Sabres Report: Warming Up to the Ice Age

By Ken McKenna

The Buffalo Sabres 2000 training camp is now a week old, with the team wrapping up their “group hug” road trip in that well-known hockey hotbed, South Carolina. As usual, the annual embargo on training camp news is in place, but there have been some rumblings regarding the play of a couple prospects that are making a push to start the season in Buffalo.

One of those prospects, RW J.P. Dumont, is turning heads with his offensive play. Dumont was acquired in the seemingly one-sided trade with the Blackhawks that also brought Doug Gilmour to Buffalo. Rather than simply being a trade throw-in, however, J.P. has looked like the offensively gifted forward many scouts felt he would become, as he tore up the AHL last season in the late regular season and playoffs. Dumont has continued his strong play in training camp, displaying the nifty moves and quick release needed to become a scorer in the NHL. According to the Buffalo News, Dumont has been used on the LW due to the glut of veteran RWs on Buffalo’s roster, but this move has not affected J.P.’s game so far. Dumont has the coaching staff grinning from ear-to-ear, not just because of his offensive play, but also because he has shown the toughness and desire needed to be an impact player in the NHL.

On defense, ’98 1st round choice Dimitri Kalinin also is giving notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with, not in the distant future, but possibly as soon as this season. Dimitri has continued the steady and smart play that earned him a spot on the last season’s AHL All-Rookie Team. Kalinin often plays with the precision of a seasoned veteran, yet he only recently turned 20. Dimitri’s training camp performance has seen a continuation of that solid, steady style of play, which can only help him solidify his hold on the 7th defensive position. Holding down the extra defenseman’s position should only be a temporary assignment for Kalinin, however, as he has the ability to be a top four defenseman in the near-term, and a top two d-man once he has fully matured.

In addition to Dumont and Kalinin, a handful of other Sabre prospects have turned in solid camp performances. Defenseman Brian Campbell has shown flashes of the offensive ability that have made him a top prospect for Buffalo the past couple seasons, but he will be hard pressed to beat out the more well-rounded Dimitri Kalinin for the 7th defensive position. LW Denis Hamel is at a pivotal point in his career, as he needs to stick with the Sabres to have any hope of becoming a regular in the NHL. Hamel worked hard in the off-season, and the results have apparently shown in his training camp performance, as he has more consistently displayed the physical play and hard shot that have been his bread-and-butter in the past. The Sabres probably have just one forward position to fill on the roster, so, should Buffalo be looking for a more physical presence on the wing, Hamel could stick with the team to start the season.

Other prospects that have shown well in camp include RW Norm Milley, LW Darren Van Oene and D Jason Holland. Milley was Buffalo’s best prospect at the rookie tourney in Kitchener, which has earned him a longer look from the Sabres coaching staff. Given the glut of RWs on this team, however, Norm will almost certainly start the season in Rochester. Van Oene will probably be hard-pressed to make the Buffalo roster at this time, but he has the potential to be a 3rd- or 4th-line winger in the near future. Holland is a solid but unspectacular defenseman who provides some defensive depth for Buffalo, but his future with the Sabres is uncertain. Jason will need to demonstrate more grit if he wants to become a regular in the NHL, however, as the vision of Eric Lindros tossing Holland aside like a rag doll must surely be etched in the memory of fans and coaches alike.

All of the prospects mentioned in this article will likely see action in the exhibition games, but there are very few openings to be had on the Buffalo roster at this time. Dumont and Kalinin would appear to have the inside track on making the team, while Hamel could stick until Michael Peca signs a new contract. The remaining players will likely ply their trade in Rochester, although they are some names to look for should Buffalo be forced to make some call-ups. Once again, though, it looks like the Sabres have some good depth in their organization, which should help the team come playoff time.

The Rookie Tournament in Kitchener

I’ve received a few e-mails regarding the rookie tournament held in Kitchener, ON over the Labor Day weekend, so here is a brief synopsis of the performance of the Buffalo rookies.

The Sabres were “perfect” in this tournament, losing all 3 games they played. They dropped a 5-1 decision to the Rangers rookies, lost to the ‘Canes rookies 4-3, and were beaten by the host Maple Leafs 7-4.

In the game versus the Rangers, Norm Milley scored the lone Sabre goal. Others who played well at times were C Mike Zigomanis, RW Milan Bartovic, LW Vasily Bizyayev, LW Karel Mosovsky and C Paul Gaustad. LW Jaroslav Kristek was injured early in this game, but I don’t know the extent of the injury.

The Buffalo goal-scorers vs. Carolina were Norm Milley, Karel Mosovsky and Mike Zigomanis, with Milan Bartovic chipping in a couple assists. Beyond this, I have very little information on which players played well.

Bret Dececco, Brad Self, Karel Mosovsky and Vasily Bizyayev scored Buffalo’s four goals against Toronto. Once again, I have very little information other than who scored the goals.

The defensive unit included 4 free agents, none of whom distinguished themselves. D Gerard Dicaire was injured, and apparently did not play in this tournament. Matt Kinch was solid, but he is not a physical presence.

In goal, 2000 pick Ghyslain Rousseau did not distinguish himself. He apparently had trouble controlling rebounds, and the defensemen playing poorly in front of him surely did not help the situation.

Some notable Sabre prospects not taking part in this tournament include Buffalo’s last two 1st round picks, C Artem Kriukov and LW Barrett Heisten, as well as D Denis Denisov, D Doug Janik and D Henrik Tallinder. As mentioned above, injuries kept some players from participating in at least one, if not all, the games, with that list including Jaroslav Kristek, Gerard Dicaire and Andrew Peters. That is a lot of talent missing, so it is not surprising that Buffalo ended up winless.