St. Louis Blues Draft Preview

By pbadmin

Well, the ’99 season has come to a close. And now, as is tradition, we direct our attention to “The NHL Draft”. Even before St. Louis makes its first selection, Blues fans have reason to be excited about the team’s future prospects in the organization. The “build from within” approach instituted by CEO & President Mark Sauer and GM Larry Pleau is ahead of schedule. Young players, that in previous years would be dealt for immediate help, have begun to emerge from Worcester. Michal Handzus had a solid first season in the NHL. He is already regarded as one of the top defensive players in the game; the offense will come in time. Lubos Bartecko made contributions late in the year and showed that he is close to playing full time with the big club. In the playoffs, Jochen Hecht was a pleasant surprise. He showed the great puck skills and skating ability that enabled him to lead all players in points in Worcester. If he can continue his great play, expect him to settle in at left wing for the Blues next year. Jamal Mayers also played well down the stretch. And Marty Reasoner is not too far down the road. That being said, Let’s take a look at the possibilities for the Blues at this years draft.

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In the first round St. Louis will have the 17th pick. More than likely a pretty good player will still be around when the Blues announce their selection. You can rule out a defenseman, considering the depth there in the organization. Although a strong defensive prospect will be available, my guess is that the forwards left standing will be rated higher on the Blues’ draft board. If Taylor Pyatt were to drop to 17 they would be ecstatic, but that is unlikely. Goaltender could be an option, but Brian Finley will probably be gone as well. And Blues scouts don’t think enough of Maxime Ouellete to use a first rounder on him. That leaves Oleg Saprykine, a 6-0 173 pound center from the WHL. The Blues love his grit and physical play and he has some offensive upside as well. He can be a real pest; an in your face and under your skin type. This would be a pretty safe pick, especially at 17th overall. Scott Kelman, a hard nosed two way center, also could warrant some consideration. He has size and good skating ability, but scoring potential could be limited. Kelman could also play wing which is a plus. The real wild card could be Michal Sivek. He has first line skill, size, and is a great skater. He just hasn’t been able to put it all together on a Czech team where he doesn’t get much ice time. The Blues would be tempted to take a chance on Sivek if he was still there simply for the fact that he could be a homerun. Taking a gamble that Sivek can develop into a superstar makes sense at the 17th pick.

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In the second round the Blues will no doubt have plenty of options. There are a number of players made eligible this year by not signing with the team that drafted them in ’97. Therefore, the possibility of a higher rated prospect falling through the cracks increases. With any luck Sheldon Keefe could be one of those players. If not for his size, you could feel confident selecting him in the first round with no problem. Then again, teams thinking this is Daniel Briere part 2 may jump on the bandwagon quicker than anticipated. However, Sheldon is no Briere. In fact, he may eventually be a better NHL player because of his gritty play and willingness to bang. Chris Kelly is a player that could be a real sleeper in the second round. If he’s still sitting in the audience when St. Louis makes their second choice, there’ll be no hesitation. Kelly has breakaway speed and has stepped up his offensive totals from a year ago. He’s compared to Tony Amonte, but Ryan Smyth with a tad more skill might be a better match. Although not big (yet), 6-0 179 pounds, he may eventually fill out. Defenseman Jeremy Van Hoof had a great rookie season for Ottawa in the OHL. He has size and plays well positionally. Jeremy likes to make the open ice hit when the opportunity is there. He clears the front of the net and moves the puck out of his zone well. The Blues may have a compensatory pick for losing Brett Hull in the 2nd or 3rd round. Jeremy would be a good choice if he is still available.

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The later rounds may not have the level of excitement that the 1st or 2nd hold, but a number of good players are acquired late on draft day. The Blues will no doubt be looking for wingers with size and skill, and that play with an edge. Players to watch out for are as follows: Adam Hall is a big (6-3 200 pounds) right winger for Michigan State. He plays physical and has a nose for the net. Although he didn’t score much this year, he plays a pro style game. Matt Doman, a RW for Wisconsin, is also a possibility. He’s a bit smaller (6-1 218 pounds), but likes to crash the net and battles well along the boards. Brett Clouthier is a project at left wing, but because of his size (6-3 215 pounds) he could go higher than anticipated. Originally a defenseman, Brett played some forward this year and didn’t look out of place. He has enforcer type qualities and chipped in with a few points as well. Corey Pecker is a player that could develop into a solid NHL prospect. He has skill and a great skating stride. Corey’s not big (6-0 190 pounds) but plays every shift hard and doesn’t back down from physical contact. Jimmie Olvestad could be a sleeper late in the draft. A winger for Djurgarden (Sweden), Jimmie has speed and a good wrist shot. Unlike many European players, he likes to take the puck to the net. If your looking at goaltending in the late rounds, look no further than Jean-Francois Laniel. He displayed confidence in net when given the playing time and will see plenty of rubber next year for Shawnigan in the QMJHL. Laniel could turn out to be one of the best goalies to come out of this draft.

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Of course you can only speculate what a team will do on draft day. And with the Blues new found love affair with developing talent, this could be the draft that puts St. Louis over the top. By the time these players are ready for the NHL, hopefully they will be contributing to what is a legitimate stanley cup contender. With young players such as Chris Pronger leading the way on defense and Pavol Demitra creating his usual offensive flare, this team has a right to be optimistic about the future. Now this is hockey, baby! See you at the draft.

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