Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Season, New Prospects, New "Future 'Notes"

You might have noticed that there's a new look to the "Future 'Notes" page for the 2007-08 season.

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)

The Ins and Outs of the Blues Prospect Stable

By BRIAN WEIDLER, "St. Louis Game Time" Prospect Department
(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.

Blues 2007 Entry Draft Review

By BRIAN WEIDLER, "St. Louis Game Time" Prospect Department
(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