It has been a remarkable race to the playoffs for the St. Louis Blues as they posted an impressive 27-11-7 record in the 2009 calendar year. The team climbed from the basement of the Western Conference standings to the sixth seed in the Western bracket of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There were a couple of former first rounders who made an important impact in this team’s quest. It had been a number of seasons without a playoff appearance, but the team has drafted well. The organization’s patience has finally paid off as two rookies in particular helped lead the charge up the rankings at the end of the season.
With the 24th overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft the St. Louis Blues picked a talented center named T.J. Oshie, and a year later with the 25th overall selection they selected Patrik Berglund out of Sweden. While their backgrounds are very different, they both managed to find their way onto the Blues’ squad for their first NHL game on an Oct. 10 win at home against the Nashville Predators. Berglund would earn his first NHL point on an assist in the victory, but would have to wait until an away game at Toronto to score his first goal. In that game in Toronto, Oshie would also get his first NHL assist, but it would take until Oct. 22 before he scored a goal.
Berglund at the age of 20 finished fifth on the Blues’ regular season score sheet and fourth among all NHL rookies with 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points. He played 76 games with no major injuries on a team that seemed to be plagued with health problems early on in the season. Those problems were felt by another important rookie weapon in the Blues’ arsenal. Oshie, who suffered from a high ankle sprain in early November, would miss the rest of the month but would suit back up in early December for two games. Following those two appearances, he would a relapse keeping him out for another extended chunk of the season. In the 57 games Oshie did manage to play, he had 39 points, 14 of which were goals. He managed very well finishing in ninth among all NHL rookies forwards. On top of that, while Oshie finished with 8 fewer points than Berglund, he also finished third in points per game with .68. Berglund would finish eighth with a points-per-game average of .62.
Both had outstanding breakout seasons with the NHL and were keys to the success of the franchise during its late-season run. The return of Oshie to the lineup though at the start 2009 gave the Blues that extra fire power to make the postseason. At the end of March, Oshie was rewarded for his effort by being named the NHL Rookie of the Month for his four goals, nine assists and +6 rating in 14 games. While Oshie received the award it was really a combined effort of a line made up of Berglund, Oshie, and center David Perron, who completed his rookie season with the Blues last year after being drafted 26th overall in 2007. The three of them pushed the organization into the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.
Though Oshie and Berglund were by far the most active rookie forwards on the Blues’ roster there were two others who suited up for NHL action for the first time. Cam Paddock, a center originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins 137th overall in 2002, and teammate Chris Porter, a center originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 282nd overall in 2003, would both join the Blues for brief stints due to injuries. Paddock played from Nov. 14 through Dec. 23 for a total of 16 games, but would finish with only two goals and an assist after earning points in his first two games. Porter, on the other hand, would only play in five more games after he earned an assist in the season opener. His first NHL goal would come on Oct. 18 against Chicago. Both of these centers hold on to their rookie status going into next season.
On defense, the biggest rookie contributers to the team were the former Carolina Hurricanes‘ selection 137th overall in 2003 draft, Tyson Strachan, and the undrafted free agent pick-up, Steve Wagner. Wagner missed the rookie cut off in 2007-08 by one game and proved valuable starting with the team in their opener. He would score a goal and assist on another through Nov. 25 after which he would be sent back to the AHL. He then returned for another brief stint in February, tallying another goal along with another assist but would finish his last season of rookie eligibility with a -4 rating. It would be Tyson Strachan though that caught the attention of the Blues organization when their captain, Eric Brewer, suffered a season-ending injury in December. Strachan played 30 games with the Blues recording only three assists, but finished tied for the second highest plus/minus among defensemen on the team with a +9. In fact, Strachan along with teammates Jay McKee and Jeff Woywitka was one of the only players to finish above even by the end of the season.
Along with those two, another defenseman took the ice for the first time in the NHL. Alex Pietrangelo was the Blues’ most recent first round selection and would make the most of his opportunity to play in the NHL. But he would only play in eight games before being sent back to the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL so that he would not lose a year of his entry-level contract. He did manage an assist though and finished with an even plus/minus rating.
Another rookie defenseman would make a very brief stop in the NHL. Jonas Junland, the Blues’ 64th overall selection in 2006 would play his first and, so far, only NHL game early this season on Dec. 18 against the Washington Capitals.
That wasn’t all for the rookies though as three different rookie goaltenders suited up for the Blues this year. Chris Holt, a former 180th overall selection in the 2003 draft by the New York Rangers, played in his first ever game with the Blues and second ever NHL game. Marek Schwarz, who the Blues drafted 17th overall in 2004, also played his fifth and sixth NHL games. While neither let in a single goal, together they only combined for 34 minutes between the pipes this season.
The real story of the rookie goaltenders for the Blues was 6’7 giant Ben Bishop who the team selected 85th overall in 2005. On October 24th he became the tallest goaltender ever to stand between the pipes for an NHL game, and through the course of the season he played in six games earning a win, a loss, and another loss in overtime. While he let in 12 goals and finished with a 2.94 goals-against average along with a .893 save percentage it is likely not the last time he will be seen wearing an NHL uniform.