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04 March 2007

Drew Stafford Arrives Just In Time For Sabres

When the Buffalo Sabres drafted Drew Stafford with the 13th pick of the 2004 Entry Draft they knew they where getting a big, physical winger with high upside. It would be fair to say they never anticipated the impact Stafford would have on the stretch run for the team. The timing of his arrival as a legitimate NHL forward couldn't have been better.

Stafford, in his first professional season, joined the Sabres from the University of North Dakota where he enjoyed three stellar years. He was one of the last cuts in training camp after an impressive showing and he has dominated the American Hockey League with Sabres the affiliate Rochester Americans. In a string of call ups earlier in the season he played well, but sparingly, on the 4th line with the Sabres.

Things really took off for Stafford when an amazing spate of injuries hit the Sabres in mid-February. Injuries to Max Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik led to significant time spent playing on the Sabre's top lines and on the power play. Stafford has settled in on a line with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy and the line has been dominate since being united. Stafford's extremely strong work on the boards and ability to fight through traffic has helped the line to account for 28 points in the last 6 games.

The most impressive things about watching Stafford play are his poise and strength. He very rarely makes a mistake in the defensive zone and has yet to appear rattled in any situation. Coach Lindy Ruff has expressed a willingness to put Stafford in key situations with the game on the line, and Stafford has rewarded him with tough defensive play and timely goals. His strength has been very evident along the boards and in the offensive forecheck. He rarely loses a battle for a puck and has shown an ability to muscle a puck away from a defender in open ice.

It appears that Stafford has worked himself into a position, ala Jason Pominville, where it is nearly impossible for him to go back to Rochester as he has consistently been one of the Sabres best players. It should be interesting to see if he keeps his position on the line with Vanek and Roy when Max Afinigenov returns from his broken wrist. Drew Stafford arrived as a player just in time for the Sabres and it appears he is making sure he never goes back.

Sabres weekend notes:

Sabre enforcer Andrew Peters suffered an "upper-body" injury when he and Patrick Kaleta sandwiched Mathieu Dandenault in Friday's victory over the Canadians. He left the game and did not return. He also sat out Saturdays game against Toronto and his status is uncertain. Winger Mark Mancari was called up in his place and registered his first point in the Sabre's 3-1 victory against the Canadians Saturday.

Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek was cleared for contact and expects to return within 7 days.

Co-captain Chris Drury is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday against the Avalanche. Expect winger Mike Ryan to be sent down due to waiver/injury call-up rules.

Nathan Paetsch scored his first career goal in the win against Toronto on Saturday.

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