The St. Louis Blues didn’t have an abundance of rookies in the line-up regularly in 2006-07, but the rookies who did suit up had good performances.
The season started off with a pleasant surprise out of training camp. In his first season of North American pro, defenseman Roman Polak, 20 years old at the conclusion of training camp, made the St. Louis blue line corps. Injuries to veteran players, combined with Polak’s worthy defensive play, enabled him to stick with the club for nearly a month. He dressed for six games during this initial stint in the NHL, averaging around nine minutes of ice time. After getting his feet wet in October, the Czech-born defender headed down to the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen.
For 53 games, Polak was one of the Rivermen’s most reliable blueliners. In mid-March he got his return ticket to the NHL, and lasted for the rest of the Blues’ schedule. He played a much larger role this time around, seeing around 15 minutes of ice time on a typical night, including back-to-back games against Detroit and Columbus when Blues coach Andy Murray needed the rookie for over 20 minutes, including duty on both the power play and penalty kill.
When it was all said and done, Polak closed out the campaign with 19 NHL games under his belt. He didn’t register a goal (13 shots) or an assist, but like most rookie defensemen, Polak’s first priority was taking care of his own zone, something he usually accomplished. Despite playing a style that is far from soft, Polak only received three minor penalties. He blocked 14 shots and finished with a minus-3 rating. After the Blues concluded their season, Polak was reassigned to Peoria for the final portion of the Rivermen’s schedule.
Another rookie defenseman also saw some limited time down the home stretch. Twenty-four-year-old Tomas Mojzis was penciled into the line-up for six games at the end of March. (Mojzis is not considered a prospect by Hockey’s Future, but is still a rookie by NHL criteria). Mojzis was used sparingly, averaging 10 minutes a night, with the occasional shift on special teams. He scored his only goal of the year on March 24 against Detroit. Mojzis spent the rest of the season in Peoria.
Between the pipes, the Blues had a pair of rookies who found their way into the line-up.
Twenty-four-year-old Jason Bacashihua was looking to build on the success he enjoyed near the end of the 2005-06 season. Unfortunately, he only managed to play 11 complete games, appearing in 19 in total. For most of the season he was shuffled between St. Louis and Peoria, so the hectic schedule likely contributed to his mediocre play. In March he finally was able to string together some starts and finished off the year with a solid 3-3-1 run, a streak that gave him his only three victories of the year. His best showing of the season came in a 3-2 shootout win over Detroit, a game in which he turned aside 40 out of 42 pucks fired his way, plus all three Red Wing shots in the tiebreaker.
At season’s end, Bacashihua’s record stood at 3-7-3, with a 3.15 GAA, and a .896 save percentage, numbers he managed to elevate as he improved late in the year. The Garden City, Michigan, native is now playing with the American squad at the World Championship in Russia.
Hockey’s Future No. 2 prospect Marek Schwarz also had a brief stint with the Blues. He was recalled from Peoria in mid-December and got his first NHL start against Chicago. He lost the game 3-2, allowing three goals on 24 shots. He was also in the net for about one minute the next evening against Colorado before being shipped back to the minors.
Backes received the phone call to come on up to St. Louis in December after playing the first part of the season in Peoria. He started off on the right track, assisting on a Doug Weight goal on his very first shift. He got his first NHL goal two nights later versus Los Angeles. For his first 20 or so games, Backes was typically getting 8-12 minutes a game, chipping in the odd point here and there. But as his confidence and coach Andy Murray’s trust in him grew, he started seeing more minutes and power-play time.
Backes responded by becoming a regular point producer over the final month and a half of the campaign. He got rolling with a pair of two-goal games in the same week in February, potting the winner in both, and seemed to go from there. Backes’ regular linemates included the veteran Weight, as well as Jay McClement and Lee Stempniak, skilled forwards who contributed to his rookie success.
At the end of the season, Backes had played 49 games with the Blues. He scored 10 goals and added 13 assists, as well as 37 PIM. He was a plus-6. Despite playing barely more than half the season, Backes ranked second on the team in hits with 92. He is currently playing with his teammates Bacashihua and Stempniak on Team USA at the World Championships.
D.J. King was up with St. Louis at various points during the year, totaling 27 games in all. He was with the team for the first half of October for his NHL debut, going pointless with seven penalty minutes while playing a very limited role. He got into a few more games during January, and had another stretch of games in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Again, King would generally get no more than five minutes of ice time, and was used primarily to keep the other team’s tough guys in check.
In mid-March, King was able to bid the press box farewell, for the most part, and started receiving increased playing time. He finished the season strong, with two points and four fights in his final eight matches. He took on Minnesota’s behemoth enforcer Derek Boogaard, as well as other respected knuckle-chuckers Jody Shelley, of Columbus, and George Parros, of the Ducks. In the final week of the season, King even found the scoresheet for the first time. He assisted on a Glen Metropolit goal against Dallas on April 2, and then notched a tally of his own the next day against Phoenix, the first of his career.
King compiled 52 PIM plus the two points in his first season, and closed out the campaign by going back to Peoria for a few more games, as the Rivermen completed an unsuccessful playoff push.
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