Blues 2006 draft preview

By Kyle McMahon

Blues Top 10 Prospects

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 Soderberg, C

Team Needs

When you finish in last place like the Blues did in 2005-06, it’s safe to say the team needs improvement in all areas. Their 2.35 goals scored per game was the lowest in the NHL, and by a considerable margin, so help at the forward position is dearly needed. After Keith Tkachuk, who spent most of the season injured, the Blues have no legitimate first line scoring threats, relying instead on players like Scott Young, Dean McAmmond, and Petr Cajanek for goals. Those three are fine players, but not of first-line caliber. The Blues need to get younger and more talented in their top-six forwards.

While St. Louis’ defense corps is clearly better than the crop of forwards, it still leaves much to be desired. Barret Jackman, Eric Brewer, and Christian Backman are a solid foundation, but all three have had problems staying healthy. Dennis Wideman’s 24 points were a pleasant surprise, but his -31 rating was less than encouraging. They could use a stud defenseman to replace departed Chris Pronger.

In net, the Patrick Lalime experiment was a disaster for the Blues. Curtis Sanford played well in his place, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can be a reliable starter for a full season.

Organizational Strengths

The Blues appear to have one clear strength in the prospect pool, that being in net. Marek Schwarz is their No. 2 ranked prospect, while Jason Bacashihua isn’t too far behind him. Bacashihua appeared in 19 games for the Blues in 2005-06, and though he won only four of them, he did show some flashes on brilliance. His .899 save percentage wasn’t too shabby either based on the number of quality scoring opportunities the team in front of his was giving up.

St. Louis also has a young crop of forwards, and though they likely won’t become stars in the NHL, players like Jay McClement and Lee Stempniak should develop into good second or third liners down the road. Other highly rated prospects like Timofei Shishkanov and top-ranked T.J. Oshie bring plenty of talent to the table, and could perhaps fill the void the Blues have in terms of skilled forwards.

The Blues have several defensemen who are just beginning to enter their prime years, or will in the near future, namely Brewer, Backman, and Jackman. Add young blueliners like Scott Jackson and Wideman to the mix, and the defense could evolve into a pretty good group of players. They key word, of course, is could.

Organizational Weaknesses

The downside to making the playoffs for 25 years in a row is that you are usually prevented from drafting big name prospects. Combine that with the ability to fill team needs by spending money, (before the salary cap was in place), and you have the mess that St. Louis is in. When you routinely draft 20th or lower, you are often left hoping that the player you took will become a star, as opposed to expecting it. The future at the center ice position is currently the Blues’ biggest concern. McClement has the makings of a decent pro, but can hardly be expected to become a top line producer. Number one rated prospect Oshie is in fact a centerman, but is far from a can’t-miss player. As a whole, the core of the team needs to become younger.

For years the Blues brought in 30-somethings as free agents, but that process is no longer available, and now they are left mainly with players like Tkachuk, Young, and Dallas Drake who are in the twilight of their careers. Unfortunately for the Blues, there is certainly no abundance of talent in the pipeline waiting to fill soon to be vacated positions. Perhaps most disappointing is that young defensemen Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch don’t seem to be developing into the future NHL players you would have expected the Blues to get in exchange for Chris Pronger.

Draft Tendencies

St. Louis management has shown likelihood to draft based on current team needs. In recent drafts the Blues have taken a higher percentage of European players than one might expect. They also have not been afraid to take players who other teams have shied away from due to uncertainties concerning their skill set or mental make-up. At the last draft the Blues selected Oshie, a superb talent to be sure, but a bit of a risk.

For the first time in their history, the Blues will pick first overall, finally giving them the chance to grab a bona fide top prospect. The highest they’ve ever drafted was 14th in 1996, when they selected Marty Reasoner.

They already look set at the netminder position, and as well, there are no goaltenders projected to go in the top 10, so it is a virtual guarantee that a skater will be selected. Erik Johnson is thought to be the top player in the draft and will be hard to pass up. A trade for the highly-coveted pick is always a possibility as well.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Erik Johnson, D

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