Blues 2007 draft preview

By Kyle McMahon

Blues Top 10 Prospects

1. Erik Johnson, D
2. Marek Schwarz, G
3. T.J. Oshie, C
4. Patrik Berglund, C
5. Carl Soderberg, C
6. David Backes, RW/C
7. Jay Barriball, C
8. Tomas Kana, LW/C
9. Ben Bishop, G
10. Michal Birner, C

Team Needs

The 2006-07 Blues improved greatly over the 2005-06 club’s disastrous last-place finish, but they are still in rebuilding mode, and the lack of star power and offensive talent is the most glaring weakness.

The late-season trades of Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk ensured that Blues had only two players finish the season with over 50 points. The most recognizable forward under contract is aging star Doug Weight, who is clearly ready to hand over the first-line center duty to somebody else. After Lee Stempniak, the Blues don’t have any other forwards who are a safe bet to crack the 20-goal plateau, though it remains to be seen what center Brad Boyes, acquired from Boston at the trade deadline, can do in a full season in Missouri. 

The emergence of young David Backes as a possible power forward could help replace Tkachuk’s void, but Backes is still a long way away from all-star status, and doesn’t have the scoring touch of either Tkachuk or Guerin. Stempniak has quietly notched 41 goals in his first two NHL seasons, but he is still closer to a second line player than a first.

The good news is, if management and the fans stay patient, they are likely to find the solution to this problem in the form of good offensive prospects who should begin arriving in the NHL in the next year or two.    

Organizational Strengths

The Blues look set in goal right now. No. 2 prospect Marek Schwarz debuted well in the AHL this season, and Chris Beckford-Tseu wasn’t far behind him. In the college ranks, Ben Bishop provides another potential NHL goaltender down the road, as does Russian Konstantin Barulin, who performed strongly in the Russian Super League this season. If Jason Bacashihua is re-signed by the team in the summer, he would provide another depth goaltender at the minor league level or as an NHL backup.

The starting position looks to be locked up by Manny Legace for another season at least, but Schwarz projects to be the goaltender of the future. He could vie for the backup position next training camp, although the recent signing of Finnish veteran Juuso Riksman might be an indication that the Blues want Schwarz to spend another full year in the minors.

St. Louis also boasts a glut of centers within their prospect pool. Topping the list is North Dakota’s T.J. Oshie. Oshie has put in two excellent campaigns in the NCAA, with nearly 100 total points, and will return for a third season in 2007-08. Another collegiate, Jay Barriball, was acquired from San Jose in the Guerin deal at this year’s trade deadline. The 19-year-old freshman lead Minnesota in scoring this season. Playing overseas were Swedes Patrik Berglund, taken in the first round of the 2006 draft, and Carl Soderberg. The latter suffered a fairly serious eye injury early in 2007, but it is not expected to affect his long-term development. All four of these pivots have the potential to be first or second line offensive players in the NHL one day.

Additionally, Backes and Tomas Kana, 31st overall in 2006, are also capable of playing the center position, though both have been used on the wing as well. Backes was played primarily on the right side during his time in St. Louis this season.
 
In general, the Blues have quality depth in their stock of prospects. The fact that Guerin and Tkachuk netted two additional first round selections, amongst other assets, should only enhance this.

Organizational Weaknesses

On defense, the Blues have a solid core of veteran blueliners. Top prospect Erik Johnson seems like a good bet to be joining them in 2006-07. Johnson elected to leave the University of Minnesota after his freshman season, signing with St. Louis in April. The Blues also have Roman Polak and Jeff Woywitka on the back end, and both have shown that they’re capable of putting in a respectable night’s work on the blue line.
 
But with the surprising loss of Scott Jackson, whom the Blues were unable to sign to a contract before the June 1 deadline to sign 2005 draft picks, they are left without any top-tier prospects on defense, aside from Johnson. While this is not a pressing concern at the moment, the Blues might want to remedy the situation before it does indeed become a concern. Jackson figured to be a No. 3 or 4 defenseman down the road, and while it’s not out of the question that Polak or Woywitka could reach that level, it is ptimistic.

The Blues have plenty of scoring potential amongst their future forwards, but are rather devoid of the gritty, defensive oriented forwards that all elite teams possess. It is easier to acquire these types of players through trading and free-agency than it is to nab high-profile scoring talents, but most hockey experts will tell you that building through the draft is the best way to achieve future success. They might want to keep this in mind at the draft table when determining their selections, perhaps giving consideration to a two-way player up front. 

Draft Tendencies

The Blues have not been shy about drafting Europeans, especially Russians and Swedes, as well as American college players. Strangely enough, they have taken only five Canadians in the last three drafts (24 picks in total). At last year’s draft, they selected five Europeans and four Americans.

They have not heavily favored one position over the last few years, often leaving the draft table with a good mix of forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders.

Management has often encountered difficulties when trying to bring Russian players to North America. The lack of a player transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Federation, not to mention the increasing standard of play in the Russian Super League, has only exacerbated this problem. For this reason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blues avoid selecting Russian prospects at the upcoming draft, unless they’re sure they have their sights set on the NHL.

Hockey’s Future Mock Draft Result: #9 Ryan McDonagh, D, US High School. #24 Stefan Legein, RW, OHL. #26 Oscar Moller, C, WHL

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