Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Game Time" -- The System From Aaltonen To Zakharov, Part Six

(originally published November 25, 2006)

Continuing with our annual look at the Blues’ entire prospect development system, we have two Russians and a Swede on tap for tonight -- all youngsters who have been to North America and gone home, and a trio that could potentially make one heck of a forward line together. All personal data (height, weight, etc.) is taken from the Blues’ website, and all statistics are as of Thursday, November 23.

Timofei Shishkanov, LW, shoots R, 6’01, 209, born 06-10-83. On the surface, Shishkanov seems to have all the size and skill necessary to be a real blue-chip prospect. He's enjoyed success as a junior player -- gold medals at the 2003 World Juniors and 2001 U-18 World Junior, and an appearance in the Memorial Cup with Quebec in 2003. The Muscovite also has gotten a taste of the NHL with the Blues, after coming over last season in the Mike Sillinger trade. He skates like the wind and is known to play aggressively and physical when needed.

So what's the problem? According to observers, Shishkanov still lacks elite hockey sense, the ability that world-class players have to make the right on-ice decisions in a split-second. There are also lingering questions about his desire to push himself to be the standout he has the potential to be. At the moment, he seems content to be a big fish in a small pond back home in Russia, where he's 5-4-9 with a minus-3 and 57 PIM in 25 games for Vityaz Chekov of the Superleague. It's really 50-50 whether the Blues will be able to entice him back, and probably will not be able to do so without a firm promise of an NHL roster spot.

Alexei Shkotov, RW, shoots L, 5’10, 161, born 06-22-84. Taken in the second round (48th overall) by the Blues in 2002, the Elektrostal native has yet to make a real impact in North America, opting instead to ply his trade in Mother Russia for the most part.

After a solid year in the Quebec League with Moncton and Quebec in 2003-04, Shkotov started the lockout season in Worcester and was 6-6-12 with a plus-1 and 18 PIM in 23 games. A questionable penalty call and an even more questionable suspension, however, soured Shkotov on North American hockey; he left for Russia in mid-season, and has been there with Mytische Khimik ever since. The Blues thought they would have Shkotov back in the minors this year, but family issues kept him in Russia, where he has now signed on with UFA Salavat Ulayev after a falling-out with Khimik management. In 16 games with Khimik and UFA this year, Shkotov is 2-4-6 with a plus-3 and 12 PIM.

Shkotov has made a few appearances in North America, at several Blues' camps, and has impressed onlookers with his skill level and speed. There's no question he has the wheels and the hands to be an NHL player; the sticking point seems to be his lack of will to pay his dues in the AHL. Unless he morphs into Alex Ovechkin overnight, or things change drastically on the Blues' roster, Shkotov isn't likely to be handed an NHL roster spot without facing up to the need to do his time in the AHL first.

Carl Söderberg, C, shoots L, 6'03, 198, born 10-12-85. When Söderberg was drafted by the Blues in the second round (49th overall) in 2004, much was made of the fact that he had grown up a fan of the Blues and Blues' legends Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan. Now that he's had a couple of years to develop in Sweden, Söderberg is giving indications that he's ready to make his move towards being that kind of scoring threat for the Blues.

In 2005-06, Söderberg finished 11th in the Allsvenskan (Swedish division two) scoring race, piling up a point per game and chipping in with solid physical two-way play (15-24-39, plus-24, 45 PIM in 39 games) for his hometown IF Malmö Redhawks, helping lead them into the qualification round and move up to the Swedish Elite League for this season. Söderberg was on record as saying he'd like to play a year in his hometown with an SEL club, but he ended up signing with the Blues in the off-season and being assigned to Peoria. The youngster was apparently not keen on being sent to the American League, however, and opted to return home to Sweden, where he sat for about three weeks until an agreement could be worked out between the Blues and Malmö that would allow him to play. And play he has, leading his club in scoring with 7-7-14 totals in 14 games played. He's also a plus-3 with four PIM, and has three goals on the power play. He's taken his faceoff prowess to the next level as well, with a solid 152 wins in 281 faceoffs (54%) thus far.

Like the other young Euros in tonight's report, Söderberg wants to play in the NHL and seems content to stay at home until he can do so. The Blues will certainly make an effort to bring him back over next year, and since he does still have a contract with the team, and since he will have achieved his stated goal of playing in the SEL with the hometown team, perhaps the way to that return will be smoother.

We'll wrap up our trip through the Blues' system in our next report. Until then, check out archived "Tomorrow's Blues" articles, and other prospect-related content, on the "Future 'Notes" blog at http://futurenotes.blogspot.com, 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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