Sabres Report: The Seattle Sabres?

By Ken McKenna
It is common knowledge amongst Buffalo Sabres’ fans that Buffalo maintains their main minor league affiliate in Rochester, NY. A quick perusal of Buffalo’s training camp roster, however, might give one the impression that the Sabres have added a 2nd farm team in the Great Northwest Mecca of Seattle, WA.

The roster of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL currently sports the names of six players who attended the 2000 training camp of the Buffalo Sabres. Four of the players- LW Barrett Heisten, RW Bret Dececco, LW Tim Preston and D Gerard Dicaire –are Sabre draftees, while defensemen Brennan Evans and Jeff Beatch attended camp as free agent invitees.

The most celebrated of the six players is, of course, ’99 1st round pick Barrett Heisten. Barrett joined the T-Birds following an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a contract with Buffalo, a turn of events that no doubt made many Seattle fans quite happy. Barrett did not disappoint in his first game as a T-Bird, as he picked up four assists in a 6-5 victory over the Kelowna Rockets.

It is thought that Barrett’s move to Seattle signals the passing of Buffalo’s opportunity to sign Heisten, as he will have the chance to test the free agent waters should Buffalo not sign him by June 1st, 2001. A strong showing by Barrett would certainly help his bargaining position, but it is not necessarily a forgone conclusion that Heisten is done as a Buffalo prospect. A trade of some other players in the Buffalo organization might free up some money to sign Barrett, assuming Darcy Regier & company considers Heisten to be worth the effort. It is also possible that Heisten could be moved in a trade package to help the Sabres solidify their roster. Regardless of where he ends up, Barrett will be a valuable commodity for the Sabres.

The other forward prospects (Tim Preston and Bret Dececco) are probably best seen as marginal players, with Preston having the better shot at a NHL career. Looking strictly at the statistics these two players put up, one would think that Dececco would be considered the better player, but, while Preston is not the offensive talent that Dececco is, Tim does have more of what NHL scouts are looking for in an NHL prospect. Preston is a feisty winger who, in spite of his lack of size, is not afraid to do the spade work necessary to create opportunities for his linemates. Tim is also an effective defensive player who can be used to keep Seattle’s opponents in check, either at full strength or on the penalty-killing unit.

Dececco is an offensively talented, but fragile, right wing who was drafted as a 19-year old by the Sabres in 1999. The fact that he failed to make the Amerks roster is probably not a good sign for his career in the Buffalo organization, but a strong season offensively should help Bret to get a look from another team. Dececco has played just one game for Seattle this season due to a minor injury, which further underscores his susceptibility to injury.

The class of the Seattle defensive corps would appear to be Buffalo’s 2nd round pick from this year’s draft, Gerard Dicaire. Gerard is a good offensive defenseman who possesses a hard, accurate shot, something the Sabres desperately need for their power play. Dicaire is a fluid skater with good, but not blazing, speed, and he has the size to handle the rigors of the NHL. While Gerard is not considered to be a physical player, he is not afraid to put a good hit on an opponent when the opportunity arises. Dicaire has scored four goals in four games this season, perhaps an indication that he is ready to have a big season offensively.

Buffalo must have had size in mind when they invited Seattle defensemen Jeff Beatch and Brennan Evans to training camp. Beatch is listed at 6’5″ and 185 lbs., while Evans measures out at 6’3″ and 200 lbs. Beatch, who at one time was a well-regarded defensive prospect, is said to be an inconsistent-but-talented player who has simply not been able to put his game together. Jeff is 19, so his chance to make a favorable impression on a NHL team may have already come and gone.

While Beatch has some offensive ability, the 18-year old Evans appears to be more of a stay-at-home defenseman. Brennan’s average foot speed has left him at a disadvantage against smaller and quicker forwards, so he’ll have to work on his positioning and improve his skating if he wants to receive any serious consideration as a NHL prospect.

Neither Beatch nor Evans impressed greatly in the rookie games the Sabres participated in in Kitchener, ON, so they should not be looked at as definite prospects. Of the two players, Evans has more time to develop his game, so he could still catch the eye of a NHL club looking for some size and steady play at the blueline.