Sabres Report: WJC Y2K

By Ken McKenna

In a tourney that answered the question "What would happen if a hockey tournament was held in Skelleftea, Sweden and no one showed up?", the Buffalo Sabres had ample representation amongst several teams taking part in the 2000 World Junior Championships. In total, five Buffalo Sabre prospects- LW Barrett Heisten and D Doug Janik (USA), RW Jaroslav Kristek (Czech Republic), D Matt Kinch (Canada) and LW Milan Bartovic (Slovakia)- took part in this year’s WJC. Unlike last year’s stellar showing by Sabre rookie Maxim Afinogenov, there were no spectacular performances put forth by these prospects, although a couple of the players played solidly enough to merit some mention.

The Sabre prospect that certainly had the most memorable tournament had to be Jaroslav Kristek, who was a member of the Czech Republic’s first gold medal winning WJC entry. Kristek, a member of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, played on the Czech’s top line with Milan Kraft and Michael Sivek. Jaroslav finished second in scoring on the Czech team (5G, 1A), and was 15th overall in scoring amongst players in the tournament. In addition, Jaroslav was tied for 3rd overall in goals scored, and was also one of several players to score a short-handed goal. Compared to his more heralded Czech line mates Kraft and Sivek, Kristek has been somewhat overlooked as a NHL prospect. Jaroslav’s performance in this tournament, however, should have Sabre scouts beaming with pride, and should have other NHL scouts kicking themselves for not paying more attention to Kristek in his draft year.

Another Sabre prospect who put forth a solid effort at the WJC was ’99 1st round pick Barrett Heisten. Heisten, a member of the low-scoring USA squad, was tied for second in scoring for Team USA with 3 points (2G, 1A). Both of Barrett’s goals came on the power play, with one of those goals being a game-winner (vs. Sweden). Heisten didn’t shy away from aggressive play, as the 20 penalty minutes he garnered will attest, and he provided leadership for a USA squad that made a respectable fourth place finish in this tournament. One area where Barrett (a winger) excelled was in the face-off department. Heisten won 11 of 18 draws, which should be music to the ears of the Sabres, a team that has been deficient in that area of the game for many years. Overall, Barrett’s performance at the WJC, although perhaps not up to the level that he has displayed for the University of Maine so far this year, was still effective enough to assure the Sabres that their first pick this year did not go to waste.

Heisten’s USA, as well as Maine, teammate Doug Janik did not have as effective a tournament as Barrett did. Janik had no points in 7 games for the US, finishing the WJC with just 3 shots on goal. In addition, Janik finished the tournament with a zero +/- rating, but that low rating was less a result of poor play by Janik, and more likely due to the fact that the US had trouble scoring goals. Doug came into the WJC off an impressive start to his 99-00 college season, so his mediocre performance had to be disappointing to both Doug and the Sabres.

Slovakia was a surprise medal winner at last year’s WJC, so there were high hopes for this year’s squad, which had several returning players including Sabre draft pick Milan Bartovic. Unfortunately, Bartovic and his Slovakian teammates stumbled early in the tournament, which kept them from gaining the momentum needed to carry them into the medal round. Bartovic finished the WJC with just 2 points (0G, 2A), and he was a –3 in the +/- department. Bartovic did manage 15 shots on goal, but he was not able to find the twine. No doubt Milan’s play in this tournament will be considered a disappointment, but his continued improvement playing for Brandon in the WHL should help to erase some of the frustration left over from this tourney.

The Sabres drafted Matt Kinch, a smallish 19 year-old offensive defenseman, possibly in the hopes of unearthing another Brian Campbell. Campbell had a great WJC last year for Canada, which was the impetus for the great season he had with Ottawa. Kinch was given a similar opportunity this season, but his performance in the WJC could best be described as forgettable. Matt’s game is offense, but he registered no points in 7 games for Team Canada, placing only 4 shots on goal. There were some WJC observers that suggested that Matt looked out of place in this tournament, as he wasn’t physical enough or fast enough to stay with the better players. As a 19 year-old draft pick, Matt’s odds of making it to the NHL are slim to begin with, so his sub-par performance in this tournament won’t help his chances any.