The St. Louis Blues can expect a good influx of junior talent next season into the pros, with all four of their WHL prospects due to be signed this summer. With an additional USHL prospect, the crop of juniors consists of three forwards and two defensemen.
Seattle blueliner Scott Jackson is making the most of his final year in the WHL. At 6’4, Jackson has been a pillar of strength on the Thunderbird blue line for years, but as a mature 20-year-old it’s no surprise that this has been his finest campaign. Jackson is usually paired with potential 2007 first rounder Thomas Hickey, two years his junior, and sees plenty of time of special teams. Many of his points have come on the power play.
In the regular season, Jackson scored four goals, and easily set career highs in assists (31) and points (35). He also totaled 52 PIM, his highest total to date, and was an impressive +21 for the year. Jackson’s best statistical stretch of the season came in the month of December when he picked up 10 points in 14 games. Previous to that hot streak, he played with Team WHL against Russian juniors in the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge.
With a 37-21-14 record, Seattle finished third in the WHL’s American division to earn a date with the Tri-City Americans in the first round of the playoffs. The Americans were favored after winning 47 regular season games, but Seattle took the series 4-2. Jackson registered a pair of assists in the series, and got tossed out of the first game after taking a major penalty for boarding. Seattle is taking on the Vancouver Giants in the second round. He has three points in eight games so far and is -3.
Jackson will conclude his WHL career when the Thunderbirds finish the playoffs. He should be in Blues training camp in the fall and is a good bet to start the season with the Peoria Rivermen, St. Louis’ AHL affiliate.
Nicholas Drazenovic, C – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Drafted: 6th Round, 171st Overall, 2005
Twenty-year-old Nicholas Drazenovic’s regular season wasn’t quite as good as he expected, but he has come through for Prince George in the WHL playoffs.
After setting career highs with 30 goals and 63 points in 2005-06, big things were expected out of 6’1 pivot in his final year of junior. But Drazenovic only managed 18 goals and 50 points to finish fifth in scoring for the Cougars. His -8 rating was also one of the worst totals on the team. It didn’t help that he missed most of February with a leg injury just when he was starting to pick up steam. He also played with Team WHL against the Russians earlier in the season.
But regular season shortcomings can be forgotten in a hurry if a player steps up his game in the playoffs when things really matter, and it appears as though Drazenovic has done just that.
The Cougars finished third in their division with 74 points, and while it was believed that they would at least give the Kamloops Blazers a run for their money, nobody expected a 4-0 Prince George sweep. The series was actually quite close, with three games decided in OT, including Game 1, where Drazenovic was the OT hero with a goal less than five minutes into the extra frame. Game 2 was more of the same, as the centerman had a goal and an assist to rally his team from a two-goal deficit. Drazenovic capped off the sweep with a pair of assists third period of the deciding game, this time helping to dig the Cougars out of a three-goal hole. Prince George is now playing the Everett Silvertips. Drazenovic has seven points in six games overall.
Like Jackson, Drazenovic is writing the final chapter of his junior career. He attended the Blues’ prospect camp last September, so they should have an idea of whether or not he’ll be part of the team’s future. Peoria is his most likely destination.
Mike Gauthier, D – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Drafted: 6th Round, 169th Overall, 2005
Brawny rearguard Mike Gauthier stood tall on the Prince Albert blue line this season. He was a force physically, and surprisingly productive offensively.
At 6’3, Gauthier likes to throw his weight around and drop the gloves from time to time. He lived up to his billing this season with 264 PIM, easily a career high. Games when Gauthier didn’t spend any time in the sin bin were infrequent, but he also discovered an offensive game that was previously non-existent. Coming into the season, the defenseman had only 16 career points, but more than doubled that total by racking up five goals and 19 assists for 24 points on the year. He had a career night offensively in November by recording three helpers in a game versus Medicine Hat. His +1 rating was tops among full-time Raider defensemen.
The Raiders snuck into the East division playoffs with just 60 points, but were no match for the first-place Brandon Wheat Kings in the opening round, losing 4-1 in games. Gauthier tallied an assist in Game 3, the lone Raider victory in the series. Game 4 saw him ejected for a charging major. That penalty also earned him a one-game suspension, so he was ignominiously forced to watch his final junior game from the stands as the Raiders were sent packing in Game 5.
The Blues have several mid-level defensive prospects in the system right now, but Gauthier’s tenacity and physicality should be enough to land him a job in the organization next season. Peoria or possibly Alaska (ECHL) are probable destinations.
Ryan Reaves, RW – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Drafted: 5th Round, 156th Overall, 2005
Rounding out the 2005 junior draft class is gritty winger Ryan Reaves of the Brandon Wheat Kings. In following with most of his 20-year-old contemporaries, Reaves also experienced career highs in most statistical categories.
The Winnipeg native posted 15 goals and 35 total points, both improvements over last season’s tally. He was one of several Wheat Kings to finish in double digits in terms of plus/minus, closing the season out at +11. Reaves started the season off on a roll with two goals in three consecutive games in mid October. He cooled off considerably on the stat sheet, but his defensive play remained at a desirable level. Reaves was a regular penalty killer for Brandon this year, scoring two short-handed goals. His efforts earned him the Wheat Kings Unsung Hero Award, presented to him in a ceremony before a late-season game.
Brandon surged into the playoffs in first place after winning eight of their final 10 contests. They dismissed Prince Albert in five games, with Reaves recording eight penalty minutes. He scored his lone goal of the series in the deciding game. Brandon is now playing the Calgary Hitmen. Overall he has two points in seven playoff games.
With St. Louis bolstering their stock of talented forwards in recent drafts, they might have room in the minors for a more defensive grinder type. Reaves’ hard work and good attitude should help him in trying to earn a spot within the organization.
The Blues drafted forward Andy Sackrison out of high school this past summer, and he is their lone prospect playing junior hockey in the U.S.
Sackrison has played 57 games with the USHL Tri-City Storm this year. He is seventh in team scoring with 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points. He has been a power play specialist, with five goals and 16 of his points coming with the extra man. He is not a physical player, but his offensive talents make up the difference. That being said, Sackrison needs to improve his five-on-five play and defensive responsibilities if he’s going to excel. He is currently -4 on a generally plus team. As the USHL regular season winds down, the Storm are fourth in the overall league standings.
The Minnesota native is expected to suit up with the University of Minnesota – Mankato in the fall.
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