The Blues are Gritting Their Teeth

By Larry Deutsch

In the post-Slovakian era, the entire St. Louis Blues organization is
struggling mightily to succeed with an ever-evolving new identity. A system
once defined by speed and finesse with a European flare has been completely
overhauled over the past couple of years. General Manager Larry Pleau
sacrificed a fathom or two of the organization’s legendary depth in his
quest to assemble a squad capable of Stanley Cup success.

As an organization, the Blues have done an outstanding job in recent history
with player development, turning several marginal prospects into legitimate
NHLers. Although the knock against the system has been their failure to
produce a single legitimate superstar, they were working with some fairly
low draft positions. Jochen Hecht, Michal Handzus, Marty Reasoner, and
Ladislav Nagy were developed into good enough NHL players to be used as
trade bait in the acquisitions of superstar forwards Keith Tkachuk and Doug

Now, it would seem, the desired attribute is an intangible characteristic
known as “grit.” All hockey clich├ęs aside, (standing up for a teammate,
never taking a shift off, taking your lumps to score a goal) in the grand
scheme things, grit is simply the willingness to do whatever it takes to win
the Stanley Cup.

There are several players currently in the system who seem to embody this
rather nebulous concept and thereby represent the visible future of the

Pepperpot center Eric Boguniecki, continues to light up AHL goaltenders,
maintaining a point-per-game pace and could certainly see a call-up in 2002
due to the Blues’ lack of natural centers.

Winger Mark Rycroft, who enjoyed a cup of coffee in St. Louis during
October, is coming off of an outstanding rookie campaign in the AHL during
which he was voted Ice Cats rookie of the year while tying a franchise
record for goals by a rookie with 24.

Worcester’s Most Improved player for that same season was stay-at-home
defenseman Matt Walker who has demonstrated the desire to make adjustments
to his game in order to be successful at a professional level.

Another good candidate to become a consummate professional is two-way center
Jay McClement, the Blues first overall draft pick in 2001 is already a
veteran of international competition at the age of 18.

The very essence of grit and nastiness on the blue line, 20-year-old prized
prospect Barret Jackman notably averaged almost 8 minutes of penalties per
game in the Western Hockey League and continues to have success now in the

The New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche, as perennial Cup finalists,
are as good models as any for consistent success in the modern era.
Maintaining ever-important equilibrium between a veteran presence and
youthful exuberance, these teams seem to produce a promising rookie or two
each and every season. Of course, playing on an elite team and in front of
an All-World goaltender can cover up plenty of rookie mistakes, but the
product is undeniable.

In spite of their playoff-ready status, the Blues face legitimate concerns
about “putting the cart before the horse” and thereby entering the
postseason with a less-than-favorable seed. The Blues may have gone a bit
too far in their effort to make changes toward their “Stanley Cup or Bust”
campaign. Although 35 years without a Stanley Cup could make any
organization antsy, one must wonder if the Blues should show better patience
in future deals.