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By Daniel Salfin, Sabres Prospect Editor-In-Chief
Tuesday, May 25, 1999

The Sabres have one of the elite prospect systems in the entire National Hockey League as Buffalo's future looks bright in net with the likes of Martin Biron, up front with the explosiveness of Afinogenov and our immense amount of depth on defence. While the Sabres lack a first line centre for the future which can come through this years' NHL Draft, the Sabres' amount of depth and raw talent remains uncontested. So with the abundance of depth the Sabres have in our prospects, how do they stack up?

1. Martin Biron (G, Rochester AHL) - While Dominik Hasek has been the heart and soul for the Buffalo Sabres the last few years, another great goaltender is coming through the ranks. After being the Sabres first round draft choice in 95, Biron experienced a little taste of post-draft syndrome as his play in net wasn't reaching expectations for Beauport of the Quebec Major Junior league. Last season, Martin began his professional career with the Rochester Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Sabres and seemed to play up to expectations as he was all-around solid in net for the Amerks. This season, he has been arguably the top goaltender in the American Hockey League with a G.A.A. under 2.00 for a good part of the season. He also proved himself in the NHL in his call-up to the Sabres when Biron stole the show against the top team in the NHL, the Dallas Stars. In his call-up he played extremely well with the exception with his game against the Lightning which was a humbling experience for Biron. None the less, expect the goaltending excellency which we have seen in Buffalo continue well into the new millennium. Biron does not play the unorthodox style of goaltending but rather a butterfly style played by many other goaltenders who have achieved success coming out of the QMJHL such as Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.

2. Maxim Afinogenov (RW, Moscow Dynamo) - Afinogenov is by far the most skilled forward the Sabres have in our prospect system. While the only games which I personally have seen Max play was in the WJC's this January, he was by far the most exciting forward in the tournament as he led the Russian's to a gold medal. He has an eye for the net, can fly through the neutral zone with blazing speed and is a pure offencive threat. Many experts have made quick comparisons from Afinogenov to the likes of Pavel Bure. The only downside to Max is his lack of size as he is a diminutive 5'11, 175. Max also needs to play in North America to adjust to the North American game before becoming the next Miro Satan or Alexander Molgilny.

3. Cory Sarich (D, Rochester AHL) - By far Cory Sarich is the Sabres grittiest player on defence and is the Sabres top defenceman. He has the size and physical presence to make an impact in the NHL with the Sabres over the next few seasons with the Sabres. Cory plays well in his own end and will not hesitate to make a bone-crushing hit. He has had a very successful season with Rochester and also played solid in his call-up with the Sabres as well, especially in a game against Ottawa earlier this season. Not only does Sarich play well in his own end but he also is an asset offencively as well. He can work the power play and stickhandles well. Expect him to possibly become Sabres captain, resembling the style of a Scott Stevens-type player as he is a complete player on defence.

4. Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre (D, Rochester AHL) - JLPG's ranking has skyrocketed due to the success he has had this season with both Rochester and Buffalo, reaching his potential. This season, Islanders top prospect Roberto Luongo was traded from the Val D'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL as his numbers have not been as impressive in previous years and that was mainly due to the lack of defense the Foreurs have had this season compared to other years. A major part of that is because of Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre's departure as the physical play which Grand-Pierre showed on defence was surely missed. Grand-Pierre this year for Rochester has played immensely well on defence and earned a well-deserved spot with the Sabres for a good part of the second half of the season where he impressed the scouts whether he played on defence or on the wing. While Grand-Pierre still is not the complete player Sarich is and has some flaws in his defencive play, his raw talents such as his physical presence, pure speed and hard shot out-weighs his weaknesses and he will be a valuable commodity for the Sabres future.

5. Erik Rasmussen (C, RW, Rochester AHL) - Rasmussen is the Sabres top power forward. While he has received an excessive amount of time with the Sabres, especially in the playoffs where he has played on the checking line with Primeau and Kruse, since he has played with Rochester for a good part of this season, I decided to rank him as #5 in the prospect rankings. Rasmussen combines strength with skill and has the potential to develop into a key part to the success of a team who over the last few years has lacked the size and grit needed to succeed and expect him to play a full season with the Sabres next season.

6. Dimitri Kalinin (D, Moncton QMJHL) - Kalinin has adjusted well to the North American game and like Sarich is a solid defenceman in his own end. Kalinin can make hits and is an at-home defenceman. While he has developed offencively this season, he still lacks the offencive numbers to become a factor in the NHL.

7. Norm Milley (RW, Sudbury OHL) - Milley led the OHL in scoring most of the season before being overtaken by undrafted prospect Sheldon Keefe for the OHL scoring title. Milley has a decent shot and possesses a great deal of speed even though he's not even in the same league as Afinogenov. Milley has great offencive instincts but can also play well in his own end. Milley may lack size but he has shown a lot of grit for his size so I feel he's ready to take his game to the next level and see what he can do for Rochester next season.

8. Brian Campbell (D, Ottawa OHL) - Brian Campbell, unlike Kalinin can be an offencive force. He has put up great offencive numbers for the Memorial Cup Champion Ottawa 67's and has won the honour of becoming MVP of the Ontario Hockey League. Campbell displays blazing speed, a great hockey sense, and can also work the power play. While his offencive play has been exceptional, he lacks the defencive aspects of the game needs work. Campbell cannot throw a bodycheck and he tends to play so deep into the offencive zone that he often times either gets caught out of position or ends up turning the puck over in the neutral zone and interferes with the flow of the forwards. While Campbell's defencive play leaves a lot to be desired, Brian has the offencive assets to possibly become the next Phil Housley.

9. Jaroslav Kristek (RW, Tri-City WHL) - I have been extremely impressed with the development of Kristek this season and as a result, he may find himself playing for the Rochester Americans instead of the Tri-City Americans this season. Kristek is a force in the slot, can muck and grind on the forecheck, and has a decent shot and speed. He also is a solid two-way player who has adjusted well to the North American game and he certainly has the raw skill to become a 2nd or 3rd line winger for the Sabres in a matter of years.

10. Henrik Tallinder (D, AIK Swedish Elite League) - Mika Noronen's poor play in the WJC's earlier this year has dropped his ranking out of the top ten. His replacement is Henrik Tallinder, an at-home Swedish defenceman who played for Sweden in the 1998 World Junior Championships. Henrik plays extremely well in his own end but lacks the offence to be a major factor for the Sabres. He also has had his fair share of injury problems as well. Whether the Sabres will sign him to a contract is currently up in the air but if the Sabres are in need of a stay at home defenceman, Tallinder could be a possibility.