Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Prime years: 2007, another draft class with nothing to show for it

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

If the 2005 and 2006 drafts left much to be desired, then the Buffalo Sabres were in for more trouble heading into the 2007 draft as they were without a first round pick. Not that it would matter all that much. As shown previously, the Sabres ended up squandering their 2005 first-rounder, Marek Zagrapan as well as their 2006 first-rounder, Dennis Persson, as neither ever played in an NHL game. In addition, because of the Presidents Trophy-winning success the team had as well as another Eastern Conference Finals appearance, the team was set to pick way down in the first round (28th overall.)

At the 2007 trade deadline Buffalo was looking to bolster their lineup for the playoffs. GM Darcy Regier traded former first round pick Jiri Novotny (2001, 22nd overall) and their 2007 first round pick for Danius Zubrus (1996, 15th, PHI) and Timo Helbling (1999, 162nd, NSH.) Regier would also hedge that loss of their first rounder with the trade of back-up goalie Martin Biron to Philadelphia for the Flyers 2007 second round pick, 31st overall. All-in-all Buffalo dropped three slots in the draft but would bolster their smallish forward ranks with the 6'5" 225 lb. Zubrus.

The Zubrus acquisition was crucial to their success in the playoffs, especially against the NY Rangers in the second round as he shadowed Rags sniper (and future Hall of Famer) Jaromir Jagr. After scoring seven points (2+5) and having a plus-6 rating for NY in the four-game sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers, Jagr had only three goals and one assist with an even rating in the six-game series loss vs. Buffalo. Ironically enough, Zubrus and Jagr found themselves as teammates on the NJ Devils last season. Said Jagr of Zubrus', who was said to frequently be the butt of Jagr's jokes, "Zubie shuts down lines on other teams and he shuts down his own line, too."

With the "Ferrari" that was the Buffalo Sabres that season hitting on all cylinders and the team being touted as the face of the new NHL there was an excitement about the team and there was plentyof talk that they would take it to the next level in the playoffs. But, the 2006-07 season turned into a pivotal year in the league as "the new NHL" began sliding back to it's old "clutch and grab" ways. A harbinger of that was regression came in a quote from head coach, Lindy Ruff in January, 2007. "I don't think the game is being called as tight as it was," Ruff said at the time. "Before, as soon as you put a stick on somebody it was a penalty.

"Now, you're getting a free tug at times. You're getting a free paw at times ... I think there's games where the whistle has been put away."

The smallish, skilled and extremely fast Sabres would be in trouble come playoff time. Despite their six-game series win vs. NY, they struggled as their finesse-game was just enough to get by a bigger, more experienced Rangers squad who matched the Sabres scoring prowess with Jagr, Michael Nylander, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka.

The Ottawa Senators, who were bigger and grittier than the Rangers, were talented as well. The "Pizza Line" of Daniel Alfredsson (forever a thorn in the Sabres side) along with Danny Heatley and Jason Spezza combined to score 113 goals and add 166 assists in the regular season and was the dominant line in the NHL that season. The Sens took care of the Sabres in five games. Ottawa would then succumb to a tough, gritty Anaheim Ducks team that were afforded liberties not seen since the pre-lockout years.

Buffalo headed into the draft that year with a solid team and a fairly deep pool of prospects but Regier needed to add depth on defense and in goal. Stuart McDonald of Hockeysfuture.com also pointed out that for the first time since 1995, the Sabres would select a player from the Canadian Hockey League with their first pick and he would reference Buffalo's draft that year as "buying North American" saying the Sabres "uncharacteristically didn't draft a single European." It was the first time since 1989 that Buffalo stayed on the home continent.

Also big was the departure of head amateur scout, Jim Benning. His replacement was Kevin Devine a scout who'd spent eight years a professional and amateur scout for the club before being promoted to head amateur scout.

The 2007 NHL Draft for the Sabres began with the first pick in the second round and they used it to select defenseman, TJ Brennan.

The 6'2" 215 lb. Brennan was an offensive defenseman who spent his first four pro seasons working on the defensive aspects of the game, something he really struggled with. After 225 games with Portland/Rochester and 21 games with the Sabres, Brennan was traded to the Florida Panthers for a fifth round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft which turned into Gustav Possler.

He's on his second stint in the Toronto organization.

In his 2007 draft review, McDonald would also state that the Sabres other second round pick, defenseman Drew Schietsel was "off the charts," but not in a good way. International scouting services had Schiestel ranked 223rd but the Sabres, in what turned out to be an epic reach, felt he was worthy of the 59th overall pick. That would be rather unfortunate for the Sarbes as the Hamilton, Ontario native ended up bouncing between the AHL and ECHL before heading overseas last season.

Corey Tropp was one of two draft picks from this draft who's managed to carve himself out an NHL niche. The Michigan State alum was grabbed with the 89th pick and turned pro after scoring 42 points (20+22) in 37 games for the Spartans his junior year. In two seasons with Portland/Rochester Tropp made significant progression as a gritty/solid defensive forward with some scoring acumen.

His career, as well as his noggin, would take a serious blow in an infamous preseason game with the Toronto Maple Leafs on September 22, 2013. Tropp engaged with a tough customer in Leafs forward Jamie Devane and proceeded to get knocked silly.

The Sabres would waive him in November and he was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tropp may have found a home in Columbus as he's played in 105 NHL games for the club.

The Sabres goaltending pipeline was rather thin that year and in the fifth round they selected goalie, Bradley Eidsness with the 139th pick in the draft. Eidsness finished his four-years at North Dakota and hung up his skates for good opting for law school at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

Jean Simon-Allard (147th) and G, Nick Eno (187th) never made it to pro hockey while D, Matt Mackenzie (209th) has been bouncing from team to team between the AHL and ECHL.

Diminutive center Paul Byron, who was taken in the sixth round, joins Tropp as the only other player from this draft to have carved out an NHL career. The 5'7" 153 lb. Byron managed a rather strong sophomore campaign in the Sabres system in 2010-11 43 points (26+27) in 67 games for the Portland Pirates and played in eight games for the Sabres that season (1+1.)

Byron was part of the deal with Calgary that brought defenseman Robyn Regehr to Buffalo on June 25, 2011. He's produces solid if unspectacular numbers in three seasons with the Flames and is up for arbitration this year after Calgary qualified him.

The players from this draft class are now 26 yrs. old or so, right at the beginning of their prime playing years. Although the 2007 Sabres draft class did produce some NHL players, most, once again, are those of the depth-role/borderline NHL (or even AHL) variety. That said, regardless of what they may be able to achieve, none from that draft class are still with the club. .

The 2006-07 season for the Buffalo Sabres marked the beginning of change for the club. It began that off season with an independent arbitrator awarding Daniel Briere a one-year, $5 million contract. The Sabres would be forced to make choices as the award bumped them up against the $44 million NHL salary cap. The direct casualty of the award was gritty, two-way forward JP Dumont who's own $2.9 million arbitration award was rejected by Buffalo in order to be able to sign Ales Kotalik. And while teams were becoming harder to play against, the Sabres would opt for skill over backbone as Dumont, Jay McKee and Mike Grier were replaced by the likes of Kotalik, Jaroslav Spacek and younger, more affordable players.

But those changes would be nothing compared to what was about to happen just over a week later at the opening of free agency.

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