Tuesday, October 16, 2007
There will be a quantum increase in the amount of content posted to this blog this season. Be watching, 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.
L to R: Ian Cole, Evgeny Skachkov, Jay Barriball, Cade Fairchild, and Reto Berra compete at the 2007 Blues' Development Camp scrimmage (photo by Brian Weidler)
(Originally published in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 3, No. 1, 10-10-07)
This past summer has been just about the most exciting time in recent memory to be a Blues' fan, and specifically to be interested in the player development side of the franchise's operation.
Starting with the Entry Draft in Columbus, the Blues have been hard at work separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and replacing prospects who haven't made the grade with those who are younger, bigger, or simply have greater potential.
The Blues had three first-round selections in the Entry Draft this year for the first time ever in franchise history, and as documented by the Fox Sports Midwest "All Access Draft Special" aired this summer, they were able to use each of those selections to acquire a player that they had rated very highly. The deadline trades of Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin brought a plethora of picks back to the organization, and the Guerin trade also brought a highly-regarded scoring prospect into the fold. Other trades and free-agent signings over the summer also brought new prospects to the organization
Before we look at what the Blues have added to the roster over the last few months, let's first take a look at the prospects that the Blues have decided to part company with. Departing from the organization over the summer were:
Juhamatti Aaltonen, a scoring forward from Finland with 11-21-32 totals in 53 games for Oulu Kärpät of the Finnish Elite League last year. The Blues were interested in signing Aaltonen before the July 1 deadline, but his recent marriage and the birth of his first child made the timing wrong for this season. The whispers are that the Blues will try again to bring Aaltonen over next summer as a free agent.
Jon DiSalvatore, a veteran of the AHL and Peoria's third-leading scorer last year with 21-39-60 totals in 76 games. The native of Bangor, Maine signed with Phoenix in the off-season.
Zach FitzGerald, a big rugged defenseman who spent a lot of time on the injury and suspension list, and bounced between Alaska and Peoria, was traded to Vancouver.
Mike Gauthier, a big raw-boned defenseman from western Canada who was the Blues' fifth pick (169th overall) in 2005, failed to impress in his last year of junior eligibility and was not offered a contract.
Scott Jackson, the Blues' second-round pick (37th overall) in 2004, a big stay-at-home defenseman, never progressed as expected and was also not offered a contract after his last year of junior eligibility.
Doug Lynch, the third asset received by the Blues in the Chris Pronger trade, never played up to his potential in Peoria and was not tendered a qualifying offer during the summer.
Tomas Mojzis, who came to the Blues in the Eric Weinrich trade at the 2006 trade deadline. The offense-mended defenseman got a cup of coffee with the Blues in 2006-07, but signed with Russian side Sibir Novosibirsk over the summer.
Ryan Ramsay, a free agent center who managed 14 goals, 159 PIM, and a team-leading plus-16 for Peoria in 58 games last year, but lost his spot to an influx of younger, drafted players.
Peter Sejna, the eternal prospect who never put it all together sufficiently to become dominant at the AHL level or stick around as a role player in the NHL, was not tendered a qualifying offer.
Alexei Shkotov, the Blues first pick in 2002 (48th overall) who left the Worcester IceCats mid-season in 2005-06 after a questionable suspension, has been dropped by the Blues.
Carl Söderberg, who appears to be the latest in a long line of highly-rated European prospects who have apparently decided they'd rather stay at home and be a big fish in a small pond, was traded to Boston over the summer.
Patrick Wellar, a big kid from Carrot River, Saskatchewan who signed with the Blues as a free agent before the 2005-06 season. The defenseman has just signed with the AHL's Toronto Marlies.
Konstantin Zakharov, a skilled player with little apparent drive to pay the price to be an NHL'er, skipped out on the Blues twice in two seasons to return to his native Belarus. He has been dropped by the Blues as well.
The Blues also retain the rights to Russians Konstantin Barulin (Khimik Mytischi) and Timofei Shishkanov (CSKA Moscow), but as both are insistent upon one-way NHL deals for a million dollars a year before they will cross the pond, don't count on seeing them in St. Louis any time soon, if at all.
You could form the nucleus of a pretty decent AHL team with the players dropped from the Blues' prospect rolls over the summer. But, potent as that list of players may be, the list of prospects added to the organization over the summer is even more impressive.
Although the Blues weren't able to get Aaltonen signed before the July 1 deadline, they did get a number of other prospects signed to contracts and ready to embark on their pro careers. From Europe, the Blues signed draft picks Patrik Berglund (25th overall in 2006), Alexander Hellström (184th overall in 2006), Jonas Junland (64th overall in 2006), Tomas Kana (31st overall in 2006), and Nikolai Lemtyugov (219th overall in 2005) to contracts. Berglund and Junland have been returned to their Swedish sides for more seasoning, but are expected back in 2008-09 for the start of their pro careers. Hellström and Lemtyugov are beginning their rookie seasons in Peoria, and Kana will start the year in Alaska.
From this side of the pond, the Blues signed draft picks Nicholas Drazenovic (171st overall in 2005) and Ryan Reaves (156th overall in 2005) to their first pro contracts. Drazenovic, who boosted his stock considerably with a strong playoff performance for Prince George (WHL) in 2006-67, has been assigned to Peoria, and Reaves is in Alaska rehabilitating from an injury suffered at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament early in September.
Off-season trades brought forward Francois-Pierre Guenette (from Vancouver for FitzGerald) and goaltender Hannu Toivonen (from Boston for Söderberg) to St. Louis, and free agents signed in the latter part of the 2006-07 season include big left wing Charles Linglet (Peoria) and defense prospect Steve Wagner (Minnesota State-Mankato). Wagner was impressive in the Blues' Development Camp and main camp, and has begun the season on the NHL roster.
As an accompaniment to the blockbuster free-agent signing of Paul Kariya, the Blues added younger brother Martin Kariya to the organization as a free agent from... the Blues, of Espoo, Finland. Also coming over from Finland was 30-year-old veteran goaltender Juuso Riksman, who is currently on loan to a Swedish side as the goaltending picture in Peoria is a little crowded. Riksman may, however, have to return to North America because his former Finnish team (Jokerit Helsinki) is reported to be blocking his assignment to Farjestad due to time remaining on his contract with them.
North American free agents signed for depth in Peoria include defensemen Alex Brooks and Micki DuPont. In addition, the Blues signed Sudbury, Ontario-born veteran Jean-Guy Trudel from Ambri Piotta in Switzerland. Trudel has maintained a home in Peoria for years, married a Peoria girl, and will also be taking a regular shift for the Rivermen this winter.
An then, of course, there is the NHL Entry Draft. The Blues added three top prospects to the organization in the first round, as mentioned, and added a total of ten prospects to their ever-deepening prospect pool in this draft. The most notable of these is first-rounder (26th overall) David Perron, whom we at "Game Time" first took note of at the Development Camp when he told us that he was determined to make the team this year, right out of junior at age 18. Perron lived up to his bold statement, and after an impressive training camp and a series of exhibition games in which he seemed to be developing solid chemistry with veteran Doug Weight, also began the season on the NHL roster.
We'll take a more in-depth look at Perron, and the rest of the Blues' 2007 Entry Draft selections, in the next edition of "Tomorrow's Blues." Until then, as always, 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.
(Originally published in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 3 No. 2, 10-12-07)
The St. Louis Blues have been making it a habit to make team and league history at the NHL Entry Draft in recent years. Last year, they had the first overall pick in the draft for the first time in team history, and used it to select the first player ever in that position (Erik Johnson) who chose to forego immediate entry into the NHL in favor of spending a year in college.
This year, the Blues again chalked up a franchise first by stockpiling three first-round selections in total, and made NHL history yet again by drafting the first Danish-born player ever chosen in the first round. After seeing their targeted player (Halifax forward Jakub Voracek) selected by host Columbus at seventh overall, Larry Pleau swung a trade with San Jose, which saw the Blues swap their first pick at ninth overall for the Sharks’ picks at 13th and 44th in this year’s draft, plus a second-rounder next year.
After all of that, the Blues still managed to get a player they had rated near the very top of their priority list, choosing center Lars Eller (6'1, 196 lbs, shoots left) of the Frölunda Indians junior club of Sweden. In 39 games with Frölunda in 2006-07, Eller tallied 18 goals (eight on the power play) and 37 assists for 55 points. The Great Dane was also a plus-22, and accumulated 58 minutes in penalty time, during those games.
The scouting report on Eller is that he’s an excellent skater and stickhandler with a top-notch passing game and elite hockey sense. Unfortunately, a wrist injury suffered late in the Swedish junior season went undetected by Swedish doctors, but was caught by the Blues doctors when Eller arrived at St. Louis Mills for the Development Camp in July. That injury kept Eller out of the camp, and as of this writing he’s still on the sidelines.
Later in the first round, Pleau swung still another deal, this time trading up from the 24th pick to the 18th pick to select solid physical defenseman Ian Cole (6′1, 211 lbs, shoots left) from the US National Development Team Program U-18 squad. In 49 games with the U-18 squad, Cole chipped in four goals, 20 points, and 57 minutes in penalty time. At the U-18 World Junior Championships in Finland, Cole notched four more goals in only seven games, chipped in an assist, and was a plus-4 with six PIM.
Cole’s greatest strength is his skating, and that area of strength allows him to play an active, involved, offensive style from the blueline. He likes to jump into the play as it develops, and is a patient and accurate passer with the puck. He does not neglect his defensive responsibilities, either, hustling back into the play when the rush goes the other way. Cole plays with no fear, and while not physically intimidating at this stage, he can throw a very solid check.
The last of the Blues’ first-round selections, at 26th overall, was scoring whiz David Perron (6'0, 180 lbs, shoots right), a Sherbrooke native skating for the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL. A confident player, Perron made a meteoric rise from Junior B in 2005 to being a first-round pick in 2007. He wasn't shy about his intentions to make the Blues' roster right out of training camp, telling "Game Time" and anyone else who would listen that his goal was to be a Blue this year, and he delivered on that promise.
In 70 regular-season games with the MAINEiacs, Perron struck for 39 goals (10 PPG, 7 GWG) and 83 points, added 75 minutes in penalty time, and was a sterling plus-37 on the year. He raised his game in the playoffs, too, helping lead Lewiston to the QMJHL Championship with 16 goals (7 PPG, 4 GWG) and 28 points in 17 playoff games. Finally, Perron and Lewiston appeared in the Memorial Cup, where he managed a goal and two assists in four games, but couldn't lead the MAINEiacs past the host Vancouver Giants for the big prize.
In the second round, the Blues used the 39th overall pick to select Eller's linemate in Frölunda, Simon Hjalmarsson. The 5'11, 161-pound forward can play either wing or center, and his above-average skating, stickhandling skills, and hockey sense helped him score 31 goals in 41 games for the Indians junior squad in 2006-07.
Five picks later, at 44th overall, the Blues reached into the United States League for Michigan-bound right wing Aaron Palushaj (5'11, 187 lbs, shoots right). Called "a poor man's Tomas Vanek" by "McKeen's Hockey Prospects," Palushaj has the ability to read and execute plays a split-second faster than the opposition. He has soft hands and a quick release, which helped him to 22 goals and 67 points in 56 games with Des Moines in 2006-07.
In the third round (85th overall), the Blues went out West and selected hard-working forward Brett Sonne (6'0, 200 lbs, shoots left) from the Calgary Hitmen. Not considered a particularly gifted offensive player, Sonne still managed 21 goals in 71 games for the Hitmen last year, and his stickhandling and work ethic are a cut above average. He's not particularly physical, but he will go into the trenches in front of the net and along the boards to get the puck and earn scoring chances.
With their first of two picks in the fourth round, the Blues went back to the USNTDP U-18 squad to select offensive-minded defenseman Cade Fairchild (5'11, 186, shoots left). Fairchild's strengths are his skating and outlet pass, and he has in fact been described by McKeen's as having "a very European style (to) his game." Due to a lack of ideal size for a defenseman, Fairchild's defensive game is based on solid positional coverage rather than the more physical and aggressive style employed by larger teammates such as Cole.
The last of the Blues’ eight selections in the Top 100 was lank Wisconsin-born forward Travis Erstad (4th round, 100th overall). Standing 6’03 and weighing in at 182 pounds, Erstad rang up 31 goals and 64 points in 24 games for his hometown Stevens Point HS before finishing the 2006-07 season by appearing in eight games for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL.
With their sixth round selection (160th overall), the Blues dipped into the Ontario League talent pool for big utility man Anthony Peluso of the Erie Otters. Peluso is a 6’3”, 220-pound right-hand shot who has been used on both forward and defense, and he put up a respectable 7 goals and 10 points in 52 OHL games last year with the Otters. He also earned 176 minutes in penalty time, and was one of the surprises of July’s Development Camp with his hustle and skill level.
Rounding out the Blues 2007 draft (7th round, 190th overall) is center Trevor Nill. The son of former Red Wing (and current Detroit assistant GM) Jim Nill, the 6’03”, 190-pound Detroit native skated for Compuware in 2006-07, piling up 24 goals and 55 points in 57 league and tournament games. Nill is currently skating for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia League, where he has two goals and four points in 12 games thus far, and has committed to Michigan State University for the 2008-09 season.
Most of the Blues' 2007 draft picks have already begun their seasons, and the three college-bound players kick their seasons off this weekend. Look for reports on how the college prospects fared in their season-opening tournaments, as well as further ongoing prospect coverage, in the next edition of “Tomorrow’s Blues.” Until then, 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…
UPDATE: 2007 draftee statistics as of 10-16-07
Player ..................... 2007-08 Team GP G. A. Pt +/- PIM PP SH GW GT
========================================= == == == == === === == == == ==
ELLER, Lars ........ Frolunda Jr (SWE JR) .0 .0 .0 .0 ..0 ..0 .0 .0 .0 .0
COLE, Ian ............. Notre Dame (CCHA) .2 .0 .0 .0 - 1 ..2 .0 .0 .0 .0
PERRON, David ........... St. Louis (NHL) .1 .0 .1 .1 + 1 ..0 .0 .0 .0 .0
HJALMARSSON, Simon . Frolunda Jr (SWE JR) 13 .4 .6 10 +15 .40 .0 .0 .0 .0
PALUSHAJ, Aaron ......... Michigan (CCHA) .2 .0 .0 .0 - 2 ..2 .0 .0 .0 .0
SONNE, Brett .............. Calgary (WHL) 13 .6 .8 14 + 8 ..4 .2 .1 .2 .0
FAIRCHILD, Cade ........ Minnesota (WCHA) .1 .0 .1 .1 ..0 ..0 .0 .0 .0 .0
ERSTAD, Travis ........... Lincoln (USHL) .4 .0 .0 .0 - 1 ..6 .0 .0 .0 .0
PELUSO, Anthony .............. Erie (OHL) .9 .2 .1 .3 - 3 .17 .2 .0 .1 .0
NILL, Trevor ........... Penticton (BCHL) 15 .3 .4 .7 ..0 ..6 .0 .0 .0 .0
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Game Time: What caused you to leave a situation in Bridgeport, where you had been for several years, to come to an organization that hasn't been highly regarded for its prospects at this level?
Baseggio: "I was in Bridgeport for five years, and they had a big overhaul of management last year, and I was a casualty of war. So it wasn't by choice (that I left Bridgeport), but everything happens for a reason, and I couldn't be happier right now, being with the Blues. I'm excited about the whole situation, working for this organization."
Game Time: Can you contrast the Islanders' organization at Bridgeport with the Blues' organization here? What is each organization doing right in regards to their prospect development, and what, if anything, do you see as needing improvement?
Baseggio: "Just to focus on the Blues, I think the communication is excellent throughout this organization; from top to bottom, it's outstanding. They care, and they believe in developing a winning environment. You know, losing every night doesn't develop players. You have to learn how to win, and that's something I believe in too.
"I think, with the new ownership and management, they're (committed to) keeping their kids, and they're starting to get returns from these past few drafts. Players are starting to come through, and I think more and more will be coming through. And that excites me, to have a lot of good young players coming through here to develop themselves.
"I think they know that it's going to take a little time to rebuild up there; with the new CBA and the way things are, you have to develop your own talent. It's imperative to develop your own talent; that's the difference between winning and losing."
Game Time: What contact, if any, have you had with Andy Murray in St. Louis?
Baseggio: "So far, just by telephone until tonight. He's coming to the game with John (Davidson). I've heard nothing but great things about him, and obviously, with the way the Blues have been playing lately, he's been doing a great job. So I'm looking forward to meeting him in person; it's been great talking to him on the phone. He loves to talk hockey."
Game Time: How do you think your coaching style meshes with his, and do you think that the game you're teaching the players here is compatible with what kind of hockey Murray will expect from these guys in St. Louis?
Baseggio: "I really don't know much about Andy's coaching philosophy and style. I do know he's going to want the guys to compete when they go up there, and just do a lot of the little things that help a team win. I know he's not looking for a guy to come up there from our team right now and score 50 goals; that's just not going to happen right now. He wants guys who are going to go up there and be responsible and hard-working.
"But, the more I get to know Andy and know about his philosophies and systems, I'll know what he's looking for. We haven't had much time to sit down and talk, with our schedules and the holidays, but hopefully within the next couple of weeks I'm going to take a ride to St. Louis and sit down with him, have some dinner, and talk hockey."
Game Time: The guy you just sent up there, David Backes, is a good example of what the kids can expect to have asked of them up there. He's working hard, driving the net, and he's had some success early on with a couple of points. They've had nothing but good things to say about him up there.
Baseggio: "David's a quality kid; he worked hard down here, and he's obviously making the most of his opportunity. Again, it's as you said, he's doing the little things; he's competing, he's going to the net, he's getting pucks out, he's feeding pucks in front, he's physical. It's not brain surgery what he's doing, but he's learning to do it on a consistent basis.
"It might even be easier for him to develop up there, because he's such a smart player. It's less 'scrambly' up there, and he's probably better suited for that kind of environment, a more cerebral game."
Game Time: Do you expect to see him back?
Baseggio: "Not any time soon. I know he's really settling in; watching the third period on our bus ride home last night, he's still out there with a minute-and-a-half left in the game. So that means he's doing something right, and I don't know how long Ryan Johnson is going to be out, so... I know Dallas Drake is ready to come back, but I don't foresee (Backes returning to Peoria) in the next little bit."
Game Time: Let's talk about your coaching style a little bit. Judging by your scoring records, you were an offensive-minded defenseman in college, and your 2003-04 team in Bridgeport set AHL marks on defense for fewest goals allowed, lowest team GAA, and best penalty-killing percentage. Would it be fair to say that your coaching style is geared towards defense first, and do you think that had any bearing on the Blues picking you to come here, what with as many defense prospects as the Blues have coming through the system?
Baseggio: I don't know if that had anything to do with (coming to Peoria). The year that Bridgeport set all those defensive records, that was the old rules; we had a pretty good team, but we had a pretty veteran defense too. It's still not easy to do, but it's easier to do (with veterans).
"I think the game has changed. I think the game has become more of a speed and skating game, and I believe in attacking and pressuring the puck, pressuring the other team. When you have the puck, pressure them with speed , pressure them with the puck, and when you don't have it, try and get it back as quickly as you can and as early as you can. I do believe in keeping the speed to the outside defensively, and keeping the shots coming from the outside.
"But as far as 'defense first,' yeah, you have to play well in your own end, and that's something we work at on a daily basis here, our coverage and our responsibilities. But I want to play in the other team's end as much as possible. I call it 'zone time.' If we spend 'zone time' in the other team's end, obviously we have a better chance of scoring. So I guess, yeah, there's a little 'defense first (philosophy),' but I love to attack and I love to skate."
Game Time: What can Blues' fans expect out of Dave Baseggio-coached players when they come to St. Louis, and what can Blues' fans expect to see from a Dave Baseggio team when they come up here to see the future in action?
Baseggio: "I just hope that they'll see, like with Backes, guys doing the little things. I call them little things, but I also call them winning things. A guy blocks some shots, a guy gets the puck deep instead of turning the puck over and the other team going the other way; those things are all conducive to winning hockey. Backchecking, back pressure; little things like that. Like I said, I call them winning things. I like to think that these guys are always learning, everything from line changes to length of shifts. Those are all things that I'm constantly harping on, because that's conducive to winning, to developing winning habits.
"As far as down here, I'm fortunate that the Blues have given me, have given us, a good group of kids down here, and good core leadership. On a nightly basis, obviously, it's a tough thing to do, but these guys compete. Aaron Mackenzie, my captain, is a great example. Guys like (Trent) Whitfield, (Mike) Glumac, (Mike) Stuart, (Rocky) Thompson, (Jon) DiSalvatore... they come to play, and they're really a great, great influence on the younger kids coming in. These guys, in practice, when the whistle blows, they go 110 percent. It creates a great environment.
"When you come to watch a game, you'll get the effort every night. I know that the execution is going to be there every night; that's just the way it is over an 80-game season. But as long as the effort is there..."
Game Time: You've been a big part of several championship-caliber teams, at many different levels of hockey. How does this year's Rivermen team stack up against some of those teams, and if there's some element missing in the current lineup, do you see that role being filled by one or more of the players you might have coming in the near future?
Baseggio: "I really don't know much about the prospects coming in; I've seen the names, I know the hype is there. But I really like this group as it is right now. The only thing is, we don't really have a lot of offense from our blue line, but I wouldn't call it so much a weakness because it's a good group of defensemen. I'll take these guys any day. I think we're in the top two or three in shots against in the league; we don't give up much. They move the puck, they get it up ice, so they're effective in that way.
"We don't score a lot of goals, we really don't, but we spread it out fairly well. I like this group of players; if you want to compare it to a playoff team, I think this team is playoff-ready. We play a lot of close games, we don't score a lot of goals, we grind things out. We're tough to play against when we're going. We've got some good size.
"Obviously, goaltending is key. Marek Schwarz, (Chris) Beckford-Tseu, (Jason) Bacashihua when he was here... I could count on two fingers the nights when we've had just average goaltending so far this year. And that's pretty good, when goaltending gives you a chance to win every night.
"It's tough to compare teams, but I like the makeup of this team when I look around at the rest of the league. I think this is a good quality group that really cares about each other and likes each other; they really do a lot of things together off the ice. Chemistry is something I can't teach; it just happens, and it's so important."
Game Time: I'm going to have some more in-depth questions about some of the players here, but what I'm going to do now is throw some names at you and ask you to describe, in ten words or less, your first and lasting impressions of these guys, starting with Zack FitzGerald.
Baseggio: "Big, strong, character type of defenseman."
Game Time: Aaron Mackenzie:
Baseggio: "Heart and soul."
Game Time: Doug Lynch
Baseggio: "Needs to pick up the pace, and speed, a little bit; good hard-working solid citizen."
Game Time: Roman Pola'k
Baseggio: "NHL prospect written all over him. He's going to be a solid defenseman."
Game Time: Michal Birner
Baseggio: "Great speed, skill, hard worker. Wants to be a player"
Game Time: Jon DiSalvatore
Baseggio: "Very solid, offensively solid; a premier player in the American League."
Game Time: Peter Sejna
Baseggio: "Skilled, creative, hard-working, gifted."
Game Time: Mike Glumac
Baseggio: "Another heart and soul guy. Can beat you with skill, beat you with his fists, or beat you with the body."
Game Time: D.J. King
Baseggio: "Toughest kid in the AHL."
Game Time: Charles Linglet
Baseggio: "Outstanding potential, good hands, great skill set."
Game Time: Konstantin Zakharov
Baseggio: "Young, still maturing, good skills. A good prospect."
Game Time: Jason Bacashihua
Baseggio: "Loads of talent. Needs to establish himself."
Game Time: Chris Beckford-Tseu
Baseggio: "Tons of potential. Won a championship last year in Alaska. He's got a lot of good qualities."
Game Time: Marek Schwarz
Baseggio: "Great kid, good attitude. Athletic and hard-working."
Game Time: I've seen some people compare him to a young Dominik Hasek. Do you think that's a valid comparison?
Baseggio: "I think Schwarz (plays) more of a butterfly (style); Hasek, I don't know what Hasek('s style) is. Schwarz is more controlled."
Game Time: I apologize in advance if this is a sore spot, but comment, if you will, on the Magnus Kahnberg situation.
Baseggio: "It's not a sore spot with me. It's a shame. I think Magnus is a good player. He had a good camp in St. Louis, and they wanted him to come down here, and he just didn't want to be in the minors. He wanted to go back home, his girlfriend was homesick, and he just never played to his potential down here. It was frustrating at times, for me and for him, but I can't beg anybody to be here and to play. If they want to play in the NHL, they have to go through it themselves, and he wanted to go home. Best of luck to him."
Game Time: One of the things that he said when he went back home was that the playing style here was kind of slow and static, and it wasn't what he was used to or how he wanted to play. Do you have any comment on that?
Baseggio: "Well, we're playing on a smaller (ice) surface here, so maybe he would see it that way. But if your heart and your head are not into something, you're not going to do it. How are you going to drive ahead if you don't really want to?"
Game Time: Comment also, if you will, on the decisions by Carl Söderberg and Alexei Shkotov to stay in Europe instead of reporting here. Do you think that this decision on their parts will have any negative effect on how they're accepted in Peoria if they do report here in the future?
Baseggio: "I don't think so. Every player's decision, that's between them and the Blues. I coach what I have; I can't coach what I don't have. So it's their choice. Whether it's right or wrong, I really don't put much thought or effort into that. It's something I can't control, so I don't.
"If they're here, I don't think there'll be any ill will. If they're here to play, then that's what we want them to do. But if they don't want to be here, I can't control that, and I can't coach a player that's not here.
Game Time: Did you get a chance to meet or talk with either of those guys?
Baseggio: "Shkotov, no. Söderberg, at rookie camp. Good kid, good prospect. A good player."
Game Time: And he's been playing well over in Sweden...
Baseggio: "Yeah, he's playing for (former Canadian National Team coach) Dave King, so that's a good positive. Like I said, it's none of my business; it's a player that's not here, so that's something for the Blues to worry about."
Game Time: We talked a little bit about the goaltending earlier. Two of your goalies have played in the NHL, and the other has been absolutely dominant at the level just below this one. Do you consider goaltending a strength of this team? What do you see as each goalie's individual upside?
Baseggio: "Absolutely, it's a big strength. Schwarz has a great demeanor and work ethic. His quickness... he makes some saves where you can't believe he got to the shot. He has that quiet confidence in the net, and he knows how to win hockey games.
"Beckford-Tseu is bigger, and not as quick as Marek, but he covers more net. He's a good, hard-working kid with a good skill set, and you're right... he's dominated down below, and he's played well for us here this year, too. I think he's ready to take the next step."
Game Time: As a former pro defenseman yourself, give me your impression of Jeff Woywitka. He's always going to be "one of the guys who was traded for Chris Pronger," and those are big skates to fill. He may never be a Chris Pronger type of player, but does he have, inside, what it takes to live up to that kind of pressure?
Baseggio: I think so. I think it (the inevitable comparison) is unfair; it's not Jeff's fault that he was traded for Chris Pronger. Chris Pronger's an elite player; he's one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. Jeff went up this year and played very well for the Blues, and he won a championship playing for Brent Sutter in Red Deer. He was a first-round draft pick, and he's been dealt a couple of times, but he's got some talent, and he's played really well for us this year. I think he's going to be a pretty good NHL defenseman."
Game Time: There were a couple of games earlier this year with Chicago where you guys got lit up, and give up a large number of goals. Did Woywitka personally get a big minus in those games, and has he been pretty much even the rest of the way? Because he's got a high minus total right now...
Baseggio: Well, he and (Mike) Stuart, in the last two or three weeks, have gotten hit hard with the minuses for some reason. But no, it didn't happen in one game, just a bit here and a bit there. I know that stat is going to jump out at you for those two guys; it's not alarming for me yet, but you notice it. It's not characteristic of how they've played."
Game Time: That was going to be my next question. A lot of people have heard reports that Woywitka's one of the best defensemen you have down here, but they'll see that stat, and it's hard to justify those reports.
Baseggio: "I think Jeff has been on for maybe three or four empty-net goals against, too, so that doesn't help. Or he's been out at the end of a penalty kill, when our guy has just come back on, and a goal against is an even-strength goal. Little things like that. But it (the plus/minus) is not a true indication of how he's played."
Game Time: Roman Pola'k had an impressive training camp with the Blues, and has seen some NHL time as a first-year pro this season. He's also seemed to find a little offense in his game lately. What do you see as his long-term role in the NHL?
Baseggio: "Oh, he has a shot at being a top four in the NHL. He's so big, and so strong, and moves so well. I don't know if he ever gets beat one-on-one. He's got a great stick, great mobility for a big guy, and when he goes into a one-on-one battle in the corner, he comes out with the puck a lot of the time. That's pretty impressive for a young kid.
"He's got a cannon of a shot, and he's learning how to use it and when to use it. Since he's been reassigned to us, I don't know what our record has been, but it's been a lot better with him in the lineup. He adds that much as a twenty-year-old, and that's pretty impressive."
Game Time: How's his English, and how's he making the adjustment, coming back to North America?
Baseggio: "Oh, he's great. He's really a funny kid when you get to know him. From what I heard, while he was in St. Louis, he started to come out of his shell a little bit. His English is fine; he understands everything that's going on, and he played a year in the Western League, so that probably helped him acclimate a little more. He's a good kid."
Game Time: We talked a little bit earlier about Zack FitzGerald and D.J. King. Do (they) have a role to play in today's NHL, beyond that of the big, strong enforcer?
Baseggio: "D.J. King really has some pretty good skills, and when he gets going, he can skate. D.J. just needs that little bit of quickness, and he can be a regular player. D.J., when he's skating hard and finishing checks, is an effective player. To add the dimension that he can drop the gloves is great, but obviously, as you've seen, most other teams don't even have that player. You can't dress a guy and give him two minutes a night and have him drop the gloves, any more. That's just not the way the game is played.
"I think if D.J. continues to work hard on his skating and his skill set down here, he has a chance to play in the NHL on a regular basis. And Zack FitzGerald is the same way.
"Unfortunately for Zack, last year he was injured for most of the year, and this year has been the same thing. He's just come back in the last little bit. If we can keep him healthy, I think we'll get a better indication of Zack's potential."
Game Time: Is there much more for Peter Sejna to accomplish at this level? What does he have to do yet in order to earn a spot on an NHL roster for the long haul?
Baseggio: "I saw Peter play a few times in the last few years, when he was in Worcester and here. He's been in the Blues' organization for a few years now, and what I'd hear from everyone is (about) his consistency level; when Peter plays, he's got to keep up that consistency level. And he's done that of late. He's playing real well, and his points show that. He's really put up some numbers.
"When Peter's skating and moving, he's very, very effective. He needs to do that on a consistent basis, and he has been lately."
Game Time: In his first pro game, right out of college he scored a highlight-reel goal against a future Hall-of-Famer. Do you think that maybe set the bar for him a little higher than it should have been?
Baseggio: "It very well could have. He won the Hobey (Baker Award), which comes with expectations, and I'm sure he signed for a good chunk of change, which adds more expectations. Maybe the expectations were higher than they should have been, but I wasn't around for that, so I really don't want to go there. But I think Peter has NHL skills, and with the new rules, he has a chance to go up there and play at that level."
Game Time: Last season, there was some miscommunication, and a bit of a falling out between Zakharov and the Blues. He came down here, didn't play, went to Alaska, didn't play, and ended up going back home. People had sort of written him off as a prospect for the Blues. What does it say to you that he's come back here for another kick at the can, and how's he been playing?
Baseggio: "He's actually been playing pretty well, but he didn't play a lot the other night. Zak's a young kid, and people forget that. He's only 21 years old. He came over, and language was an issue, but Zak is maturing, and his game is maturing. His biggest problem early in the year was his play away from the puck and understanding the system, where to go and when to do it, and when not to do it.
"To his credit, he came to camp, and I told him, 'I don't care what happened in the past. It's a clean slate.' And he's worked hard, and he's done a pretty good job."
Game Time: You mentioned his maturity. He did an interview here with Dave Eminian a little while ago, and it sounded like he was nothing but cognizant of what he has to do in order to earn a spot in the NHL. Would you say that's a fair assessment?
Baseggio: "Yeah, as I said, he's maturing and he's starting to understand not only his role, but just life in general a little bit more, what it takes. He's done a good job, and I think the best is yet to come with him."
Game Time: Michal Birner was touted as a hard-working, gritty kid with a good work ethic when he was drafted by the Blues in 2004. Would it be fair to say that he's lived up to that description, and what do you see as his role in the NHL -- scorer, checker, both?
Baseggio: "He's absolutely lived up to that description. Michal, he wants to be a player. He works so hard; he works hard off the ice, and he works hard in practice. He's got great skills, he's fast. Unfortunately, he had some wrist problems and has missed a good chuck of the season. I think he's only played about twenty games by now, maybe less. So we're still trying to figure out what Michal is as a player, but I think he has a chance to be both a scorer and checker in the NHL.
"He has great skill, and he's showed it here, he shows it in practice. And again, he's only 21 years old; once we get him 'flatlined' as far as his health, he'll determine himself what kind of player he's going to be, and I think the sky's the limit for him"
Game Time: Mike Glumac has had a couple of shots at sticking with the Blues, and each time he was sent back. He's pretty popular with the fans in St. Louis, and he seems to have the hands to be at least a supplemental scorer at the NHL level. Do you see him as a full-time NHL player in the near future?
Baseggio: "Yes, I do. As I said earlier about Mike, he can beat you in a lot of ways. Last night (December 26th vs. Grand Rapids) he was physical, and he scored a goal and had one or two assists. He's not afraid to drop the gloves, and if he's not scoring some night, he can beat you in other ways. That's such a valuable asset to have."
Game Time: Let's talk a little about last night, and the power play. You guys got four goals on the power play last night; is there anything special that you're doing to be that successful on the power play, because your power play has been in the top half of the AHL all year, and the Blues' power play has been a little "iffy."
Baseggio: "Well, we had a tough start; in our first twelve games we were one-for-24 or something like that. But I have a little sheet in my office about the principles of the power play that I try to work from. It's movement, it's supporting the puck, it's shots, it's traffic... just certain principles. You watch other teams, and how they kill penalties, and that'll give you a 'heads-up' about what you need to do.
"But the players on the ice, they've done a great job. Again, you can't stand still any more; you have to move. I really stress a lot of movement, with the puck and without the puck. Last night, we had two five-on-threes, and that helps, but the guys are doing a good job of getting pucks to the net."
Game Time: The last player I'd like to talk to you about is Charles Linglet. He's 24 years old, got good size, and apparently can skate and score. Is he on the Blues' radar screen that you know of, and if so, what do you see as his role in the NHL?
Baseggio: "Oh, he's definitely on the Blues radar (NOTE: Linglet was signed to an NHL contract by the Blues that night, shortly after this interview). Like I said earlier, he's got outstanding hands. He knows how to score, and he has a nose for the net. He has 14 goals in 25 games this year, and last night he had a couple of open nets that he just didn't bury, which is uncharacteristic for Charlie.
"He's a great kid, great demeanor; he just needs to work on his skating. When he's moving his feet, he's an effective player, but he needs to keep those feet going. He's been doing it on a consistent basis this year, and the results are indicative of that."
As we prepare to turn the calendar page to 2007, it’s time to take a quick look back at what some of the Blues’ prospects have been able to accomplish in 2006.
The 2006-07 season began on a high Note, prospect-wise, as the Blues were able to add some quality prospects to the fold in the 2006 Entry Draft. Six of the nine players chosen by the Blues in June are ending the 2006 calendar year by performing in the World Junior Championships in Sweden, ranking the Blues in a three-way tie for first place among NHL teams with the most prospects appearing at the U20 WJC.
Twenty-fifth overall pick Patrik Berglund has a goal and an assist and is a plus-1 for Sweden. Jonas Junland has an assist and 12 PIM for the Swedes and Alexander Hellström is playing his usual effective stay-at-home defensive game. Thirty-first overall pick Tomas Kana also has a goal and an assist, but his Team Czech Republic squad is winless thus far. Reto Berra has played both games for underdog Switzerland, with a 4-1 win over Belarus and a 6-0 loss to a powerhouse Russian squad. Berra sports a 3.50 GAA and an 89.4% save percentage.
Future franchise defenseman Erik Johnson has a goal for winless Team USA, one of only four goals scored by the disappointing American squad in the tournament so far. Johnson has made some excellent plays on offense and defense, but committed one well-publicized gaffe by throwing his stick at Canada’s Jonathan Toews on a breakaway, after Johnson’s defense partner turned the puck over at center ice. The resulting penalty shot added to the Canadian lead in the game.
Down on the farm in Peoria, first-year Rivermen mentor Dave Baseggio has put together a squad that is currently in fifth place in the AHL’s West Division and holding down the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 16-12-1-2 in 31 games. Twenty-nine-year-old Trent Whitfield (30 GP, 15-14-29) and 27-year-old Peter Sejna (30 GP, 10-19-29) are leading the Peoria scoring parade, and the newly-signed (on December 27) Charles Linglet is right behind. The 6’2, 212 pound 24-year-old LW leads the Rivermen in goals with 16 (six on the power play), and has 24 points an even plus/minus and 12 PIM to add to the mix. RW Mike Glumac has nine goals, as does rookie David Backes, who is currently looking to establish himself as a full-time NHLer with the Blues.
On defense, the Rivermen have gotten only two goals from the blueline, both off the stick of rookie Roman Pola'k. Tomas Mojzis (12) and Jeff Woywitka (11) have hit double figures in assists. In goal rookie Marek Schwarz has been a rock wall. In 19 games played, the young Czech is 12-5-0 with a 2.60 GAA and a 90.1% save percentage. He has taken the bull by the horns and snatched the number one goaltender spot from under the nose of third-year man Chris Beckford-Tseu, who has been dominant at the ECHL level (5GP, 0.79 GAA, 96.9% save percentage, 5-0-0 record with Alaska this season), but has struggled a bit in the American League.
Peoria as a team has shared the wealth on the scoreboard this year, with game-winning goals coming from Whitfield and Jon DiSalvatore (three apiece), Linglet and Backes (two each), and Sejna, Glumac, Ryan Ramsay, Pola'k, and rookies Michal Birner and Ryan MacMurchy (one each). The Rivermen have appeared in only two shootouts this year, both road losses (at Albany and Chicago).
Some of the Blues’ older European prospects are making their marks in their respective leagues. In Finland, Juhamatti Aaltonen is a top-six forward in his second season at the Finnish elite level, and is 10-13-23 with a plus-1 mark and 36 PIM in 33 games for Oulu Kärpät. The Blues will lose the rights to the 21-year-old in June 2007, so if he ever wants to make the move to North America, the time is at hand.
Over in Mother Russia, Viktor Alexandrov was cut by SKA St. Petersburg in early December, after the coach who brought him there was fired. Alexandrov has caught on with MVD Podolsk, also of the Superleague, and in 21 games between the two teams, the just-turned 21 year old is 1-12-13, with 18 PIM and a plus-2. Elsewhere, in 32 games for Severstal Cherepovets, Nikolai Lemtyugov is 5-5-10 with 34 PIM and a plus-4 mark. He will turn 21 on January 15, and would do his career a favor by coming to North America for good next year.
Another candidate to cross the pond for 2007-08 is defenseman Nikita Nikitin. The 6’3 blueliner has put on over twenty pounds of muscle this year, going from 173 to 196 pounds, and his Avangard Omsk club is reaping the benefits of his development. Avangard is second in the RSL with a 24-5-7 mark, and Nikitin has chipped in a goal and 12 assists to go along with 60 PIM and a plus-4 in 36 games played.
In major junior, the Blues have four prospects out in the Western League who are all in their last year of junior eligibility. Right wing Ryan Reaves of Brandon (39 GP, 9-13-22, plus-7, 52 PIM, 2 SHG, 2 GWG), center Nick Drazenovic of Prince George (33 GP, 7-21-28, minus-6, 40 PIM), and defensemen Scott Jackson of Seattle (36 GP, 3-16-19, plus-16, 32 PIM, 3 PPG, 2 GWG) and Mike Gauthier of Prince Albert (37 GP, 2-11-13, plus-1, 154 PIM) are all better than even money to take their places in Peoria next fall, and continue their development into sound role players for the Blues.
Finally, at the NCAA level there has been some buzz recently about big Ben Bishop, the St. Louis native tending goal for the University of Maine, possibly turning pro next season. The thinking here is that Bishop’s 11-3-2 record 1.90 GAA and 93.2% save percentage notwithstanding, the sophomore would probably be better off to finish college first and avoid the logjam the Blues currently have in goal at the professional level. Another sophomore, forward T.J. Oshie of North Dakota (19 GP, 5-12-17, 8 PIM), has also been rumored to be turning pro, and considering the Blues’ dearth of skilled forwards in the minor pro ranks right now that might be the best thing for his career.
In our next edition of “Tomorrow's Blues”, we’ll have a conversation with the man who’s shaping the development of the Blues’ young players in Peoria, head coach Dave Baseggio. Until then, check out archived “Tomorrow’s Blues” articles and other prospect-related content on the “Future ‘Notes” blog at 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.