Sabres Report: 2002 Draft Preview, Part 1

By Ken McKenna

With the financial controversy and uncertainty swirling around the ownership of the Buffalo Sabres, it has become difficult to focus on little else beyond whether or not the team will remain in Buffalo beyond next season.

The day-to-day workings of the team apparently have not been disrupted to this point, if the recent signings of two 2000 draftees is any indication. The Sabres signed Paul Gaustad, a big, gritty player with leadership ability who can play both center and left wing, as well as tough guy Sean McMorrow, a player considered by some to be the best fighter in the OHL, if not all of the CHL.

This renewal of talent in the system is a necessity for a small market team such as the Sabres. The means of acquiring this young talent, the NHL Entry Draft, is perhaps the single most important event for the Sabres organization, mainly because it will determine the future success (or failure) of the club.

While the Sabres did manage to sign two lower round draft picks at this year’s signing deadline, they have also experienced some significant non-signings in the recent past. Buffalo this year failed to sign their 2nd round pick from the 2000 Draft, defenseman Gerard Dicaire, which followed last year’s loss of ’99 1st rounder Barrett Heisten, as well as one of the the Sabres’ ’99 2nd round picks, center Mike Zigomanis. The losses of Heisten and Dicaire were due to an impasse in negotiations between the players and the team, while Zigomanis was lost due to the ineptitude of the hockey department (or a balky fax machine, depending on whom you want to believe).

Given Buffalo’s recent penchant for wasting high draft choices, you have to wonder what will be the outcome of next year’s negotiations with players like Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller, who are even more highly touted than the premium picks the team has failed to sign. If the Sabres are generating a negative vibe around the league due to the Rigas Family Circus, it seems possible that many players (including prospects) may simply not want to play in Buffalo. The recent sneering remarks about the Sabres by Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios, as well as Dominik Hasek’s trashing of his former team immediately following his trade from Buffalo are further indicators of the Sabres’ growing lack of respect from the rest of the league.

It is against this cheerful backdrop that Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, Director of Player Personnel Don Luce, and the rest of the merry men in the Sabres’ hockey department head into the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, which will take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on June 22nd & 23rd.