Barrett Heisten, the newest Buffalo Sabres No. 1 pick, had barely pulled his first Sabres sweater over his head when someone asked him the obvious question.
"Was it a goal?"
The question involved Brett Hull's controversial Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game Six of the finals last week.
Heisten appeared to start out in one direction, then made a quick move to the other side.
"I say ye. . .no," was the reply.
If the 6-foot-1, 189-pound left winger from Anchorage, Alaska, is as quick on his skates as he showed himself to be thinking on his feet, the Sabres have a keeper.
It's hard to tell if Heisten changed his opinion in mid-sentence just because he was surrounded by media from Buffalo or he just misspoke, but there's no getting away from the fact that he is a quality player that addresses Buffalo's twin needs of size and toughness in the forward ranks.
The Sabres had 12 picks in the draft, including three in the second round. Their first pick in the second round, the 35th player taken overall, was Milan Bartovic, a right winger from Slovakia. They followed up with Doug Janik, the 55th selection, a defenseman and a Maine teammate of Heisten's, then selected Michael Zigomanis, a center from Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League. Zigomanis was the 64th player taken.
Buffalo had the seventh pick in the third round, the 73rd selection, and drafted Tim Preston, a left winger out of Seattle in the Western Hockey League.
In the fourth round, the Sabres took Karel Mosovsky (the 117th pick), a left winger from the Czech Republic who played with Regina in the Western Hockey League last season. The Sabres had two picks in the fifth round. The first, the 138th overall, was spent on Ryan Miller, a goaltender from East Lansing, Mich., who plays in the North American Hockey League but is slated to attend Michigan State. The second, the 146th pick, was Matthew Kinch, a defenseman from Calgary in the WHL who was third on the team in scoring (14-69--83) and first among defensemen.
In the sixth round, the Sabres picked Seneque Hyacinthe, a 5-11, 180-pound left wing from Val D'Or in the QHL. Right wing Bret Dececco of Seattle of the WHL was Buffalo's seventh-round pick.
In the eighth round, the Sabres took center Brad Self of Peterborough of the OHL and they closed out with right winger Craig Brunel of Prince Albert of the WHL.
Heisten is listed as a left winger, but he has played center at times in his career and since the top-rated centers were all selected prior to Buffalo making the 21st pick in the draft, Heisten represents a strict adherence to the "best player available" philosophy but with a slight lean toward filling a need.
"We talked a lot about depth and skill and the other thing was to just draft forwards," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. "We feel we have a lot of depth on our defense so this draft was an opportunity to build some depth with our forwards."
Heisten seems to lead the pack in that regard.
Ranked 21st on Central Scouting's midterm report, Heisten jumped another seven places to 14th for the final rankings. A freshman with the Maine Black Bears of NCAA championship fame, he finished sixth in team scoring with 12 goals and 16 assists in 34 games, racking up 72 penalty minutes along the way.
Heisten was named to the Hockey East all-rookie team and also played for Team USA at the 1999 World Junior Championships in Winnipeg where he ranked third in team scoring (2-4--6) in six games.
Central Scouting notes Heisten is a strong skater with very good agility and balance and a player that has excellent acceleration and can clear himself from opponents to get open. He is said to possess outstanding speed and quickness which he uses to create scoring chances and is especially good at handling the puck in tight situations. CS made a point of noting that Heisten is a hard-working, tenacious player who plays with grit and character and that he also plays the body in all zones on the ice and can deliver the big hit.
In short, a Buffalo kind of guy.
"More than anything else he's a Buffalo Sabre," said Regier regarding Heisten's reputation for feisty play. "He's got a little bit of Erik Rasmussen to him, a little bit of (Vaclav) Varada to him. He's got a little bit of offense to him, but I think he's a courageous player, he plays hard and he really fits as to what our team is about."
Regier said he did think that Heisten could contribute offensively despite his low totals. He was especially pleased that Heisten appeared to get stronger (offensively) as the season went on.
Heisten said he sees himself returning to Maine next season "to try and win another championship" and then assess his pro prospects after his sophomore season.
He also said his early scoring problems were a result of a "confidence thing."
"I wasn't scoring. I was digging myself into a hole, getting mad at myself. When I finally scored in the World Juniors, all my confidence came back and I was on a roll."
Little is known of Bartovic, a right winger out of Trencin in Slovakia. Ranked a third-round prospect by The Hockey News, the 5-11, 183-pound forward hit the 20th spot on Central Scouting's list largely because of his speed and the fact that he is deemed to be a "natural" goal scorer. Largely a finesse player, Bartovic would seem to compliment Heisten, who is thought of more as a grinding kind of player, one who would be a good compliment on a line with a natural goal scorer.
"He has those (scoring) skills," Regier said with a sly smile. "He's not a big player, but he fits the mold of some of the Slovak players. He has great hands and outstanding speed. He's probably a player that is creating right now the most curiosity (among Buffalo scouts). We're looking forward to the time he might join the organization."
Ironically, Bartovic comes to the Sabres with the pick obtained for another scorer, Donald Audette.
With its own pick in the second round, the Sabres drafted defenseman Janik, who also played with Heisten on the U.S. World Junior Championship squad.
Janik seemed somewhat surprised to be drafted by Buffalo and appeared disappointed not to have been selected by Boston, which picked immediately after the Sabres. Janik also seemed concerned to have been selected at 55 when he had been rated 17th by Central Scouting, however he said he was thrilled just to be drafted and he was not in any way disappointed with his perceived fall.
"I think it's a tribute to the program that we were in (the U.S. development program) that so many players were selected," he said.
Janik is one of those nondescript players, but in a good way. The strength of his game is that it is solid offensively as well as defensively and that he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Longtime hockey watchers credited him with being a character player on the U.S. squad at the junior championships and a meaningful player in Maine's drive to the NCAA title.
The Sabres turned to the Ontario Hockey League for Zigomanis, a 6-0, 183-pound center from the Kingston Frontenacs with a pick they obtained from Dallas for Derek Plante. Zigomanis slipped from eighth at midterm to 18th in the final CS rankings. Size works against him (he's listed at 6-0, but he's closer to 5-10) and some scouts take issue with his skating, but he's said to be a determined scorer and his puck-handling and hockey smarts are first rate.
In Preston, the Sabres are expecting a very good skater with a smooth stride and good overall speed. Central Scouting ranks him as a tenacious forechecker and penalty killing specialist.Preston played for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League.