Blues Top 20 prospects

By Chris Zacher

Top 20 at a Glance

1.Marek Schwarz, G
2.T.J. Oshie, C
3.Scott Jackson, D
4.Alexei Shkotov, RW
5.Jason Bacashihua, G
6.David Backes, C
7.Carl Soderberg, C
8.Roman Polak, D
9.Juha-Matti Aaltonen, RW
10.Jeff Woywitka, D
11.Doug Lynch, D
12.Dennis Wideman, D
13.Konstantin Zakharov, LW
14.Jay McClement, C
15.Viktor Alexandrov, RW
16.Zack FitzGerald, D
17.Peter Sejna, LW
18.Lee Stempniak, RW
19.Michal Birner, LW
20.Greg Black, C

Key: Rank (previous rank) name, position, age
How acquired

1.(1) Marek Schwarz, G Age: 19
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall (2004)

After being drafted 17th overall in 2004, Schwarz moved across the pond and skated for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL for the 2004-05 season. Schwarz went 26-24-4 with a 2.67 GAA and a .900 save percentage and finished seventh overall in wins in the league. He also participated in the 2005 World Juniors where he went 4-2 with a 2.15 GAA and a .923 save percentage for the Czech team. He was named the top goaltender and was named to the tournament all-star team.

After signing a contract for the 2005-06 season with HC Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraleague, his complete adjustment to the North American style will be delayed, which could push his bid to play for the Blues back a bit as well.

Schwarz will have to get stronger and learn the North American style of hockey before he will be able to more up the ranks, but with that said, the Blues are high on his potential. In 2006-07 he could be playing in Peoria, the new AHL affiliate.

2.(NR) T.J. Oshie, C Age: 18
Acquired: 1st round, 24th overall (2005)

With the 24th pick in the first round of the 2005 NHL entry draft, the St. Louis Blues made what many considered a surprise pick, taking Warroad high school center T.J. Oshie. Oshie’s stock rose late in the season due in large part to his strong showing at the Minnesota State High School Tournament. He finished the 2004-05 season with 37 goals and 62 assists for 99 points in 31 games for Warroad Warriors.

Oshie is a quick center with a nose for the net and does not shy away from the physical aspects of the game. He plays with great determination, is a creative passer, and very difficult one-on-one. Oshie, among other things, is known for his determination and coachability. He could still grow and inch or two over the next few years and will need to add some muscle to his frame in order to make the jump to the NHL.

Oshie is slated to play for the Fighting Sioux at the University of North Dakota this fall.

3. (NR) Scott Jackson, D Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall (2005)

With the 37th pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft, the St. Louis Blues chose Scott Jackson, a towering defenseman from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Jackson was ranked 33rd overall by ISS going into the draft and the Blues had him pegged at No. 14 on their list. During his rookie season with Seattle, Jackson earned defenseman of the year honors and that success continued into his sophomore season when he was named to the 2005 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Vancouver, B.C. Jackson finished last season with 6 goals and 16 assists for 22 points in 72 games with a +26.

With a wide wingspan at 6’4, he makes it tough for forwards to get around. Jackson is known primarily as a defensive defenseman who plays with an extreme physical edge and has a good outlet pass. He specializes in open ice hits and disrupting the flow of the opponent’s offense with his reach. Jackson shows composure on the ice as indicated in his low penalty minutes. The Blues would like to see Jackson fill out and add muscle to his 198-pound frame along with working on his mobility and skating.

Jackson is slated to play his third season for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL this fall.

4.(4) Alexei Shkotov, RW Age: 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall (2002)

In his first season as a professional, Shkotov put up modest numbers while playing sparingly with Worcester. He had 6 goals and 6 assists in 23 games before returning to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super League where he notched 5 goals and 6 assists in 33 games. He suffered a bruised shoulder in early February on a hit from Evgeny Namestnikov.

Shkotov made his second big jump in two seasons moving from the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL to the IceCats. Although his development has improved since leaving Russia just two seasons ago, he still has aspects of his game that will need attention before making the jump to the NHL, namely his play in traffic and tendency to hold onto the puck for too long. Jarmo Kekalainen, Assistant General Manager and Director of Amateur Scouting for the St. Louis Blues told Hockey’s Future that Shkotov would be back in North America this year.

With speed and scoring badly needed by the 2005-06 Blues, Shkotov will be given a prime opportunity to shine.

5.(2) Jason Bacashihua, G Age: 22
Acquired: Trade with Dallas for Shawn Belle (2004)

Bacashihua was traded to the Blues from the Dallas Stars days before the 2004 NHL entry draft for prized defense prospect Shawn Belle. Bacashihua was taken 26th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2001 entry draft, just one spot higher than now fellow Blues prospect Jeff Woywitka.

Bacashihua spent the 2004-05 season with the IceCats splitting duties with Curtis Sanford; in 35 games he went 18-13-1 with a 2.51 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Bacashihua is not a huge goaltender at 6’0 172lbs and has been inconsistent through parts of his career. After a rough start to the 2004-05 season Cash held it together and put up decent numbers for the sub-par Worcester team. Bacashihua the former much sought-after NCAA Michigan player will be given every opportunity to run away with the No. 2 goaltending duties for the Blues in 2005-06.

6.(5) David Backes, C Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 62nd overall (2003)

According to Kekalainen, Backes is progressing better than expected after being taken 62nd overall by the Blues in 2003. In his second season with the Minnesota State University Mavericks, Backes led the team in nearly every offensive category notching 17 goals and 23 assists in 38 games including 10 power play goals and posted a ten-game scoring streak from October 22nd to November 20th, 2004. After being selected to the WCHA All-Rookie Team in 2003-04, Backes was selected to the WCHA third team. Backes will be continuing his development with the Mavericks this season and was recently named captain for the 2005-06 squad.

A big center at 6’2 200lbs, Backes is tough to move and tougher to play against.

7.(7) Carl Soderberg, C Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall (2004)

The Blues consider Soderberg a solid pick firm the 2004 draft and are looking for him to break out in the tier 2 Swedish league this year. Soderberg played 2004-05 for Malmo IF of the Swedish league last season notching just five assists in 38 games while seeing limited action. In addition to Malmo IF, Soderburg spent time with their minor league affiliate Morrums GoIS IK tallying 2 goals and 5 assists in 11 games. When the 2005 World Juniors rolled around, Soderberg was picked by Sweden and did not disappoint, scoring 4 goals with 2 assists in six games.

Soderberg is an explosive skater who possesses an accurate shot. He utilizes his size and quick feet to work in traffic and creates scoring opportunities down low. Soderberg should see much more ice time this season with Malmo IF, which has been regulated to the Swedish tier 2 league for 2005-06. At some point in time, Soderberg will need to come across the pond to learn the North American game for him to reach his true potential.

8.(10) Roman Polak, D Age: 19
Acquired: 6th round, 180th overall (2004)

The Blues must feel as if they came across a bargain getting the hard-hitting Czech in the sixth round of the 2004 draft. After the 2004 NHL entry draft, Polak wasted little time in coming to North America, which certainly did not hurt his development. He spent the 2004-05 season with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL scoring 5 goals and 18 assists in 65 games, but more importantly Polak finished the season +19. During the World Juniors in 2005 Polak played for his native Czech team tallying 2 assists in seven games. As with most Europeans Polak’s first season in North America was spent adjusting, and next season Jarmo Kekalainen would like him to step up his leadership abilities.

Polak is a smooth skater with impressive leg strength and quick acceleration. Unlike many European defensemen Polak is tough nosed and loves the physical aspects of the game. In addition Polak possesses a canon of a shot from the point, plays both sides of the ice and has a very good first pass out of the defensive zone. Entering his second season in the WHL, Polak will need to work on his decisions while skating with the puck and his consistency.

9.(18) Juha-Matti Aaltonen, RW Age: 20
Acquired: 9th round, 284th overall (2003)

The Blues took a flyer on Aaltonen taking him in the ninth round 284th overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft and it looks as though it is starting to payoff. Aaltonen has become one of the premier offensive forwards in Finland. He spent the 2004-05 season playing for Karpat in the Finnish junior league and he collected 26 goals and 21 assists for 47 points in 30 games.

Although Aaltonen has been increasing his point production year over year the same questions that existed when the Blues drafted his exist. At 5’11 185 Aaltonen is a small winger with who shies away from the physical aspects of the game and play in the defensive zone. Aaltonen needs to improve these aspects of his game in order to move on to the next level.

10.(NR) Jeff Woywitka, D Age: 22
Acquired: Trade with Edmonton with Doug Lynch and Eric Brewer for Chris Pronger (2005)

Following the 2005 NHL entry draft the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers made a blockbuster four-player deal when St. Louis shipped former Noris and Hart trophy winner Chris Pronger to Edmonton for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. This was the second major trade for Woywitka who was selected in the first round 27th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2001 NHL entry draft. In 2003 he was trade along with a first round pick in 2004 and a third round pick in 2005 for holdout center Mike Comrie. Woywitka spent the 2004-05 season with Edmonton of the AHL collecting 6 goals and 20 assists in 80 games after a rocky start.

Woywitka is a solid two-way defenseman with good size at 6’2 217lbs and an excellent shot from the point. For his size Woywitka is a good skater and uses his attributes to his advantage. With Al MacInnis’s retirement and the trade of Chris Pronger to Edmonton, the Blues will be looking for Woywitka to showcase his offensive abilities at training camp. If does well, he may crack the line-up.

11.(NR) Doug Lynch, D Age: 22
Acquired: Trade with Edmonton with Doug Lynch and Eric Brewer for Chris Pronger (2005)

The second prospect the Blues gained in the Pronger trade is former center turned defenseman Doug Lynch. Lynch was originally selected 43rd overall by Edmonton in the 2001 NHL entry draft and spent last season, 2004-05, with Edmonton of the AHL tallying 1 goal and 13 assists in 74 games.

Lynch is a good skater with decent acceleration he is quick on his feet and has extremely good offensive instincts due to his years spent as a center. Lynch must continue to improve his defensive play with that said he is very good one on one and love to join the rush which could help him in the new NHL.

12.(12) Dennis Wideman, D Age: 22
Acquired: Free Agent (2004)

Dennis Wideman was selected in the eighth round 241st overall in the 2002 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres. After failing to agree to terms with the team in 2004, Wideman jumped at the chance to sign as a free agent with St. Louis, who at the time were in need of an offensive force on the blue line. Wideman spent four seasons in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves and London Knights and in 2003-04 he was awarded the OHL Plus/Minus award with a rating of +51. In 2004-05 Wideman turned pro and played with Worcester. In 79 games Wideman scored 13 goals and added 30 assists for 43 points, and in October he was named AHL player of the month for his offensive outburst in his first ten games.

Wideman is a decent sized defenseman at 6’0 200 pounds and he shoots from the right side which is a commodity in the Blues system. A quick skater who quarterbacks the power play wherever he plays, Wideman is very good at one-timing the puck and makes intelligent passes. In addition to his offensive skills Wideman is an excellent open ice hitter who can throw a wicked hip check. With the changes in Blues personnel this season, Wideman has a very good chance of making the team out of training camp, if he fails to capture a roster spot he will be practicing his defensive skills in Peoria waiting for his opportunity.

13.(8) Konstantin Zakharov, C Age: 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 101st overall (2003)

St. Louis acquired Zakharov with a third round draft pick that was shipped to them from New Jersey in the Mike Danton deal in 2003. He immediately signed a three-year deal and began learning the North American game while skating for the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL. After a very productive year, Zakharov turned pro and played with the IceCats of the AHL in 2004-05. Zakharov’s first season of pro hockey was not nearly productive, putting up only 3 goals and 3 assists in 33 games with limited ice time, however he did make great strides in learning the defensive aspects of the game.

Zakharov is a finesse forward with a nose for the net and he possesses rare playmaking ability. Since Zakharov moved to North America, he has added about 33 pounds to his 6’1 frame which will help him battle in traffic. Expect Zakharov to spend at least this season and next in Peoria while he continues to learn the pro game.

14.(3) Jay McClement, C Age: 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall (2001)

In 2001, the Blues did not have a first round pick, in fact their first pick was not until No. 57 overall. With that pick, they choose a hard-working center out of Kingston Ontario, Jay McClement. McClement has not disappointed since that day in 2001 working hard in the OHL and turned pro during the 2003-04 season. Last year McClement’s development continued in his sophomore season with the IceCats of the AHL were he scored 17 goals and tallied 34 assists for 51 points in 79 games.

McClement is a hard-working defensive specialist with an offensive flair. He excels in the faceoff circle, is a great skater with the puck and in extremely strong along the boards. When the Blues training camp starts this fall, McClement has an excellent opportunity of making the squad.

15.(9) Viktor Alexandrov, RW Age: 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 83rd overall (2004)

Projected as a mid-second round pick in 2004, Alexandrov was still available when the Blues were on the board in the third round of the 2004 NHL entry draft. The small skilled offensive catalysis, who is the youngest player to ever score in the World Juniors (2 goals, 1 assist in 2002), spent last season with Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the Russian Super League notching 8 goals and 10 assists in 50 games. This was all while playing mainly on the third and fourth lines until he was promoted to second line duty after the new year and receiving more ice time than any player his age in the league. While these stats may not appear that high, take in to consideration that at 19, Alexandrov was playing in the second best league in the World and with the NHL lockout in 2004-05 the talent in the Russian Super League was world class. In 2005-06 Alexandrov will be following him former coach with Metallurg to St. Petersburg where his development will continue in the Russian Super League.

Alexandrov is a small but skilled right winger, who can play center equally as well. He is fast with impressive acceleration, an explosive wrist shot, and excellent shot selection. For his size, he is a tough player who does not shy away from physical play, however, he does get bumped around in both the defensive and offensive zones. It was thought that Alexandrov would be playing in the QMJHL in 2005-06, but he opted to stay in Russia.

16.(6) Peter Sejna, LW Age: 25
Acquired: Free Agent (2003)

After winning the Hobey Baker award with Colorado College 2003, Sejna has shown flashes his abilities and lots of inconsistency. Due to the NHL lockout last season, he spent another season in the AHL with Worcester. Sejna appeared in 64 games, scoring 38 points, a lower point per game pace than in 2003-04.

Sejna will need a great 2005-06 campaign in order to reverse his downward fall in the St. Louis depth chart. Turning 26 in October, his window of opportunity is very small.

17.(13) Zack FitzGerald, D Age: 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall (2003)

FitzGerald is one of two Seattle Thunderbird defensemen the Blues have drafted in the last three years, the other being Scott Jackson. Since his draft year of 2003, FitzGerald has progressed better than expected. Last season he played in a career-high 65 games notching 7 goals and 18 assists with career highs in plus/minus with a +34 and penalty minutes with 244. FitzGerald has one year of eligibility left in the WHL but told that he hopes to be playing in Peoria this season.

A big feisty defenseman at 6’2 and 210lbs, FitzGerald is a very responsible defensive defenseman and has show a bit in the offensive zone. A fierce player who will not allow opponents to take liberties with members of his team, FitzGerald leads by example. FitzGerald will have to learn to control his temper before he’ll be NHL bound.

18.(16) Lee Stempniak, RW Age: 22
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall (2003)

Stempniak spent his fourth season with Dartmouth in 2004-05. The All American put up decent numbers again this season scoring 14 goals and 29 assists for 43 points in 35 games. With his NCAA career behind him, Stempniak will finally get a chance to show why the Blues picked him the 2003 draft.

A decent size winger at 6’0 195lbs, Stempniak has shown impressive abilities in the offensive and defensive zones in his college career. Stempniak is a hard worker on and off of the ice and does not like to call attention to himself. The Blues are looking for Stempniak to showcase his abilities in training camp, although most likely destined for Peoria, if he impresses he may have a shot at making the 2005-06 team.

19.(19) Michal Birner, LW Age: 19
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall (2004)

In the fourth round of the 2004 NHL entry draft, the St. Louis Blues used the 116th pick to choose Czech forward Michal Birner. He was selected by the Barrie Colts in the OHL Import Draft as well, however, he only spent 28 games with Barrie before being shipped to the Saginaw Spirit. In 31 games with Saginaw, Birner appeared to put his game together scoring 7 goals and 21 assists in 31 games bringing his 2004-05 numbers to 11 goals and 31 assists for 41 points in 59 games.

An offensive player who is not afraid to throw his body around, Birner has shown promise in international play. Although his first season in North America was not as productive as many had hoped, Birner did not fall flat. A smooth skater with good puck handling skills and hockey sense, Birner’s game should improve in 2005-06 as he continues to adjust to the North American game.

20.(NR) Greg Black, C Age: 23
Acquired: Free Agent (2003)

An undrafted 2003 free agent out of Kamloops, BD Greg Black spent four impressive seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds before the Blues offered him a contract in 2003. Black scored 36 goals and 27 assists in 71 games for Seattle in 2002-03 before turning pro in 2003-04 where he split time between Worcester and Peoria scoring 9 goals and 7 assists is 54 games. Black had an injury that wiped out his 2004-05 season.

Black is a big center at 6’1 205lbs. He possesses an unusual blend of offensive and physical ability. Black has temper that at times needs to be put under control, in 258 career contests with Seattle of the WHL, Black amassed 700 career penalty minutes. Black will enter the Blues 2005-06 training camp healthy with an opportunity to make the Peoria team and possibly enjoy a mid-season call-up.

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