Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rivermen Steering A Course Through AHL In 2008-09

(This article was originally featured in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 4 No. 4, October 22, 2008 in "Tomorrow's Blues with Brian Weidler")

Five games into the 2008-09 AHL season, and the Peoria Rivermen are just about where they want to be.

Currently tied for fourth place in the AHL's West Division, Peoria is one of four teams (the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins and Lake Erie Monsters are the others) in a race for the seventh and eight playoff spots in the Western Conference.

The AHL schedule calls for most games to be played within the division, and the Rivermen epitomize that philosophy so far by having played every game to date within their division. With two wins (vs. Quad City and Milwaukee), two losses (vs. Chicago and Iowa), and an overtime loss to Iowa, the Rivermen are at .500 on the year, and have allowed 15 goals in their five games while scoring 14 of their own.

Julian Talbot (12) is having another strong season for Peoria in 2008-09Leading the way in goal scoring for the Rivermen is center Julian Talbot. Talbot, signed as a free agent by the Blues last year during a breakout AHL season (24 G, 26 A), leads the way in goals for Peoria with four, three of which have been scored on the power play. Through five games, Talbot's three PP goals account for fully half of Peoria's success with the man advantage; the Rivermen have converted six of 38 chances for a 15.8% mark, which puts the power play right in the middle of the AHL pack.

Free-agent signing Steve Regier is now making the most of his chances in the big leaguesTied with Talbot for the team scoring lead is left wing Steve Regier, a 6'4, 194-pound Edmonton native who signed with the Blues as a free agent in July. Regier, with three goals and five points, has the game-winner in both of Peoria's wins thus far, and has a history of scoring "money" goals in the AHL. Last season with Bridgeport, Regier scored 19 goals in 65 games; five of those were game-winners and ten were scored on the power play. In 2006-07, also with Bridgeport, Regier's 19 goals included another five game-winners, three shorthanded goals and seven on the power play. In 147 games during the last three seasons, Regier has scored 41 goals, 12 of which were game-winners and 17 with the man advantage.

Also checking in with five points through Peoria's first five games is Russian winger Nikolay Lemtyugov. The St. Petersburg product made an impressive AHL debut last year with 22 goals and 37 points in 69 games, and his well-publicized beatdown of Quad City's Tim Ramholt helped him rack up 71 minutes in penalty time as a rookie. Lemtyugov also has a knack for starting strong in games; seven of his 22 goals last year were the first goal of the game.

Fan favorite Nikolay Lemtyugov continues his wizardry with the puck for Peoria in 2008-09This season, Lemtyugov is cementing his position on the Rivermen and in the Blues' organization with another solid start, using his exceptional skating and puckhandling skills to set up goals (four assists in five games). He was teamed with Talbot and AHL veteran Cam Paddock early on, but seems to have settled in with Regier and fellow Blues' draftee Nick Drazenovic in the last few games. Lemtyugov's lone goal this season was, true to type, the first goal of the game in a 3-1 win over Milwaukee last Friday, and was set up by Regier and the AHL-contracted defenseman Jim Jackson.

Drazenovic, a 6' centerman who checks in at 175 pounds, has a pair of assists thus far in five games, and is among the team leaders in penalty time with 14 minutes in the sin bin. In 2007-08, Drazenovic also made an impressive rookie debut, racking up 16 goals and 42 points in 69 games after missing the first couple of weeks while recovering from a bout of mononucleosis. The Prince George, BC native contracted mono during the 2007 Western League playoffs, when he resurrected his fortunes as a Blues' prospect with nine goals and 19 points in 15 games for the hometown Cougars.

Another player looking to brighten his horizons in the Blues' organization is Czech center Tomas Kana, back for another kick at the can in North America after a less-than-auspicious debut in 2007-08. Kana showed up for the Blues' Development Camp in 2007 out of shape, and was assigned to Peoria very early in training camp. The 6', 200-pound center never got into a game with Peoria, and was assigned to Alaska of the ECHL, where he scored two goals in 12 games before bolting back to his Czech homeland. To his credit, Kana played well in the Czech league, with 10 points (5G, 5A) in 25 games spilt between HC Vitkovice and Usti nad Labem, and came to the Blues' main camp this year in better shape, and with a better attitude. Kana is scoreless thus far with the Rivermen, but is playing a key role on the checking/energy line.

Talbot, Regier (at 24 the oldest of the Kiddie Corps), Lemtyugov, Drazenovic and Kana are examples of the Blues' commitment to youth at all levels of the organization, but there's room for veterans -- and the leadership they provide -- in Peoria as well.

31-year-old journeyman Trent Whitfield has been a consummate professional and leader for the Rivermen since signing as a free agent with the Blues in the summer of 2005. He led the Rivermen in scoring in 2006-07 with 33-45-78 totals in 79 games, and last year was fourth on the squad with 22 goals and 52 points while transitioning into a leadership role. This season, Whitfield has earned the "C" for the Rivermen, and leads by example wile still maintaining a presence among the team's scoring leaders with a goal (scored shorthanded vs. Iowa on Oct. 11) and three assists.

Regier, in his fourth AHL season, was awarded one of the alternate captain positions by Rivermen coach Davis Payne, and the other went to fellow free-agent signee and AHL veteran Cam Paddock. Drafted 137th overall by Pittsburgh in 2002, Paddock spent the last couple of seasons in the Phoenix organization. The right-shooting centerman spent the entire 2007-08 season in San Antonio, and hit for 12 goals and 25 points in 71 games. Paddock also showed he could handle the rough stuff on the ice, notching 107 minutes in the sin bin during the regular season, and another 18 minutes in seven playoff games for the Rampage.

This year, Paddock has one goal in five games, scoring in Peoria's home opener on Oct. 11, a 4-3 OT loss to the Iowa Chops. He's also restrained himself thus far in the penalty department, with only a slashing penalty on Oct. 18 at Chicago to blemish his record.

Next time in "Tomorrow's Blues," we'll look at the defense and goaltending of the Rivermen this season. 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.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

2008 Draft Review: Last, But Not Least

(This article was originally featured in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 4 No. 3, October 18, 2008 in "Tomorrow's Blues with Brian Weidler")

So far, so good... the Blues have had two home games this year, and won them both by a combined score of 11-3. The young players on the team -- David Perron, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and 2008 first-rounder Alex Pietrangelo have been big contributors to the team's early success. All of these players have one thing in common besides being members of the Blues; all were first-round picks.

Tonight, our focus will be on the players taken late by the Blues in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the players in rounds four through seven. These players may not necessarily be bound for NHL stardom, as is expected of the first-rounders, but there's talent on defense, at forward, and in goal in the Blues' late 2008 picks.

The well-dressed David Warsofsky should be a key player on the Boston U. blueline this yearSomething of a surprise pick in the fourth round (95th overall) was US National Team Development Program defenseman David Warsofsky. The Blues are known to scout the USNTDP very heavily, but Warsofsky's size -- or lack of it at 5'8 and 160 pounds soaking wet -- has been considered a major strike against him at the defense position.

There are definitely positives to Warsofsky's game, however. Vincent Montalbano at the McKeen's Hockey Prospects website notes that, "despite (his) lack of size, (Warsofsky) is an extraordinary player with exceptional skill, especially on the power play." The mighty mite is, in fact, considered something of a power play specialist, with a one-timer that is especially suited for man-advantage play, and an ability to always find the open man in a power-play situation.

The native of Marshfield, Massachusetts served as the captain of the U-18 squad for the USNTDP, and was second on the squad in scoring with nine goals (three PPG) and 40 points in 56 games. Before being drafted by the Blues, he signed a letter of intent to play at Boston University, and then went to Russia to skate for Team USA at the U-18 World Junior Championships, racking up seven assists and a plus-6 mark in seven games.

McKeens notes that Warsofsky "displays proper positioning on defense, as he does an effective job of cutting down angles and getting in the shooting lanes." The website further notes that he is "not afraid to initiate contact and get in the face of opponents," and that he "does not look to shoot from the point that often, as he prefers to utilize his productive passing game to set up teammates; however, he will pinch at times, as he loves to crash the net and be on the receiving end of a one-timer." Warsofsky has a pair of assists in three games for the Terriers this year, and both have come on special teams (on shorthanded assist and one power-play assist).

In the fifth round, the Blues went back to Europe, and took another offensive-minded defenseman with the 125th overall pick. Kristofer Berglund (no relation to Patrik) became the second defenseman chosen in the last three years by the Blues from IF Björklöven of the Allsvenskan (Alexander Hellström, currently in Peoria, was taken 184th overall by the Blues in 2006).

Blues' fifth-rounder Kristofer Berglund heads up ice for Luleå HF in Swedish Elite League play this yearThe 5'10, 180-pound native of Umea, Sweden was cited by several of the major scouting services as one of Sweden's top players in the 2008 U-20 World Juniors. McKeens Hockey Prospects called him "an adept puckhandler with excellent anticipation and hockey sense" as well as "a good positional defender (who) knows how to play the body, but (is) by no means a physical player," and said the WJC was a "coming-out party" for him.

International Scouting Services called Berglund "an excellent penalty killer ... who eats up pucks with his stick and skates," and NHL Central Scouting pulled no punches when they called him the "top Swedish d-man at (the) World Junior U20."

Totals of 4-21-25, a plus-10 mark, and 16 minutes in penalty time with Björklöven in 2007-08 earned Berglund a ticket to Luleå HF of the Elitserien for this season, where he's currently 1-3-4 with an even plus-minus and 6 PIM in 12 games.

In round six, the Blues went back to the Ontario League for Guelph Storm center Anthony Nigro. The 6'1, 190-pound Toronto native made great strides in his second Ontario League season in 2007-08, nearly tripling (from 17 to 48) his point totals from his rookie year, and improving from 4 to 24 goals.

Anthony Nigro continues to develop as a scorer, and is good value for the Blues with a sixth-round pickInternational Scouting Services notes that Nigro "does a few things well, which include jumping into holes and going to the net with his stick on the ice, and working hard for the second and third chances. His defensive side of the game has been excellent, and he is always committed to taking care of that."

In 11 games with Guelph this season, Nigro has four goals and four assists, but is currently in the midst of a six-game scoring drought. His plus-minus is even, and he has 16 minutes in penalty time to go along with a power-play goal and a game-winner (vs. Erie on Sep. 26).

The Blues swung a deal with Los Angeles to re-acquire their seventh-round pick, and spent it on junior "A" goaltender Paul Karpowich of the Wellington Dukes.Paul Karpowich gets set for a shot in the Blues' Development Camp, summer 2008 In 22 games with the Dukes last year, Karpowich posted a 15-3-2 record, a 2.15 GAA and 92.2% save percentage with three shutouts.

Karpowich signed a letter of intent to attend Clarkson this season, and made his NCAA debut Oct. 17 against RIT, stopping 31 of 35 shots to lead the Golden Knights to a 6-4 win. He will likely get the nod again tonight vs. the College Hockey America defending conference champion Niagara Purple Eagles.

In the Clarkson 2008-09 Media Guide, head coach George Roll said, "Paul enjoyed a really good playoff run with Wellington last year and was rewarded by being drafted by the St. Louis Blues this summer. From all indications, he should come in and compete for the number one job. He is a big standup goaltender who handles the puck extremely well."

Next time in "Tomorrow's Blues," we'll take out first look at the Peoria Rivermen, and catch up with the progress of prospects like Ben Bishop and Nikolay Lemtyugov, the number one and number two stars in Peoria's 3-1 win over Milwaukee on Friday night. 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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

2008 Draft Review -- Three's A Crowd

(This article was originally featured in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 4 No. 2, October 16, 2008 in "Tomorrow's Blues with Brian Weidler")

Previously in this space, your Game Time Prospect Department gave you the scoop on the Blues' top choices in last June's draft; defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, forward Philip McRae, and goaltender Jake Allen.

Tonight, our focus is on the three players taken by the Blues in the third round of this summer's draft, starting with third-round pick (65th overall), forward Jori Lehtera from Tappara of the Finnish Elite league (SM-Liiga).

Blues' third-rounder Jori Lehtera leads up ice for Tappara Tampere in SM-Liiga playLike 2007 first-rounder David Perron, Lehtera was in his second year of eligibility for the draft when the Blues chose him last summer. Also like Perron, Lehtera is considered a highly-skilled player who is especially proficient at stickhandling. Lehtera was not ranked by any of the major scouting services (NHL Central Scouting, International Scouting Services or McKeens Hockey) in the early or mid-season rankings, but managed to rise to the 23rd spot in the Central Scouting Final European rankings.

The Helsinki-born Lehtera will turn 21 on December 23, and is in his third year with Tappara Tampere of the SM-Liiga, where he broke out last year with 13 goals and 42 points in 54 games, while posting a plus-7 mark and 22 minutes in penalty time. Three years at the elite level makes Lehtera a more mature and developed player than many of his peers in the Blues' organization, but there are the usual concerns about his ability to translate his excellent game in Europe to the smaller North American rink and more physical North American style of play.

Lehtera has NHL size at 6'2, 191, but could stand to develop a little more upper body strength in order to not be checked off the puck in the North American game. He could also stand to further develop his acceleration and top speed, but these negatives are coachable and correctable.

His positives are the things you can't teach; Lehtera has excellent on-ice vision and a good work ethic, and he is an accomplished playmaker who is able to find his wingers from anywhere on the ice. He is a set-up man first and foremost, and will almost always look for the pass instead of taking the shot himself, but his double figures in goals scored during the short Finnish season indicate that he knows how to shoot the puck as well.

Currently, Lehtera is scoring at a point-per-game pace with Tappara, posting two goals and 12 points in 12 games thus far, with a solid plus-6 mark and eight minutes in the sin bin. He's under contract to Tappara through the 2009-10 season, and the Blues are fairly deep at center in the organization right now, so there's no sense of urgency to rush him over to North America just yet. If, however, he continues to round into a solid leader, on the ice as well as on the scoresheet, Lehtera may well find himself poised to make the jump directly to the NHL when some of the Blues' veterans up front are ready to hang 'em up.

Blues' third-rounder James Livingston heads for the net at the Blues' Development CampFive picks after the selection of Lehtera, the Blues came back to North America to tap into budding power forward James Livingston, a Nova Scotia native playing into the Ontario Hockey League with Sault Ste. Marie. Livingston, a 6'1, 200-pound right wing, ended the 2007-08 season with 21-23-44 totals, appearing in all 68 games for the Greyhounds and posting a plus-10 with 135 penalty minutes. Four of his 21 goals were scored on the power play, most at the beginning of the year he was a power-play specialist.

Livingston has been described by the McKeens Hockey Prospects website as "somewhere between being a tough guy and a skilled player, but not big or strong enough to be a heavyweight fighter and not good enough hands or skills to be an offensive player at the NHL level." The lack of a defined style in his game was reflected in the way Livingston fluctuated in the rankings by the major scouting services over the 2007-08 season.

Livingston started strong in the McKeens rankings at 14th overall, but by season's end he had dropped in their estimation to 89th overall. International Scouting Services also had Livingston ranked highly (16th overall) at the start of the year, only to see him fall, though not as far (to 39th) as he did at McKeens, and NHL Central Scouting had Livingston at 42nd at mid term and 53rd in the final rankings.

International Scouting Services did note about Livingston that "he works extremely hard every shift on the ice and carries himself with a great deal of class," and the Toronto Star website noted that Livingston "possesses the work ethic, grit and two-way presence to play an important role in the National Hockey League." Currently, Livingston has seven points (2 G, 5 A) in nine games with Sault Ste Marie, with a plus-2 mark and 17 PIM.

The Blues' last selection in the third round (87th overall) was role player Ian Schultz of the Calgary Hitmen. Schultz isn't the biggest guy out there at 6'1, 180 pounds, but he has a heart the size of Montana, with a great work ethic and outstanding leadership traits.

Blues' third-rounder Ian Schultz gets ready to throw down with Cody Castro of the Lethbridge HurricanesThe intangibles, as well as a willingness to get his nose dirty, has resulted in Schultz playing on Calgary's top line over the last few seasons despite modest point totals (15 G, 15 A last year). Schultz spent all of last season on a line with Montreal draftee Ryan White, and is currently playing alongside fellow Blues draft pick Brett Sonne (the 85th overall selection by the Blues in 2007), who leads the Hitmen in scoring and is third in the Western League with 4-11-15 totals in ten games.

McKeens Hockey Prospects website notes that Schultz "has shown flashes of nifty moves and good stickhandling with the confidence to challenge opposing players using his speed and agility." International Scouting Services calls him "very hard-nosed and tough in all aspects of the game," and says he "has the tools to develop into a good power forward in the next few seasons."

Next time in "Tomorrow's Blues," we'll zero in on the Blues' last four 2008 draft selections; offensive-minded defensemen David Warsofsky and Kristoffer Berglund, center Anthony Nigro, and college-bound goalie Paul Karpowich. 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.

2008 Draftees Poised For Impact In NHL, Juniors

(This article was originally featured in "St. Louis Game Time," Vol. 4 No. 1, October 10, 2008 in "Tomorrow's Blues with Brian Weidler")

In each of the last three seasons, a first-round draft pick has emerged from training camp with a spot on the Blues' NHL roster. In 2006, it was first-overall pick Erik Johnson, as expected. In 2007, the Blues struck gold from Quebec when 26th-overall selection David Perron lived up to his statements in Game Time that he would make the team out of camp, and dazzled teammates, coaches, and fans alike with his skill level.

This year, the hometown boys have yet another first-rounder looking to stick with the big club right out of camp, but the impact on the organization of the Blues' 2008 draft picks doesn't end there. From top to bottom, the Blues came away from Ottawa and the Entry Draft with quality at every position, and tonight we'll take a look at Jarmo Kekalainen's top three selections in this year's draft.

In the first round, with the fourth overall pick, the Blues rolled the dice on blueliner Alex Pietrangelo. The 6' 3, 210-pound native of King City, Ontario put up impressive scoring numbers (13-40-53 in 60 games, with 94 PIM and a sterling plus-29) for the Niagara Ice Dogs, and was playing his best hockey of the season in the playoffs before falling victim to a double whammy of mononucleosis and a ruptured spleen.

Blues' first-rounder Alex Pietrangelo dons the 'Note at the Entry DraftThe mono and ruptured spleen kept Pietrangelo out of the workouts at the Scouting Combine, and also kept him off the ice at the annual Development Camp, but the Blues saw enough during the season to rank Pietrangelo at the top of their list for the Entry Draft.

"He's one of the best defensive prospects to come out of the draft since (Chris) Pronger," one NHL scout noted at the McKeens Hockey website, "and he even reminds some of Pronger other than the lack of a mean streak."

"Not many defensemen can offer the total package, and if Pietrangelo puts it all together, he'll be a franchise defenseman for 15 years."

Pietrangelo seems to have recovered fully from the spleen injury and mono, and has earned a spot on the Blues' roster out of training camp. Erik Johnson's injury has opened the door for Pietrangelo to play a lot of minutes early in the season, and if he continues to produce in the regular season as he did in the Blues' pre-season, the expected nine-game trial may well turn into a full-time roster spot.

Shrewd dealing by John Davidson and Larry Pleau left the Blues with back-to-back picks near the top of the second round, and the scouting staff took full advantage of this positioning by selecting Philip McRae of the London Knights (OHL) with the 33rd overall selection, and goaltender Jake Allen of the St. John's Fog Devils (QMJHL) at number 34.

Blues' second-rounder Philip McRae in London Knights' liveryMcRae, son of former Blue Basil McRae, is a streaky player; in December and January of last season, he managed 22 points in 21 games (5 G, 17 A), the followed that performance with a February in which he scored five goals in 13 games, but collected no assists and was a minus-5. He finished the season 18-28-46 in 66 games, a total considered "disappointing" by the staff of the McKeens Hockey Prospect website.

In the U-18 World Juniors, McRae was one of the leaders for Team USA with six points (3 G, 3A) in seven games, but at the USA World Junior Selection Camp in August, he managed only one goal and was generally ineffective.

It was later discovered that the reason for McRae's inconsistent play at the Evaluation Camp was that he had contracted mononucleosis, making him the third high-profile Blues prospect to come down with mono in the last year (Pietrangelo and second-year pro Nicholas Drazenovic are the others). At 6' 2 and 190 pounds, McRae has the size and strength to shake off a bout with mono, and he has returned to the ice in London in dramatic fashion, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-2 victory over Saginaw last week.

Blues' second-rounder Jake Allen loosens up before a St. John's Fog Devils tiltAllen, a native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, was something of a late bloomer. Spending much of the 2007-08 season on the bench in St. John's behind Sharks' prospect Timo Pielmeier, Allen managed to post a nice 2.25 (14 GA in 374 minutes) with a 93.5% save percentage (201 saves) and a 2-2-2 record in his last six games for the 32-30-8 Fog Devils (now playing as Junior de Montréal).

Few expected the 6' 2, 175-pounder with the 8-9-4 record, 3.15 GAA and 90.1% save percentage for the season to make much of a mark in post-season play, but Allen did earn the Devils' only two wins of their first-round series, posting a 3.74 GAA and 85.5% save percentage in the process. Many were stunned when Hockey Canada's chief scout Al Murray included him on Canada's U-18 World Junior entry, but the poised and confident Allen took the opportunity and ran away with it.

Allen played all seven games for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and led his team to the gold medal with a performance made for Hollywood. In 420 minutes, Allen allowed 10 goals on 192 shots for a 1.43 GAA and a 94.8% save percentage. Oh, by the way, he also won six of the seven games, with only a 4-2 loss to host Russia in the preliminary round to mar his record, and posted a pair of shutouts, including an 8-0 whitewashing of the Russians in the championship game.

Allen didn't attend the Blues' Development Camp this year, but did join the team for the Traverse City Prospect Tournament (3.00 GAA, 90.9% save percentage, 1-2-0 record) and even saw action in the NHL pre-season against Los Angeles before being returned to junior. So far this year, Allen has won QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week honors once, and is 4-1-0 with a 2.80 GAA and 91.9% save percentage in five games.

Next time in "Tomorrow's Blues," we'll focus on the Blues' next three selections in June's Entry Draft; Finnish forward Jori Lehtera, budding OHL power forward James Livingston, and grinder Ian Schultz of the Calgary Hitmen. 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.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Jake Allen Named QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week

By Brian Weidler, "St. Louis Game Time " Prospect Department

2008 Blues' draftee Jake Allen was recently named QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week for the week ending September 28, 2008.

Blues' possible Goalie of the Future is the QMJHL's Goalie of the Week Allen, the Blues' third choice (34th overall) in last June's Entry Draft, stopped 63 of 66 shots against in two games last week for Junior de Montreal. The lanky native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, defeated the Saint John (NB) Sea Dogs 6-3 last Friday, and turned away all 31 shots by defending Memorial Cup champion Gatineau on Sunday in a 5-0 victory.

Allen spent much of the 2007-08 season as the backup to San Jose prospect Timo Pielmeier with the St. John's (NF) Fog Devils in the "Q." Named to Canada's entry for the U-18 World Junior Championships last spring, Allen stole the spotlight by posting a phenomenal 1.43 GAA (10 goals against) and 94.8% save percentage in seven games, leading the Canadians to the championship and securing the tournament's Top Goaltender honors.

At the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in mid-September, Allen split duty with Ben Bishop in the Blues' net, and posted a 1-2 record with a 3.00 GAA and respectable .909 save percentage. He earned a trip to St. Louis for the Blues' training camp before being sent back to the "Q" for more seasoning.


"If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil."

-- Otto von Bismarck, 1851