The St. Louis Blues have been busy on and off the ice as of late. Some of the news has been gloomy to say the least. By now everyone knows that Tony Twist was involved in a motorcycle accident that has ended his season before it could begin. Hours after being told by GM Larry Pleau that he was not in the Blues plans this year, a car pulled out in front of Tony while he was riding his Harley in a suburb of St. Louis. Among his injuries, ligament damage to his knee will prevent him from playing much, if at all, this season. Blues fans are relieved, however, that his injuries weren’t life threatening. Tony Twist is a prominent figure in the community and is known for his charity work. Even after his accident he followed through on a commitment to attend one of his many charitable events. It has been suggested that the Blues make a compassionate gesture and make Tony an official representative of the St. Louis Blues. Hopefully this negative can be turned into a positive for Blues fans and Twist fans as well.
The Blues gave some insight as to who they think are the top prospects in the organization. Fifteen players were selected to attend a camp designed to raise fitness awareness and inform the youngsters of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Those in attendance included Daniel Corso, Brent Johnson, Jan Horacek, Reed Low, Maxim Linnik, Jame Pollock, Tyler Rennette, Didier Tremblay, Brad Twordik, Cody Rudkowsky, Matt Smith, Jamie Thompson, and Jason Widmer.
Players present from this years draft class were Barret Jackman and Chad Starling. The three day mini-camp focused on weight training, speed development, dietary programs, media relations orientation, and drug and alcohol awareness. This off-ice program is something the Blues believe is a good investment. So many players are drafted and then are expected to develop into professional athletes without any direction or support from the organizations that own their rights. Larry Pleau implemented this plan a year ago and only good things have resulted. Top players not in camp were Christian Backman, Ladislav Nagy, and Andrei Podkonicky
With the 17th pick in the 1999 NHL entry draft the St. Louis Blues are proud to select… Barret Jackman.
The Blues have built an impressive stable of forward prospects in a short period of time, but depth on the blue line was obviously a concern at the draft on Saturday. Barret Jackman, the first of six defenseman selected, stands only 6’0-1/2″ tall, but could grow an inch or so by the time he’s ready for the NHL. One of the most physical players in the draft, Barret throws his 200 Ibs. around very well, and is a strong skater with excellent hockey sense. He reads the play well at both ends of the ice. He won’t put up big offensive numbers, but don’t be fooled by his 259 penalty minutes. He had 8 goals and 36 assists good for 44 points; an improvement from last years 13 points as a rookie. With his hard accurate slapshot and willingness to join the rush, Barret could develop into a 30 to 45 point defenseman in the NHL.
Peter Smrek, another defenseman, was discovered by European scout Peter Stastny. Smrek’s play at the World Junior Championships had his draft stock rising, and even at 20 years old the Blues took a chance on him in the third round.
Chad Starling, the fourth round pick by the Blues, is a hulking defenseman that uses his reach to his advantage but needs to get stronger and more physical. At 6-6 207lbs. he already has the size, he just needs to improve his puck skills and skating. Starling is definitely a project and will need plenty of time to develop.
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.
September 1998 will go down in Blues annals as one of change with an optimistic eye toward the future. This camp was the first one in more than 10 years in which Brett Hull was not present. Also missing from last year’s roster were defenceman Steve Duchesne and forwards Blair Atcheynum and Darren Turcotte.
The Blues made no major trades over the summer and the training camp would provide an opportunity for some of the Blues’ new young talent to step to the forefront.
The major holes the Blues were looking to fill were a #2 center, which would enable Pavol Demitra to move to wing, a checking line RW to replace Blair Atcheynum, provided Scott Young was playing on one of the top two lines, and a scoring line LW, where the Blues have little depth. The Blues have good depth on defence and appear to be set in goal with Grant Fuhr and Jamie McLennan.