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St. Louis Blues: 2008-09 Top 12 Prospects

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
2/24/2009 1:14:12 PM
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After purging the roster over the last few seasons to acquire prospects and draft picks, the St. Louis Blues have collected some valuable potential for their rebirth. With a focus on rebuilding a strong foundation, both assistant General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the scouting staff have really rolled up their sleeves the past four years. The entire organization is flush with talent and the Blues now have strength and depth - especially at forward and in goal. If the hockey operations staff can work some magic unearthing NHL talent, then the Blues should have a bright future very soon. Over the past four NHL drafts, the Blues have had a total of 19 picks in the top three rounds with seven first round picks, six second round picks and six third rounders. Those 19 picks could be the backbone of the organization for the next decade. With the graduation of Erik Johnson, Tyson Strachan, Jeff Woywitka and David Perron from last year's list, a new group has replaced them.

The forwards are led by talented NHL rookies Patrick Berglund, T.J. Oshie and a very solid group of prospects in Lars Eller, Aaron Palushaj, Simon Hjalmarsson, Nick Drazenovic, Tomas Kana, Jori Lehtera, Phillip McRae and Brett Sonne. Both Berglund and Oshie will graduate from this list after the end of the season, but the Blues still have depth and potential in Eller, Palushaj, Sonne and Hjalmarsson. With all of these bodies, one would think about making trades to upgrade the NHL team. But expect St. Louis to be patient with their kids.

A log jam of talent between the pipes will soon be a nice problem for the Blues, as they have Ben Bishop crafting his trade in the AHL and Marek Schwarz back in the Czech Republic. With two other promising netminders in Jake Allen and Reto Berra a few years behind, the Blues will not have to make a tough decision for a while.

On the blue line, it starts with defenceman Alex Pietrangelo - who has the potential to become a No. 1 man for a decade. Both Cade Fairchild and Ian Cole played for Team USA at the WJC and have shown promise. The lone European defenceman on the list is Sweden's Jonas Junland, who has made the jump to North America.

1. Alex Pietrangelo – Defence, 19 (1st round 4th overall 2008)
Currently with Niagara (OHL)

He's a two-way defenceman who is as comfortable in the offensive zone as his own and has the potential to be a No. 1 defenceman one day. He sees the ice exceptionally well, reads the developing play quickly and makes the appropriate decisions. He moves the puck with very little hesitation and uses his options well, whether making the first pass or in the transition game. He shows little panic with the puck and has the stickhandling ability to buy himself time when needed. His skating mechanics are excellent and he seems to glide instead of skating since he is so smooth and gets to top speed quickly. He has the agility to handle speedy forwards and is smooth when turning forward to back. He possesses a powerful right handed slap shot from the point. Inside his zone he looks to be a solid, dependable player that shows good poise under duress and makes good decisions. Regardless of the situation, he breaks to his position pretty quickly while using his wing span and mobility to reduce options in the passing lanes. He has an active stick and breaks up many passes, especially since his keeps his head on a swivel. He logs heavy minutes and is out on the ice in all crucial situations and can always be relied upon due to his work ethic.

2. Patrick Berglund – Centre, 20 (1st round, 25th overall 2006)
Currently with St. Louis (NHL)

A smart playmaker that has size at 6-4 and 210 pounds, along with deceptive speed after growing into his lanky frame. He shows excellent puck skills and his hockey sense is at a high level. Berglund can play with elite players. His play away from the puck is good for his age and he understands which angles to take and the lanes to plug. He keeps an active stick and makes an effort on the back check. All he needs to do is work hard in the offseason and play with greater intensity. A future as a second-line centre in the NHL that can produce 70 points a year seems likely at this point.

3. T.J. Oshie – Centre, 22 (1st round, 24th overall 2005)
Currently with St. Louis (NHL)

He's a skilled centre with potential to be a valuable top six forward. He has looked solid as an NHL rookie so far. His vision, hockey sense and poise are NHL calibre and he can produce under any tempo or speed. He makes smart decisions with the puck at speed and has the stickhandling ability to create time and space for himself or linemates. He has decent size at 6 feet and 192 pounds but needs to add additional strength to battle NHL defencemen more effectively. His skating is good, he can break away at times and can jump on loose pucks with his quickness. He has a quick and dangerous wrist and snap shot which can fool goaltenders. He has the character, ability and work ethic to develop into a solid No. 2 centre in the NHL.

4. Ian Cole – Defence, 20 (1st round 18th overall 2007)
Currently with Notre Dame (NCAA)

An offensive minded defenceman who is a good skater, along with the size at 6-1 and 215 pounds He does not do anything that's great but he is solid, smart and could develop into a dependable two-way defenceman with offensive skills. He can make safe nice passes out of his zone or in transition and reads the ice well. He shows poise and does not get forced into problems very often. He has a good shot that is low and accurate and can be effective running the power play from the point. He also has an aggressive nature and will battle hard for loose pucks and body position. He is improving in his overall defensive game.

5. Lars Eller – Centre, 19 (1st round 13th overall 2007)
Currently with Frolunda (SWE)

Eller is a slick playmaking elusive centre that has the hockey sense and vision to play at the professional level. He is a good skater that will be faster with additional strength, but he has the quickness and agility to create mismatches. He moves the puck quickly, uses his linemates well and has a decent wrist and slap shot. On the defensive side, he is responsible and makes an effort in his own zone, but could use a little refinement as he uses instincts over strategy too often. He is not a physical forward, although he has decent size at 6 feet and 198 pounds and he could use more grit in his game.

6. Jake Allen – Goalie, 18 (2nd round 34th overall 2008)
Currently with Montreal (QMJHL)

He's a lanky netminder at 6-2 and 175 pounds, but Allen will gain strength and weight as he matures and there is no rush since he is at the beginning of his development. He displays maturity and poise beyond his years and does not seem to get rattled or lose his cool when under fire or when things go bad. His crease mechanics are very good considering his age, as Allen shows an aggressive nature and will challenge shooters and has little difficulty tracking pucks in heavy traffic. He skates very well and displays excellent quickness and agility in the crease. Like all young netminders, he must continue to work on his rebound control even though it is currently quite good. The one aspect of his game that truly stands out is his ability to pass and play the puck as Allen is like a third defenceman. He has shown flashes of being a dominant goaltender and has the ability to carry a team on his back. If the Blues are patient, they could have their goaltender of the future in about four years.

7. Ben Bishop – Goalie, 22 (3rd round, 85th overall 2005)
Currently with Peoria (AHL)

The 6-7, 210 pound netminder had been solid for the Maine Black Bears over the last three seasons and looked dominant at times. He had good numbers in college with a 55-34-7 record and a .917 save percentage and led his team far in tournaments. For a towering goaltender, Bishop does not have any awkwardness to his game and shows good mobility and lateral movement. However, he still requires some refinement to his game. He has a pretty decent glove hand and uses his blocker well to deflect the puck. He sees the ice and the developing play due to his height and uses his size well and can be aggressive in the net. Bishop can move the puck but he needs to be a little more careful with his decisions. He has played well at times as a rookie in the AHL and is learning and refining his craft. Bishop's numbers are respectable and there is room for improvement, and the Blues will be patient with his development. He did see some time in the NHL and showed he is capable of playing at that level and shows potential.

8. Aaron Palushaj – Right Wing, 19 (2nd round 44th overall 2007)
Currently with Michigan (NCAA)

An underrated prospect who has followed up a breakout year as a freshman with a great season as a sophomore. He has good hockey sense and vision and simply finds a way to be in the right place at the right time. He makes good decisions with the puck under duress and uses his linemates well while showing poise. He shows good puck skills, can stickhandle to create time and makes hard accurate passes in traffic with speed. He is a good skater with quickness and agility to create separation in tight areas, but he could use another gear and get stronger. He has shown responsible play defensively, but needs to improve upon taking the right angles on the back check, keeping an active stick in the lanes while keeping his head on a swivel. He can play a chippy physical game at times and will go after loose pucks in the slot. He has the potential to turn into a fine NHL player with time and development.

9. Simon Hjalmarsson – Right Wing, 20 (2nd round 39th overall 2007)
Currently with Frolunda (SWE)

He's a skilled forward with an NHL level of hockey sense that seems to get overlooked at times due to his current size at 5-11 and 170 pounds. His puck skills are exceptionally good, as Hjalmarsson feather passes quickly into tight areas and can stickhandle to create time and space for himself. He makes smart decisions with the puck in the neutral and offensive zones and shows very good poise with the puck under duress. When he has an opportunity to shoot, he can fire off a nifty quick wrist and snap shot with dangerous accuracy. His current weight and overall strength are a detriment, as Hjalmarsson would have difficulty competing at the AHL at this time. His skating has improved but it is not at the level needed to avoid hits. Away from the puck, he has shown improvement and understands the value of body position - keeping an active stick and making sure his feet are moving. His strong play at the WJC in Ottawa showed his skill set and now it's a matter of rounding out the rest of his game.

10. Brett Sonne – Centre, 19 (3rd round 85th overall 2007)
Currently with Calgary (WHL)
He's a late bloomer compared to many other of his peer group early on in his junior hockey career, but Sonne has exploded offensively this season after injuries stalled his development last year. He shows above average hockey sense and has a knack for finding the right place to be to score goals. He tends to be more of a goal-scorer than a puck distributor, so Sonne might be better off on the wing once he turn pro. He is currently listed at 6 feet and 187 pounds, so Sonne will need to add additional strength and weight to his frame. He has above average puck skills and can score goals in bunches - he possesses a dangerous array of shots all with good accuracy and power. He's also an above average skater and needs a little more quickness and power in his foot speed. He is a strong defensive player who displays hustle and work ethic, with a good understanding of limiting options. He has been well coached, and with time and patience in the minors Sonne could develop into a NHL role player.

11. Jonas Junland – Defence, 21 (3rd round 64th overall 2006)
Currently with Peoria (AHL)

He's an offensive minded defenceman that is just beginning to round out the rest of his game and develop into a more complete blueliner. He displays good hockey sense and can process the developing play pretty quickly even at a high tempo and speed. Has good size at 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds but is not a physical defenceman and tends to play a more puck possession style. He has a good shot from the point as he finds seams to get the puck through and has power and accuracy. His defensive game needs work and part of it is adjusting to the new angles, speed and tough play of the North American game. He will need to be more competitive in puck battles and more assertive. It remains to be seen if Junland can handle and adjust to the North American game, so patience will be needed over the next few years.

12. Cade Fairchild – Defence, 20 (4th round 96th overall 2007)
Currently with Minnesota (NCAA)

He's a 5-11 and 186 pound rearguard with offensive flair. He has some intriguing tools but is still in need of continuing development. He is an accurate passer that can hit a forward in stride, whether he is coming out of his zone or in the transition game. He has the ability to run a power play and shows some good decision making and poise in the offensive zone. A pretty good skater overall but it would not hurt if he was a little quicker and stronger on the puck in terms of balance. Away from the puck is where he will need the most work, as Fairchild must be consistent and display good habits if he wants to play at the NHL level. He has not shown consistency when it comes to breaking to the right position and maintaining proper body position. His experience at the WJC for Team USA and playing for University of Minnesota will go a long way in helping his long term development.

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St. Louis Blues - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

St. Louis Blues 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 9 (1) Ladislav Nagy (7/177)
1998 8 (2) Christian Backman (1/24), Matt Walker (3/83)
1999 10 (2) Barret Jackman (1/17), Alexander Khavanov (8/232)
2000 9 (1) Jeff Taffe (1/30)
2001 8 (2) Jay McClement (2/57), Petr Cajanek (8/253)
2002 9 (0) D.J King (6/190)
2003 12 (2) David Backes (2/62), Lee Stempniak (5/148)

Total: 7 yrs – 65 draft picks – 10 NHL Players = 15.3 % success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 4 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects: Shawn Belle (1/30)
7 yrs – 4 draft picks – 3 NHL Players = 75% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 7 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects – Tyler Rennette, Maxim Linnik, David Morisset, Alexei Shkotov, Andrei Mihknov
7 yrs - 7 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 28.5% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 9 total picks
Peter Smrek, Antoine Bergeron, Justin Papineau, Tuomas Nissinen, Tomas Trogliga, Zack Fitzgerald, Konstantin Barulin, Konstantin Zakharov
7yrs – 9 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 11.1% success rate

Total: 7 yrs – 20 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 30% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (5) North American, (1) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (6) North American, (8) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 45 total picks
7 yrs – 45 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 8.8% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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TJ Oshie  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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