were both freshman standouts at the University of Maine and were cornerstones of the Black Bears’ 1999 NCAA Championship season. Heisten and Janik also played together in a National Development Program held last year.
Heisten, an Anchorage, Alaska native, seems to be a prototypical Buffalo Sabre. He turned down offers to play Major Junior so he could come to Maine. A lot of people were interested in him, as he is a player who can score and has speed, yet also possesses a nasty side. Sabres GM Darcy Regier stated that he “has some Rasmussen and Varada in him” (referring to gritty wingers Erik Rasmussen and Vaclav Varada). He stands at 6′ 1″, 191 lbs. and needs to work on his scoring; like the aforementioned Varada and Rasmussen, Heisten can score at times but can be very streaky. One has to keep in mind that the Barrett is only 18 and has time to develop. Up to this point he has tried to make up for a lack of scoring with speed, grit and tenacity and has been fairly successful at it. Heisten struggled early on in the 98-99 season but, after a strong performance at the ’99 World Junior Championships, he picked up his game tremendously and was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for his strong play during January.
The 28-chapter book known as the 1999 NHL Entry Draft has been completed, with a possible title for the Buffalo Sabres’ chapter being “Good Things Come In Small Packages”. Certainly, Buffalo did not shy away from drafting players under 6′ tall, as they drafted six players (seven, if you count Mike Zigomanis, who is 6′ in his dreams only) under the six-foot benchmark. This trend toward smaller players seems to run counter to more recent Sabre drafts, and could signal a frightening return to the bad old days of the Gerry Meehan (former Sabre GM) era.
In an interview on the Empire Sports Network, current Sabre GM Darcy Regeir stated that the early part of the draft was used to acquire more skill, while the latter portion of the draft (rounds 4-9) would be used to acquire players with a little more size and toughness. Darcy was only partially correct in his assessment, however, which makes one wonder exactly whom was in charge of the Sabres’ draft table. In fairness to the Sabres, drafting 20th (or worse) in most rounds is a sure way to log a mediocre draft, so Buffalo’s recent success has its downside in lower draft picks. Still, the trend toward smaller players will likely be a little disconcerting to Sabre fans that have grown accustomed to Buffalo’s emphasis in recent drafts on choosing player’s with some size.
If there is one team in the NHL that is a testament to good drafting and player development, that team is the Buffalo Sabres. In addition to the Sabres’ appearance in this year’s Stanley Cup finals, their farm club the Rochester Americans made the 1999 Calder Cup finals in the AHL. The roster of both of these teams is dotted with Sabre draft picks, as well as young players acquired from other organizations.
The foundation for the current organizational success was built during the John Muckler era. Prior to Muckler’s stint as GM, the Sabres lacked a cohesive drafting philosophy, instead jumping from one drafting trend to another. The result of this haphazard approach to the draft was several lean years for the Sabre organization.
Once John Muckler assumed the GMs duties, however, the Sabre organization moved from chaos to cohesion, at least with respect to their drafting philosophy. The emphasis moved from the grab-bag approach of years past, to one that emphasized the drafting of bigger and feistier players (mostly Canadian) that possessed good skating ability. This approach landed current Sabres Curtis Brown, Wayne Primeau, Erik Rasmussen and Jay McKee. Darcy Regier has since taken over the duties as Sabres’ GM, and he appears to have taken the “If-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” approach. Regier has taken only a slightly different tack in that the Sabres are drafting more Europeans than they had previously, but the emphasis on size, speed and character still remains.