Stafford heads quintet of Sabres prospects at WJC

By Ken McKenna

A quick reading of Drew Stafford’s pre-draft scouting report might have given the impression that the Buffalo Sabres used their top pick in the 2004 NHL Draft on a moderately skilled winger with a strong work ethic. To some, Stafford’s profile screamed “Barrett Heisten”, the Sabres 1999 top selection who, six years on, is still trying to secure regular employment in the NHL.

For his part, Stafford, currently one of the better forwards at the NCAA level, may have quieted some of the concerns for his game with a strong performance at the 2005 World Junior Championships held in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Perhaps it was a case of some home cooking for the University of North Dakota star, since the Ralph Englestad Arena where many of the WJC games took place is UND’s home arena.

Whatever the case, Stafford’s performance should have the Sabres hockey department feeling good about their most recent first round selection. They may even be feeling some pride in the play of two more of their WJC participants, Clarke MacArthur and Denis Ezhov. The pair turned in solid performances of their own, with MacArthur taking home a gold medal playing for Canada and Ezhov bagging silver with the Russian team.

Although his USA squad failed to defend their 2004 gold medal, Stafford showed that he is more than just a grinder with some ability. Indeed, the Faribault, Minnesota native finished the tournament as the team’s leading scorer and goal scorer. He finished with eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) to finish tied for eighth in scoring in the tournament, with his five goals tying him for fifth overall. Two of his markers came on the power play, tying him for third in that category.

Stafford showed both a quick release and accurate shot, two aspects of his game that were perhaps not as highly touted as some of his more well-known characteristics. These attributes were particularly evident on a couple of goals Stafford scored directly off of face-offs.

As for Sabres prospect Clarke MacArthur, he may not have logged as much ice time as other members of the Canadian squad, but he certainly made the most of his limited time. The Medicine Hat Tigers star spent the majority of the tournament on the energy (or fourth) line, but still managed to net four goals, tying him for tenth in that category. MacArthur also registered the best shooting percentage of any of the Canadian players, no small achievement considering the number of goals the winners poured into opposing nets.

The Sabres other medallist, Russian defenseman Denis Ezhov, impressed more with his defensive play than with any offensive fireworks. Ezhov collected just two assists for the tournament, but formed an effective first defensive pairing with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dimitri Vorobiev. Ezhov, currently playing for Metallurg in the RSL, finished +6 for the tournament.

Two more Sabres prospects, 2003 second round pick Branislav Fabry and 2004 third round selection Andrej Sekera, played for the Slovakian entry in the WJC. Fabry, a forward from Bratislava, had just one assist for the offensively challenged Slovaks. He saw mostly first-line duty for his squad after starting the tournament on the third line. Sekera, a defenseman currently playing for Owen Sound in the OHL, spent most of the tournament on the second defensive pairing. He registered just one goal, and was –3 for the tournament.

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