Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s One-Hit Wonder series. Each day, we will take a look at a new team’s three biggest one-hit wonders. These are players that had one great season or playoff run but never did anything like that again. Join us every day for a new team! Today we take a look at the Buffalo Sabres One-Hit Wonders.
Buffalo Sabres Top Three One-Hit Wonders
Drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Ales Kotalik developed into a respectable top-six forward for the Buffalo Sabres. While not among the NHL’s truly elite group, he could be relied upon for 30 to 40 points each year. After being traded from Buffalo, Kotalik spent time with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, and Calgary Flames.
Kotalik had a real breakout year in the 2005-06 season. He set career-highs in goals and assists, with 25 and 37 respectively for 62 total points. This was far above his 35 point year in the 2002-03 season where he finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting. Kotalik displayed significant signs of improvement and Buffalo believed he could be a key piece of the team moving forward.
Kotalik lucked out. His career year came when he was due for a new contract. He earned himself a three-year deal worth a total of $7 million. Signed on July 23rd, 2006 Kotalik was set up for several more years of NHL hockey as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
After the Wonder
The rest of Kotalik’s career was more average. Following the contract extension with Buffalo, he put up only 38 points. That was followed by two years of 43 points. The last year in Buffalo, Kotalik was shipped to Edmonton in exchange for a second-round draft selection.
After hitting the free-agent market, Kotalik signed with the New York Rangers. It would not be long until he found another new team. After 45 games in the Big Apple, the Rangers traded him to the Flames. He never topped 27 points in a season after leaving Buffalo.
Minnesota native Erik Rasmussen was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Sabres in 1996. At seventh overall, Rasmussen was expected to help turn the Sabres into a highly competitive team. While he never turned out to be a truly dominant force in Buffalo, he did have some good days. Rasmussen also spent time with the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils.
Following his first three years in the NHL, Rasmussen was not looking promising. He had not recorded more than 14 points in a season. He had also not played a full 82-game slate to that point. During the 2000-01 season, he truly got his shot. He took full advantage, setting his career mark with a 31-point campaign.
While these numbers were most definitely not those of a first-rounder, he was showing far more promise than ever before. Rasmussen needed to prove he was worth keeping around and worth the pick spent on him. His strongest season thus far put his skills on display. He proved he was worth another shot.
After the Wonder
Erik Rasmussen would regress following his breakout year with Buffalo. The Sabres would have enough after another below-average season. The front office traded him to Los Angeles where he would spend just one season. The Kings were far from impressed with a meagre 16-point season and released Rasmussen to free agency.
Rasmussen was given one last shot with the New Jersey Devils. He continued to fail to produce offence, scoring 13 points in his first year as a Devil. Followed up by a pair of 10- point years, New Jersey gave up on their investment. Rasmussen never saw the ice in an NHL contest again.
If you ever need proof that every draft pick is important, just look at Brian Holzinger. He was a sixth-round draft pick by Buffalo in 1991. While he was a developmental project, he did see significant NHL playing time. His third year in the NHL saw Holzinger make a name for himself. It would not last long, making him one of Buffalo’s one-hit wonders.
During the 1996-97 season, the spotlight was shining bright on Holzinger. He was having an incredible season, putting up numbers he had never been close to at that point in his career. Holzinger had a 51 point outburst in only his third year as an NHL forward. Considering his draft position, this was a great return on Buffalo’s investment.
At only age 22, Holzinger had primed himself to be a far more important part of the team’s plan than originally anticipated. He established himself as a great support piece that could eventually turn into a building block for the franchise. The team saw great promise in what Holzinger could do. The only thing was that he had to repeat his success.
After the Wonder
Holzinger fell off after a strong season. He never sniffed the 50-point mark again. His next best season was a 36-point campaign. Holzinger had shown he had the talent needed to be a key addition to any franchise. But he failed to capitalize.
Eventually, Buffalo decided they had seen enough of Holzinger. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. His first full season with the Lightning was where he found his next best success. But it did not last long. He was traded twice more before he hung up the skates. While he had a taste of success in the NHL, he could not maintain it long term.