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