Sabres 2006-07 rookie review

By Stuart McDonald

The Sabres were able to supplement their roster at critical times by promoting from the farm.

Drew Stafford, RW
2006-07 – 41 NHL games, plus 10 playoff games
Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2004

Stafford took advantage of injuries to four Buffalo Sabre forwards in mid-February to post eight points in five NHL games. After nine assignments to Rochester prior to his Feb. 16 recall, Stafford was finally with the Sabres to stay. The 6’1, 200-pound winger, was placed on what was then Buffalo’s second line with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek.

Stafford produced, finishing the season with 13 goals and 27 points in 41 games. Stafford was excellent; he saw power-play duty on the deep Sabres roster, potting three goals in the process. He earned coach Lindy Ruff’s confidence sufficiently that he averaged about 12 minutes of ice time in 10 of Buffalo’s 16 playoff games, scoring two goals and four points in the process.

With the Sabres unlikely to sign all unrestricted free-agent forwards Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Adam Mair and Dainius Zubrus, the gritty Milwaukee native is just about guaranteed a roster spot for the 2007-08 season. Stafford is the latest of the Sabres seemingly endless supply of very good forward prospects.

Nathan Paetsch, D

2006-07 – 63 NHL games
Drafted: 7th round, 202nd overall, 2003

Except for a six-week stretch with Jaroslav Spacek sidelined, Paetsch was the Sabres’ seventh defenseman for 2006-07. Spacek’s Feb. 1 knee injury gave Paetsch an opportunity to increase his ice time to 19 from 12 minutes, proving in the process that he could be a top-six NHL defenseman.  

Coach Lindy Ruff rewarded Paetsch for his fill-in role by upping his ice time to 15 minutes from his previous 12 even after Spacek returned. Despite his relatively limited ice time, Paetsch finished second among Sabre defensemen in points per game, third in assists and fourth in scoring. He tied for fifth among Sabre blueliners with +10. 

Not bad for a smallish, 22-year-old, seventh-round draft pick. Of course Paetsch will have to continue to battle for ice time as the Sabres decided mid-way through the season that they lacked a traditional large defensive defenseman to complement their numerous mobile rearguards.
Despite his solid season, Paetsch will have to battle for a roster spot if Buffalo re-signs 39-year-old Teppo Numminen. The Sabres acquired two defensemen Timo Helbling and Mikko Lehtonen at the Feb. 27 trading deadline. Helbling, 25 years old and 6’2, 217 pounds, was acquired from Washington with Zubrus for Jiri Novotny and a 2007 first-round draft pick. The Swiss defender plays a more physical game than Paetsch and is more in line with the Sabres current defensive needs.

Lehtonen, 27, yet more competition for Paetsch, arrived at the trading deadline from Nashville for a 2007 fourth-round draft pick. Unlike Helbling, Lehtonen, a veteran Finnish defender, will have to prove he can play the North American game and outplay Paetsch in order to make the top seven.

Daniel Paille, LW

2006-07 – 29 NHL games, one additional playoff game. 2005-06 – 14 NHL games
Drafted: 1st round, 20th overall, 2002

Paille, a former captain of Canada’s 2003 World Junior Championship silver-medal team, was one of the last cuts at the Sabres 2006 training camp. Though defensively responsible, Paille was a fill-in player for the Sabres in 2006-07. With his ice time varying significantly throughout the season, it’s clear he hasn’t yet locked up an NHL roster spot.

Paille, 23, finished with only three goals and 11 points in 29 games, but is responsible enough defensively that the Sabres dressed him for a May 1 playoff game against the Rangers. 

Paille has some leadership qualities and character, but his NHL future appears to be on the third line. Look for Paille to perform a similar fill-in role with the Sabres next season.

Clarke MacArthur, C/LW
2006-07 – 19 NHL games
Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2003

MacArthur benefited from the same mid-February rash of Sabre injuries that saw Drew Stafford promoted to the NHL. After two one-game call-ups, he was promoted to the Sabres on Feb. 15 for an extended stay. MacArthur managed a three-point night Feb. 27 in a 6-1 win in Toronto, but he scored only two goals and two assists in his other 18 games.

MacArthur rarely saw over eight minutes of ice time a game, so it’s difficult to evaluate his full NHL potential. If his AHL totals are any indication though, he should be able to produce some offense in the NHL as his 1.25 points per game suggest.

The Sabres have so much depth at forward that it will take another injury or two before he will see more extended time in the NHL. If MacArthur continues to improve the way he did this season, it’s just a matter of time before he makes the NHL. After his prolific AHL season there is still hope that MacArthur could become a top-six forward at the NHL level although he’ll likely end up a third line player.

Patrick Kaleta, RW
2006-07 – 7 NHL games
Drafted: 6th round, 174th overall, 2004

After receiving 91 PIMs in 46 games for Rochester, Kaleta was promoted for seven games in late February where he averaged eight minutes of ice time. Kaleta threw his 6’0, 200-pound frame around in the NHL and earned 21 NHL PIMs for his efforts.  Kaleta scored two assists and was +3 in seven games. Look for him to acquire more seasoning in Rochester next year as 2006-07 was his first pro season. 

Michael Funk, D

2006-07 – 5 NHL games
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2004

After averaging eight minutes of ice time in his first two NHL contests, Funk was dressed for the next three games, only to see one shift in each. Mercifully, the 6’4, 210-pound defenseman was shipped back to Rochester after his cup of coffee in late November 2006.  The smooth-skating Funk did manage 2 assists and a +2 in what amounted to two games worth of NHL hockey. Look for him to develop more in Rochester next season. 

Mike Card, D

2006-07 – 4 NHL games
Drafted: 8th round, 241st overall, 2004

Card played for 11 minutes on Nov. 11 and then played a total of 10 shifts in his other three games with Buffalo this season. Card is yet another young offensive defenseman.

Mark Mancari, RW
2006-07 – 3 NHL games
Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2004

The 6’4, 225-pound Mancari earned two brief trips to Buffalo in February. In his first two games, he saw the ice for eight minutes each time but was limited to two shifts in his third game. Mancari earned one assist and his first two NHL PIMs in his three games. The Sabres would like to see a little more aggressiveness from their giant winger before they move him to the next level.

Andrej Sekera, D

2006-07 – 2 games
Drafted: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2004

Sekera had a great training camp. He didn’t look out of place playing 18 minutes a game in four NHL pre-season tilts.  Sekera almost took the seventh defenseman’s spot from Paetsch despite being three years his junior.

In mid-December, Sekera played about seven minutes in two games earning a +1 and a minor penalty in his first NHL appearances.

Sekera will again be in the running for a spot in the NHL lineup as the seventh defenseman. He’ll have to earn it decisively though as the Sabres would prefer he stay with Rochester for his second pro season so that he can continue to get lots of quality ice time.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.