Blues NCAA prospects update

By Kyle McMahon

The St. Louis Blues should be reasonably pleased with what they’ve gotten out of their four NCAA prospects in 2006-07, especially last summer’s top draft pick.

Erik Johnson, D – Minnesota

Drafted – 1st Overall, 2006

Throughout the 2006-07 NCAA hockey season, Blues top prospect Erik Johnson has been a force on the blue line. Excellent campaigns from Johnson and several other Golden Gopher players have propelled Minnesota to No. 1 in the nation, with a 20-3-3 record, which included a school-record 22-game undefeated streak.

Johnson has been just what everyone was hoping for: a rock-solid defender and an offensive catalyst. The towering freshman (6’4, 220 lbs) has teamed with junior defenseman Alex Goligoski (PIT), and senior Mike Vannelli (ATL) to give Minnesota a fearsome blue line that has been crucial to their success so far.

In 23 games played, Johnson has 14 assists and a goal, while racking up 30 penalty minutes. He is currently sitting at plus-13 on the season, and regularly sees time on both the power play and penalty kill. Johnson is also the team leader in blocked shots with 36. He has posted several multi-point games, coming up big with three points in a two-game series against Ohio State, and notching two assists in a Minnesota victory over another perennial powerhouse, Michigan, in November.

Over the holidays, Johnson left the university to play with Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Sweden. He continued his dominant play by being named the tournament’s top blueliner, and bagged 10 points to tie for the scoring lead. The Americans won a bronze medal.

St. Louis management plans on discussing Johnson’s future with him once the NCAA season has concluded, and it has been speculated that Johnson could turn pro at that time. However, Minnesota is a strong contender for the Frozen Four (NCAA championship tournament), and should the Golden Gophers make the finals, Johnson’s season would not end until the second week of April. The Blues finish their regular season NHL schedule on April 7, so unless they make a huge push to get into the playoffs, it is unlikely that Johnson would be able to play any NHL games this season. 

T.J. Oshie, C – North Dakota

Drafted – 24th Overall, 2005

The Blues’ highest-ranked forward prospect, T.J. Oshie, is in his sophomore year at the University of North Dakota.

After a very impressive freshman season, one that saw him score 24 goals and 43 points, Oshie has struggled a little in 2006-07. He has scored only six goals through 25 games, though he leads the Fighting Sioux with 15 assists, giving him 21 points so far. His production has been fairly consistent as the season has progressed, and he has had a few multi-point outings. Oshie’s drop in scoring may be a result of some of the players around him under-performing. North Dakota, usually one of the WCHA’s top programs, has played mediocre so far, posting a 7-9-2 record within the conference, and sit in fifth place.  

The Fighting Sioux did manage to hit their stride at the Ledyard Bank Holiday Tournament in New Hampshire in December. They took home the title by defeating St. Lawrence 4-2. Oshie had three assists in the two-game tournament and was named to the all-tournament team.

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol has used Oshie frequently on the power play, and the center has come through with three goals and five assists with the extra man. He has been very good in the face-off circle as well, winning 57 percent of his draws.

The Fighting Sioux are playing better as of mid-January, but still have not been able to replicate the offensive prowess they displayed early in the season. Oshie will be one of the players counted on to carry the offensive load down the stretch as his team pushes to make it back above the .500 mark and into the conference playoffs.

Ben Bishop, G – Maine

Drafted – 85th Overall, 2005

The Blues have quite a number of prospects at the goaltender position, but only Maine sophomore Ben Bishop is currently playing in the NCAA.

Bishop had an outstanding freshman campaign, placing in the top 10 in the nation in wins, and has picked up right where he left off so far this year. The lofty 6’7 netminder has started all 23 games for the Black Bears, posting a 15-6-2 record, with a 2.16 GAA and .922 save percentage. He has twice blanked opponents, and started the season off red-hot by winning Maine’s first seven games. Bishop allowed one or fewer goals against in five of those contests.  

Over the holidays, Bishop played at the Florida College Classic tournament. This event was won by the Black Bears, and the stopper was selected for tournament all-star team after turning away 50 of 57 shots over two games.

The Blues are quite crowded in the crease in terms of prospects right now, but Bishop’s continued success in 2006-07 has made it clear that his freshman season was no fluke, and St. Louis scouts will be keeping a close eye on him.

Ryan Turek, D – Michigan State

Drafted – 94th Overall, 2006

Defenseman Ryan Turek is in the midst of his freshman season at Michigan State after playing 2005-06 in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers. The Spartans have chosen to play him on defense after he rotated between center and the blue line in Omaha.

Turek is noted for his fast skating and hard work, but so far he has been a little snake-bitten in 2006-07. Usually known to play with an edge, Turek has been a little passive with only 12 penalty minutes, and has a team-worst minus-9 rating. On the positive side, his lone point of the year was an important one. At the Great Lakes Invitational tournament in late December, Turek assisted on a power-play goal that snapped a 2-2 tie with Harvard to send the Spartans on to a 5-2 victory. They won the competition the next day with a 4-1 victory over rival Michigan.

At times, the learning curve can be a steep one for a college freshman on the back end, but the Spartans currently sit third in the CCHA, and have several veteran defensemen on the squad. This will allow Turek to progress at his own rate, since he is not depended on as a go-to player at this point. He should continue to soak up as much as he can in preparation to take a more prominent role with the team as a sophomore.

DJ Powers contributed to this article.  Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.