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»
Some Sabres fans have been scratching their heads lately wondering who this #46 is on the right wing. When he made his NHL debut in a home game against the New Jersey Devils, it was for the most part unexpected. Most fans are somewhat familiar with young stud prospects Erik Rasmussen and Dominic Pittis, but have no idea who this 26 year-old Dean Sylvester is.
With Miroslav Satan sidelined and Coach Ruff sending inconsistent winger Michal Grosek a message by benching him, Sylvester found himself in the lineup for the last few games of the ’98-’99 season, and has seen considerable playing time in the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dean Sylvester, at 6’2″ and 205 lbs, has the size to be a NHL forward. He was born in Hanson, Massachusetts and attended college at Kent State. After Kent State did away with their hockey program, Dean transferred to Michigan State for his senior year. As a senior, he was named to the Academic All-Big Ten Conference At-Large Team. After a strong senior year, he graduated at age 23 and was drafted 2ndoverall in the 1993 Supplemental Draft by the San Jose Sharks.
Sylvester is somewhat of a late bloomer, having just broken into the NHL at the age of 26. He was signed to a free agent contract by Rochester in July of ’98 after spending time in the San Jose minor league program with Mobile (ECHL) and Kansas City (IHL). He led Kansas City with 33 goals in the 1997-98 season and also scored 5 playoff goals in 11 games.
Spring is in the air, so that means that the 98-99 regular season has ended for most of the Buffalo Sabres prospects. This has been a great season to be covering the Sabre prospects, as there have been several outstanding performances by a number of the Sabre hopefuls. Indeed, the Sabres may well have more quality prospects than those of the other 26 (soon to be 27) NHL teams.
One prospect has moved on since my last update, as Alexei Tezikov was traded to Washington at the NHL trading deadline. While the Capitals will be receiving a quality prospect, this was a move the Sabres could afford to make. Buffalo has great depth amongst their prospects at the defensive position, so it made sense for the Sabres hockey department to deal from strength to try to shore up the teams’ offensive weakness (albeit on a temporary basis). In addition to receiving Joe Juneau from the Capitals, the Sabres also received the Caps ’99 3rd Round pick, which adds to their growing collection of ’99 draft picks (currently at 11 picks, with a possible 12th pick on the way from San Jose).
Some people may dispute that the Buffalo Sabres have the best defensive prospects in the game, but I think that they would have to concede that the young defensive players Sarich and Grand-Pierre that Buffalo has in the minors are among the best out there.
When you look at a list of their defensive prospects, the premier names that come up are Cory Sarich, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and Dimitri Kalinin. Some other names on the list are Henrik Tallinder, Brian Campbell and Luc Theoret. Even with the loss of Alexei Tezikov in a trade with the Capitals for Joe Juneau, the Sabres’ future defensive core looks strong. Sarich and Grand-Pierre have both seen limited time with the Sabres and have played well. They may have been kept in the lineup but Coach Lindy Ruff chose to opt for veteran smarts and leadership over the tough, solid play displayed by the young D-men. It’s hard to talk about Grand-Pierre and Sarich in the same context because, although they are both great talents and they are the Sabres top two defensive prospects, their styles of play are very different.