Blues 2008 draft preview

By Ian Altenbaugh

Top 10 prospects

1.  T.J. Oshie, C
2.  Patrik Berglund, C
3.  Lars Eller, LW
4.  David Perron, RW
5.  Marek Schwarz, G
6.  Ian Cole, D
7.  Simon Hjalmarsson, LW
8.  Jay Barriball, C
9.  Ben Bishop, G
10. Jonas Junland, D

Team Needs

The Blues had a promising beginning to the 2007-08 season, winning 15 of their first 25 games. But the luck would not continue, and late in the season the Blues entered a free-fall, winning only 18 of their last 57 games. The team finished the season with a record of 33-36-13, fourth worst in the league. 

Despite this, the emergence of Brad Boyes as the first 40-goal scorer for the Blues since the 2000-01 season as well as the development of youngsters like Erik Johnson and David Perron, gave a sign of better things to come. Johnson had an excellent debut season despite an injury in October and finished the season as the Blues top defenseman in goals and points while Perron led the team in plus/minus with a +16. 

With most of their highly-touted young players either in the NHL or on the cusp of playing in the NHL, the focus for the Blues is still on the future but with now an eye also on the present. With the fourth overall pick in the draft, the team could look for a goal-scoring winger to compliment their talented playmaking forwards or draft another talented puck-moving defenseman to help Johnson on the moribund power play. 
 

Organizational Strengths

The team is deep in goaltending with Ben Bishop, Marek Schwarz and Chris Beckford-Tseu competing behind Manny Legace next season. While Schwarz has developed much slower than the Blues had hoped, he may be ready to make that next step up the professional ranks. Schwarz will be given a great deal of competition as Bishop and Beckford-Tseu have demonstrated they too are capable. With Legace now in his mid-30’s, the time for these young goaltenders to prove their worth is now. 

The Blues have traditionally have had a lot of talented defensemen in every level of their organization and even after the loss of Bryce Salvador and Christian Backman, this year’s group is no exception. Johnson projects to be the Blues top blueliner for the foreseeable future while players like Jonus Junland, Cade Fairchild, Mike Wagner, Jeff Woywitka and T.J. Fast ensure that the cupboards will remain well-stocked with puck-moving defensemen. Complimenting the large group of offensive-minded defensemen are players like Jay McKee, Barret Jackman, and Eric Brewer. Prospects like Alexander Hellstrom and Roman Polak may be ready for full-time NHL duties, ensuring the Blues plenty of options on their back-end for next season and beyond.

The Blues boast a glut of talented playmaking prospects such as T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund, and Lars Eller. Berglund, after signing a contract with the Blues last June, was given a long look before being reassigned to his European team, Vasteras IK, for another year. The talented Swede will likely be given every chance to make the NHL roster for 2008-09. Oshie opted out of his fourth year of NCAA hockey to sign a pro contract with the Blues.  Eller is considered to be the farthest from NHL ready but now that he is under contract with the Blues, he will be given a long look in training camp. The Blues demonstrated last season with Perron that they are not afraid of allowing a player to work through some growing pains in the NHL if they think it can improve their team down the road.  Oshie, Berglund, and Eller all project to be top-six forwards in the NHL and may be ready to finally crack the NHL lineup. 

Organizational Weaknesses

With the exception of Boyes, the Blues have no talented goal scorers at any level of the organization to compliment their talented playmakers.  Eller, a center converted to wing is a two-way player who, while has soft hands, is better known for his playmaking.  Perron surprised many with his NHL readiness and has proven to be a decent goal-scorer playing alongside mostly checking line centers.  Even Lee Stempniak and David Backes, two second-line forwards with some scoring ability, do not score with the regularity that the Blues require to be a competitive team.  The fact of the matter remains that aside from Boyes there are not any wingers with game-breaking potential in the organization. 

The Blues need to address their 30th ranked power play as well.  Some improvement should be expected from the continued development of Perron, Johnson, and the possible additions of Oshie and Berglund. Still the lethargic power-play unit should not be an area overlooked come draft time. 

Draft Tendencies

With the addition of Doug Armstrong as VP of Player Personnel and due to become the GM in 2010, the upcoming draft could be considerably different than in the past. The Blues have shown partiality to drafting lots of European some years while drafting mostly CHLers and collegiate players other years. Seven of their eight picks in the 2004 draft came from Europe. On the other hand six of their seven picks in 2005 came from North America, four of those six from the WHL. In the 2006 draft, the Blues spent five of their nine picks on Europeans with an emphasis on Swedish players. The 2007 draft saw the Blues draft only two Europeans, both in the first two rounds and again, both Swedish.

Armstrong’s draft record with the Stars suggests that while he is not afraid of drafting European players, he rarely takes one in the first half of the draft.  From 2002-2007, Armstrong drafted only nine players from European programs in the first three rounds, with none in the first round.  

With the fourth overall pick, the Blues are guaranteed a shot at one of the highly-touted defensemen in the upcoming draft and should also have the option of picking Nikita Filatov who, along with Stamkos, is said to be capable of making an immediate impact in the NHL. 

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft result:

Nikita Filatov, RW,  CSKA Moscow, Russian Super League