Blues Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Marek Schwarz
2. Jason Bacashihua
3. Jay McClement
4. Alexei Shkotov
5. David Backes
6. Peter Sejna
7. Carl Soderberg
8. Konstantin Zakharov
9. Viktor Alexandrov
10. Roman Polak
11. Konstantin Barulin
12. Dennis Wideman
13. Zack FitzGerald
14. Trevor Byrne
15. Joe DiSalvatore
16. Lee Stempniak
17. Ryan MacMurchy
18. Alexandre Bolduc
19. Juha-Matti Aaltonen
20. Michal Birner

1. Marek Schwarz, G – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 172 lbs., DOB: Apr. 1, 1986
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall, 2004

Schwarz, a first-round selection of the Blues in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, played last season in the Czech league, before accepting the invitation to come to play in North America. He has made a seamless transition to the North American game, compiling a solid 22-20-3 record in 47 appearances thus far this season for the mid-pack Vancouver Giants in the WHL. His best play of the season has come since Schwarz returned from the World Junior Championship. He performed admirably for the Czech Republic, helping lead his team to a bronze medal. Schwarz started six of the team’s seven games in the tournament, posting a low 2.15 goals against average and was named the best goaltender in the tournament. His successes in the World Junior Championship clearly have contributed to increased confidence in his play with Vancouver. Prior to the tournament, he had only posted average numbers, but since returning, the quick netminder has turned his game up a notch. While the win-loss differential has not changed much over the course of the season, Schwarz is giving his team a much better shot to win games in 2005 than he did in the latter part of 2004.

2. Jason Bacashihua, G – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 175 lbs., DOB: Sept. 20, 1982
Acquired: Trade with DAL, Jun. 25, 2004

Bacashihua is another of St. Louis’s strong collection of goaltending prospects – one of the team’s few strengths in regards to prospects. After two average seasons in the Dallas farm system with the Utah Grizzlies, Bacashihua caught the eye of the Blues, who parted ways with highly touted defenseman Shawn Belle to acquire Bacashihua at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Bacashihua reported to the Blues’ affiliate, the Worcester IceCats, where he was expected to serve as the backup for long-time minor leaguer Curtis Sanford. Bacashihua has been far more impressive than Sanford in the long run this season, nearly splitting time with the veteran. In nine fewer appearances, Bacashihua has the same number of wins (14) as his counterpart, and has the 12th best goals against average in the league, with a very respectable 2.26. Bacashihua seems to have remedied the consistency problems that plagued his stay with the Grizzlies, and if his play continues to remain above that of Sanford, the IceCats will have little option but to go with Bacashihua down the stretch. He made his case for gaining control of the No. 1 goaltending job back in January, when he was named the AHL’s player of the week on January 9th. However, he has recently been battling through some minor injuries. With Bacashihua and Marek Schwarz in their stable, goaltending should not be a problem in the future for the Blues.

3. Jay McClement, F – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 199 lbs., DOB: Mar. 2, 1983
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2001

The Blues drafted McClement in 2001 on the basis of his defensive play, and that is just what he has brought to the table since graduating from the junior ranks at the start of last season. In his first full season in professional hockey with the Blues farm team in Worcester, McClement compiled respectable offensive numbers, with 12 goals and 13 assists in 69 games. In his second full season, his numbers have not improved drastically, though he is on pace for a slightly higher point total. He currently sits with 10 goals and 17 assists in 50 games, four of those goals being short-handed markers, tying him with three others for first in the league in that category. However, his worth to the IceCats often cannot be measured under basic statistical categories. A great leader, and one of the best faceoff specialists in the league, McClement is called upon to take the key draw at the important point of the game. A prototypical shutdown forward, his path will eventually take him to the NHL, playing against the opposition’s top lines night in, night out.

4. Alexei Shkotov, F – Khimik Voskresensk (RSL)
Height: 5’10, Weight: 175 lbs., DOB: Jun. 22, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2002

Small and shifty, Shkotov is probably the best offensive prospect currently in the Blues system. Incredibly skilled with the puck, he has the ability to stickhandle through entire teams. He boasts an incredibly quick shot in his repertoire. But with all this skill, there is some baggage. He refused to report to the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats after they used an early selection on him in the 2002 Import Draft, and it was not until the following year that he reported, under the guidance of St. Louis’s scouting staff, to play with fellow Blues prospect Konstantin Zakharov. A logjam of import players developed, and after a handful of games, he was shipped off to the Quebec Remparts, where he tore off points at a nearly two point per game clip for the Remparts. In doing so, he nearly wholly neglected his play in his own zone, which is unfortunate because he can play well in both ends when he feels like it. He made the jump to the AHL this season, but midway through the 2004/05 campaign, after potting six goals and six assists, he returned to Russia to play for Khimik Voskresensk. He was having a very successful start, with four points in 12 games (with limited ice time) until he suffered a shoulder injury, which has kept him out for several weeks. It will be interesting to see how he recovers, and whether the injury will hamper his offensive play and overall development.

5. David Backes, F – Minnesota State Mavericks (WCHA)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: May 1, 1984
Acquired: 2nd round, 62nd overall, 2003

Backes was drafted for his blend of size and skill, and it is these attributes that are helping him do well with Minnesota State. He currently leads the team in points, with 14 goals and 32 points in as many games. A hard worker who is a dynamic playmaker, Backes uses his size to his advantage when carrying the puck. However, his physical play, in spite of his size, is not as noticeable as one would expect from a solid forward sporting a 6’3 frame. The product of the USHL is currently in his second season in the NCAA, leads his team in points with 32, 14 of which are goals (also first on the team). He has a knack for clutch goals, as he leads the team with three game winning goals, and is a force on the play. Backes is respectable in the faceoff circle, but is also able to play the wings. He is still a bit of a project, but he has shown the sort of promise this season that the Blues scouting staff was anticipating when they selected him in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. His skating still needs a bit of work, as does his consistency, but there is little reason to doubt that he can have an impact at the professional level. It will take time, though.

6. Peter Sejna, F – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Oct. 5, 1979
Acquired: Signed as free agent, April 2003

Sejna has tumbled down the prospect rankings this season, as a result of other players improving their games, something which Sejna has not done in his second full professional season. After playing some of last season with the Blues, Sejna was sent down to the AHL, where he compiled a very respectable 41 points in 59 games, good enough for third in the league among rookies. It was expected that Sejna, a goal scorer during his time in the USHL and the NCAA would improve drastically this season offensively, but that has not been the case. He has only managed 11 goals in 42 games this season – good enough only for fifth on a team that has struggled to find offense – and though he will surpass his goal totals from last season, and may challenge his point numbers, this season has to be labeled a disappointment for the former Hobey Baker award winner. Sejna is still getting an opportunity to play in all instances on the ice, and has managed a pair of short-handed goals, so he is still finding ways to contribute. While this season is not officially a lost cause, Sejna will need a solid finish and a great 2005-06 campaign in order to reverse his downward fall in the St. Louis depth chart. Already 25, his window of opportunity is small.

7. Carl Söderberg, F – IF Malmö Redhawks (SEL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 198 lbs., DOB: Oct. 12, 1985
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2004

It was expected that Söderberg would have a breakout season this year in the Swedish Elite League, and while the talented playmaker has dazzled with his blend of size and skill, the points have not year come for the talented 19-year-old. Through 36 games with Malmö’s top club, Söderberg has been held goalless, whilst compiling five assists. Söderberg is finding other ways to contribute that are not generally registered on the score sheet. He is playing responsible hockey in both ends of the rink, and is holding his own in the faceoff circle. He also currently has a -4 ranking, which is very respectable on a Malmö squad that is struggling mightily this season. Söderberg was one of the integral parts of Sweden’s World Junior Championship team that played in Grand Forks in December. In the tournament, seeing large quantities of ice time, Söderberg finished second on the team in scoring with four goals and two assists and an even plus/minus rating on a Swedish team that once again failed to medal. While his increase in playing time has not materialized this season, next season Söderberg should be given ample opportunity to showcase his strong skills. He is still a long distance away from the NHL, but given time, he will show why he is considered one of the bright spots in St. Louis’s future.

8. Konstantin Zakharov, F – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: May 2, 1985
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2003

Zakharov proved many skeptics wrong when he made a seamless transition to the North American game with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL last year. In his first season of North American hockey, Zakharov notched an impressive 33 goals, and gained valuable experience in the playoffs. While he was not the most consistent player, there was little doubt of his skill. His second year in North America has been far below what was anticipated. His time with the Worcester IceCats has yielded very little in the way of offense, picking up only three goals and three assists in 37 games, and posting a -5 rating. It appears as if his finesse style of play was more suitable for the QMJHL, and he will have to play more physical, and make his presence known more often in the defensive zone in order to make an adequate transition to the professional game. Zakharov was once again selected for Team Belarus at the World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, a team that was coached by his father. A poor start to the tournament led to sporadic playing time, but as the tournament progressed, he regained his consistency, finishing with three goals and two assists. With one year of professional hockey under his belt, Zakharov will have to be looking towards next year, more focused and ready to adapt to the nature of the professional game.

9. Viktor Alexandrov, F – Novokuznetsk Metallurg (RSL)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 165 lbs., DOB: Dec. 28, 1985
Acquired: 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2004

Alexandrov, the Blues third-round selection from the 2004 NHL Entry Draft is currently in his second season in the Russian Super League with Novokuznetsk Metallurg. The quick and skilled forward from Kazakhstan, who boasts a great mix of offensive skills with a deceptively aggressive style of play for someone as slight as he is, has already equalled his goal total (5) of last season, and has surpassed his point totals from last season. Though only 19 years old, Alexandrov sits ninth on his team in points. As he continues to make a case for increased ice time given what he has done with his limited playing time thus far, his offensive production should only increase, and continue to make scouts optimistic. Great with the puck, Alexandrov projects to be a potential scoring line winger, using his speed, shiftiness, and creativity to generate offense. After having played for Kazakhstan in past World Junior Championships, Alexandrov is now eligible to play for Russia international competition, though he was not chosen to compete at Grand Forks this season.

10. Roman Polak, D – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 198 lbs., DOB: Apr. 28, 1986
Acquired: 6th round, 180th overall, 2004

Roman Polak will not be leading the league in scoring from defensemen any time soon, but what he will bring to the table is competent defensive play with a mean, physical tinge to it. A classic stay-at-home defenseman, Polak is the highest-ranking defenseman in the St. Louis corps of prospects. Polak, a native of the Czech Republic, has performed admirably in his first year playing hockey in North America playing for the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice, picking up 19 points in 54 games thus far this season, though his main contributions generally do not appear on stat sheets. He plays a physical game, uses his strength and balance to keep the front of the net clear, and plays a very responsible game in his own end. Polak represented the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship in Grand Forks, picking up two assists for the bronze medal-winning team – an anchor on a young point. Still with plenty of time to further his offensive game while fine-tuning his defensive game, Polak should have no trouble adjusting to the professional game, if his first season in North America is any indication.

11. Konstantin Barulin, G – Gazovik Tyumen (Russian Upper League)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 185 lbs., DOB: Sep. 4, 1984
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2003

Barulin continues to play between the pipes for his hometown squad in Tyumen, his third season in the Russian Upper League. The third round pick from 2003, who has no glaring weaknesses in his repertoire, currently has a record of 10 wins, 11 losses, and 5 ties, with a very solid 2.00 goals against average for Gazovik Tyumen thus far this season. Too old for the World Junior Championship this season, Barulin instead competed in the University Games, serving as the starting goaltender for the gold medal-winning Russian team, boasting a record of five wins and one loss, including a 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the gold medal game.

12. Dennis Wideman, D – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: Mar. 20, 1983
Acquired: Signed as free agent, June 2004

Wideman has proven the Blues scouting staff to be visionaries thus far after being signed as a free agent back in June. Originally drafted by Buffalo, but going unsigned, Wideman has flourished offensively in the AHL with the Worcester IceCats. The two-way defenseman with great offensive instincts currently has 32 points (9 of which are goals), which is one point behind the team scoring leader, Blake Evans. In the last couple of weeks, however, Wideman’s play (as well as the play of the rest of the IceCats as a whole) has fallen off a bit, as he has gotten a bit more inconsistent at both ends of the ice.

13. Zack FitzGerald, D – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 210 lbs., DOB: Jun. 16, 1985
Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall, 2003

One word comes to mind when mentioning FitzGerald’s style of play: mean. Defensively responsible, offensively adequate, and very physical, the Seattle defenseman whom some have suggested has a bit of Scott Stevens in him, FitzGerald regularly ravages the opposition in his own end. One of the most feared enforcers in the league, FitzGerald has led by example, taking matters into his own hands, and doing his best to prevent the opposition from taking liberties on his teammates. However, sometimes he goes over the edge, as shown by his 185 penalty minutes, which put him fifth in the league. The fourth-year Thunderbirds defenseman currently has notched seven goals and 17 assists, while boasting an impressive +33 rating.

14. Trevor Byrne, D – Peoria Rivermen (ECHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: May 7, 1980
Acquired: 5th round, 143rd overall, 1999

Byrne has struggled thus far this season, his second in professional hockey. After a respectable first season with Worcester, wherein Byrne notched a solid 20 points, the offensive defenseman was expected to make a significant contribution to the IceCats this season. However, after a disappointing start to the season where he had only scored one goal in 33 games, Byrne was demoted to the ECHL. His offensive game has come back around with Peoria, as he has notched 10 points in 16 games. As the Ice Cats’ struggles continue, it should be just a matter of time before Byrne is recalled to the AHL, but as was feared at the start of the season, Byrne has quite a bit of work to do on his all-around game before he can truly make the next step, and have a shot at cracking the Blues roster.

15. Joe DiSalvatore, F – Worcester IceCats (AHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Mar. 30, 1981
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, April 2004

DiSalvatore has been one of the lone bright spots in a mediocre season for the IceCats. The free agent pick-up, who is known more for his defensive responsibility than his offensive exploits, currently leads the team in goal scoring with 16 goals, adding 15 assists – on the pace of his impressive first season with San Jose’s farm team, Cleveland, last season. A hard worker, DiSalvatore looks to be a potential third-line forward who can chip in a bit offensively while serving as a shutdown player against the opposition’s top forwards. His work ethic, more than his skill, will likely be the key contributing factor should DiSalvatore make it to the NHL.

16. Lee Stempniak, F – Dartmouth Big Green (ECAC)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 195 lbs., DOB: Feb. 4, 1983
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall, 2003

Stempniak has put together a very solid season for Dartmouth thus far; so much so that he is a potential threat to walk away with the Hobey Baker award. A good all-around player with great leadership skills (he is the captain for the Dartmouth squad) and good offensive instincts, Stempniak has put all of these qualities together for an impressive season, notching 10 goals and 21 assists in 27 games, good enough for first on the team. Durable and versatile, he is coachable and is willing to do whatever is asked of him on the ice. Not very large, but always hard-working, the skilled forward should get a good long look after he graduates from Dartmouth. Consideration for the Hobey Baker award would go a long way towards ensuring that chance.

17. Ryan MacMurchy, F – Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Apr. 27, 1983
Acquired: 9th round, 284th overall, 2002

MacMurchy’s season for Wisconsin got off to a poor start, as he had to serve a one game suspension due to a fight in a local drinking establishment. He has made up for his off-ice problems by putting together a solid season for the Badgers. MacMurchy has notched 11 goals and 18 assists in 31 games thus far with Wisconsin; good enough for third place on team scoring. He has also added three game-winning goals this season. Creative with the puck, and with a bit of a physical edge to his game, MacMurchy has the basic building blocks, but is still a bit of a project, as is the case with many late-round selections. If he can keep his head on straight, he should get an opportunity to showcase his talents post-college.

18. Alexandre Bolduc, F – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: Jun. 26, 1985
Acquired: 4th round, 127th overall, 2003

Bolduc has struggled to find his offensive footing in this his fourth season in the QMJHL. He began the season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, with whom he had scored nearly a point a game for the season before. He gained quite a bit of muscle in the off-season, but it did not seem to help his game, as he struggled offensively for the Huskies to start the year. At the halfway point of the season, the talented but inconsistent forward had only scored seven times. Huskies management was frustrated with his play, and he was shipped off to Shawinigan prior to the trade deadline, playing with fellow Blues prospect Jonathan Michel Boutin. The change of scenery has not helped him break his offensive funk, as he has added only four more goals in 19 games. However, Shawinigan currently leads their division, so Bolduc should get an opportunity to play deep into this year’s playoffs.

19. Juha-Matti Aaltonen, F – Kärpät (Finnish Jr.)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 185 lbs., DOB: Jun. 4, 1985
Acquired: 9th round, 284th overall, 2003

The Blues took a flyer on Aaltonen late in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft after a solid offensive season for Kärpät, in which he notched 19 goals (and only 3 assists). This season, Aaltonen has exploded offensively, picking up 26 goals and 23 assists in only 32 games while boasting a +20 rating. He also has appeared in a handful of games for the big club, going pointless, but thanks to a lack of space on the roster, he has had to stay with the junior squad. A one-dimensional offensive player who shies away from both traffic and the defensive zone, Aaltonen will have to take great strides in his all-around game – in spite of his great offensive talents – if he is to make the transition to the North American game.

20. Michal Birner, F – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 183 lbs., DOB: Mar. 2, 1986
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall, 2004

Birner is currently in his first season playing in North America. Originally selected by the Barrie Colts in the CHL Import Draft, Birner lasted only half a season with the Colts, before being shipped to the Saginaw Spirit. With Barrie, Birner posted mediocre numbers (only four goals in 28 games), but he has been rejuvenated with Saginaw, and is scoring at a point a game clip alongside fellow Czech forward Marek Kvapil (whom Birner played with back in the Czech Republic last season). Their chemistry has helped turn Birner’s first North American season around. Quick, aggressive, creative with the puck, but not overly large, Birner has to work hard to create chances. Another season in the OHL is likely in the cards, and Birner will look to bury more offensive chances.

Falling off the list

Colin Hemingway, F – Peoria Rivermen (ECHL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 190 lbs., DOB: Aug. 12, 1980
Acquired: 8th round, 221st overall, 1999

Hemingway, a talented offensive player in college, has not been able to translate his game to the professional ranks adequately. He has only seen spot duty in the AHL, spending most of the past two seasons putting up modest numbers in the ECHL. He has scored seven goals in 17 games, and has missed 25 games with a sports hernia.

Robin Jonsson, D – Färjestäd (SEL)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 180 lbs., DOB: Dec. 10, 1983
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2002

Jonsson has had a decent season thus far, though his offensive numbers are far below what would have been hoped for. Through 38 games, the mature defenseman has only notched two assists. He began the season with plenty of ice time, but the arrival of NHL players Sheldon Souray and Zdeno Chara curtailed his playing time greatly.

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