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SABRES' TOP PROSPECTS DRAW INTEREST FROM OTHER TEAMS

One rumor was about Matthew Barnaby going to Calgary, then Chicago. Then it was Derek Plante going to Calgary. Then another about Wayne Primeau being packaged in a deal with a second-round draft pick to . . . somewhere. Probably Calgary.

The NHL rumor mill, often as hot and as inaccurate as gossip in a high school cafeteria, has been rampant lately regarding the Sabres. Don't expect anything to happen soon unless the Sabres' situation changes drastically.

"We're in big trouble if we get caught up in the rumor mill," general manager Darcy Regier said. "It wouldn't say a lot for us in regard for what's good for the hockey club."

Regier would not say what players have been mentioned in possible trades. Sources said the players drawing the most interest are not even in the Sabres' dressing room. They're with the Rochester Americans or in junior hockey.

The Sabres are not in a hurry to trade their top prospects; that list includes Amerks defensemen Cory Sarich, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and Alexei Tezikov along with goalie Martin Biron, as well as junior stars Henrik Tallinder, Maxim Afinogenov, and Brian Campbell.

"In the right situation, we don't have the prospects that are untouchable," Regier said. "In the right situation, we would consider moving them, but it has to make sense for the organization."

The Calgary Flames are one of several teams that have inquired about the Sabres' top young players without much success -- for now. One of those prospects could be involved in a trade should the Sabres make a move before the March 23 deadline.

Sarich has been called the best young defenseman in the American Hockey League. In his first season with the Amerks, the 20-year-old has developed into an all-star who, some say, is a "can't miss" for the NHL in the near future. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds and growing, he's a good puckhandler, a sound hitter and mature beyond his years. He is the least likely prospect to be traded.

Grand-Pierre, who turns 22 next week, has made enormous strides in the past year with the Amerks. He won the speed competition at the AHL All-Star game on Monday with a time faster than NHL-winner Peter Bondra. And he finished second in the hardest-shot competition. Grand-Pierre (6-3, 210) also has fought several AHL tough guys and won.

Tezikov, 20, is a former fifth-round draft pick who was signed last month and sent to Rochester, where he has played well. Before that, he was the best defenseman for Moncton and dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Biron, 21, made the AHL All-Star team this season and has five shutouts in Rochester, matching his total from last season. The 1995 first-round draft choice has shown all the skills to be an NHL goaltender and has a good glove.

Tallinder, 20, a defenseman, is a player who has drawn heavy interest from the Flames, among others. He was Sweden's captain in the World Junior Hockey Championships. Afinogenov, a right winger, and Campbell, a defenseman, made the junior championship's all-star team.

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