For the first time in their 38-season history, the St. Louis Blues select at the top in the NHL Entry Draft. The Blues finished last overall in the standings last season, but the acquisition of Erik Johnson with the first pick will have them feeling a whole lot better.
The Blues also swung a draft-day deal to pick up the 25th overall pick, and in the end they selected at least once in every round. St. Louis drafted nine players in total, including four Americans and three Swedes, yielding a good blend of forwards and defenders plus a goalie. Five of the nine were European trained, which shows the ever-increasing influence of Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen, who even made the announcement of Johnson as the No. 1 pick.
Erik Johnson, D – USNTDP
1st Round (1st Overall) 6’4 222 lbs
There was much speculation as to whom the Blues would select with their top pick in the weeks leading up to the draft, but as draft day approached it became increasingly obvious that Erik Johnson would be the first name called from the podium.
What makes Johnson so appealing is his great mobility and puck-rushing abilities to compliment his big 6’4 frame, a combination not often seen in the NHL. It was believed by many that Johnson was both the best offensive and defensive blueliner available. He plays a sound positional game when defending his own goal, and seems to seize the opportunity to join the rush or carry the puck himself at the right moments. Capable in many facets of the game, including skating, stickhandling, passing, and checking, there is little not to like about Johnson. In him, the Blues hope they have found a future replacement for departed defensive anchor Chris Pronger.
Johnson spent the 2005-06 year with the USA National Team Development Program, and represented the US at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver. His stock rose after an excellent performance where he overshadowed a fellow defender, highly-touted 2005 first rounder Jack Johnson.
The two-way rearguard will suit up for the University of Minnesota in the fall.
Patrik Berglund, C – Vasteras (Sweden Jr.)
1st Round (25th Overall) 6’3 187 lbs
St. Louis management saw something in Berglund that they must have liked, trading with New Jersey to acquire the 25th pick.
What brought Berglund to the forefront was his performance with the national team at an international under-18 tournament. Early in the competition he had some breakout games which impressed the scouts.
In past years, the knock on the Swedish centerman was his weak defensive game and often lazy attitude. But it appears that those flaws have been corrected. Berglund uses his size and creative stickhandling to drive to net in search of goals, of which he had 17 in 27 games with the Vasteras junior side. He is certainly not a heavy hitter, but Berglund isn’t deterred by physical play either, evident by the fact that he survived 21 games in the top division against men in addition to his play with the juniors.
The selection of the talented Berglund looks to be a step to correct the Blues’ lack of skilled forwards in the system.
But he acknowledged “I need to be much bigger and stronger on the ice, of course, and I’m going to work hard for that.”
Berglund also stated that it could be “four years I guess, something like that” before he makes the jump over to the world’s top league.
Tomas Kana, RW – Vitkovice (Czech)
2nd Round (31st Overall) 6’0 202 lbs
Kana is a hard-working Czech winger. Projected to be a later second round pick, the Blues showed faith by selecting him with the very first pick of Round 2.
Kana has a good skill set to go along with a sturdy frame. He isn’t afraid to muck it up along the boards, and possesses a good hockey sense. This combined with his good passing skills and impressive shot make him an offensive threat. Kana is also a hard forechecker who can turn the puck over to create a scoring opportunity.
Kana saw limited ice time in the Czech Republic’s top league in 2005-06, but despite this and the fact that he was playing against men, he was still able to find the net five times, and recorded 14 points in total.
Jonas Junland, D – Linkoping (Sweden Jr.)
3rd Round (64th Overall) 6’2 198 lbs
The second defenseman selected by St. Louis in this year’s draft, Jonas Junland, is all about offense.
In the Swedish junior league this past season, the mobile blueliner put up eye-popping offensive stats. In just 32 games (he was injured for the season in February), Junland used his blazing point shot to light the lamp 17 times. He added 23 assists to give him well over a point per game average. At the Five Nations under-19 tournament he was named best defenseman.
In addition to his shooting prowess, the Swede is able to carry the puck up ice effectively and stickhandle well. All of this could make his a valuable asset on the power play. Not known to play a physical game, his defensive zone play could use improvement, but the Blues hope that will come naturally as Junland progresses through the Swedish leagues. It is expected that he will play the 2006-07 season in the Elite League with Linkoping. The superior competition should aid in his progression, and the Blues may target 2008-09 as a realistic timetable to make the jump to North America.
Ryan Turek, C – Omaha (USHL)
4th Round (94th Overall) 5’11 170 lbs
With their first fourth round selection the Blues picked up Ryan Turek out of the USHL. He is listed as a center, but he has also played defense at times throughout his career. His smallish size and tenacity mean that St. Louis will probably try to utilize him at his forward position.
When the Omaha Lancers decided to move the defenseman up to forward for 2005-06, they were rewarded with a 17-goal, 28-point output. Aggressive forechecking and a quick skating stride enable Turek to force turnovers in the attacking zone, and his tight checking can see him used in a shut-down role playing against other teams’ top scoring lines. After a pair of successful USHL campaigns, Turek is set to continue his hockey career at Michigan State in the fall.
If and when Turek graduates to the pro ranks, the Blues should be getting a prototypical third or fourth line role player. His speed also makes him an option on the penalty kill, while his ability to shift back to the blueline in a pinch, or even on the power play as well, increases his value to any team.
Reto Berra, G – GCK Lions/Zurich (Switzerland)
4th Round (106th Overall) 6’4 189 lbs
The only goaltender selected by the Blues in this year’s draft was lanky Swiss stopper Reto Berra. He was the first player of Swiss nationality to be called to the podium, notable because of the fact that the small alpine country is beginning to develop goaltenders at a surprising rate, the most recognizable two being Stanley Cup winners David Aebischer and Martin Gerber.
Like many goaltenders in today’s era, Berra specializes in the butterfly style of netminding. His large frame takes up most of the net, giving enemy snipers little to shoot at. Berra’s strong points include his surprisingly quick leg movement as well as an excellent glove hand.
The Swiss goalkeeper’s stock rose greatly during the 2005-06 season due to solid play in his domestic league, but more importantly because of a strong outing at the World Junior Tournament with his national team. The Christmas-time tourney has proven to be a springboard for many players, especially goaltenders, in the past.
The fact that St. Louis already had several prospective goaltenders in their system when they selected Berra shows how much potential the young netminder possesses. This, along with the fact that central Europe is building a reputation for good development at this position, and the shifting trend towards large, butterfly goaltenders lends hope to the thought that the Blues may have found a diamond in the rough in Berra.
Andy Sackrison, LW – St. Louis Park (US High School – Minnesota)
5th Round (124th Overall) 6’1 178 lbs
Drafted straight out of US high school, Swedish-born American forward Andy Sackrison was the Blues’ seventh pick in the 2006 draft.
The sharp-shooting Sackrison was a force to be reckoned with amongst Minnesota high school players in 2005-06. In only 25 games played, the sniper victimized opposing goaltenders to the tune of 41 goals. Sackrison had no problem setting up teammates either; he recorded 26 assists to go along with his tallies for an almost three points-per-game pace. Not simply a one-dimensional scorer, the winger (who also lines up at center) is quite capable of abrasive play as well, in the form of 32 minutes in penalties.
Sackrison will remain in state for the foreseeable future, as he has signed a letter of intent to play college hockey with Minnesota State – Mankato. The Blues will let him hone his skills in the amateur ranks and hope he can carry his penchant for scoring into the pros one day.
Matthew McCollem, LW – Belmont Hill (High School)
6th Round (154th Overall) 6’0 185 lbs
Matthew McCollem out of Sommerville, Massachusetts was the second of consecutive American high school players drafted by the Blues.
McCollem used his rocket shot and strong passing skills to bag 17 goals and 11 assists in his 28 appearances with Belmont Hill in 2005-06, a season in which he also served as team captain. Blessed with a strong skating stride, McCollem uses his fleet of foot to open up holes in the defense as well as swoop in on an opposing puck carrier, where he will often throw a big hit. A tireless worker, the sturdy winger has striven to correct weaknesses in his defensive game, efforts that paid off on draft day.
It is anticipated that McCollem will play out his senior year at Belmont Hill before heading to Harvard to pull on the Crimson sweater in 2007.
Alexander Hellstrom, D – IF Bjorkloven (Sweden)
7th Round (184th Overall) 6’2 195 lbs
With their final pick in the 2006 draft, the Blues headed back to Europe, specifically Sweden, to draft defenseman Alexander Hellstrom. In a complete contrast to the Swedish defender (Junland) that the Blues selected a few rounds before him, Hellstrom concentrates mainly on defense.
A man of good size, Hellstrom knows when to get physical and play the body. He takes care of his own zone first and foremost, (only one point, a goal, in 31 games with Bjorkloven in 2005-06) but will use his strong skating ability to jump into the rush on occasion. He utilizes his strength and long reach to defend his goal and grind along the boards. Hellstrom is known for his smart decision making when under pressure and plays a simple and effective game overall.
The Swedish blueliner played most of the 2005-06 season in the Swedish second division, and he has signed on for another year with Bjorkloven to continue his development.
Johan Nilsson, Sean Ruck, Janine Pilkington, Kevin Wey, and Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.