Blues 2007-08 AHL/ECHL prospects review

By Ian Altenbaugh

The Peoria Rivermen finished the season 38-33-4-5, seventh in the AHL’s competitive West Division, missing the Calder Cup playoffs by nine points. Meanwhile, the Alaska Aces finished 41-26-5 in 72 games and made the playoffs for the fifth time in as many years. 

The Blues have made noise that they are going to depend even more heavily on their young players for next year. Thus many players below will be competing for spots in the fall.  

AHL

Marek Schwarz, G

Schwarz, the 17th overall pick in the 2004 draft, played most of the regular season in the AHL.  He posted a respectable 14-14-2 record with a 2.79 GAA and .891 save percentage. In the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs, Schwarz posted a 5-2 record, a 3.21 GAA, and a .911 save percentage in eight games. 

Schwarz will be expected to compete for the backup job on the Blues in training camp, but nothing will be handed to him. If he does not make the roster, he will likely be sent back to the AHL, possibly splitting duties with another Blues goaltending prospect, Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop, G

Drafted in the third round, 85th overall, in 2005, Bishop has steadily worked his way up the prospect depth charts.

After some stellar play in the NCAA playing for the University of Maine, Bishop signed with the Blues in the middle of March, ending his college career two years early.  With the Rivermen, he posted a very good 2.38 GAA, and 2-2-1 record in five games.

Bishop should be given every chance to claim minutes in Peoria next fall. 

Nicholas Drazenovic, F

Drazenovic, a rookie out of the WHL, finished his first professional season in the AHL with 16 goals and 26 assists. Drazenovic will likely be given a chance to compete on the second or third line in the NHL reasonably soon. He has average size and the Blues would like to see Drazenovic increase the physical side of his game.  The forward has put on some weight but must continue to do so to play against bigger and stronger forwards in the NHL.  

Nikolai Lemtyugov, RW

Drafted 219th overall in the seventh round in 2005, the Russian forward made his North American debut with Rivermen this year.  After a slow start in November, the offensively-minded forward saw a productive month of December followed by some erratic production as he made the transition to a smaller size rink and more physical play. As the season wore on, Lemtyugov’s production dipped. He still finished with 22 goals, good for seventh among rookies in the league.   

The Blues have indicated that they have no desire to rush their prospects and therefore Lemtyugov will see another season in the AHL.  With a full year in the North American hockey behind him, Lemtyugov should enjoy increased success next season. 

Chris Porter, F

Porter had a solid first professional season.  Originally drafted by the Blackhawks in the ninth round of the 2003 entry draft, Porter played at the University of North Dakota.  Drawing interest from the Blues when representatives visited the school to look at highly-regarded prospect TJ Oshie, they signed Porter to a two-year contract in August of 2007.  Porter will look to improve next season upon his modest AHL rookie stats of 12 goals and 25 assists in 80 games. 


Roman Polak, D

Polak appeared in six games in March for the Blues when they were out of playoff contention, posting one assist and a +1.  He proved that while he is probably not completely over his ankle injury, the ankle is healthy enough for him to take a regular shift. 

As with last season, Polak suffered a series of injuries which slowed his development.  He played just 34 games for the Rivermen, posting seven assists.

If Polak can remain healthy, he will likely secure a permanent spot with St. Louis. 

Steve Wagner, D

An undrafted free agent, Wagner saw his stock spike when he made the big club out of training camp. The 24-year-old averaged 18:29 in 24 games, however, the level of his play, like that of the rest of the team, decreased as the season went on. Eventually Wagner was sent to Peoria where he had 12 points in 23 games.

Wagner will have to bring his game up to a consistent level if he is to return to and remain in the NHL. 

Alexander Hellstrom, D

The large, physical defenseman had an up and down first season in North America.  Hellstrom, a seventh-round pick in the 2006 NHL draft, is still considered a project after showing some difficulty with the transition to the tighter North American style of play. 

He demonstrated why he still needs work after being a regular scratch on numerous occasions and seeing decreased amounts of responsibility as the season wore on.  He posted five points in just 35 AHL games. The 21-year-old will be expected to play a larger role on Peoria’s team in the upcoming season. 

ECHL

Chris Beckford-Tseu, G

Beckford-Tseu, who didn’t even have a contract with the team to start the year, got a cup of coffee in the NHL, playing for 27 minutes in a relief role for the Blues. He primarily split his time during 2007-08 between Peoria, where he posted a 2.63 GAA and finished 15-14-2 in 34 appearances for the Rivermen. In his time in Alaska, he put up a very respectable 2.34 GAA and finished with a 12-4 record in 16 regular season appearances.  Beckford-Tseu appeared in two playoff games for the Aces, posting a 4.27 GAA.  Where he goes from here is a question mark now that Bishop enters the picture.

Tomas Kana, C

After a disappointing North American debut, Kana, a former second-round pick, returned to the Czech leagues to finish off his season.  Kana was drafted for his offensive prowess as well as grit.  He had just two points, both goals, in 12 ECHL games.  He went on to play just 13 games at the elite level in the Czech Republic.

Francois-Pierre Guenette, C

The 24-year-old finished up his first season for the Alaska Aces sixth on the score sheet with 20 goals and 30 assists in 71 games.  The 222nd overall pick of the 2003 also averaged a point per game in the postseason, putting up four goals and five assists in nine games.