For as long as the Buffalo Sabres franchise has existed, there has been one position on this team that is rarely wanting for talent, specifically the goaltending. From the early years of the franchise with the acrobatic Roger Crozier, to the present day team featuring future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and star-in-waiting Martin Biron, the goaltender’s position has been the one area where Buffalo has seemingly always had quality talent to draw upon.
The good news for Sabres fans is that this run of good fortune at the goaltending position should continue into the foreseeable future. Indeed, Buffalo may have more good young puckstoppers in the organization than at any time in team history. Buffalo’s current backup goalie, Martin Biron, has already shown that he has the ability to be the go-to guy once Hasek decides to hang up his pads, yet Martin won’t turn 24 until August. And the depth does not end with Biron, as the Sabres have a couple of quality prospects waiting in the wings should Martin falter or become trade bait.
Buffalo’s top goaltending prospect, not to mention the top prospect in the organization, is Mika Noronen of the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Mika last season turned in a performance that earned him The Hockey News’ Minor Pro Prospect of the Year award, as well as several other honors. Not content to rest on his laurels, Noronen has turned in another strong showing during the 2000-01 season, as he was the major reason that the low scoring Americans Read more»
The building of a strong defensive corps is a never-ending job for a NHL GM. Having a solid group of defensemen coupled with good goaltending will virtually ensure that a team will be competitive in most every game, but getting the right mix of players is truly a challenge.
The recent draft history of the Buffalo Sabres is a perfect example of the difficulties of assembling a solid, cohesive defensive unit. In the NHL drafts of 1989-1999, Buffalo used their top pick in the draft 6 times to select a defenseman (Kevin Haller, Phillipe Boucher, David Cooper, Denis Tsygurov, Jay McKee, Dimitri Kalinin). Of those 6 picks, only McKee and Kalinin have shown better than average ability at their position, with Kalinin being a rookie this year. The only other player from that group to log substantial time in the NHL is Kevin Haller, who would probably qualify as a journeyman defenseman.
Of course, the blueline contingent is rarely built with top draft picks, alone, as a team can find good defensive talent in the later rounds of the draft. This is true in the case of the current Sabres’ defensive group, as Alexei Zhitnik (LA-4th Rd., ’91), Jason Woolley (WAS- 4th Rd., ’89), Richard Smehlik (BUF- 5th Rd., ’90), and Rhett Warrener (FL- 2nd Rd., ’94) were all selected after the 1st round (James Patrick was a 1st rounder for the Rangers in ’81). What this also points out, however, is that building the defense often means having to go outside the organization to fill in the gaps, whic Read more»
The left wing position has always been a difficult one to fill for the Buffalo Sabres, at least via the draft. Buffalo has had a handful of successes at the draft table when drafting for the left side, with the most notable choices being Rick Martin, Craig Ramsay and Tony McKegney, but those picks were made many years ago. Most of the Sabres’ LW choices have instead been of the journeyman variety, at best, or the picks have simply never made it past the minors.
Buffalo currently has some quantity when it comes to LW prospects, but few are blessed with great skill, and at least one will likely not become a part of the organization. That one black sheep, Barrett Heisten, also happens to be Buffalo’s best prospect at this position. Barrett has yet to sign a contract with the Sabres, so, due to the Mike Van Ryn loophole in the CBA, should Barrett not sign by 6/1/01, he will become a free agent available to the highest bidder. Buffalo would receive compensation should Barrett sign with another team (probably a 2nd Round compensation pick), so the blow of losing Heisten would be somewhat softened.
Given that Barrett is technically still a Buffalo prospect (and he could certainly still sign with the Sabres), it should be noted that Heisten is having a productive, though not spectacular, 1st junior season. Heisten is playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, where he is currently 3rd in scoring for that team. Barrett got off to a hot start Read more»
While Buffalo’s prospect depth at the center position is somewhat weak, they are slightly more blessed with talent on the right side. While there is only one virtual lock to play in the NHL (Norm Milley), there are at least 2 (and maybe 3) other prospects who, should they play to their potential, will have a shot at making the Buffalo roster in the future.
Buffalo’s top prospect at right wing, Norm Milley, is currently in his first pro campaign as a member of the Rochester Americans. Although Norm has not exhibited the goal-scoring prowess that he displayed in the OHL, he has nonetheless been an effective player for Rochester. Norm is currently 5th in scoring for the Amerks, but, more importantly, his +/- ranking is currently a +2. First-year players often sport minus figures, so this is no small accomplishment for Norm.
Norm has proven to be a versatile player for Rochester, as he has spent time on both the power play and penalty killing units. Milley is an excellent skater, an asset that allows him to be solid on both the forecheck and backcheck. And, while Norm may be smaller in stature, he has nonetheless played with some feistiness. As far as Buffalo is concerned, Norm’s best asset might be his right-handed shot, a trait shared by exactly none of the Sabres’ current group of right wings.
Milley had an impressive training camp, and has progressed enough this year that he could land a spot on Buffalo’s roster next season. Given Buffalo’s Read more»
This article will be the first in a series devoted to mid-term progress reports of all the Buffalo Sabres’ prospects, with each article covering a different position.
There are many NHL GMs who stress the importance of being strong up the middle. While Buffalo has been able to draft or acquire some solid talent for the center position in recent years, they have had trouble landing a top-flight pivot who can create offensive opportunities for both himself and the players around him. This isn’t to say that Buffalo doesn’t have some help on the way in their prospect ranks, but it is definitely a position that will need to be addressed in the near future.
Topping Buffalo’s list of prospects at the center position is Kingston Frontenacs star Mike Zigomanis. Mike had an excellent 99-00 season, and he has so far followed up with an equally fine first half to the 00-01 campaign. Ziggy is currently the Frontenacs leading scorer with a total of 60 points (31G, 29A), a point total that places him in the OHL’s top 20 scorers. His goal total has him tied for 6th in the OHL in that category, with 6 of those goals coming on the power play, 2 in shorthanded situations, and 2 markers being game-winners. Mike has been honored as both Player of the Week and Month in the OHL (November), which was no doubt a factor in his being named to the OHL’s Eastern Conference All-Star squad. Zigomanis also was selected to play for Canada in the WJC, which was noted in a previous article.
Kingston is currently in the thick of the Read more»