Blues 2004 draft preview

By Brian Weidler

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

Blues Top 10 Prospects

1. Peter Sejna, LW

2. Konstantin Zakharov, LW

3. Jay McClement, C

4. Shawn
Belle, D

5. Alexei Shkotov, C-RW

6. Trevor
Byrne, D

7. Konstantin Barulin, G

8. David Backes, C-RW

9. John
Pohl, C

10. Colin
Hemingway, RW

Team Needs


The Blues
most immediate needs are for a young, capable goaltender, more scoring help on
the wings, and possibly another defenseman in the four-to-six range. None of these needs will be addressed
immediately by players selected in the draft since the Blues don’t draft until
No. 17, but one or more of these areas could be addressed in a draft day deal
which would see the Blues trade down for a later first round pick and a player.

The Blues would like to reduce payroll significantly, but aren’t likely to
allow Pavol Demitra to depart as an unrestricted free agent by failing to
qualify him, nor are they likely to move Keith Tkachuk
thanks to a no-trade clause in his contract (and his chemistry with
Demitra). Qualifying Demitra and then
trading him, or convincing Doug Weight to waive his no-trade clause, are the
most likely off-season trade scenarios for the Blues.


A concern
for the Blues is that, beyond Demitra and Tkachuk,
the depth chart at forward features only four players (Weight, Eric Boguniecki, and free agents Mike Sillinger
and Dallas Drake) who have scored 20 goals in an NHL season. Most of the rest of the forwards are grinders
like Ryan Johnson and Mark Rycroft, who are good
skaters with energy, but not accomplished scorers at the NHL level.


Also a concern
for the Blues in this draft is that even though they’ll be choosing at No. 17,
which is higher than they have in almost a decade, there isn’t a sure-fire
blue-chip scoring prospect projected to be available at that point of the
draft. The scoring forwards that do
project to be available come with question marks that may lead the Blues to
make a "safer" pick.


Organizational Strengths


The Blues
have a solid top five on the defense depth chart, and there’s more defensive
talent in the pipeline. American League
defensive prospects Mike Stuart and Trevor Byrne are close to NHL-ready right
now. Brett Scheffelmaier
and Aaron MacKenzie are at least a year away,
however, and junior prospects Shawn Belle, Zack FitzGerald,
Robin Jonsson, and tiny-but-skilled Andrei Pervyshin are two to four years away.


The Blues
are also developing a decent stable of goaltending prospects. Reinhard Divis is the greybeard of the group at 28, too old for
prospect status, but he’s played well in two years with Worcester, and became
the Blues full-time backup after Brent Johnson was sent packing at the trade
deadline. Curtis Sanford is also at the
cutoff age for prospect status, but he had statistically his best season ever
with AHL affiliate Worcester this year, and is expected to push hard for a job
in St. Louis next year.


The Blues
also have junior prospects Chris Beckford-Tseu at
Kingston (OHL), and Euros Tuomas Nissinen
and Konstantin Barulin. Nissinen
backstopped Finland to a bronze medal at the 2002 WJC (ahead of Atlanta’s über-prospect Kari Lehtonen),
and may be in Worcester next year after two seasons in Finland’s top
league. Barulin
wowed Canadian audiences in the RE/MAX Canada Russia Challenge last winter,
facing an average of over 40 shots per game, and keeping an overmatched Russian
team in games against all-star teams from the three major junior leagues.


The Blues
also have good organizational depth at center, with John Pohl and Jay McClement in
Worcester, along with Blake Evans (who can
also play left wing) and checker Greg Black.
In addition, the Blues have collegian David Backes
(who can also play right wing) and juniors Tomas Troliga,
Alexandre Bolduc, Jonathan Lehun and Russian Dimitri Semin on deck.


Organizational Weaknesses


The Blues
have been pigeonholed as a bottom-tier developmental organization in every
ranking for the last decade. Despite
having developed a Calder winner in the last two seasons, and despite having as
many prospects with legitimate NHL futures as any other organization, the Blues
remain the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL largely for one reason: the lack of a recognized blue-chip scoring
forward prospect in the organization.
Even excellent rookie seasons by Konstantin Zakharov (49 points in 55 games with Moncton)
and Alexei Shkotov (67 points in 43 games with Moncton and Quebec) in the QMJHL have done little to
convince observers that the Blues have that "sexy" offensive dynamo
in the system at this time.


prospect Peter Sejna was expected to be that
offensive diamond-in-the-rough for the Blues this year, but a rugged start to
his first full pro season saw him exiled to Worcester, where he was able to
right the ship and play well down the stretch.


There are
talented forwards at Worcester, Sejna being the most
notable, but none are ready to step in and make an impact in the NHL right
now. Sejna,
Pohl, and possibly McClement may, however, be ready
for NHL spot duty as early as next season.


Right wing
Colin Hemingway took a bit of a backward step as a rookie, and spent most of
the year in
Peoria of the ECHL, where he played well
(20 goals, 44 points, +29 in 36 games).
There are also some other fairly high-end wingers in the pipeline (Zakharov, Shkotov, Backes and Finnish junior league whiz Juha-Matti
Aaltonen), but all are two to four years away at
minimum from contributing in the NHL.

Draft Tendencies


The 2004
draft marks the second draft with the Blues for Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen. Last year, in his first draft with the Blues,
Kekalainen had 12 picks to work with. In his previous positions with Ottawa, Kekalainen had input in drafts from 1996 through 2002, but
no clear tendencies emerge from those drafts.
At the seven drafts in which Kekalainen
participated for the Senators, they used their first round pick twice to select
a defenseman, four times to select a forward, and once for a goalie.

The general draft philosophy of the Blues under Larry Pleau’s
regime as GM has been to select the best player available per their depth
chart, and the Blues depth chart doesn’t always conform to conventional
wisdom. The selection of Shkotov 48th overall in 2002 is an example; the experts had
Shkotov ranked much lower, mainly because of his


allowed Kekalainen to exert a great influence on last
year’s draft, and Kekalainen showed that he’s not
afraid to follow the Blues trend and take a chance on a skilled player when
others have questions about him. Shawn
Belle was pegged by scouts as having questionable hockey sense, but was called
by Kekalainen "the best athlete I’ve ever
seen." Also, because of questions about his ability to play consistently
at a high level, Zakharov (whom some had pegged as a
possible late first-round selection) fell to the third round, where Kekalainen and the Blues snagged him with the 101st pick.


most likely to be taken in the first round
(Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Alexander
Radulov, RW