Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

February 4, 2009

SCHMITT: Stafford’s ‘comeback’ finally complete

BUFFALO — A buddy and former co-worker has long lamented the drafting of Drew Stafford, a guy he’s insisted was taken too high when the Sabres pulled him from the bin with the 13th pick in 2004.

I’ve always assumed the animosity was two-fold — because his attractive fiancée has made flattering comments about Stafford (although she’s made it well-known she’d scrap the upcoming wedding if Paul Gaustad made overtures), and that the winger has yet to match a rookie season in which his scoring projected out to 26 goals and 54 points.

Something about the instant success Stafford had, and the fact that he couldn’t magically reproduce it when the Daniel Briere-Chris Drury roadshow left town, has sometimes made him a marked man. He clearly hasn’t been given the same window to blossom that, say, Daniel Paille or Nathan Paetsch have. At least not from fans who’ve wondered if they set the bar too high.

Stafford assisted on the game-winner in his first NHL start, setting up Briere in overtime. Later, he was named the NHL’s rookie of the month.

So when he had just three points in his first 14 games this season, the sports talk criticism was extreme, if marginally valid.

It’s obvious, however, that the Sabres hadn’t give up on him. Not by a long shot. And give Stafford credit, he’s hardly let the bit of NHL service he’s had get to his head. He was front and center at the team’s developmental camp when it rolled through Niagara University last summer.

And hard work pays off — it’s taken time for Stafford to get back to where he was two seasons ago, but he’s there.

All the way.

For the past few weeks, Stafford has been a premier power forward, not just the kind of guy who deserves a fair shake from callers.

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