Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Game Time" -- The System From Aaltonen to Zakharov, Part One

[originally published October 30, 2006)

It’s time once again for our annual look at the Blues’ entire prospect development system, from one end of the alphabet to the other. The starting point (Juhamatti Aaltonen) and ending point (Konstantin Zakharov) are the same this season as last, but there have been quite a number of changes in the middle.

This installment is brought to you by the letter "B," as no fewer than eight of the prospects we’ll be looking at tonight have names beginning with that letter; five of those are goaltenders. All personal data (height, weight, etc.) is taken from the Blues’ website, and all statistics are as of Saturday, October 28.

Juhamatti Aaltonen, RW, shoots R, 5’11, 163, born 06-04-85. Taken in the ninth round by the Blues in 2003, the native of Ii, Finland has begun to look like a true steal at that point of the draft. The 21-year-old is in his second year as a regular in the SM-Liiga (Finnish elite league), and has put up 4-6-10 totals with a plus-2 mark and 14 PIM in 18 games with Oulu Kärpät thus far. Aaltonen’s skating and skill set make him a player that the Blues will likely try very hard to sign in the summer of 2007.

Alaska Aces. The Aces are the Blues’ East Coast League (ECHL) affiliate. Coach Davis Payne’s squad was the 2005-06 Kelly Cup champions, with Blues’ prospects Chris Beckford-Tseu and Doug Lynch playing big roles in Alaska’s march through the playoffs.

Viktor Alexandrov, RW, shoots L, 5’11, 183, born 12-28-85. Alexandrov is a highly-skilled player who has been a regular in the Russian Superleague since age 17. He is the son of former Soviet standout Boris Alexandrov, and the Aqtobe, Kazakhstan native has already nearly equaled last year’s point totals with a 1-8-9 mark (to go along with 14 PIM) in 15 games for SKA St. Petersburg.

Jason Bacashihua, G, catches L, 5’11, 175, born 09-20-82. The first of five goaltending prospects in tonight’s report, Bacashihua is a former first-round pick of the Dallas Stars (2001) and is a native of Garden City, Michigan. A quick and agile goaltender who can steal a game with an acrobatic save at a key moment, Bacashihua was recently assigned to Peoria in order to get some more playing time. His numbers there aren’t great at first glance (0-2-1, 2.95 GAA, 88.8% save percentage in three games), but time is still on the 24-year-old’s side at this point.

UPDATE: And it isn't pretty. Bacashihua was torched 7-1 by Houston on Saturday night (October 28, 2006), making 28 saves on 35 shots against. Yikes...

David Backes, RW, shoots R, 6’02, 200, born 05-01-84. The Minneapolis product left college after completing his junior season last year, and had an auspicious debut with Peoria to finish off the 2005-06 season. This year, the budding power forward is leading the Rivermen in goals with four, and has five points, a plus-1 mark, and 6 PIM in nine games. Loaded with native intelligence, leadership ability and hockey sense, Backes has worked to develop his skating, which was considered the only weak point in his game.

Konstantin Barulin, G, catches L, 6’02, 180, born 09-04-84. Since being chosen by the Blues with the 84th overall pick in 2003, Barulin has teased the team’s staff and fans alike with his talent, but the lack of news from Russian sources on Barulin’s play and intentions makes it difficult to get a read on him. He is under contract to Khimik Voskresensk of the Russian Superleague, but their website shows no statistics for him as of October 28, and shows him having played one game for a Russian squad that is competing in various continental tournaments.

Chris Beckford-Tseu, G, catches L, 6’02, 201, born 06-22-84. Known around the Blues’ Internet message boards as "The Hyphenator," the Richmond Hill, Ontario native may find himself a victim of the numbers game this season, as the Blues’ goaltending prospect stable is filled to overflowing. After a spectacular season with Alaska last year, Beckford-Tseu was looking to get the bulk of playing time at AHL Peoria this year. The assignment of Bacashihua, and the emergence of Marek Schwarz, however, has left Beckford-Tseu with nowhere to play but back in Alaska for the time being.

Reto Berra, G, catches L, 6’04, 189, born 01-03-87. Eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2005, but not chosen, Berra was taken by the Blues with their fourth-round selection (106th overall) in 2006. The top Swiss goaltender in his age group, Berra is a mature and focused competitor, technically sound with a quick glove, and hard to beat down low. He's currently riding the bench in Zurich behind Finnish veteran Ari Sulander, and the most likely scenario is that he'll go to Zurich's "B" team for more playing time when their season starts next week.

Patrik Berglund, C, shoots L, 6'04, 187, born 06-02-88. The Blues liked Berglund well enough to trade up for him at the 2006 Entry Draft, sending their 30th and 77th overall picks to New Jersey for the right to take the big center at 25th overall. He played most of his draft year on the Allsvenskan (Swedish division II) team in his hometown of Västerås, and is currently their scoring leader with 6-5-11 totals and 12 PIM in 11 games. Berglund plans to play another two years in Sweden, but the Blues have until the summer of 2008 to get him signed.

Michal Birner, LW, shoots L, 6'00, 183, born 03-02-86. Another personal favorite of the "Game Time" prospects department, the native of Litomerice, Czech Republic is a gritty, hard-working player who also has a fairly high skill level. After a solid 2005-06 season in major junior (31-54-85, 91 PIM in 60 games for Saginaw), Birner has brought his game to Peoria, where he's currently 1-1-2 in five games. His goal was a game-winner vs. San Antonio during the season-opening home stand.

Ben Bishop, G, catches L, 6'05, 202, born 11-21-86. Depending on what source you believe, Bishop is either 6'05 or 6'07. Either way, he's huge, and is playing huge this year for the top-ranked University of Maine Black Bears. The Chaminade HS product is undefeated in five starts, and boasts a glittering 1.49 GAA and 94.4% save percentage. He first came to prominence with a phenomenal showing in Kelly Chase's charity game in 2005, and he's climbing the Blues' goaltending depth chart like King Kong.

In the next issue of "Game Time," we'll continue our "A to Z" review of the organization, staring with Jon DiSalvatore. Until then, check out archived "Tomorrow's Blues" columns and other prospect-related content at, and remember -- "If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.

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