Sunday, December 10, 2006

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

(originally published November 28, 2006)

After several weeks, we've come to the end of our annual journey through the Blues' system from A to Z. We have one collegian, and four minor pros on tonight's menu. All personal data (height, weight, etc.) is taken from the Blues’ website, and all statistics are as of Saturday, November 25.

Mike Stuart, F/D, shoots R, 6’00, 194, born 08-31-80. Originally drafted by Nashville in 2000, the Blues signed Stuart as a free agent in 2002 after a collegiate career at Colorado College where he was 8-39-47 with 152 PIM in 140 games over four seasons.

Stuart comes from a hockey family; he has a younger brother following in his footsteps at CC, another brother with the Chicago Wolves, a sister playing at Boston College, and his father is a doctor and the chief medical officer for USA Hockey. He has been a fixture on the blueline at the AHL level for the last few years, and is a versatile player who can play forward or defense. He hasn't scored yet this year, but has six assists and 16 PIM in 19 games for the Rivermen. Stuart has had two cups of coffee with the Blues in past seasons, and may get one again this year if the injury big keeps biting the St. Louis blueline.

Ryan Turek, F/D, shoots R, 5’11, 170, born 09-22-87. Another player who is equally adept at defense or forward, Turek (no relation to former Blues' goaltender Roman) was the Blues' 4th round pick (94th overall) in the 2006 draft, and is currently playing at Michigan State (CCHA), where he is scoreless with a minus-3 and 6 PIM in 11 games this far for the Spartans.

Turek, a swift skater with a hard-nosed attitude who is always first to the loose puck, enjoyed a nice junior career with Omaha of the USHL. 2005-06 was his breakout season, as he managed 17-11-28 scoring totals in 52 games, with a plus-2 and 71 PIM while also wearing the "C" for the Lancers. The Southfield, Michigan native was also named MVP of the 2006 USHL All-Star Game, and served as captain for bronze medalist Team USA in the 2006 Viking Cup. At 5'11, 170 pounds, he would have had a tough time cracking the "old" NHL, but the new rules and new emphasis on skating and speed make Turek a player to watch for the future.

Patrick Wellar, D, shoots L, 6’03, 210, born 12-04-1983. The big defenseman, originally drafted 77th overall by Washington in 2002 and signed as a free agent by the Blues in 2004, is just a few days shy of his 23rd birthday. That means time is still on his side, but he will need to start making a move pretty soon if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a career ECHL'er.

Wellar has yet to really stick in the American League, but he was a key factor in the Alaska Aces' march to the Kelly Cup championship last year. The Carrot River, SK native played in all 22 playoff games for Alaska, and chipped in two goals, four points, and 30 PIM during the Aces' run. This year, Wellar has seen action in a pair of games for Peoria, where he has no points, 2 PIM, and a minus-2. He's fared better in Alaska, where he has 13 games under his belt with a goal, an assist, 26 PIM and an even plus-minus.

Jeff Woywitka, D, shoots L, 6’02, 209, born 09-01-83. A big rawboned kid from western Canada, Woywitka has found himself in the middle of two big trades in his brief pro career. Originally drafted by Philadelphia 27th overall in 2001, Woywitka was traded to Edmonton in his rookie pro year, along with draft picks, in exchange for Mike Comrie. Then, prior to the 2005-06 season, Woywitka was part of the package that the Blues received in exchange for Chris Pronger.

The Vermillion, AB native has been arguably Peoria's top defenseman so far this year, with 0-8-8 totals, a minus-3, and 8 PIM in 15 games for the Rivermen. He's currently up with the Blues, and picked up an assist in his first game up (at Vancouver on Nov. 17). Woywitka will be a free agent after this season, so this is the right time for him to start establishing himself as a legitimate NHL player. Being back with the Blues, and getting regular ice time, will go a long way towards accomplishing that goal.

Konstantin Zakharov, RW, shoots R, 6’01, 185, born 05-02-85. It's a long way from Alaska to Peoria, and going by way of Belarus makes the journey longer still... but last year's character-building experience may have been just what this youngster needed to finally realize his enormous potential. Zakharov, the Blues' third-round choice (101st overall) in the 2003 draft, started the 2005-06 season as the odd man out in the Peoria lineup. Two weeks of inactivity later, he was assigned to Alaska, where he was unspectacular in an eight-game cup of coffee. Frustrated at the lack of playing time, Zakharov returned to Belarus and his father's Junost Minsk club, where he found his scoring touch again with 14-15-29 totals and 78 PIM in 36 games.

Though many had given him up for lost as a prospect for the Blues, Zakharov paid his own way to the prospect camp at St. Louis Mills in July, and has gone to Peoria this season with a better attitude about the development process and the AHL in general. He has recently found his game with a pair of goals in the last week (2-1-3, minus-1, 6 PIM in 9 games total), and he has re-emerged as a legitimate prospect for an organization that needs all the young scoring forwards it can find.

In the next issue of "Game Time," we'll take a quick look at some players who aren't "official" prospects, but could follow the same path to prospect status as Curtis Sanford and Mike Glumac have. 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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