Sabres Report: Left of Center

By Ken McKenna

The left wing position has always been a difficult one to fill for the Buffalo Sabres, at least via the draft. Buffalo has had a handful of successes at the draft table when drafting for the left side, with the most notable choices being Rick Martin, Craig Ramsay and Tony McKegney, but those picks were made many years ago. Most of the Sabres’ LW choices have instead been of the journeyman variety, at best, or the picks have simply never made it past the minors.

Buffalo currently has some quantity when it comes to LW prospects, but few are blessed with great skill, and at least one will likely not become a part of the organization. That one black sheep, Barrett Heisten, also happens to be Buffalo’s best prospect at this position. Barrett has yet to sign a contract with the Sabres, so, due to the Mike Van Ryn loophole in the CBA, should Barrett not sign by 6/1/01, he will become a free agent available to the highest bidder. Buffalo would receive compensation should Barrett sign with another team (probably a 2nd Round compensation pick), so the blow of losing Heisten would be somewhat softened.

Given that Barrett is technically still a Buffalo prospect (and he could certainly still sign with the Sabres), it should be noted that Heisten is having a productive, though not spectacular, 1st junior season. Heisten is playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, where he is currently 3rd in scoring for that team. Barrett got off to a hot start with the T-Birds following his departure from the Buffalo camp, as he was Seattle’s leading scorer in the early going. Heisten missed 9 games in December & January due to injury, which slowed his brisk scoring pace.

By the middle of February, Barrett was playing his best hockey of the 00-01 season, as he was named the 1st or 2nd star in three consecutive games. In more recent games, however, Barrett’s play has been overshadowed by that of NHL prospects Jamie Lundmark and Shane Endicott, who are Seattle’s top two scorers. Heisten has been more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker of late, with a couple of those goals coming on the power play, but his low total of 19 goals would suggest that goal production will not be one of his strong suits.

Overall, Barrett is a good, but not outstanding, prospect who will likely receive some interest should he go the free agent route. Heisten has not had a season that will guarantee him a big contract, but there will probably be a team foolish enough to throw a large wad of cash in Barrett’s direction.

With the likely departure of Heisten, the de facto top LW prospect is actually a player who has played mostly RW during his career. Jeremy Adduono, of Buffalo’s AHL affiliate the Rochester Americans, was moved to the left side at the beginning of the season, and has played there for most of the 00-01 campaign. Given the depth that Buffalo has at RW, a move to the LW will present Jeremy with his best opportunity to make the Buffalo roster.

Jeremy had a good training camp in Buffalo, and has followed that up with a solid season in Rochester, where he is currently the Amerks leading scorer. Adduono is currently on a pace to score 25-30 goals, and he should register 50+ points, which will be a slight improvement over his totals of last season. Jeremy has shown himself to be a versatile player, as he has seen time on both the power play and penalty killing units, contributing offensively in both situations. He has good speed and quickness and, while lacking size and toughness, Adduono does have some aggressiveness in his game.

Should Jeremy’s game continue to improve, it could be tough to keep him off the Buffalo roster next year. Lack of size may be a problem for Adduono, but his consistent effort will make him a good candidate for a 3rd or 4th line LW position.

One player who has moved up the Buffalo prospect list this year is Val d’Or LW Seneque Hyacinthe. Seneque is a versatile winger who has seen time on the Foreurs power play and penalty killing units. Hyacinthe is especially good on the penalty kills, using his speed to aggressively forecheck his opponents while creating scoring opportunities for himself (4 SHG). In addition to the shorthanded markers, Seneque has netted 10 PPG on Val d’Or’s effective PP unit.

Seneque’s best assets are his speed, aggressiveness, and a willingness to go into the corners to make a play. Hyacinthe may not be the most offensively skilled player, but he makes up for that shortcoming with hard work, which has helped him to put up decent numbers over the past two seasons.

Seneque is a ’99 draft pick, so Buffalo will have to sign him by June 1st if they want to keep him in the fold. If the signing takes place, Hyacinthe will likely begin his pro career in Rochester next season.

“Disappointing” would be a good term to describe the 2000-10 season of Darren Van Oene. The big winger has suffered through an injury- and illness-plagued season, which has limited his playing time in a year that is pivotal to his career. Van Oene at one point faced a potentially career-threatening illness, when he developed an inflammation around his heart, but he has since recovered from that condition. In addition to illness, Darren has also had some nagging injuries that have kept him out of several games.

The book on Vane Oene has not changed- he is a big winger with decent speed and toughness, who, because of a lack of offensive skill, would probably make a good 3rd or 4th line LW. Darren’s contract should be expiring following this season, so it will be interesting to see if Buffalo renews the pact, or instead allows Darren to walk.

Another LW prospect dogged by injury is Regina’s Karel Mosovsky. Karel, an offensively talented player with some size, has had a hard time creating momentum for himself over the last couple seasons due to a recurring shoulder injury. The latest separation came in late February, at a time when Karel was playing some of his best hockey of the past two seasons. There was some concern that the injury would cost Mosovsky a chance at competing in the Memorial Cup tournament, which will be hosted by Regina this year (the host team has an automatic berth). Karel has since returned to action, however, so, barring another injury, he should get his shot at the Cup.

Mosovsky’s game is offense, as he uses his size and decent speed to create scoring chances for himself, as well as his linemates. Karel is particularly effective on the power play, as his 14 PPGs will attest. Mosovsky’s defensive play is not always up to snuff, however, so he will need to improve that aspect of his game before he receives serious consideration for duty in the NHL.

Karel is another ’99 draft pick who will have to be signed by June 1st, so Buffalo will no doubt be watching Mosovsky’s performance in the playoffs and Memorial Cup to see if they have a player that is worth signing.

Coming into the 2000-01 season, Russian prospect Vasily Bizyayev was a mystery man to most of the personnel people in the NHL. As the 00-01 season winds down, however, it might be more of a mystery as to why Buffalo chose Bizyayev in the first place.

Vasily is a speedy forward with some slick moves and a decent shot, maybe a slightly taller version of Buffalo’s Maxim Afinogenov. Bizyayev is not a physical player, however, nor is he responsible defensively. It is tempting to say that Vasily’s game is one-dimensional at this time, but even that one dimension (offense) has not been overly impressive up to this point. Actually, Vasily’s game is non-existent at this time due to a back injury that has likely ended his season.

In fairness to Vasily, he is adapting to a different style of play than what he was used to in Russia. Add to that the fact that Kitchener is not a very good team, and it adds up to being a difficult situation for a young player to grasp in a hurry. It is not unusual for a European player to need a season to adjust to his new surroundings, so perhaps next year Buffalo will have a better idea of what kind of player they have in Bizyayev.

Buffalo drafted Seattle’s Tim Preston, not for his offensive ability, but instead for his reputation as a good defensive player. While he may have lived up to that reputation in previous seasons, Preston’s –32 +/- rating this season would suggest that his defensive awareness may have slipped a little. Seattle’s style of play could have a little to do with Tim’s poor +/- figure, as they are more of an offensively oriented team sporting top NHL prospects such as Shane Endicott, Jamie Lundmark and Buffalo prospect Barrett Heisten.

Tim’s low +/- figure is surprising, but equally surprising is the fact that he has netted 7 PPGs while going scoreless in PK situations. Preston’s point totals are comparable to last season, so there has not been a great improvement in his offensive ability this season. Couple that fact with Tim’s seeming lapse in defensive play, and you have a prospect that appears to have taken a step backwards this year.

Tim is another ’99 draft pick whose rights will be lost after June 1st if he is not signed by that date. Buffalo will have to decide if Preston’s performance this year is simply a function of his environment, or if Tim is regressing rather than progressing.

Boston University’s Mike Pandolfo had an up-and-down season, with the beginning and ending being strong, and the majority of the middle portion being forgettable. Mike started the 2000-01 season with gusto, as he was BU’s leading scorer through the season’s first month. Pandolfo’s offensive game then tailed off throughout most of the season’s middle portion, and did not pick up again until the Hockey East playoffs, where he netted 5 goals (3 PPG, 1SHG, 1ES) in 3 playoff games vs. the victorious Providence Friars.

Mike has good skills for a big man, but he does not make use of all the tools in the toolbox on a consistent basis. Pandolfo’s size and speed make him an ideal power forward for the PP unit, which was evidenced by Mike’s team leading 8 PPGs. He has also spent some time on BU’s penalty-killing unit, so Mike does have some versatility to his game.

Mike is still property of the Sabres due to the fact that he chose to stay in college, and it is likely that he will return for his final season at BU next year. Once Mike’s college career ends, the Sabres will have to decide whether or not he is pro material, a question that has yet to be completely answered.

Buffalo saw a good bit of raw talent in Andrew Peters when they chose him in the 2nd Round of the ’98 draft. Almost 3 years later, that talent is still as raw as it was when Buffalo first chose Peters, with no real signs of improvement in Andrew’s game following his jump to Rochester.

It appears that Peters’ career path to the NHL will be as an enforcer, which was not what Buffalo had in mind when they drafted Andrew. Peters appears to have little offensive talent, while his attention to defensive play is average, at best. He has been scratched on a few occasions this year, with his playing time being minimal when he has suited up.

Due to Andrew’s high draft position, as well as the fact that he is the only return in the Pat Lafontaine trade, Buffalo is likely to give Peters every chance to succeed. Using the money they are paying Peters to instead sign Barrett Heisten, or some other more deserving prospect, however, may have better served the Sabres.

All in all, Buffalo has a diverse group of prospects at left wing, with most of them having definite strong points while also possessing definite holes in their games. While none of them would appear to have star potential, at least a couple of them should get a shot at regular duty in the NHL.