The Buffalo Sabres 2000 Draft Review

By Ken McKenna
Never let it be said that the Buffalo Sabres are predictable at the draft table, at least when it comes to making their 1st round picks.
Back in 1983, they chose high school goaltender Tom Barrasso with the 5th pick overall, which at the time was the highest a
goaltender had been chosen. In 1997, the Sabres called Finnish goaltender Mika Noronen’s name, a choice that was met with a
resounding chorus of “Who?”

Buffalo this year continued their tradition of risk-taking in the draft’s 1st round with the selection of Russian center Artem
Kriukov [6’3″, 180lbs., Yaroslavl (RUS)]
. There is certainly a lot to like about Artem- he is a well-rounded package of
offensive skills, as he possesses above-average speed, good size, sharp playmaking skills and a good shot. The major knock against
Kriukov has to do with his health, specifically his susceptibility to concussions. Artem suffered a major blow to the head early in the
99-00 season, causing him to miss a good portion of the schedule. The Sabres claim that this is the only concussion Kriukov has
suffered, and that they are comfortable with using the 15th pick overall to draft him. There are conflicting reports, however, that
indicate that this may not be Artem’s first concussion, so the Sabres could well be whistling past the graveyard with this pick. To
sum up, Kriukov will either be a major find for the Sabres scouting staff, or he will be a black mark on a drafting record that has
otherwise been good in recent seasons.

One thing the drafting of Kriukov accomplished was to address a couple needs, namely the lack of quality depth at center, as well
as a lack of size at the pivot position. The Sabres 2nd round choice, Gerard Dicaire [6’1″, 190lbs., Seattle (WHL)], addresses
the lack of depth at the defensive position caused by the departures of Alexei Tezikov, Cory Sarich and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre.
Dicaire could be a real find at this choice, as he was the youngest player in the 2000 draft, and his stock was rising as the draft
approached. Gerard is a good offensive defenseman possessing a smooth skating stride, good passing skills and a strong shot.
While not known to be a physical player, Dicaire has shown a penchant for solid hits on unsuspecting opponents. Gerard is a player
with a good upside, and he may need only to develop the necessary confidence in his abilities to make the jump to the pro game.

The Sabres did not have a choice in the 3rd round, but in the 4th round added to their stockpile of goaltenders with the selection of
Ghyslain Rousseau [6’0″, 161lbs., Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)]. Ghyslain, the 12th rated North American goalie according to
CSB, was the best goaltender on a mediocre Baie-Comeau team. Rousseau is said to possess quickness in both his glove hand and
in his side-to-side movement. Ghyslain is not the best puck-handler, which is a quality that is coveted by most NHL scouts, and he
could stand to be more aggressive when facing shooters. With the backlog of goaltenders the Sabres currently possess, Rousseau
will have plenty of time to develop his game in juniors and the minors.

The Sabres 5th round selection, Russian defenseman Denis Denisov [6’0″, 183lbs., HC Moscow (RUS)], could be a real find
at this position. Denis played in the Russian junior league, but his best performances may have been saved for the 2000 World
Junior Championships. At this tournament, Denisov played alongside Kiril Safranov, a defensive pairing that was one of the better
ones in the WJC. Denis is a mobile defender who is strong on his skates, and is solid in both the offensive and defensive zones.
Denisov might be a little slight of build for a NHL defenseman, which is probably the main reason he lasted this long in the draft. If
he can bulk up a bit, Denisov could stand a very good chance of playing in the NHL.

Buffalo was without a choice in the draft’s 6th round, but had two choices in the 7th round. The first of the two picks was used to
draft Russian left winger Vasily Bizyayev [6’1″, 196lbs., CSKA Jr. (RUS)]. There is not a lot of information available on
Vasily, but he is a 19 year-old who is said to be an excellent skater, and who does one thing effectively- score goals. Bizyayev’s
defensive awareness is almost non-existent, so he is a one-trick pony at this time.

The Sabres used their second 7th round pick on center/left winger Paul Gaustad [6’3″, 195lbs., Portland (WHL)]. Paul has
good size and a bit of a mean streak to go with that size. Gaustad was a good scorer in midget hockey, but that scoring touch was
not evident his first season in the WHL. Despite the fact that this was Paul’s draft year, he was not rated by the CSB, but the
Sabres apparently saw something in his game that the other scouts did not.

Size and toughness are two qualities that are in short supply in Buffalo’s defensive corps, so the Sabres attempted to address this
problem with their 8th round choice, Sean McMorrow [6’4″, 199lbs., Kitchener (OHL)]. Sean is a big, tough defenseman
who could be effective at clearing the front of the net. Mobility is a question with McMorrow, which is no doubt why he lasted until
the 8th round. If Sean can improve his skating and work on his defensive play, he could make an impact down the road.

Buffalo’s 9th round, and final, pick was used to select left winger Ryan Courtney [6’2″, 195lbs., Windsor (OHL)]. Ryan is a
big winger who plays small, meaning he doesn’t use his size effectively. Courtney has some offensive skills, but his offensive totals
were unremarkable. Defensively, Ryan is average, which means it is another aspect of his game that needs work. Overall, Ryan is
a longshot to ever play in the NHL, but he may serve some purpose in the minors should his game improve

Overall, this draft has to be viewed as a qualified success for Buffalo. The Sabres attempted to address depth problems at 2
positions (center and defense), and they bolstered other positions by adding more depth. In addition to adding depth, Buffalo also
added size to their depth chart, as all the players drafted were 6’0″ or better.

Much of the perception of this draft will hinge on the play and health of 1st pick Artem Kriukov. If he becomes the kind of player
the Sabres envisioned, then Darcy Regier and the Buffalo scouting staff will look like geniuses once again. If Artem falters,
however, there will be questions raised regarding the Sabres passing over the likes of Alexander Frolov, Brooks Orpik and Anton
Volchenkov to choose the risky Kriukov.

The Sabres are rolling the dice with Kriukov, but, given Buffalo’s recent drafting success, you have to think the odds favor that
they will cash in this Russian blue chip.