Sabres Report: From Russia, With Disappointment

By Ken McKenna

The 2001 World Junior Championships, which took place in Moscow, Russia, have wrapped up, with the Czech Republic repeating as gold medallists as they defeated Finland 2-1 in the gold medal game. While the Sabres had some representation in this tournament, the performances of those prospects was largely forgettable.

Mike Zigomanis had the most productive tourney of the 3 Buffalo prospects taking part in the WJC, but most of his production came in one game against a lesser opponent (Belarus). Ziggy was on a line with Raffi Torres in the Belarus game, a game in which Mike tallied a goal and two assists. Mike’s performance so overwhelmed the Canadian coaches that they decided to make Zigomanis the 13th forward for the remainder of the tournament. Mike scored just one goal the rest of the way, leaving him with 4 points in 7 games.

There were some Canadian fans that complained about Mike’s lack of playing time, as he seemed to make things happen when he was in the game, so it is somewhat of a mystery as to why he didn’t play more. I’m sure it was disappointing for Zigomanis, as he missed a chance at playing for Canada last year due to an injury.

Denis Denisov and his Russian teammates had high hopes as the host team, but their tournament ended in disappointment as they could only muster a 7th place finish. Denisov was paired with Alexandre Selouianov throughout the tournament, a partnership that did not go nearly as well as his combination with Karil Safranov in last year’s WJC. The Russian defensive contingent as a whole struggled throughout the tournament, with several complaints being registered regarding the unit’s collective lack of quickness. Denis struggled right along with the rest of his Russian teammates, as he had trouble completing passes to forwards, and in general struggled to contain the quicker opposition forwards. Denisov did see some time on the power play, with his lone goal being a power play marker. Denis finished the tournament with one goal and two assists in 7 games, with his +/- rating being a –1.

Perhaps Artem Kriukov is happy that he wasn’t chosen for this squad, after all. By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that the Russian government was rewarding the Russian WJC players with an all expenses paid trip to Siberia.

Two years ago, Milan Bartovic and his Slovakian teammates surprised many observers as they landed a bronze medal in the ’99 WJC. Since them, however, it has been all downhill, as Slovakia turned in a lackluster 8th place finish in this year’s tourney after finishing out of the money last year. Bartovic did manage to generate a little more offense than he did last season (7 GP, 1G, 2A), but he was also on the ice for six opponent markers, which left him with a –3 +/- rating. Milan worked on the PK unit, with his one goal coming in a shorthanded situation. Perhaps Bartovic’s appearance on the penalty-killing unit is a sign that he is becoming more conscientious with regards to his defensive responsibilities, which was a quality that had been lacking in his game so far.

Given that Buffalo has had some strong performances from prospects who have participated in recent WJCs, the disappointing showing of this year’s group could be a sign that Buffalo’s talent pool is more shallow than it has been in the last 4-5 years. The Sabres certainly have some good prospects in their system, but the abilities of the players after the top 4-5 players could be termed questionable. Perhaps it is unfair to read too much into the performances of three prospects in one tournament, but it would seem that Buffalo is due for a little downturn in their drafting success.