Buffalo - August 20, 2014 - With the focus on the Sabres’ drafting and stockpiling prospects being the main talking points when it comes to the team these days, I couldn’t help but think: “who are some of the worst misses in the team’s history of drafting?”
We’ve already covered the non-existent Taro Tsujimoto and the uber-disappointing Marek Zagrapan. Today, we cover another huge European let down from the early 2000s and yet another top pick that never played a single game for the Sabres: Artem Kryukov.
The 2000 NHL Draft wasn’t exactly littered with talent. Once you got past the top five picks – with names like Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik and Scott Hartnell – the talent got a lot thinner. There were a few solid NHLers, sure, but nothing you’d expect from the top part of the draft.
With the 15th overall pick, the Sabres took a risk (they’d make a habit of this, it seems) on a big Russian. He had all the traits a superstar center could have – big frame (6’3”), good skater, exceptional passer, strong hockey sense – but was deemed as a boom or bust prospect following an incident in November 1999. At a tournament, Kryukov was crushed with a vicious blindside hit and lay convulsing on the ice. Thankfully, doctors were able to handle the situation and Kryukov made his eventual return from a severe concussion.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, injuries would become a part of the young man’s life. He dealt with a leg injury during the 2001-02 season playing for Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League, never really getting on track.
The Sabres, feeling their investment had been lost, never brought him to North America. Kryukov continued to bounce around the Russian Super League, playing for Lokomotiv, Sibir Novosibirsk, Vityaz and SKA St. Petersburg, never fully playing up to his vast potential.
Fortunately for the Sabres, there wasn’t a whole lot going on around that pick. The only players of note taken in the first round after Kryukov were Brooks Orpik (18th overall), Anton Volchenkov (21st overall), Steve Ott (25th overall), Justin Williams (28th overall) and Niklas Kronwall (29th overall).
There were, of course, other steals to be had that year. Antoine Vermette (55th overall), Lubomir Visnovsky (118th overall) and a pretty decent goalie named Henrik Lundqvist (205th overall).
For the Sabres, missing on Kryukov was a key to slowing down a rebuild effort that lasted all the way through the lockout that resulted in the 2004/05 season being lost. The team struck out on a few big picks during those days, but few were as big a miss as Kryukov in 2000.
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