Blues Top 20 prospects

By Jon Shecket

Top 20 at a Glance

1.T.J. Oshie, C
2.Marek Schwarz, G
3.Timofei Shishkanov, LW
4.Scott Jackson, D
5.Alexei Shkotov, RW
6.Jason Bacashihua, G
7.Dennis Wideman, D
8.Jay McClement, C
9.Lee Stempniak, RW
10.Carl Söderberg, C
11.David Backes, C
12.Nikolai Lemtyugov, RW
13.Juha-Matti Aaltonen, LW
14.Jeff Woywitka, D
15.Nicholas Drazenovic, C
16.Michal Birner, C
17.Ben Bishop, G
18.Konstantin Barulin, G
19.Doug Lynch, D
20.Viktor Alexandrov, RW

Barring a sensational post-Olympic comeback, the St. Louis Blues will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 1979. They sit dead last in the Western Conference and they effectively threw in the towel a few weeks ago when they traded away leading scorers Mike Sillinger and Doug Weight.

This is clearly a very depressing time for Blues fans and those looking for solace through their future prospects might find it in the upcoming 2006 NHL Entry Draft when the team receives a top pick. Having taken a goalie and then a forward in the last two drafts, the next pick could very well be for a top defenseman.

Several of team’s current prospects are having good seasons for their respective clubs.

Key: Rank (previous rank) name, position – age

1. (2) T.J. Oshie, C – 19
Acquired: 1st round, 24th overall (2005)

Oshie, the Blues first rounder in last year’s draft, has had a stellar freshman season for North Dakota with 17 goals and 14 assists in 31 games including five game-winning goals. He has been playing as a right wing on a line with sophomores Travis Zajac (NJ) and Rastislav Spirko. The trio has scored a combined 35 goals. Oshie is seventh amongst freshmen nationwide in points per game.

Oshie scored a goal for Team USA at the World Juniors and was widely praised for his two-way play. One thing that could be an obstacle is his size at 5’10.

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

After a mediocre year with the WHL Vancouver Giants, Schwarz has played a limited role this year with Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga, backing up three-time Olympian Petr Bríza. In 15 games, he has a record of 7-8-0 saving 92 percent of shots for a 2.57 goals against average. He has not played since Dec. 11, however.

Schwarz was 1-2-0 at the 2006 World Juniors with a .909 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. He was expected to be the go-to guy in net, but ended up only playing 140 minutes to Radek Fiala’s 218. Fiala started against Slovakia and was solid, winning the game. Schwarz either didn’t establish himself or wasn’t given the opportunity to do so, however, he gave the Czechs a chance to beat the USA in the quarterfinal.

The lack of playing time this year is a definite concern for his development.

3. (NR) Timofei Shishkanov, LW – 22
Acquired: Trade with NSH (2006)

Coming over in the Mike Sillinger trade, Timofei Shishkanov addresses a need for the organization, who lacked natural left wingers both in system and on the NHL roster.

Shishkanov, 6’1, 209 lbs, has played 51 AHL games this year for Milwaukee and Peoria, scoring a total of 17 goals and 17 assists. He had a two-goal night in his Rivermen debut Feb. 3 at Toronto. Nine of his goals have come on the power play.

He has had a lot of success in the AHL, named to the All-Rookie team in 2003-04 after scoring 20 goals and 15 assists with a +23 rating as Milwaukee went on to win the Calder Cup.

Shishkanov only has three career NHL games to his name, but could soon find himself in the limelight, especially if the Blues continue their fire sale. The Russian should have the inside track on a roster spot in the fall.

4. (3) Scott Jackson, D – 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall (2005)

Scott Jackson has scored two goals and 16 assists in 40 games for Seattle this year as part of the Thunderbirds’ top defensive pairing alongside Thomas Hickey (2007).

Jackson has had two knee surgeries this season which caused him to miss 14 games in all. During that time, the Thunderbirds went 4-8-1-1 (.357%) and were an abysmal 5 for 92 (5.4%) on the power play. When Jackson plays, Seattle is 12.9 percent on the power play and has a .583 winning percentage. His importance to the team is huge.

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

Shkotov remains at Khimik Voskresensk of the Russian Superleague after departing Worcester partway through the 2004-05 season. This season, the 5’10 winger has scored five goals and 10 assists in 30 games. He broke his hip back in September but was able to return to the Khimik line-up less than three weeks later. Getting him back to North America should be a big priority for a team in need of a talent infusion.

6. (5) Jason Bacashihua, G – 23
Acquired: Trade with DAL (2004)

Bacashihua was obtained in a trade from the Dallas Stars for Shawn Belle. He made his NHL debut this season after Patrick Lalime was waived, but injured his left shoulder in Columbus Jan. 20 after stopping 26 of 29 shots in his 12th NHL appearance. He so far has three wins and five losses with a 3.75 GAA and a save percentage of .868. He opened the season at Peoria with a record of 9-4-0 in 15 games including 2 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and .903 save percentage. While he hasn’t been great in net, few rookies are. There’s no reason to think he won’t be given a chance at a permanent spot in net with the Blues.

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

Dennis Wideman leads St. Louis in rookie point scoring with eight goals and 13 assists in 42 games played. Thirteen of his points have come on the power play and he averages more man-advantage ice time than any other Blues defenseman. Wideman is also the only Blues defenseman to be called upon in the shootout where he has scored twice out of four attempts. He has been a bright spot in the Blues season.

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

Jay McClement debuted with the Blues in their opening day loss at Detroit. The checking forward scored his first NHL goal, a game-winner, on a penalty shot against Chicago on Oct. 11. In all, McClement has four goals and seven assists in 41 games. He has been on the St. Louis/Peoria shuttle this season.

9. (18) Lee Stempniak, RW – 23
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall (2003)

Stempniak has scored nine goals and six assists in 31 games for St. Louis. His NHL debut came Oct. 6 and he scored his first NHL goal Nov. 4 against Edmonton. Stempniak has also scored eight goals and six assists in 21 games for Peoria.

Stempniak has seen more ice time since Weight and Sillinger were traded. He is currently playing on the second line with Dean McAmmond and Scott Young.

10. (7) Carl Söderberg, C – 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall (2004)

Carl Söderberg is a 6’3 198-pound first-line center who employs a direct attack style. He has netted 12 goals and 21 assists and has a +22 rating after 34 games with the Malmö Redhawks, the first-place club in the Swedish second division. His current linemates are team captain Juha Riihijärvi of Finland and Czech veteran David Moravec. Söderberg is said to have improved his puck control and passing abilities this year.

11. (6) David Backes, C – 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 62nd overall (2003)

Backes was elected captain in his junior year by his Minnesota State teammates and has scored 10 goals and 25 assists in 32 games. His linemates are sophomore Travis Morin and junior Joel Hanson (WSH) and they have combined for 31 goals.

Under Backes’ leadership, the Mavericks are seventh in the WCHA with a record of 9-13-3 (.420) and have an overall record of 13-16-4 (.455).

12. (NR) Nikolai Lemtyugov, RW – 20
Acquired: 7th round, 219th overall (2005)

Lemtyugov drew attention at the WJC where he scored four goals and one assist for Russia. He has played 34 games this season for CSKA Moscow with nine goals and nine assists. Lemtyugov is touted as a player with plenty of speed and skill who does not back down from opponents.

13. (9) Juha-Matti Aaltonen, LW – 20
Acquired: 9th round, 284th overall (2003)

After a successful stint with the Karpat junior team, Aaltonen has ascended to the top line of Karpat’s SM-Liga squad. He has scored 13 goals and nine assists in 45 games. With great hands and passing ability, Aaltonen is an almost purely offensive player.

14. (10) Jeff Woywitka, D – 22
Acquired: Trade with EDM (2005)

Acquired in the Chris Pronger deal, Jeff Woywitka made his NHL debut against Detroit on Oct. 6 and made a total of 10 appearances before being reassigned to Peoria on Nov. 29. He has played a total of 36 games for the Rivermen, scoring one goal and eight assists. Expected to be further along in his development, Woywitka has been a disappointment this season.

15. (NR) Nicholas Drazenovic, C – 19
Acquired: 6th round, 171st overall (2005)

Drazenovic’s fourth year in Prince George (WHL) has been his most successful. He has scored 26 goals, including nine on the power play, and 27 assists in 60 games played. Drazenovic’s most impressive months were October (17 points in 13 games) and January (14 points in 14 games).

Drazenovic is a go-to player on a line with Myles Zimmer and Evan Fuller (2006) and making huge contributions to the team.

16. (19) Michal Birner, C – 19
Acquired: 4th round, 116th overall (2004)

Czech forward Michal Birner opened the 2005-06 campaign with 10 goals in the first six games of the year for Saginaw (OHL). He went on to score a pair of assists at the WJC. He now has 25 goals and 43 assists in 46 games for the Spirit.

Birner’s line assignment has varied throughout the season. He often plays alongside Jesse Gimblett (FA) and Tom Pyatt (NYR) but is paired on other nights with Ryan McDonough (2006) and Vaclav Meidl (NSH). Birner plays the point on the power play. His improved two-way skills have earned him more time on the penalty kill.

17. (NR) Ben Bishop, G – 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall (2005)

Maine freshman goalie Ben Bishop is 6-0-1 in his last seven starts. On the season, he has a record of 14-6-1 in 21 games with a 2.23 GAA and a .908 save percentage. He was named Hockey East Player of the Week on Feb. 20 after sweeping Boston College with 51 saves. He has at least temporarily taken over the starting reins from sophomore goaltender Matt Lundin.

At 6’7, 205 pounds, Bishop does a good job of protecting the upper frame of the goal while in the butterfly. With his poke check and his movement in and around the crease, Bishop is sometimes described as a “third defenseman.” He has had problems with giving up too many rebounds and with trying to do too much with the puck. Time will tell if he has truly addressed these issues.

Another question about Bishop is whether he is simply the benefactor of playing on a very good team. The Black Bears have the top penalty kill in the NCAA at 91 percent and they are limiting opponents to less than 25 shots per game. Greg Moore (NYR) was recognized by Hockey East on Feb. 20 for his performance as a defensive forward. Top defensemen include junior Mike Lundin (TB) and senior Travis Wight, who has a +14 rating.

18. (NR) Konstantin Barulin, G – 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall (2003)

Konstantin Barulin has started 30 out of 33 games this season for Spartak Moscow of the Russian Superleague. He has a 2.08 GAA, .916 save percentage and a record of 13-12-3.

Barulin’s style is a hybrid of stand-up and butterfly goaltending. He has good skating ability but rarely leaves the crease. He can make a good first pass out of the zone.

While performing well in Russia, Barulin’s usefulness as a prospect depends on the ability to get him to North America and adjusted to the game.

19. (11) Doug Lynch, D – 22
Acquired: Trade with EDM (2005)

Doug Lynch began the season in Peoria where he scored two goals and two assists in 29 games. He was demoted to the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, where he had one goal and one assist in four games for the Blues affiliate. He is out of the lineup with a knee injury.

20. (15) Viktor Alexandrov, RW – 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 83rd overall (2004)

Russian winger Viktor Alexandrov is winding down his first season with SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian Super League after switching from Metallurg Novokuznetsk. So far, he has 15 goals and 11 assists in 47 games for his highest-scoring season at this level.

Missing the Cut

Zack Fitzgerald, D – 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall (2003)

Enforcer Zack Fitzgerald played 12 games with the Alaska Aces in which he generated a total of 108 penalty minutes. He has taken a more modest approach since joining Peoria as he has just 47 PIM’s after 13 AHL games. Fitzgerald is currently injured.

Peter Sejna, LW – 26
Acquired: Free Agent (2003)

Peter Sejna remains a prospect at HF by virtue of having signed his first NHL contract at age 24, but looks very much like he will have the career of a journeyman. After brief stints with the Blues in the previous two seasons, Sejna continues to shuttle between Peoria and St. Louis. He has scored 17 goals and 25 assists in 33 games for the Rivermen which placed him among the AHL’s highest scorers. With the Blues, Sejna has played six games, scoring one goal and one assist. This brings his NHL career total to four goals and three assists in 27 games. Sejna is another in a long list of players who are injured in Peoria (ankle).

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