For a fan of a team that hasn’t drafted and developed an All-Star since 1988, it’s hard not to be ecstatic about the past year that the Blues developmental system has had. It all started early last June when Ottawa director of player personnel Jarmo Kekalainen was passed up in his bid to become the general manager of the Ottawa Senators.
Not long after John Muckler was named the general manager, rumors started to surface about Kekalainen’s future. There were whispers about him going to Florida to become the Panthers’ assistant general manager, but that never happened. Then, on the 1st of August the St. Louis Blues named him the director of amateur scouting, replacing Ted Hampson who held the position for 19 years and was promoted just days earlier.
Before being beat out by Muckler for the position, the 36-year-old Finland native had most recently held the position as director of player personnel. Kekalainen’s work with the Senators resulted in much of the depth you see on the team today. He was responsible for drafting a number of their key players, including Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, and Andreas Dackell.
Blues Nation is hoping (and expecting) that Kekalainen can bring some of that drafting magic he had up north to the Gateway City… magic similar to what the Blues had in 1999 when they selected Barret Jackman with the 17th overall pick; a draft decision that resulted in another bright spot for the Blues developmental system this past year.
The rookie defenseman is, along with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, the co-favorite to win this year’s Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. Jackman, a Fruitvale, British Columbia native, lead all Blues in plus-minus and his +23 was good enough for 2nd overall among NHL rookies, behind only Dallas’ Niko Kapanen. Unfortunately for Jackman, his stats don’t show why he is deserving of the hardware so the lobbying done by Blues captain Al MacInnis will have leave an impression on the voters.
“With Chris Pronger down, there were 30 minutes per game open and we didn’t know who was going to take them. Barret really filled that gap,” MacInnis recently told The Sporting News. “But the remarkable thing is how consistent he’s been. For a rookie, that’s a credit to him.”
“I don’t know if I have that much poise now after 20 years in the league. He’s shown that since day one,” MacInnis added.
The latest good news for the Blues’ future was the signing of Colorado College’s Peter Sejna late last week.
The Slovakian native just finished up his junior year and has been named the player of the year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker award. Sejna, 23, led the nation in scoring with 82 points in 42 contests making Sejna the 2nd straight Blues prospect to lead the nation in scoring. The NCAA scoring title was won last year by Worcester rookie John Pohl and the previous season it was won by Jeff Panzer.
Sejna, who helps fill a weakness that the farm system has on left wing, played his first NHL game and scored his first NHL goal Sunday vs. Colorado just hours after signing the maximum contract allowed for undrafted free agents. However, he’ll have to turn some heads come September to earn a regular spot in the NHL next season.