Blues 2007 draft review

By Kyle McMahon

The Blues began and ended the day with three first-round picks, though the order of those picks changed slightly after a little bit of wheeling and dealing. In the end, they chose seven forwards and three defensemen with their 10 choices. Half of the new prospects are Americans, while the rest hail from Canada, Sweden, and Denmark.

Lars Eller, C/LW — Frolunda (Sweden)

1st Round, 13th Overall
6’0, 198 lbs

The Blues grabbed another skilled forward to add to an already impressive prospect stock by selecting Lars Eller with their first pick of the draft.

The first thing that many people notice about Eller is the fact he’s from Denmark, a country that hasn’t yet produced many NHL players. But what really makes Eller noticeable is his outstanding ability as a playmaker. In 39 games with the Frolunda junior team, Eller tallied 37 assists. He has no problem putting the puck in the net himself either, with 18 goals on the season, while sporting an impressive plus-22 rating.

Eller’s defensive game isn’t anything to write home about yet, but it is more than adequate for an 18-year-old forward. It is expected that with some fine-tuning and experience, he will develop into a strong two-way player. There are no question marks regarding Eller’s dedication and drive to succeed, an added bonus. At the draft, Eller said that he trains “very hard, five or six times a week, with a lot of running and weight lifting.” 

When it comes to international play, Eller has the advantage of being his country’s go-to player. At this year’s World Junior Championship, he had two goals and five assists. He also frequented the score sheet at the World Under-18 Tournament, with 10 points in five games.

The Blues have several skilled prospects at forward who are more mature than Eller, so there is no need to rush him to the NHL. The Blues have generally been patient with their prospects, so expect Eller to remain in Sweden for another couple of seasons. “I’ll take it one year at a time, but of course the NHL is my goal,” Eller said. 

Ian Cole, D — US NTDP

1st Round, 18th Overall
6’1, 211 lbs

The first round of the draft was full of surprises, and the selection of Michigan native Ian Cole was no exception. The sturdy defenseman was one of several American blueliners to have his name called early on, and he could be classified as a “safe” pick.

Cole is a typical stay-at-home defender who also possesses some limited offensive potential. His strengths are physical play and positioning, attributes that are complimented by his ability to contribute to scoring plays from time to time. Cole is also known for making good, crisp passes out of his own zone. When asked to describe what type of player he envisions himself becoming, Cole said: “Maybe a solid two-way defenseman, really sound in his own end, who plays really tough, but can add on the offense too. Maybe a few points here and there.”

Like fellow Blues prospect, defenseman Erik Johnson, Cole was drafted out of the US National Team Development Program. If fact, Cole said that Johnson even called him right before the draft to wish him luck. In 49 games played, he totaled 20 points, 16 of them being assists, as well as 57 penalty minutes. 

This pick appears to have remedied the glaring lack of depth on the blue line after former Blues prospect Scott Jackson, a 2005 draft pick, went unsigned by the Blues prior to the signing deadline for his draft class. Cole will be suiting up with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this fall.

David Perron, LW — Lewiston (QMJHL)

1st Round, 26th Overall
6’0, 180 lbs

High-scoring winger David Perron, already 19 years old, went unselected in last year’s draft. But an outstanding 2006-07 season in the QMJHL catapulted him to the top of the draft charts, enabling the Blues to select him with their third and final pick of the first round.

This past season was Perron’s first in the Quebec league. He impressed with 39 goals and 83 points, making him the leading scorer on the league champion Lewiston Maineiacs. Perron dazzled in the post-season as well, posting 28 points in 17 games in leading his team to the Memorial Cup tournament.

Perron has been described as a high-stakes offensive player. He likes to take chances to create scoring opportunities, utilizing his excellent stickhandling skills and puck-carrying proficiency. “I’m an offensive player. I have great vision on the ice, I can beat defensemen one-on-one, and I have a good shot, so I can score goals as well,” Perron said at the draft.  

Perron’s offensive mindset means that there are times when he is ineffective in the defensive zone, but he has worked hard to improve this. He is used frequently on the power play as well. 

Most people think Perron will return to Lewiston for 2007-08, but the ambitious youngster has other ideas. “I’m not going (to St. Louis) just to have an experience, I’m going there to make the team,” Perron stated when asked about next season. That may be a lofty goal at the moment, but he clearly has the potential to be a scoring-line forward in the NHL sometime down the road. 

Simon Hjalmarsson, RW — Frolunda (Sweden)

2nd Round, 39th Overall
5’11, 169 lbs

St. Louis’ first pick of the second round was small but speedy Swedish forward Simon Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson’s game is centered around his offensive abilities, which include excellent skating, shooting, and passing. He is a hard worker with a good hockey sense, and is able to play special teams. Hjalmarsson was a star in the Swedish under-20 league in 2006-07, scoring 31 goals and adding 23 assists in 41 games played. With 91 penalty minutes, it is evident that he is not afraid to show tenacity when necessary.

Hjalmarsson was one of Team Sweden’s top performers at the last world under-18 championship. He scored four goals and nine points in six games played.

The native of Varnamo, Sweden, will likely remain in Europe in the immediate future, or at least until he gets in a season or two playing in the one of the top professional divisions. Perhaps the biggest thing Hjalmarsson needs to work on in order to get to the NHL is his strength. At less than 170 pounds, he will need to add some bulk to withstand the rigors of a full NHL season against the world’s top players.

Aaron Palushaj, RW, Des Moines (USHL)

2nd Round, 44th Overall
5’11, 170 lbs

A product of the USHL, Aaron Palushaj is a gritty forward with a knack for putting points on the board.

Palushaj bagged 22 goals for Des Moines, and added 45 assists, giving him 67 points in 56 games played in 2006-07. He was the Buccaneers’ second-leading scorer in the regular season, and elevated his game in the USHL playoffs, registering 11 points in eight games to lead his team in scoring. The native of Northville, Michigan, was dynamite on the power play this year. Thirteen of his goals, and well over half of his point total, came while his team had the extra man.

Palushaj is considered a well-rounded player who is willing to muck it up in order to make plays. He has one-shot scoring ability, and is capable of stickhandling in close quarters. Placed well down in the rankings, relative to the position where he ended up being drafted, Palushaj’s character was perhaps one of the key factors in the Blues deciding to go “off the board” with their other second-round selection.

Palushaj will be attending Michigan next season. It wouldn’t hurt him to add some muscle to his frame before he thinks about turning pro.

Brett Sonne, C/LW, Calgary (WHL)

3rd Round, 85th Overall
5’11, 190 lbs

The Blues went back to the CHL in Round 3, selecting Brett Sonne from the Western league’s Calgary Hitmen.

Sonne is a hard-nosed role player who can also put the puck in the net with reasonable frequency. In his second full season in the WHL, Sonne managed to score 21 goals and 30 points. He also recorded 65 PIM, and will drop the gloves if necessary. Much of Sonne’s production is the result of hard work down low in the corners and along the boards.

Sonne had five goals in the playoffs for Calgary, and he’s definitely the style of player you want when the games get tougher and more physical. At an under-18 international tournament last August, Sonne was one of Team Canada’s top performers, and was selected as the MVP of the championship game.

Sonne probably doesn’t have the individual talent to become a big-time point producer in the NHL, but he could end up providing grit on a third or fourth line one day. 

Cade Fairchild, D, US NTDP

4th Round, 96th Overall
5’10, 186 lbs

The US National Team Development Program provided yet another defenseman for St. Louis in the fourth round, in the form Cade Fairchild. Like Cole, Fairchild was selected higher than anticipated.

The Duluth, Minnesota, native is small for a defenseman, but makes up for this with his mobility and hockey sense. He is not shy about jumping into the play or lugging the puck up ice himself. He has good hands for a defenseman, making him a valuable asset on the power play.

In 40 games with the NTDP Under-18 squad, Fairchild assisted on 16 goals, while notching three of his own. Two of these came while his side held the man advantage. He also tallied 40 penalty minutes.

Fairchild will begin his NCAA career at Minnesota in the fall. If he can overcome concerns about his size, he has the skill to crack an NHL roster one day.

Travis Erstad, C/RW, Lincoln (USHL)

4th Round, 100th Overall
6’3, 182 lbs

After drafting a plethora of players who check in at less than 6’0 tall, the Blues elected to draft 6’3 forward Travis Erstad.

Erstad spent most of the season with Stevens Point, a high school in his native Wisconsin. He was an offensive force with the school, scoring 22 goals and 27 assists in 20 games. He finished the year in the USHL, skating with the Lincoln Stars for 11 games, including the playoffs. His only appearance on the score sheet was a goal, scored in one of his three post-season matches.

Erstad combines his size with surprisingly creative puck handling and a strong skating stride. The slender pivot can control the puck well while moving through traffic. He can shift easily between the roles of playmaker or goal scorer.

Erstad is expected to remain in USHL for another season, then on to the University of Wisconsin. 

Anthony Peluso, D, Erie (OHL)

6th Round, 160th Overall
6’3, 222 lbs

Burly blueliner Anthony Peluso was the third and final defenseman chosen by St. Louis in the draft. Peluso’s game is geared to his size, toughness, and abilities as an enforcer. In 52 games with Erie, the heavyweight produced 10 points, and racked up 176 penalty minutes.

The big Ontarian’s foot speed is probably not sufficient for him to become a reliable defenseman at the pro level. Therefore, it is believed that he will switch back to forward, a position he played primarily until recently. St. Louis’ head of scouting, Jarmo Kekalainen, stated that the Blues are in favor of a position change.

Peluso’s biggest asset in hoping to achieve a worthwhile pro career is his willingness to protect teammates by taking on other teams’ tough guys. He dropped the gloves with far more incidence last season than in 2005-06.

Trevor Nill, C, Detroit Compuware (Michigan Midget)

7th Round, 190th Overall
6’3, 185 lbs

The Blues went with bloodlines for their final pick of the draft, selecting centerman Trevor Nill. He is the son of Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill, who played 524 games in the NHL, including 62 with St. Louis in the early 80’s.

Nill is a quick skater, especially for his size. He uses these attributes to come out of traffic with the puck and create havoc in front of opposing nets. Nill is also a hard worker with a good attitude, traits he likely inherited from his father. In 53 games with Detroit Compuware, a well-known midget team, Nill produced 13 goals and 20 assists.

As a late-round pick, Nill has a long road to the NHL, but his strong work ethic has him off to the right start. He will spend the 2007-08 campaign in the BCHL with Penticton, and he has a verbal agreement to attend Michigan State in the fall of 2008.

Dustin Nielsen, Holly Gunning, Johan Nilsson, Sean Ruck, and Kevin Forbes contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.