Blues college crop of right wings

By Jim Roberts

The St. Louis Blues have four right wing prospects playing in the NCAA ranks in 2003-04, one in each undergraduate class. All four are having strong seasons and have a real shot at making the NHL some day.

• The oldest Blues collegian is senior Troy Riddle of Minnesota. A member of two national championship teams, Riddle has been a key player for the Golden Gophers every year he’s been there.

The fast-skating dynamo scored 16, 16 and 26 goals in his first three seasons in the WCHA. This year the 22-year-old Riddle is second on Minnesota with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points in 18 games. He led the WCHA in power play points with 10 on 4 goals and 6 assists as of mid-December.

Riddle also kills penalties in addition to power play duties, making him a special teams standout. He uses his speed and shiftiness well and will throw a bodycheck whenever he can. But he doesn’t have ideal size for the NHL (5’10”, 174 lbs) and will need a few years in the minors before challenging for a roster spot in St. Louis. Riddle was picked in the fourth round (129th overall) in the 2000 NHL amateur draft.

• Finishing second in overall scoring in the ECAC in 2002-2003 didn’t win Lee Stempniak of Dartmouth a lot of attention, but the Blues think he can continue on a path that could lead to plenty of goals in St. Louis some day.

Last year, the 6’0″, 195 lb Stempniak finished the season with 21 goals and 28 assists for 49 points in 34 games (two behind the conference leader) and won honorable mention on both the ECAC and All-Ivy teams. He made the all-ECAC rookie team in his freshman year and tied for second on Dartmouth with 12 goals as a freshman.

Stempniak, now a junior, is still skating in the shadows of highly-touted Hugh Jessiman at Dartmouth, but he’s off to a great start this year with 7 goals in the Big Green’s first 10 games. The 20-year-old Stempniak is a solid two-way player and good skater who provides leadership as well as goals. He was picked in the fifth round (148th overall) in the 2003 draft.

Ryan MacMurchy of Wisconsin has exploded into prominence in his second year of competing in the WCHA. The 6’2″, 207 lb forward made the adjustment to NCAA hockey as a freshman last year, scoring 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 39 games.

But this year the 20-year-old MacMurchy has given the high-flying Badgers a major presence in the hitting and scoring department. His heavy-duty body checks have sent opponents flying and his hard shots on net have helped win several games for Wisconsin.

MacMurchy leads the Badgers in goals with 10 and is tied for the team lead in points with 16 in 18 games. He’s been a big reason the team is ranked in the top five nationally for the first time since 2000. MacMurchy, a sophomore, is demonstrating a powerful combination of hitting, scoring and skating that could make him a top prospect for St. Louis. He was drafted in the ninth round (284 overall) by the Blues in 2002.

• The fourth Blues college right winger is the youngest of the group and could have the biggest pro upside of all. David Backes is a freshman at Minnesota State who’s starting to pick up the pace after a slow start this season.

The 6’2″, 200 lb Backes was a 2002-03 USHL First Team All-Star last year, scoring 28 goals and 41 assists for 69 points in 59 games, tying him for third in USHL regular season scoring. He’s got a complete game, combining strong skating and puck handling with a hard shot and aggressiveness. He was ranked 38th among North American skaters by the Central Scouting Service in 2003.

Backes scored eight points (6 goals, 2 assist) in a six-game span between Nov. 28 and Dec. 20 after starting with just four points in his first 10 games. For the season he has 8 goals and 4 assists for 12 points in 16 games. The 19-year-old Backes was drafted in the second round (62nd overall) by the Blues in the 2003 amateur draft.