Blues 2001 draft evaluation

By Kyle McMahon

The 2001 NHL Entry Draft has really been a tale of two players for the St. Louis Blues. Of the eight players selected, only two have played an NHL game to this point. The fact that the Blues didn’t have a pick until late in the second round prevented them from selecting any big-name prospects. They chose five forwards, four of them centers, plus two defensemen, and a goaltender. Half of their draftees played their junior hockey in North America while the other half hailed from European amateur squads. Petr Cajanek and Jay McClement have panned out (200+ games between them), but it is doubtful any other picks will ever see time in the NHL.

Of the eight picks, two have seen time in the NHL for a total of 259 NHL games and an average of 32 NHL games per pick.

Jay McClement, C – 2nd Round, 57th Overall (Brampton Battalion, OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 67
DOB: 03-02-83 HT: 6’1 WT: 194

McClement played 67 games for the Blues this past season, his NHL rookie year. McClement is noted for excelling in the faceoff dot, and at the defensive aspects of the game in general, which is why the Blues used their first pick in the 2001 draft to select the Kingston, Ontario native. But McClement has shown he isn’t just about shutting down opposing forwards. He put up very respectable offensive numbers for a rookie in 2005-06 (6 goals, 21 assists), on a last-place club. The lockout looks to have helped his development, as he was able to spend the whole year in the minors against better-than-usual competition without worrying about getting called up to the big club. St. Louis coach Mike Kitchen also went down to Worcester to keep an eye on Blues prospects, offering McClement invaluable tutelage and encouragement. It all paid off in a breakout 2004-05 AHL campaign where he led the Worcester Ice Cats in scoring.

McClement built off this experience, making the Blues starting line-up out of training camp in October 2005. There were still a few growing pains (11 games in Peoria, the Blues’ new farm club), but he started to find his offensive spark later in the year, recording three three-point outings in an eight-game span. The fleet-footed pivot looks to have laid the foundation for developing into a dependable third line center who will figure into St. Louis’ rebuilding plan.

Tuomas Nissinen, G – 2nd Round, 89th Overall (KalPa Kuopio Jr., Finn-Jr)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 07/17/83 HT: 6’1 WT: 176

Nissinen had a solid junior career in Finland, during which he represented his country in several international junior tournaments, showing why the Blues used their second pick in 2001 to select him. In 2002-03 he graduated to SM-Liiga (highest level of Finnish hockey) and looked to have a solid future ahead of him. After putting up respectable numbers on a lousy team his first two seasons, Nissinen moved to Assat Pori where he has played the last two campaigns. The 2005-06 season was his best to date, highlighted by a .917 save percentage, easily his career best. So far, the lanky keeper has proven to be a somewhat inconsistent performer and to this point he has done nothing to prompt the Blues to bring him over to North America. Considering that St. Louis already has several other prospective goaltenders ahead of him, including highly-touted Marek Schwarz, that fact is unlikely to change. Nissinen may yet have a solid career in Finland, but his chances of ever playing in North America, for the Blues or anybody else, are slim at best.

Igor Valeev, LW – 4th Round, 122nd Overall (North Bay Centennials, OHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 01/09/81 HT: 5’11 WT: 203

Valeev, a Russian native who played his junior hockey in Canada, was taken by the Blues after an outstanding overage season in the OHL (he had previously played in the Western League), which saw him tally 78 points and 175 penalty minutes. Valeev, clearly selected for his abrasive play, saw spot duty as a rookie pro in Worcester in 2001-02. Things were looking up after he put up 18 points and 153 PIM the following season, but sub-par play saw the grinder’s stock drop and his next two years were spent between the American Hockey League and the Blues’ ECHL affiliate at the time, the Peoria Rivermen. With his shot at the NHL seemingly over, Valeev took his rough and tumble game back home to Russia for the 2005-06 campaign, but only appeared in ten games for Novosibirsk, adding an assist and 14 minutes in the penalty box.

Dmitri Semin, C – 5th Round, 159th Overall (Spartak Moscow, Russia-2)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 08/14/83 HT: 5’10 WT: 165

A smallish centerman, Semin is known as a quick and agile skater who excels in the offensive end of the rink. Not even 18 years of age, he potted eight goals and added six assists for Spartak in the Russian second division in his draft year of 2001. Semin moved up to the first division in Russia the following season where he has remained through 2005-06, with the exception of 2003-04 when Spartak was relegated to the second division. He was played sparingly at first, but emerged in his sophomore pro season by scoring 22 points on a lousy team. Semin’s progress was stalled somewhat when Spartak moved down to the High League in Russia, but he reestablished himself with career highs in goals, assists, and points in the most recent campaign. The Blues have invited the Russian overseas to training camp, but he has yet to accept the invitation. If he eventually does decide to make the jump to North America, he needs to pack some more muscle onto his slight frame to have a realistic chance of succeeding. As the level of competition increases in the Super League, Semin will continue to develop, but the clock is ticking on his status as a legitimate prospect.

Brett Scheffelmaier, D – 6th Round, 190th Overall (Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03/31/81 HT: 6’5 WT: 200

Originally picked by Tampa Bay in the 1999 Entry Draft, hulking rearguard Brett Scheffelmaier was taken by the Blues in the sixth round in 2001 after failing to sign with the Lightning. The physical blueliner was most certainly enlisted for his abilities as an enforcer after chalking up over 1000 minutes in penalties with Medicine Hat. Upon reaching the pros with Worcester in 2002-03, Scheffelmaier didn’t miss a beat, relying on his size and toughness more than his skill in his 54 appearances with the Ice Cats. Unfortunately, this would be the highlight of his pro career. The injury bug limited the big defenseman to just 40 games over the next three seasons in both the AHL and the ECHL, forcing Scheffelmaier, only 24, to announce his retirement from professional hockey in October of 2005.

Petr Cajanek, C – 8th Round, 253rd Overall (HC Zlin, Czech)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 192
DOB: 08/17/75 HT: 5’11 WT: 176

With a late round draft pick in 2001, the Blues took a flier on long time Czech League center Petr Cajanek. A veteran of nine seasons with HC Zlin, as well as numerous international competitions with the Czech national team, the idea was to finally get the offensive-minded forward to cross the Atlantic. After completing his fifth straight 40+ point campaign, a career year which saw him collect 64 points in 49 games, Cajanek elected to join the Blues for the 2002-03 season. He did not disappoint. After a solid 38-point output in only 51 appearances as a 27-year-old rookie, the creative pivot encountered the dreaded “sophomore jinx” in 2003-04 with a 12-point drop, but rebounded with a career-high 41 points in 2005-06 after playing the cancelled NHL season back home with Zlin. After the Blues traded Doug Weight this year, Cajanek was thrust into the No. 1 center role for the first time in his career. While top-line production may be too much to expect out of him over the long haul, Cajanek can be a good second line player in the NHL. He can be shifted to the wing if need be, though his defensive game is lacking at times. As a whole, Cajanek has been well worth the eighth rounder used to select him.

Grant Jacobsen, C – 9th Round, 270th Overall (Regina Pats, WHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03/04/83 HT: 6’3 WT: 210

Any player who possesses both size and skill is bound to be noticed by the scouts sooner or later, and Grant Jacobsen was no exception. The burly center was productive first for the Regina Pats, and later for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League where he did show the occasional flash of brilliance, leading some people to think he might turn into a late-round steal. Before turning pro, Jacobsen elected to play a year of Canadian university hockey where he averaged nearly a point per game for the University of Manitoba. The Napeewa, Manitoba native tallied 15 goals and 46 points in his first professional season, spent in the ECHL with Reading and later, the Columbia Inferno. He has a great deal of work ahead of him if he’s to move up the pro ranks, but don’t write Jacobsen off just yet, as some scouts have suggested he may be a late bloomer.

Simon Skoog, D – 9th Round, 283rd Overall (Morrum IK, Sweden-2)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 02/17/83 HT: 6’2 WT: 218

With their final pick of 2001, the Blues picked up Swedish defender Simon Skoog. Skoog, who represented the Swedish contingent at the 2003 World Junior Championship (three points in six matches) has good mobility for a man of his size. Starting out with Morrum in the Swedish Allsvenskan (second division), he has risen through the ranks trying to establish himself at the elite league level. Some have credited his development to time spent playing with Fredrik Olausson, the former NHL defenseman. Skoog’s best statistical elite league season came in 2003-04 when he scored six goals with HV71. The rearguard had yet to rediscover his offensive spark, but a transfer to Malmo, who played the 2005-06 season in the second division, saw him bag seven points in 22 games played. He must build off of that stint in the coming season if he ever hopes to have a shot at the National Hockey League.

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