Sabres 2002 draft evaluation

By Stuart McDonald

After a .500 finish, the retooling Sabres were one year removed from the Dominik Hasek and Mike Peca era, a team that peaked with a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1999. Still solid defensively without Hasek and Peca, the Sabres allowed the third fewest goals in the conference in 2001-02 despite finishing 10th out of 15 teams in the East. The Sabres’ offense was weak, but some help was on the way with Tim Connolly, J.P. Dumont and Maxim Afinogenov developing in the organization.

John Rigas’ Adelphia Communications collapsed late in the season, leading to a precarious financial situation heading into the June 22nd draft in Toronto. That didn’t prevent General Manager Darcy Regier from making a big draft-day move when he swapped first-round draft picks with Columbus.

Keith Ballard, D
– 1st Round, 11th Overall (Minnesota-WCHA)
NHL Games Played: 151
Status: NHL player

With the 11th pick, the Sabres took who they believed to be the best player available, ignoring their desperate need for offense in the process. They were fortunate enough to flip Ballard for offense a year later when their scoring deficiencies became chronic. 

On July 3rd, 2003, Ballard was traded to Calgary for Steven Reinprecht who was then immediately flipped with Rhett Warrener to Colorado for Chris Drury and Steve Begin.

Since traded from Calgary to Phoenix, Ballard has turned into the defenseman the Sabres felt he would become. Ballard, a Baudette, MN native, has averaged 75 games, 33 points and 80 PIMs in two seasons. Ballard doesn’t turn 25 until November 2007. 

After almost reaching 40 points in his rookie year, Ballard focused more on his defensive game in 2006-07 as his plus/minus improved from a woeful -18 to a better -7. He took fewer penalties this year, lowering his totals by 40 minutes. 

A 5’11, 210-pound, fire hydrant on skates, Ballard’s mix of youth, aggressiveness and pure skill makes him an extremely valuable all-around player. Phoenix sees him as a solid No. 2 defenseman in the near future. 

Daniel Paille, LW – 1st Round, 20th Overall (Guelph – OHL)
NHL Games Played: 43
Status: NHL player

On draft day, Regier traded winger Mike Pandolfo and the 30th pick, acquired by trading Slava Kozlov to Detroit, to Columbus for the 20th pick. Regier then grabbed Dan Paille, a point-per-game character player from the OHL’s Guelph Storm.  

In junior, Paille captained Canada’s 2003 World Junior Championship silver-medal team, and led the Storm to the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna, BC.

After turning pro in 2004-05, Paille scored 29 points in a very competitive AHL, strengthened by the NHL lockout. The following season saw Paille play 14 games in the NHL followed by another 29 NHL games in 2006-07.

One of the last cuts at the Sabres 2006 training camp, the 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 quite locked up an NHL roster spot.

Paille, 23, finished with 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.

Michael Tessier, LW – 3rd Round, 76th Overall (Acadie-Bathurst – QMJHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Tessier had his best season in the year prior to the 2002 draft. With the Sabres looking for big forwards, Tessier seemed like the perfect fit. At 6’2 and scoring over a point per game in the QMJHL, Tessier was taken with the Sabres third pick in the draft.

The big winger’s point totals plunged 20 points after being drafted, and while his numbers eventually improved, he never fulfilled the promise of his draft year.

Tessier seemed to flounder badly in 2005-06, spending the year in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, a low-level minor league based in Quebec with a reputation for fighting.

In 2006-07, however, Tessier spent a productive year in Europe scoring 29 points in only 22 games for ASG Angers in the French League.

John Adams, D – 3rd Round, 82nd Overall (Boston College – Hockey East)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL prospect

A defensive defenseman, Adams played solidly in his four years at Boston College earning a reputation as an elite defender.  Adams spent 2005-06, his first pro season, in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades. He also played 13 games with three different AHL teams including the Springfield Falcons, where he returned for 14 games in 2006-07.  The Wayzata, MN native also spent 43 games with the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL, playing more of an offensive role at that level with 19 points in 43 games.

Defensemen take a long time to develop so it’s too early to write him off completely for an NHL future. With only 29 AHL games under his belt, he likely must play full time in the AHL this year to have a chance at an NHL career.

Jakub Hulva, C
– 4th Round, 108th Overall (Vitkovice – Czech Extraliga)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Despite not making the 2002 U-18 World Junior Championship team, Buffalo drafted the highly-skilled Czech with their fifth pick. Hulva, an elite stick-handler with soft hands, was only 5’11, 160 pounds when drafted. Unlike his slight compatriot Petr Prucha, Hulva has lacked the aggressiveness necessary to overcome his physical limitations. 

Hulva spent almost his entire career with the Vitkovice organization, moving freely from junior to senior team until 2004-05 when he joined the seniors to stay.

For someone whose reputation was strictly offensive, Hulva failed to impress, notching eight points in 42 games in 2004-05 and four points in 40 games in 2005-06.

The Sabres released Hulva on June 1st, 2006. Hulva then left the Vitkovice organization but played only once in 2006-07 for Sparta Prague’s senior team.

Marty Magers, G – 4th Round, 121st Overall (Omaha – USHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Magers had an outstanding .927 save percentage for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers going into the draft. After being picked in the fourth round, Magers decided to try the major junior route to the NHL and signed with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL in 2002-03. After 26 games and an .883 save percentage, Magers was traded to Sudbury where he continued to flounder.

Magers moved back to the USHL Lancers in 2003-04 and returned to form. In 2004-05 he saw limited pro action with the United Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs in his home state of Illinois.

He spent most of 2005-06 as an ECHL backup for the Bakersfield Condors but returned to the UHL last year as a starting goaltender for the Chicago Hounds.

Maxim Sheviev, C
– 6th Round, 178th Overall (Crystall Elektrostal – Russian 2nd)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Sheviev has stayed near his hometown and played with Crystall Elektrostal for five of his seven years in the Russian pro leagues.

The smallish 6’0, 180-pound defensive forward has slowly improved over the years, and had a relatively productive 2006-07, scoring four goals and 11 points in 46 games for the defensively-challenged Elektrostal. More importantly, Sheviev’s +1 was a major positive on a team that scored 48 fewer goals than they allowed.

Sheviev’s slow but steady improvement has made him a valuable commodity to his Russian team.

Radoslav Hecl, D – 7th Round, 208th Overall (Bratislava – Slovakian League)
NHL Games Played: 14
Status: NHL bust

Hecl turned 28 three months after the draft, so the Sabres wanted him to produce immediately. He didn’t. He played 14 games for the Sabres and 58 for Rochester before heading back to Slovakia for the 2003-04 season.

After a brief retirement, Hecl spent last season playing for the Manchester Phoenix in the British Elite League.

Dennis Wideman, D
– 8th Round, 241st Overall (London – OHL)
NHL Games Played: 142
Status: NHL player

For two years the Sabres had ample opportunity to sign Wideman, a slightly undersized but skilled offensive defenseman. Wideman continued his OHL point-per-game pace two years after he was drafted. It wasn’t enough for the Sabres, however, as they failed to sign him, and on June 24th, 2004, Wideman became a free agent. St. Louis signed him less than a week later and Wideman produced immediately as a pro, scoring 13 goals and 43 points in his rookie AHL season.

Wideman spent most of 2005-06 with the Blues, scoring 24 points in 67 games. He was a fixture on St. Louis’ second power-play unit. He continued to produce well into 2006-07 scoring 22 points in 55 games before being traded to the Boston Bruins for forward Brad Boyes.

Martin Cizek, D – 9th Round, 271st Overall (Slavia Jr. – Czech juniors)
NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Cizek was a gamble, having never played outside of the Czech junior leagues. To his credit he came to North America after his draft year and played 58 games with Plymouth of the OHL. His willingness to learn the North American game lasted only one year as he returned home for the 2003-04 season.

The defensive defenseman has played in only one Czech Extraliga game, suiting up for Dukla Jihlava in 2004-05. Cizek was released by the Sabres on June 1st, 2006. 

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