On July 24, the St. Louis Blues announced they had signed forwards Marty Reasoner, Ladislav Nagy, Andrei Podkonicky, Derek Bekar, and Tyson Nash. They also signed defencemen Jason Widmer and Tyler Harlton, to contracts and these players will be in training camp in September. What will this mean for the Blues in 98-99 and beyond? Jason Widmer and Tyson Nash are bound for Worcester, barring unforseen developments. Nash played in Syracuse and Widmer in Kentucky and they should help the depth in Worcester. Nash plays LW, so anything he can offer will interest the Blues, who don’t have much depth on the wing. Widmer played at Worcester for a couple of seasons while it was an Islander affiliate, so perhaps he is a fan favorite of the Icecat faithful.
Tyler Harlton played at Michigan State for four years and was the captain there his senior year. He is a big stay-at-home type defenceman, and he will also be at Worcester in ’98-99 to get experience at the professional level. Ladislav Nagy is a small forward out of Kosice in the Slovak league. He is only 19, so perhaps there is a chance he can play Major Junior this year, or he might return to Kosice after camp. 19 is a young age to break into the AHL, and I don’t think the Blues want to give any of their young prospects OJT in the ECHL. Derek Bekar will likely start the year in Worcester. A 21 year old C-LW, the 6-3 185 lb. Bekar had a good year in New Hampshire, helping the Wildcats advance to the NCAA tournament. 6-3 and 185 means he probably has some filling out to do, and the Blues will give him time to adjust to the pro level in the AHL.
Andrei Podkonicky had a great Memorial Cup final with Portland, leading the tournament in scoring. Of course, Podkonicky’s linemate was the Ottawa Senator prospect Marian Hossa, a blue-chipper who might be the best young prospect in hockey, depending on his return from major knee surgery. Podkonicky is only 19, meaning he can go back to Portland, but the Blues are talking as if he might begin at Worcester. Podkonicky is one of many young, highly-skilled centers in the Blues system. Finally, somewhat to my surprise, the Blues inked Marty Reasoner to a three-year contract that will pay him roughly the maximum yearly salary for a rookie under the CBA, plus a signing bonus in the range of $850,000. Reasoner had a great year at Boston College and it is simply amazing that he wasn’t a serious candidate for the Hobey Baker Trophy. Reasoner’s game has been picked at with a fine-tooth comb and the scrutiny hasn’t always been positive, i.e. he is not physical enough, not a vocal leader, a “Craig Janney type”, a backhanded compliment if there ever was one.
Make no mistake, Reasoner’s skills are blue chip and he will be a productive NHL player, the only question is will he level out at the Janney stage or will he become a true #1 NHL center. I thought the last year at B.C. could do everything that a year at Worcester could, and also give him the push to go out a winner in the NCAA’s, as B.C. is loaded for 98-99.
A week after the Blues announced these signings, they conducted a four day off-ice training camp for 15 of their young prospects in St. Louis, a tribute to the player development route the Blues have followed since the disastrous Mike Keenan days, when an assembly of the finest young prospects of the Blues could be held in a phone booth. Reasoner, Podkonicky, and Harlton were there, as well as Ladislav Nagy, goalie Brent Johnson and forward Daniel Corso. Corso is the diminutive forward out of the QMJHL, and he is described as a cocky, confidant speed-burner with lots of offence. Blues director of Amateur Development Ted Hampson was quoted in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” as saying of Corso, “…. He wants the puck all the time. We drafted him as a winger. But two years ago, they put him at center and his game just blossomed.” Center, hmmm. It was always thought that Corso’s future would be on the wing, where he his speed would be put to better use and his lack of size would not hurt him in match-ups against bigger centers. But if Corso plays center, it certainly could create a glut, especially if the mysterious Jochen Hecht arrives in camp and plays center also. IF Hecht plays in North America in 98-99, it most likely will be at Worcester. And what of Michal Handzus, the top prospect in the Blues system? Blues management said Handzus was too advanced for the off-ice camp, and while he is projected to start the year in Worcester, don’t be too surprised to see Handzus wearing the Blue Note on his chest in October. In any event, it will be an interesting camp, and the best news? We only have a month to go!