Sabres Report: Disappointment Mounts Over Kriukov

By Ken McKenna

What do hockey prospects Brooks Orpik, Krys Kolanos, Alexander Frolov, Anton Volchenkov, David Hale, Brad Boyes, Steve Ott, and Brian Sutherby all have in common? If you guessed that they were all chosen in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, you would, of course, be correct. More importantly, at least to Buffalo Sabres’ fans, is the fact that these were some of the more impressive prospects chosen after Buffalo selected Artem Kriukov with the 15th pick in the Draft.

Kriukov was an intriguing package of skills leading up to the 2000 Draft, with his main failing being a serious concussion that caused Artem to have his rating downgraded on several NHL team’s draft lists. Buffalo’s Director of Player Personnel Don Luce and his scouting staff saw Artem play on 15 different occasions following his injury, with Luce stating his satisfaction with the big Russian’s recovery.

Unfortunately, it appears that Luce and Company didn’t bother to measure Artem’s hockey skills, which at this point are non-existent.

Currently, Artem appears to be in hockey limbo, having yet to play a game in the 02-03 season for defending Russian Superleague champion Yaroslavl. There are reports that the 20-year-old center has been skating with the club, but he has not been able to crack the lineup of a team that appears to be making another run at a championship. Other reports have indicated that Kriukov has been seen practicing with Yaroslavl 2, a team in that same organization, but in a lower league. It does not appear that Artem has played for this lower team, however, nor does it appear that injuries are a factor in Kriukov’s inactivity.

One bit of news that isn’t surprising is that Buffalo’s hockey department is not pleased with Kriukov’s lack of progress. Adding to their disappointment is the fact that the Sabres must decide whether or not they want to sign Artem by the signing deadline next June. Between Kriukov’s lack of playing time the past two seasons, as well as his lack of productivity since his selection by the Sabres, the decision to sign Artem will be a difficult one. To not sign him would be an admission that the team wasted one of their highest draft positions in recent years, whereas signing Kriukov, only to see him flop, would represent a waste of money by a club that is currently cash-starved. Tough choices, indeed.

Elsewhere in Russia, the news is only slightly better for another of Buffalo’s selections in the 2000 Draft. Defenseman Denis Denisov has moved from Krylia Sovetov (Soviet Wings) to Salavat Yulaev Ufa, where he is taking a regular shift. In 18 games, Denisov has picked up four assists and two PIMs. Denis is said to be a solid, but smallish, defenseman who could eventually provide the Sabres with some defensive depth. He is another prospect that must be signed by the Sabres before the June 1st deadline.

Buffalo’s lone Russian choice in the 2002 Draft, Maxim Sheviev, is currently leading a nomadic existence. Max left the Elektrostal organization to tryout with Ak Bars Kazan of the Superleague, then moved over to Amur Khabarovsk to attempt to make their roster. If the tryout with Amur Khabarovsk doesn’t work out, Sheviev will probably wind up where he started, with Elektrostal. It does not appear as if Maxim has appeared in any Superleague games, but he may have some High League games under his belt.

The last of Buffalo’s Russian prospects, Vasily Bizyayev, is still trying to make it in the Superleague. Vasily’s team of last season, CSKA Moscow, combined with another Superleague team (HC Moscow), with several players, including Bizyayev, being left on the outside looking in. Vasily is trying out with St. Petersburg of the Superleague, so he may get another opportunity to prove himself at the top level. Regardless, it is doubtful that Buffalo will sign this 2000 selection next June.

Moving to the Czech Republic, the Sabres currently have three prospects playing at various levels of the Czech development system. 2002 fourth round pick Jakub Hulva, who was recently profiled in an article by Hockey’s Future Czech Editor Robert Neuhauser, has played for both Vitkovice of the top Czech league and Opava in the lower, Division I league. Hulva hasn’t registered points in either league, where he has faced mostly older competition. Jakub has also played for the Czech Republic in the Four Nations tournament, and is hoping to land a spot on the Czech Republic’s 2003 World Junior entry.

Two of Buffalo’s 2001 draft choices, Michal Vondrka and Marek Dubec, are currently playing in the Czech Republic’s top league. Vondrka is playing for Budejovice, where he has tallied one assist and 2 PIMs in 11 games. Dubec, who has moved up to Vsetin of the Extraleague, has picked up just one assist, as well, to go along with 2 PIMs.

The final European prospect for Buffalo is the Swedish defenseman Calle Aslund, who plays for the Huddinge hockey club. Calle currently plays for Huddinge’s Allsvenskan team, which is a step below the top league. Aslund has one goal in 13 games, while picking up 26 PIMs in those 13 contests. Calle also appeared in two games for Huddinge’s junior team, where he picked up two assists and two PIMs.

Thanks to Jake Dole for providing information on the Russian prospects.