While there has recently been more attention paid to some of the new blood in the Buffalo organization, such as newly-acquired forwards Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, this is also a good time to recognize the work of the Sabres’ prospects who were with the organization throughout the 2000-01 season.
The purpose of this article is to present a final ranking of the top 15 prospects in the organization as of June 2nd, 2001. This would exclude players such as Barrett Heisten, Mike Zigomanis and some of the other prospects who weren’t signed at the June 1st signing deadline. Also excluded from this list are the 2001 draft choices, as the focus of this article will be strictly those players who were Buffalo property through the 00-01 campaign.
G Mika Noronen began the year as Buffalo’s top-rated prospect, and, despite a somewhat shaky start to his 2000-01 season, he remains atop the final rankings for this season. G Ryan Miller made a strong push to grab the top spot, but Mika gets the nod due to the fact that he plays against tougher competition. D Brian Campbell, RW Norm Milley and D Henrik Tallinder round out the top 5.
The Top 15 for 2000-01
- Mika Noronen, Goaltender
- Ryan Miller, Goaltender
- Brian Campbell, Defenseman
- Norm Milley, Right Wing
- Henrik Tallinder, Defenseman
- Artem Kriukov, Center
- Gerard Dicaire, Defenseman
- Doug Janik, Defenseman
- Milan Bartovic, Right Wing
- Jeremy Adduono, Right/Left Wing
- Paul Gaustad, Center
- Jaroslav Kristek, Right Wing
- Karel Mosovsky, Right Wing
- Ales Kotalik, Right Wing
- Francois Methot, Center
Mika had a brief taste of the NHL at the beginning of the season, but was returned to Rochester to continue his development. Mika struggled upon his return to the AHL, but, by season’s end, he regained the MVP form that he displayed during the 99-00 season. In spite of his early season difficulties, as well as a quick exit from the playoffs, Mika played well enough to retain his ranking as Buffalo’s best prospect.
Honors: AHL 2nd Team All-Star, AHL’s Harry "Hap" Holmes Trophy (fewest GA, shared with Tom Askey), Rochester’s MVP, AHL Goaltender of the Month (December 2000).
It is difficult to ignore a player whose trophy case contains enough hardware to fill a Home Depot, so it might be a little surprising to some that Ryan does not occupy the top spot. The reasoning for Ryan being second on this list is fairly simple- Mika Noronen has more or less proven himself at the pro level, while Ryan hasn’t. In spite of Ryan’s lack of pro experience, there are few that think that the MSU junior-to-be won’t someday be a top backstop in the NHL. In the meantime, Ryan will have to content himself with helping MSU in their efforts to win a national championship.
Honors: Hobey Baker Award (top player in NCAA hockey), Michigan State’s MVP, CCHA Player of the Year, Jesse Owens Award (Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year), JOFA West All-America 1st Team, CCHA Tournament MVP, Named to the U.S. squad for the 2001 World Championships.
Brian is ranked this high more on reputation than on actual performance. There is no question that Campbell has the necessary speed and offensive skill to challenge for a spot on a NHL roster, but the question is, how good will he be? To his credit, Brian worked on improving his overall game this season, which should help his cause come the 2001 training camp. Campbell did not look out of place in his last call-up to Buffalo, so that may be a sign that he is ready to take a spot on Buffalo’s roster.
Honors: Named to the Canadian All-Star Team in the AHL All-Star Game.
Norm turned in a solid performance in Buffalo’s training camp last year, but was sent to Rochester to receive the maximum amount of playing time. After getting his feet wet in the first half of the season, Norm came on in the second half to display some of the offensive ability that he was known for during his junior days in Sudbury. While Norm made good strides during the 00-01 campaign, Buffalo’s depth on the right flank will probably land Milley back in Rochester for a second season.
Honors: Rochester’s Rookie of the Year.
The much-anticipated arrival of ’97 2nd round pick Henrik Tallinder will finally take place- at least temporarily. Henrik signed a 2-year contract with the Sabres, which has a clause that will allow him to return to play in Finland should he not make the Buffalo roster. Tallinder, a Swede, is coming off a solid season for TPS Turku of the top Finnish league, where he was often used on the top defensive pairing. Tallinder is a steady defenseman with some offensive upside to his game, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be developed enough to make the Buffalo roster.
Honors: Member of Finnish champs TPS Turku.
The theme song for Artem’s season could have been "Travelin’ Man", as he played with several different groups of players while playing in 2 different organizations (plus one tournament). Kriukov’s touted offensive ability did not materialize, but he did show an ability to play good, physical defense during his Russian Superleague playoff appearances with Yaroslavl. It is certainly too early to write off Artem as a bust, but his appearance at this position has mostly to do with the fact that he was a #1 pick.
Gerard had a good year for Seattle of the WHL, where he showed signs of becoming a top offensive defender in that league. Dicaire received recognition for his efforts, as he was voted to the WHL’s Western Conference 2nd All-Star Team. While physical play is not a part of his game, Gerard does have the size and offensive skill to some day challenge for a spot on the Buffalo roster.
Honors: Voted Seattle’s Top Defenseman and Most Sportsmanlike Player, WHL Western Conference 2nd Team All-Star.
While the Sabres let a number of ’99 draft choices walk, one that didn’t get away was former U. of Maine defender Doug Janik. Janik signed a contract with Buffalo last week, and is expected to begin his pro career in Rochester this season. Doug had a good, but not outstanding, season with Maine, where he finished as that team’s top-scoring defenseman. In spite of his work offensively this past season, Janik will probably be known more as being a steady defenseman with decent offensive skills, who also possesses some leadership characteristics (he was a captain for Maine in 00-01).
Honors: Hockey East All-Academic Team, NCAA All-East Regional Team.
Milan’s final junior season was a bit of a disappointment, as he battled injury and inconsistency through most of the year. In spite of Milan’s struggles this year, he finished his WHL career with 90 points in 97 games. The skilled and speedy Slovak received his first taste of the North American professional game, as he played in 2 regular season and 4 post-season games for Rochester. Bartovic made a favorable impression in his limited appearances with the Amerks, and he will no doubt receive a good amount of ice time with Rochester this coming season.
Honors: Member of the Slovakian team at the 2001 World Junior Championships, Played for the WHL’s Eastern Conference All-Star Team.
Jeremy had a solid 2000 training camp, which led to his appearances in several of Buffalo’s preseason games. The RW-turned-LW eventually broke camp with Rochester, where he proceeded to be one of the Amerks more consistent performers during the 00-01 season. While Adduono was best known in his junior days for his offensive exploits, he appears to be developing as more of a defensive forward with some offensive ability and versatility. His versatility might come in handy, since the logjam in front of Jeremy at RW might mean his best avenue to the Buffalo roster would be as a LW.
Honors: Co-winner of Rochester’s McCulloch Community Trophy (with Jason Cipolla).
In the span of a year, Paul went from being a non-ranked draft prospect to his current status as a Sabres’ prospect sitting at #11 with a bullet. Gaustad is a gritty center with good size and defensive skills whose offensive talents may just be starting to bloom. Paul’s game improved steadily throughout the 00-01 season, but he took his game to an entirely different level during Portland’s playoff run to the WHL finals. Gaustad was the main catalyst for the Winter Hawk’s playoff success, as he used his large frame to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Paul’s performance had one Portland writer comparing him to former Winter Hawk Adam Deadmarsh. It remains to be seen if Gaustad can develop into a definite NHL prospect, but a strong showing throughout the course of the 2001-02 season should move the big pivot further up Buffalo’s prospect list.
Honors: Finalist for the WHL’s Humanitarian Award, received Portland’s Booster Club Awards for Most Popular Hawk and Top Face-off Man.
Jaroslav is another prospect whose ranking is based more on reputation rather than performance. Kristek had a decent start to his first pro season in Rochester, but injuries to both shoulders slowed him down, eventually ending his season prematurely. The book on Jaroslav is that he is a good skater with some offensive ability and grit. While these attributes were on display from time-to-time, his injuries prevented the Czech winger from displaying his full range of talents on a consistent basis. Assuming a return to full health, Kristek should have ample opportunity this coming season to display his ability as a regular for the Amerks.
Karel, a ’99 draft pick from the Czech Republic, is still Buffalo property in spite of not having been signed at the 6/1 deadline. Buffalo may be hesitant to sign Mosovsky due to injury problems that have slowed him for the past two seasons. Karel’s injuries have prevented him from putting together a solid, consistent season, but he has had stretches where he has been effective. Mosovsky is somewhat of a power play specialist, a talent that was definitely on display during the Memorial Cup tournament, where Karel was the leader in PPGs with 3. Karel also scored 14 PPGs for the Regina Pats during the regular season. The Czech winger may have the proper scoring touch, but his skating and overall toughness might hinder him in his quest to play in the NHL.
Ales, another RW prospect from the Czech Republic, put together his best season offensively during the 00-01 campaign. Kotalik lead Budejovice in scoring, while placing 11th overall in the top Czech league. Ales’ impressive season convinced the Sabres to ink him to a contract, with Kotalik’s likely destination being Rochester. Perhaps Ales is deserving of a higher ranking, but information on him is limited, so it is hard to judge his talent level in relation to some of the other prospects (even Buffalo’s press release for his signing had little information).
Honors: Leading scorer for Budejovice of the Czech Elite League.
Based on Methot’s performance during the first half of the 00-01 season, it appeared he was well on his way to hockey obscurity. An offensive surge during the season’s 2nd half, no doubt fueled by the fear of seeing his career slip away, left Francois as Rochester’s leading scorer at season’s end. The nifty center no doubt added another year to his career, at least in the Buffalo organization, but it remains to be seen whether or not Methot is NHL material. Still, his late-season surge made Francois a worthy holder of the final position in the rankings; perhaps the strong 2nd half showing will spur him on to better things.
Honors: Leading scorer for Rochester of the AHL.