Sabres Report: 2002 Draft Preview, Part 3

By Ken McKenna

We now know that the Buffalo Sabres will enter the 2002 Draft with 11 draft choices in hand. Of those 11 selections, 7 of them fall amongst the first 121 overall draft choices, with 5 of those choices coming in the first 1/3 of the draft. So, regardless of the merits of the depth of talent in this draft, it would seem that the Sabres have an opportunity to further solidify their organizational prospect depth.

In addition to the 11 picks they have this year, the Sabres could go into the 2003 Entry Draft with as many as 12 draft choices (their own 9 choices, plus Detroit’s 1st and 2nd from the Hasek trade, as well as a possible compensation pick for the eventual loss of FA defenseman Richard Smehlik). The ’03 Draft is said to have a much better talent pool than this year’s draft, so that should be a further opportunity to increase the talent level of the organization.

While the success or failure of these next 2 drafts will ultimately fall at the feet of Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, the man who is the real architect of the Sabres is Director of Player Personnel Don Luce. Luce, a former Sabre himself, has been in charge of Buffalo’s draft table for a decade or more, with his main accomplishment being the assembling of some of the talent that went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. Luce is once again faced with the task of helping to build the Sabres back into a contender, with the ’02 and ’03 Drafts seemingly being a key to accomplishing this feat. Should the hockey department fail to turn up at least a couple of bona fide prospects in the next couple of drafts, it could make it difficult for the Sabres to stay competitive in the future.

Getting back to the 2002 Draft, then, it’s time for me to take my annual stab at guessing which players Regier, Luce & Associates will tab with each of their 1st round picks. In addition to throwing out a few names, I’ll also present an unscientific estimate of the chances for the success of each pick, based on the players that were chosen at the 11th and 30th slots in the 1990-1999 NHL Drafts. I’ll also do a bit of speculating as to what might happen with the 2nd round pick, which will truly be an exercise in futility.

"Mr. Commissioner, with the 11th pick in the draft, the Buffalo Sabres select…" who? Will it be a left winger or a defenseman, two positions that are well represented amongst the 1st round talent? Perhaps, but the choice will most likely be made based upon the "best player available" theory, which in most drafts would limit the number of choices to a handful of prospects. That might not be the case in this draft, however, since there appears to be little consensus beyond the top 5 of the order in which players will be selected.

Historically, the 11th position in the draft usually presents a good opportunity for a team to pick up a NHL talent. While only one player from the 90-99 Drafts, Jarome Iginla, has developed into a player with star qualities, several of the other players chosen at this position have been good NHL players over the years. Names like Trevor Kidd, Brian Rolston, Brendan Witt and Jeff Friesen have been chosen with the 11th pick, so there is certainly hope of landing a serviceable NHL talent. The flops? One of the biggest in that 10-year stretch was Buffalo draft choice David Cooper, a defenseman whose stock was falling on that draft day in ’92, and continued to plummet from that point on. The jury is still out on Jeff Heerema (’98) and Oleg Saprykin (’99), although Heerema has shown signs of becoming a very good player.

Overall, Buffalo has about a 75-80% chance of landing a NHL-caliber talent at this position. The players in the 2002 Draft who might best fit into this percentile are:

Steve Eminger, D, Kitchener (OHL)– Steve’s stock rose in the 2nd half of the 01-02 season, so by all rights he should go in the top 10. There is a possibility that the smooth-skating rearguard could fall to the 11th pick, so it might be difficult for the Sabres to pass him up.

Jiri Hudler, C, Vsetin (Cze)– probably the best pure offensive talent in the draft. Buffalo would be hard-pressed to pass him up, regardless of their needs, with the fact that he is from the Sabres’ favorite European hockey hotbed, the Czech Republic, only adding to Jiri’s attractiveness.

Alexander Semin, LW, Chelyabinsk (Rus)– assuming he has Mogilny-type talent and lacks Mogilny-type quirks, Semin should strengthen what has been an offensively weak position for Buffalo for many a year.

Anton Babchuk, D, Elektrostal (Rus)– a big, tough defenseman with above average skating ability is something Buffalo certainly lacks. There is some debate over just how good a player Anton will be, however, so he might be a bit of a reach at this slot.

Martin Vagner, D, Hull (QMJHL)– a defenseman with decent size and few weaknesses is never a bad thing, but Martin may lack the grit that the Sabres could use at defense.

Sergei Anshakov, LW, Central Army (Rus)– the Red Light Special. Other than the fact that he needs to add a few pounds, I can find few reasons why Sergei isn’t rated amongst the top prospects in this draft. If Darcy and Don were feeling a little frisky, this selection would get the ACC buzzing for sure.

"Mr. Owner, um, Commissioner, the Sabres select with their second 1st round pick, the 30th overall, …" things have started to get a little foggy at this point in the draft. You will inevitably get 30 different answers to the question "Who is the best player at this position?" Buffalo may begin looking to fill some needs, so LW or D could be addressed with this pick.

In the 90’s, the success rate for drafting in the 30th slot was about 50-60%. The most recognizable name to be taken at this position is well-traveled defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, with the likes of Deron Quint, Josh Green and Chris O’ Sullivan displaying mostly journeyman ability during their NHL stints. Defensemen Kyle Rossiter (’98) and Luke Sellars (’99) are still developing in their respective organizations.

If the Sabres aren’t feeling strongly about any one player at this position, they may opt to trade the pick for more picks. This tends to happen later in the draft, but adding another 2nd round choice, as well as a 3rd or 4th round selection, would increase Buffalo’s chances of finding at least one NHL-caliber player beyond the 1st round of the draft. There is such a muddle of talent at this point in the draft that moving out of the 30th slot may not make much of a difference.

If they hang on to the pick, the Sabres could choose to select the following players:

Ben Eager, LW, Oshawa (OHL)– several mock drafts (including that of yours truly) have the Sabres drafting this hard-nosed left wing. His offensive upside may not be that great, but he comes to play every night, and he isn’t afraid to use his size.

Kirill Koltsov, D, Omsk (Rus)– if Buffalo is interested in running a halfway house, choosing Koltsov could present a boom-or-bust proposition. Kirill is a talented player with a chip on his shoulder. If the Sabres think they can transform that chip into a gem, they might end up with a very good player.

Ondrej Nemec, D, Vsetin (Cze)– a defensively sound defenseman with some offensive ability, not to mention one of those Czechs that the Sabres are fond of drafting. Ondrej may be a better candidate for Buffalo’s 2nd round pick, however.

Daniel Fernholm, D, Djurgarden Jr. (Swe)– another boom-or-bust proposition, given Daniel’s lack of activity over the past 18 months. Fernholm certainly has the size that NHL GMs look for in a defenseman, but he may not have the intensity to be a NHL player.

Vladislav Evseev, LW, Central Army– Evseev could go anywhere from 15 to 35, which shows just how greatly opinions can differ on certain players. Vlad has many of the physical tools that a team is looking for, but his mental approach may be lacking.

Tobias Stephan, G, Chur (Swi)– it is hard to say if Switzerland is on Buffalo’s hockey radar, but Stephan might not be a bad choice at this position. The Sabres don’t have a pressing need for a goaltender, but Tobias may be tough to pass up given his size and skill.

"With the 41st pick, the Sabres select…" it is at this point in the draft that GMs and scouts start consulting Ouijia boards, Magic 8 Balls, or the Hockey’s Future web site 😉 for some divine inspiration. The fact that only one player (Kevin Weekes) drafted at this position in the years 90-99 has had any sort of impact shows just how difficult it can be to find NHL talent beyond the 1st round of the draft.

Some names to look for at this selection:

Barry Tallackson, RW, Minnesota (WCHA)– the Sabres don’t tap college prospects very often, and they certainly don’t have a pressing need for a RW, but Barry could be an intriguing prospect. Tallackson has size and some skill, but he is inconsistent. Still, he played well in the Frozen Four for the NCAA champs, so he may have left many scouts with the right impression.

Rob Globke, C/RW, Notre Dame (CCHA)– see Barry Tallackson, but about 4 inches shorter. Could be a good player if he develops some consistency.

Maxim Sheviev, C, Elektrostal (Rus)– considering the number of forwards in this draft who possess 3rd-line potential, the Sabres might be wise to choose Sheviev with this selection. Max is said to be a smart player who plays a conservative game, and who just might have a little offensive upside to his game.

Brian Lee, D, Erie (OHL)– Brian could very well be available in the 3rd round, but he wouldn’t be a bad choice at 41. Lee isn’t a flashy player, he just plays a solid defensive game. His skating is NHL-caliber, and, should he add a few pounds to his frame, he should have the size to handle the rigors of the NHL game.

Johnny Boychuk, D, Calgary (WHL)– if he falls to this position, which is quite possible, Boychuk might be a worthy choice. The big defenseman has many skills that both coaches and scouts covet, but his hockey sense is questionable. Boychuk is coach-able, though, so he would be a project that might be worth taking on.

Some other names to look for later in the draft that might be good "sleeper" picks:

Tomas Troliga, C/W, Spisska Nova Ves (Slo), 6’4", 200 lbs.

Sean Collins, LW, New Hampshire (HE), 5’9", 177 lbs.

Jesse Niinimaki, C, Ilves (Fin), 6’2", 183 lbs.

Jevon Desautels, LW, Spokane (WHL), 6’3", 215 lbs.

Staffan Kronvall, D, Huddinge (Swe), 6’ 3", 209 lbs.

I’m sure there are more, including a couple goaltenders, so it is certainly possible to find talent at any point in the draft.

Enjoy the 2002 NHL Entry Draft!