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.
Back in the early 70s, the British rock band The Who released the album “Odds & Sods”, which was a collection of songs that had been left off of previously released albums for various reasons. In the spirit of that recording, I’ve decided to break from my usual Top 20 format to make this season wrap-up column a review of the playoff performances of certain Sabre prospects, as well as other random items from the post season.
The big news is, of course, that the Buffalo Sabres will be appearing in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 24 years. Meanwhile, down the I-90, the Rochester Americans liked the idea of the Sabres appearing in the finals so much that they defeated the defending Calder Cup champs from Philadelphia to return to the Calder Cup finals for the 5th time this decade. Based on these events, it is clear that the Sabres organization has finally become one to be envied by the rest of the NHL for the first time since Punch Imlach was GM of the Sabres. The Sabres may not land their first Cup this year, as they are definite underdogs against Dallas, but they will almost certainly be contenders for the foreseeable future. Their contender status is the result of good drafting and shrewd trading, not to mention excellent coaching. Rather than praise those responsible for the Sabres success (others have done this better than I could), I will simply wish the Sabre organization good luck in the NHL and AHL finals, and, like all other Sabre fans, I’ll sit back and enjoy the moment.
CHL Playoffs and Memorial Cup Read more»