Blues 1999 draft evaluation

By Brian Weidler

The 1999 NHL Entry Draft was notable for the Blues, for a number of<br />reasons

The 1999 NHL Entry
Draft was notable for the St. Louis Blues, for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, it was the first time in
a decade when the Blues had a first-round pick in back-to-back drafts.  And, just as they did in 1988 and 1989 when
they took Rod Brind’Amour and Jason Marshall in successive years, the Blues
used those back-to-back first-round picks wisely.  In 1998, they chose Swede Christian Backman 24th overall, and in
1999, chose a player who went on to win the Calder Trophy, Barrett Jackman.


1999 was also the first draft in years when the Blues had
ten or more selections.  The last time
they’d had so many picks was when they hosted the draft in 1996.  That draft yielded a pair of NHL regulars in
Marty Reasoner (14th overall) and Reed Low (177th overall).


Finally, the 1999 draft was the year when the Blues really
began to put emphasis on the development of a stable of defense prospects.  They took five defensemen with their ten
picks in 1999, including their first four picks.  Five years later, three of those defensemen are still with the
organization, two playing in the NHL and one a very solid prospect. 


Overall, out of the 1999 draft, the Blues have ended up with
two NHL players, two good prospects, and six busts.  The two players and two prospects are still with the Blues
organization.  Two of the busts will be
playing in Europe next year, two more are playing in the lower minor leagues,
and one has apparently given up on the game altogether.  The ten picks have played a total of 410 NHL
games, for an average of 41 NHL games per pick. This total would be higher if
not for injury to Jackman last season.



Jackman, D
— 1st Round, 17th overall (WHL –

Status:  NHL Player

NHL Games Played: 98


When the Blues drafted Jackman in 1999, he was the fourth
blueliner chosen in the draft up to that point, behind Branislav Mezei, Jeff
Jillson, and David Tanabe.  A strong
case can be made that Jackman is the best of the four.


The Blues, who already had a great one-two punch on defense
in Al Macinnis and Chris Pronger, planned to bring Jackman along slowly and not
rush him to the NHL.  The plan, the
Blues said, was for Jackman to develop into a dominant defenseman at his
current level before moving him to the next one.  So Jackman went back to the WHL, and spent the next two years
doing just that.


Jackman’s leadership qualities and toughness became almost
legendary in his junior career.  Just
one example can be found during the World Junior Championships in 2000, when he
opted to freeze his injured shoulder in order to play, rather than sit out an
important game for his country.  The
feeling began to grow in Blues Country that they had a special player coming
down the pike.


Upon turning pro with AHL affiliate Worcester IceCats in
2001-02, Jackman took the next step in his development, and wasted little time
in establishing himself as a physical presence and yes, even as a dominating
player at the AHL level.  Despite
playing only one year at Worcester, Jackman left such an impression there that
he was named to the starting lineup for the IceCats’ Tenth Anniversary team.


Onward and upward for Jackman the next season, where he
played all 82 games for the Blues in 2002-03, pairing with future Hall of Famer
Macinnis for 20 minutes of ice time per night. 
Jackman used those minutes to good advantage, racking up three goals, 19
points, 190 PIM, a +23 mark, and a ton of respect around the league,
culminating in the 2003 Calder Trophy for the NHL’s top rookie.


Jackman missed most of the 2003-04 season with a shoulder
injury, but if his career progression to date is any indication, he will be
back strong as ever in 2004-05, ready to continue his rise to the elite levels
of NHL defensemen.



Smrek, D
— 3rd Round, 85th Overall (USHL – Des Moines)

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games Played: 28


In 1999, the Blues, with Peter Stastny’s help, were
developing a reputation as the organization for Slovakian players to
find an NHL home.  The "Slovak
Pack" of Pavol Demitra, Michal Handzus, and Lubos Bartecko had just been
put together, and draftee Ladislav Nagy was starting to make his presence felt
in the organization.  It made sense,
then, for the Blues to start looking for Slovak defensemen as well.  After missing out on Mezei and Kristian
Kudroc, they settled on Peter Smrek with the 85th pick overall.


Blessed with decent size at 6’1”, 215 pounds, and a nice set
of skills to go with the size, Smrek came right out of the USHL to play the
2000-01 season with Worcester, where he scored a respectable five goals and 24
points.  He got his NHL shot with the
Blues in the following season, and was impressive from the get-go, scoring in
his first NHL game.


Looking for veteran help on defense for the annual playoff
run, the Blues sent Smrek to the Rangers at the deadline for Alexei
Gusarov.  Smrek never caught on in the
Big Apple, and bounced around to the Nashville and Ottawa organizations before
signing to play in Germany for the 2004-05 season.



Starling, D
— 4th Round, 114th Overall (WHL –

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games: 0


After seeing how well Chris Pronger had developed, the Blues
had hopes of drafting and developing another Pronger-like player.  This desire led them to draft the 6’6”,
205-pound Starling higher than he should have gone looking back.


Starling played another year in Kamloops after being drafted
by the Blues, then, in an unusual move, jumped to the OHL to play his last
junior-eligible season with Sudbury.  In
2001-02, he made his pro debut with Peoria (ECHL), where he has played the bulk
of his career.  He did appear in 34 AHL
games with Worcester in 2002-03, and attended Blues training camp in every
season since being drafted, but the Blues no longer consider him a prospect.



Byrne, D
— 5th Round, 143rd Overall (USHSE – Deerfield Academy)

Status:  NHL Prospect

NHL Games:  0


Continuing to build an impressive stable of defense
prospects, the Blues went to the New England prep school ranks to pick
themselves a plum in the 6’3”, 210-pound Byrne, who lists Detroit Red Wings’
star Derian Hatcher as his favorite player and role model.


Byrne quickly became a Hatcher-like player at the college
level, appearing in every one of the 130 games Dartmouth College played between
October 1999 and April 2003.  Byrne’s
size and 158 career PIM established him as a physical presence for the Big
Green, and he also chipped in offensively with 21 career goals and 83 career
points.  He served as Dartmouth’s
captain in his junior and senior years, was an ECAC second team All-Star
selection in 2001 and 2002, and All-Ivy League as a senior.


Byrne signed with the Blues in the summer of 2003, and
played for them at the Traverse City prospect tournament before attending
training camp and spending most of his rookie year in Worcester.  The big blueliner scored seven goals and 20
points as a rookie, and looks to be ready for a cup of coffee at the NHL level,
perhaps as soon as the 2004-05 season. 
Byrne’s upside has been projected as high as a potential No. 3
defenseman for the Blues.



Vikingstad, LW
— 6th Round, 180th Overall (SEL –

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games:  0


Despite having one of the best hockey names ever, and a
6’4”, 205-pound frame to carry it on, the Blues’ first non-defense pick in 1999
has been an unqualified bust.  He has
attended training camp with the team every season since being drafted, but
every year ends up being returned to Europe, where he seems to have settled in
comfortably with the Dusseldorf MetroStars of the German League.  Vikingstad, at age 28, can no longer be considered
a prospect, and will probably not be at camp in 2004.



Phil Osaer, G
— 7th Round, 203rd Overall (CCHA – Ferris State University)

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games:  0


Osaer was, at one time, a possibility for the Blues’
"goalie of the future."  He has
good size at 6’1”, 190 pounds, and followed up a decent college career with a
strong rookie performance for Peoria in 2001-02.  In that season for the Rivermen, Osaer was 16-11-2 in 29 games,
with a 2.43 GAA, two shutouts, and a .912 save percentage.  He moved up to Worcester the next year,
where he was 9-9-3 in 24 appearances, with a 2.89 GAA, one shutout, and a save
percentage of .887.


Osaer was cut loose by the Blues because of his failure to
impress at Worcester, and he is currently trying to catch on with the Rangers
organization, on a PTO with AHL Hartford. 
His regular-season numbers for the Wolfpack were decent (8-10-2, 2.22
GAA, .913 save percentage), but he hasn’t played a minute of Hartford’s playoff



Colin Hemingway, RW
— 8th Round, 221st Overall (BCJHL – South Surrey)

Status:  NHL Prospect

NHL Games:  0


Hemingway, a late-round pick with great potential, has been
considered one of the Blues’ top prospects since his emergence as a junior at
New Hampshire in 2001-02.  He finished
his career with the Wildcats by playing in the NCAA Championship game in 2003,
and scored 67 goals and 148 points in four seasons at UNH.  The 6’0”, 195-pound RW was a Hockey East
All-Star in 2002 (first team) and 2003 (second team), and an NCAA East
All-American (second team) in 2003.


Hemingway held out of the first week of training camp in
2003 before signing with the Blues, and that holdout ultimately cost him a
chance to establish himself at Worcester. 
He did play 13 games with the IceCats (2-0-2, 11 PIM, +1), but it was
with Peoria where he truly established himself as an up-and-coming young


In 36 games with the Rivermen, Hemingway managed 20 goals
(including five on the power play, and three each game-winners and first
goals), 44 points, 34 PIM and a very nice +29. 
He was involved in some minor off-ice controversy, but by all accounts,
handled himself very well on the ice in Peoria, and has positioned himself to
remain near the top of the Blues’ prospect depth chart.  Hemingway projects to be a second-line
scoring winger with speed and some grit, after a little more seasoning in the
American League.



Alexander Khavanov, D
— 8th Round, 232nd Overall (RSL – Moscow Dynamo)

Status:  NHL Player

NHL Games: 284


Khavanov has been a true late-round find for the Blues.  Already 27 years old when drafted by the
Blues, he was a player from whom not much was expected by most.  The attitude was, if he comes over right
away and makes a contribution, great. 
If not, then he was only an eighth-round pick anyway, and it was no big


Interestingly enough, Khavanov had already had a brief taste
of North American hockey before being drafted, as he played 36 games with
Raleigh and Birmingham of the ECHL in the 1992-93 season (no goals, nine
points, 22 PIM) before returning to his native Russia.


The 6-02, 205-pound Muscovite stayed in Europe for one more
season after being drafted, posting five goals, 17 points, and 49 PIM in 38
games with Dynamo in 1999-2000.  The
next year, Khavanov stepped right into the Blues’ lineup, and posted very
respectable numbers (7-16-23, 52 PIM, +16 in 74 games).  He followed that up with a 24-point (three
goals, 21 assists) campaign in 2001-02, and a career-high 33 points (eight
goals, 25 assists) in 2003-03.


Khavanov has been a solid fourth or fifth defenseman for the
Blues in the past, and in 2003-04 was asked to step up and be more of a #2 with
the injuries to Macinnis and Jackman. 
Khavanov seemed a little overwhelmed by that role, and also missed a
number of games himself due to a broken toe and other foot injuries.  He has, however, averaged about 20 minutes
per game in his career so far, and can be counted upon for about five or six
goals and 25 points in a full season. 
Many are often frustrated by what seems to be a lack of intensity or
defensive awareness on Khavanov’s part, but a +27 for three and a half NHL
seasons is testament to his ability to make the smart play on defense more
often than not.



Brian McMeekin, D
— 9th Round, 260th Overall (ECAC – Cornell University)

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games:  0


A big (6’4”, 205) left-shooting defenseman, the Blues had
hoped for McMeekin to be yet another of the late-round gems that former chief
scout Ted Hampson was so good a finding, especially from the college
ranks.  Drafted after his freshman year
at Cornell, the Blues were looking for McMeekin to spend the next three years
developing into a dominating physical presence with leadership potential.  An injury cut his sophomore season short after
only 11 games, and ordinary junior and senior performances led the Blues to
forego offering McMeekin a contract after graduation.  He played 17 games in the ECHL with Trenton and Florida in
2002-03, and was nowhere to be found on the ice in 2003-04.



James Desmarais, C
— 9th Round, 270th Overall (QMJHL – Rouyn-Noranda)

Status:  NHL Bust

NHL Games:  0


At first glance, the 5’10”, 175-pound Desmarais looked like
a good bet to be yet another late-round gem for the Blues.  He made a great case for his offensive
abilities in his draft year, with 62 goals and 135 points for Rouyn-Noranda,
but his size (or lack of it) caused him to slip to the late rounds.  As a rookie in 1999-2000, Desmarais posted
very respectable numbers with Peoria (26-33-59 with 51 PIM in 59 games), and
even appeared in eight AHL games with Worcester.  That’s as close as he ever got to the Blues, however.  He spent the next couple of seasons toiling
mostly in the ECHL, and last year split time between the Quebec Semi Pro League
and Adirondack of the UHL.