Blues 2003 draft evaluation

By Ian Altenbaugh

The St. Louis Blues had 12 total picks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, including three in the third round of what was universally considered to be a deep draft. Five players to date have made an appearance in the NHL, three with little more than a cup of coffee. 

Shawn Belle, D – 1st round, 30th overall (Tri-City Americans, WHL)
NHL games: 9
Status: NHL Prospect
Drafted 30th overall for his strong skating, the 6’1 defenseman returned to his WHL team for another two years. After being traded to the Dallas Stars before 2004-05 season, Belle finished his fifth and final year in juniors, posting an impressive 13 goals and 32 assists in 62 games. 

In the 2005-06 season, Belle made his pro debut with Dallas’ AHL affiliate the Iowa Stars. He played 45 games and posted three points before being traded at the deadline with Martin Skoula to the Minnesota Wild for Willie Mitchell and a second-round pick in the 2007 draft. Belle finished 2005-06 the season with five points in 61 games split between the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, and the Iowa Stars. 

Belle finally made his NHL debut in the 2006-07 season after Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster was hit in the throat with a puck. Belle made the most of his opportunities finishing with one assist and a +4 in nine games.  Since his brief call-up, however, Belle has not appeared in any NHL games and has remained a regular on the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. 

David Backes, RW
– 2nd round, 62nd overall (Lincoln Stars, USHL)
NHL games: 121
Status: NHL Player

Drafted with the pick that sent Cory Stillman to Tampa Bay, Backes opted to go to Minnesota State-Mankato to work on his strength and skating.  While there, he averaged 1.03 points per game as one of Mankato’s top scorers over three seasons. 

Backes made the jump to the pros after he finished up the 2005-06 season with Minnesota State, appearing in 12 regular season and three playoff games for the Peoria Rivermen where he averaged just under a point per game.  After starting the next season for the Rivermen, Backes made his NHL debut for the Blues against the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 19th, 2006, notching an assist and three shots in just over ten minutes of play. He went on to have a productive rookie season, collecting 10 goals and 13 assists in 49 games.

Backes made the NHL roster out of training camp in 2007 and despite a knee injury sustained in early November, he appeared in 72 games, posting 13 goals and 18 assists. The 6’2, 200lb winger averaged 14:41 a game in 2007-08, playing on both the power play and penalty kill in addition to his regular five-on-five shift. 

Konstantin  Barulin, G – 3rd round, 84th overall (Tyumen Gazovik, Rus-1)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

Barulin saw his draft stock rise in his 2002-03 season in the Russian Vysshaya Liga because of an excellent performance for the Gazovik Tyumen, posting a 17-9-2 record and a 1.69 GAA. CSS’s top rated European goaltender was drafted by the Blues because his size and hybrid style of play which allowed him to take up most of the net.  After being drafted, he opted to stay in Russia, playing for various Russian national teams and the Gazovik Tyumen until the 2005-06 season when he went to Spartak Moscow to play in the Russian Super League, posting a 13-12-3 record and a 2.08 GAA. 

Barulin continues to play in the RSL for Khimik and won the Pajulahti Cup in 2007. The young goaltender started the 2006-07 season as a backup but by the end of the season was the starter, appearing in 18 games and posting a respectable 6-6-3 record with a 2.16 GAA.  Barulin re-signed with Khimik for the 2007-08 season. 

The young goaltender is still considered a good young prospect but would likely require several seasons to fully adjust to the North American style of game.  Unless he is offered a one-way contract with some sort of try-out clause it is unlikely Barulin will appear in a North American professional hockey game. 

Zack Fitzgerald, D
– 3rd round, 88th overall (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)
NHL Games: 1
Status: NHL bust

Fitzgerald was drafted in 2003 because of his ability to punish opponents in his own end.  The 6’1 214lb defenseman led his WHL team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, in PIM that season.  In his four seasons with the Thunderbirds, Fitzgerald averaged 213 PIMs a season.

In 2005-06, Fitzgerald made made his professional debut with the ECHL Alaska Aces.  In his first pro season, the Minnesota native appeared in 12 games and had six fights before being promoted in December to the AHL Rivermen where he appeared in 13 more games and got in five fights. 

In his second professional season, Fitzgerald again started with the Rivermen but remained on the roster this time, appearing in 29 total games and dropping the gloves five times.  In March, the Blues reassigned Fitzgerald to the ECHL where he appeared in 24 games for the Aces, including 14 playoff games. 

In August 2007 Fitzgerald was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Francois-Pierre Guenette.  The 22-year-old started on the Canucks’ AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose, posting eight points in 48 games.  Fitzgerald was recalled by Vancouver in early February, appearing in one game before immediately being sent back down to the AHL where he finished out his season. 

Fitzgerald will likely remain an average minor league defenseman who will get an occasional call-up to the NHL if the right circumstances arise because of the on-ice intensity he can offer.  

Konstantin Zakharov, C – 3rd round, 101st overall (Minsk Juniors, Belarus)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The 6’1 forward from Belarus was hailed drafted for his production in the 2003 WJC18 tournament where he posted 5 goals and 11 assists in 6 games.  The Blues took a chance on Zakharov, drafting him in the 101st overall despite many scouts believing his impressive numbers where a byproduct of playing alongside Andrei Kostytsin. 

Zakharov decided to go to North America the following season and seemingly put detractors to rest with an impressive 33 goals in 55 games playing for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.

For the 2004-05 season the talented forward made the jump to the AHL where he had a disappointing season, scoring 4 goals and picking up 10 assists in 59 games for the Worcester IceCats.  The next season the Blues assigned Zakharov to their ECHL affiliate, the Alaska Aces, where he appeared in eight games and left abruptly to go back to the Belarus League, playing for Junost Minsk.  Back in Europe the young forward had another productive season, picking up 29 points in 36 games.

In the 2006-07 season, Zakharov returned to North America and was assigned to the Blues new AHL affiliate, the Rivermen.  After posting a modest 8 goals and 6 assists in 32 games with Peoria, Zakharov returned to Junost Minsk in the Belarus League where he will likely continue to play hockey for the rest of his career.

Alexandre Bolduc, C
– 4th round, 127th overall (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

The first pick of the second day of the draft, Bolduc saw his draft stock plummet after a disappointing second season due to injuries and changes behind the bench.  The Blues drafted the 6’3 center 127th overall hoping his disappointing sophomore season in the QMJHL was an aberration. 

Bolduc saw his production increase in his third season playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies where he posted 58 points in 65 games.  Bolduc’s fourth season in the QMJHL was disappointing as he posted only 17 goals and 17 assists split between the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Shawinigan Cataractes. 

The Blues gave up their rights to Bolduc in the summer of 2005 and the forward signed with the Vancouver Canucks who assigned him to the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.  After a few games there, Bolduc was called up to play for the Manitoba Moose on December 14th.  He split the remainder of the season between the ECHL and AHL. 

In the 2006-07 season, Bolduc again split time between the Manitoba Moose and Bakersfield Condors.  The 2007-08 season saw Bolduc’s trips to Bakersfield end where he played appeared in 70 games for the Moose scoring 18 goals and picking up 19 assists. 

Bolduc will likely start for the Moose next season. However, his development through the pro ranks suggests that he may get an opportunity at some point next season to play in the NHL.  

Lee Stempniak, RW
– 5th round, 148th overall (Dartmouth College, NCAA)
NHL Games: 219
Status: NHL Regular

The most successful pick by the Blues in the 2003 draft, Stempniak was taken in the fifth round because of his upside and character. The winger had average size at 5’11 but posted good numbers in 2003-03 for Dartmouth, scoring 21 goals and picking up 28 assists in 34 games.  Stempniak would go on to finish out his college career picking up 151 points in a team record 135 games over four seasons.

After his illustrious college career, the former captain at Dartmouth signed with the Blues in the summer of 2005 and made the NHL roster out of training camp.  He scored his first goal on Nov. 4 and had a fairly productive rookie year, scoring 14 goals and getting 13 assists despite the fact he was sent back to the AHL on more than one occasion.  The 2006-07 season saw Stempniak post personal highs in goals (27), points (52), and games played (82) as well as establish himself as a top-six winger in the NHL. 

After signing the first big contract of his career, Stempniak’s third NHL season was considered something of a disappointment scoring only 13 goals and 38 points in 80 games for the Blues.  The talented winger saw a decline in his production in 2007-08 in part due to Brad Boyes replacing him on the top power play unit and Stempniak seeing his role on the team diversified as he spent much more time playing in short-handed situations. 

Stempniak remains an important part of the Blues future and is signed through the 2009-10 season. 

Chris Beckford-Tseu, G – 5th round, 159th overall (Oshawa Generals, OHL)
NHL Games: 1
Status: NHL Prospect

Beckford-Tseu has seen his stock rise since being drafted.  Considered a project in when the Blues drafted him in 159th overall, the 6’2 goaltender impressed in the 2003-04 season training camp even though he was sent back to the Oshawa Generals. The Generals that year did not did not perform as well as the previous season and the young goaltender’s numbers, 1-5-2 with a 3.26 GAA, reflected that. He saw a change of environment when he was traded to the Kingston Frontenacs where finished the season 17-24-4 with a 3.30 GAA between the two teams. 

In 2004-05, Beckford-Tseu signed a pro contract with the St. Louis Blues and ultimately assigned to the Peoria Rivermen of the ECHL. In a backup role he posted a 2.71 GAA and a .908 save percentage with 11-12-3 record. 

The following year the young goaltender posted a microscopic 1.87 GAA with the Alaska Aces, eventually leading them to victory in the Kelly Cup playoffs. Beckford-Tseu also saw 16 games of playing time for the Peoria Rivermen where he posted a 6-5-1 record and a 3.01 GAA. He was also called up to the NHL, appearing in a backup position for the Blues on three different occasions.

Beckford-Tseu played for the Peoria Rivermen in 2006-07, posting 2.72 and a .900 save percentage with a 12-11-4, splitting starts between Marek Schwarz and Jason Bacashihua.

The 23-year-old was not tendered a qualifying offer in 2007, making him an unrestricted free-agent.  He signed an ECHL contract with affiliate Alaska, but later was picked up by the Blues when they needed him.  The young goaltender split the season between Alaska and Peoria before being called up to the NHL in February where he appeared in relief for Manny Legace in a Feb. 21 loss against the Los Angeles Kings

Beckford-Tseu’s future with the Blues remains uncertain with Schwarz and Bishop ahead of him on the NHL depth chart. 

Jonathan Lehun, C
– 6th round, 189th overall (St. Cloud State, NCAA)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

After playing for St. Cloud State in 2002 and posting 16 points in 35 games, Lehun was drafted 189th overall in 2003. The following season, the 6’ forward went to the OHL and played for the Owen Sound Attack. In his first season with the Sound Attack, Lehun scored 13 goals and picked up 24 assists in 58 games.  In the 2004-05 season, Lehun scored 17 goals and picked up 33 assists in 58 games.

In the summer of 2005, the Blues opted to not sign Lehun and eventually the young forward signed with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.  Lehun would see himself get traded to Pensacola Ice Pilots in January where he did not receive much playing time.  Lehun finished the 2005-06 season playing for the Berlin Polar Bears of the German Ice Hockey League where they would go on to win the championship. 

Lehun resigned with the Florida Panthers organization in the off-season and was assigned to the Everblades in October.  Eventually Lehun was sent up to the AHL for a few days and made two appearances for the Rochester Americans.  Lehun posted respectable numbers for the Everblades in the playoffs, scoring 2 goals and 6 assists in 10 games.  Lehun seemed to come out of the gates strong for the Everblades, in the 2007-08 season, he posted 6 points in 11 games before spending the remainder of the season on the IR. 

After a major injury that wiped out most of his last season, there are questions as to whether Lehun will play professional hockey again.  If he continues to play, then he will remain a minor-league regular. 

Evgeny Skachkov, LW – 7th round, 221st overall (Kapitan Jrs, Russia)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

A high-risk draft for the Blues, the 6’0 forward was drafted under the belief that he would develop at CSKA Moscow. Having only appeared in one game for the Super League team, he was assigned to CSKA-2 where he scored 30 goals in and 15 assists in 59 games.  Skachkov then signed with Spartak of the RSL the next season and posted 2 assists in 9 games.  With his career in peril, Skachkov eventually settled with Chelyabinsk Traktor where he scored 13 goals to go along with 9 assists.

The young winger signed again with Chelyabinsk Traktor for the 2007-08 season where he scored a career highs in goals (14) and assists (13) and games (53).  Skachkov appeared in three playoff games where he scored 1 goal and finished a -1. 

Considered a reach at the time he was drafted, Skachkov has yet to play a professional North American hockey game and that seems likely to change. 

Andrei Pervyshin, D – 8th round, 253rd overall (Yaroslavl Jrs, Russia)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

Having fallen to the eighth round due to his size, the 5’9 defenseman seemed too skilled for the Blues to pass up so they drafted him 253rd overall.  The young blueliner signed on to Spartak where he scored 3 goals and had 6 assists in 61 games.  More impressive though was his +29.   Pervyshin joined a stacked Kazan Ak-Bars team the following season, and while he appeared in 57 games, his numbers were modest with just 3 assists.

The diminutive defenseman followed up his 2004-05 season with another decent outing with Kazan Ak-Bars.  In his second season with the club Pervyshin posted 3 goals and 7 assists in 48 games.  More importantly, however, for Pervyshin’s 2005-06 season was how he helped Kazan Ak-Bars win the Russian Championship against Avangard Omsk. 

After his championship season, Pervyshin skated again with the Ak-Bars and finished the 2006-07 season with 5 goals, 8 assists, and 71 PIM in 45 games.  His team again made it to the RSL championship finals, this time losing to Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Pervyshin continued to grow with Ak-Bars for the 2007-08 season where he 7 goals and 8 assists in 55 games while continuing to hone his two-way game. 

The smaller defenseman will likely never play a game for the St. Louis Blues since they boast an already large group of young defenseman who should be ready for the NHL in the next two years. If Pervyshin ever decides to make the trip to North America though it is likely at least one team will take a chance on his puck-moving abilities. 

Juha-Matti Aaltonen, F
– 9th round, 284th overall (Karpat Jrs, Finland)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The Blues final pick and the ninth to last pick of the 2003 draft, Aaltonen was considered a steal by some because of his previous projections as a mid-round pick. Because of his tendency to over handle the puck and occasional soft play, Aaltonen was considered a project.

The forward scored career-high points in 2003-04 playing for Karpat Jr, where he scored 30 goals in 32 games while posting a +34. The 2004-05 season saw Aaltonen post career high points in 50 (27 goals, 23 assists) in 34 games.  Aaltonen had his breakout season with Karpat in 2005-06 when he scored 13 goals, 12 assists, and posted a +10 in 50 games. 

The 5’11 scorer saw his numbers increase dramatically the following season as he scored 11 goals and 21 assists in 53 matches during the 2006-07 season.  The next season Aaltonen scored 9 goals and picked up 17 assists in 44 games.  The forward also appeared in 15 playoff games, scoring 3 goals and 2 assists. Aaltonen remains far from being an NHL player and is quickly seeing his window of opportunity in North America close.