Back in 1988, in the 5th round of the NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres drafted a player out of the OHL by the name of Rob Ray. Rob had totaled 590 penalty minutes during his junior career, so it was clear that the Sabres were looking to add some muscle to a team that had developed a reputation for being soft.
Fourteen years and 3000+ penalty minutes later, Rob has shown that a little bit of talent can go a long way in the NHL, if you work hard enough. The man known as “Razor” has won the hearts of a generation of Sabres fans while simultaneously pummeling a legion of NHL tough guys. There is little doubt, then, that Rob will be crowned Buffalo’s all-time enforcer once he decides to hang up his skates, a possibility that grows greater with each passing day.
Ray will turn 34 in June, an age that often signals the end of a professional hockey player’s career. While Rob may not yet be contemplating retirement, the day is surely not far off, which means the Sabres will have to find a worthy replacement for their all-time penalty minute leader. Luckily for Buffalo, there are a few candidates waiting in the wings, with no one player having a definite advantage over the others.
The obvious choice to replace Ray would be current Sabre LW Eric Boulton. Eric has earned his place in the NHL the hard way, coming up through the ECHL and AHL to surprisingly land a spot on Buffalo’s roster last seaso Read more»
Coming into the 2001-02 season, defenseman Henrik Tallinder was touted as being one of the Buffalo Sabres’ better prospects. He had just finished a championship season with TPS Turku in Finland’s top league, an accomplishment that only added to his reputation, and which served to add to the anticipation of his arrival in North America.
Henrik’s debut was somewhat delayed due to a knee injury suffered early in Buffalo’s training camp, but he has not disappointed since joining the Rochester Americans’ roster. The smiling Swede seems to have adapted quickly to the style of play favored on these shores, to the point where he has logged as much as 25+ minutes a game. Tallinder does, indeed, look like a very promising prospect.
I caught up with Henrik following a recent practice, where we briefly discussed his career and his approach to the game. The following is a transcript of that conversation, with "HF" designating my questions and "HT" being Henrik’s answers.
: Last year, you played in Turku, Finland. What differences have you noticed between playing in Turku, and playing in the AHL?
: It’s a pretty big difference. Over here, it’s more hitting, and the play goes more, like- the transition game is much more forwards-and-backwards, and offense and defense is much faster than it is back home. Back home, it’s more sideways-to-sideways instead of up-and-down, if you know what I mean.
: You guys won the championship last year. That must have been exciting f Read more»
"The more things change, the more they stay the same."
That timeworn phrase is appropriate in describing the mid-season rankings of Buffalo’s prospects. Sure, there have been a few minor changes to the top 15, but there has been very little real movement up or down by any one player since the list was last updated.
Holding down the top spot, albeit somewhat shakily, is ’97 top pick Mika Noronen. The only change to the top 5, in fact, was Norm Milley taking back the #5 slot from Ales Kotalik (now #6). Gerard Dicaire showed the only significant movement, dropping 4 slots to #14. Perhaps the change of scenery, from Seattle to Kootenay, will help Gerard’s game.
Of the remaining prospects outside the top 15, the only one who received serious consideration for inclusion with the "Fab 15" was Boston University LW Mike Pandolfo. Mike, a co-captain for the Terriers, is currently that team’s leading scorer.
The "non-15" will be dealt with in articles to come, so the main focus for this article will be the top prospects. Overall, Buffalo seems to have a solid group of prospects, with their top 10 comparing favorably to most any team in the league. Even the players in slots 11-15 have some merit as solid NHL prospects.
Two players no longer on the prospect list are LW Darren Van Oene and C Francois Methot. The two ’96 draft picks have played enough professional games to no longer meet the requirements for prospect status that have been set by Hockey’s Future. While both player Read more»
With their first pick of the 2nd round in the 2001 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres chose center Derek Roy of the Kitchener Rangers. It’s fairly certain that Buffalo was most interested in Derek’s offensive skills, a part of his game that has not disappointed during the 2001-02 season.
Roy is currently Kitchener’s leading scorer, having notched 46 points (22G, 24A) in 35 games. After having missed the playoffs the past couple of seasons, Derek and his Kitchener teammates are in the hunt for a playoff spot. A recent 11 game unbeaten streak pushed the Rangers towards the top of the OHL, where they are currently in a dogfight with the Erie Otters and the Guelph Storm in that league’s Midwest Division.
I had a chance to speak with Derek prior to Kitchener’s 1/5/02 game vs. division rival Erie. The following is a transcript of that conversation, with “HF” representing the interviewer and “DR” signifying Derek’s answers.
: Let’s start with the present. You guys are one of the hottest teams in the league, if not all of the CHL. What has kicked in for the team in the last 10 games that has made things go so much better for you?
: Pretty much everything has been clicking really well. We’ve got good goaltending from Scott Dickie and Matt Harpwood. We’re playing good defensively, and waiting for our opportunities. We’ve been bearing down on our opportunities, in which case we win games by one goal. So, those have been the big differences.
: I noticed you had a big game Read more»
The 2002 World Junior Championships have come and gone, with the Russian team taking home the gold medal as a result of their 5-4 victory over Canada in the WJC finale. While the Russians can bask in the fleeting feeling of glory days gone by, another former Eastern Bloc nation, the WJC host and defending champ Czech Republic, were left to ponder a disappointing 7th place finish.
As luck would have it, the Buffalo Sabres sported just 2 prospects participating in the WJC, with both of those players playing for the Czech squad. C Jiri Novotny and LW Michal Vondrka were both 2001 draft choices for Buffalo, with Novotny being the more high profile of the two due to his status as a 1st round pick. Both players also play for the same organization, Budejovice, with Novotny playing in the top Czech league and Vondrka splitting his time between the elite and junior squads.
If one were to judge strictly by statistics, it could be said that neither player had a particularly good showing at the WJC. Both players notched just 2 points in 7 games, with Novotny logging 2 assists, and Vondrka netting 1 while adding a helper. Both players were a minus for the tournament (Novotny –3, Vondrka –2), while also sporting nearly identical shots-on-goal numbers (Novotny 12, Vondrka 11).
In the case of Vondrka, at least, the statistics didn’t lie. As reported to me by Robert Neuhauser, the Czech Editor for Hockey’s Future, Michal’s performance was largely disappointing, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t see a Read more»