Since the GTPD Fanpost about Patrik Berglund and prospect development in the Blues' organ-I-zation has been so well-received by the "Game Time" community, we here at the Prospect Department have decided to keep the discussion going by commenting on some of your thoughts here in a separate post.
In the original Fanpost at right, bzgea2 thoughtfully proposed that the Blues:
start drafting exclusively canadian.
In all honesty, your GTPD is not completely opposed to this, either... we'll qualify it, however, by changing "Canadian" to "North American," as we feel that Oshie, Backes and Johnson (who, we'll say here and now, appears as if he could use a swift kick in the ass in order to pull his head out of it) demonstrate adequately that Americans can get the job done, too.
Also, the American-born draftees that haven't made The Show yet — the Coles, Palushajs, McRaes, and Bishops of the world — are among the organization's top prospects as well, so ruling out Americans entirely probably isn't the best of ideas.
More on drafting, and oh, yes, about drafting Europeans, too... after the jump.
It's well-known that your GTPD - and the Blues' scouting staff as well - loves the skill level of Europeans, and Lars Eller is absolutely going to be a player in this league. There is no doubt in our minds of that. But he seems to be the exception among European forwards, as noted in the original Fanpost.
Jori Lehtera also really interests us, as it's rare for an unheralded 21-year-old to be among the league leaders in scoring in the SM-Liiga for as long as he has been this year. That's a league that plays a more North American-style physical and defensive game (which is part of the reason why so many decent goalies seem to come from Finland), so Lehtera has gained some experience in playing that kind of game. Lehtera's coming over to play in Peoria at the end of last season was a big plus for your GTPD as well.
Simon Hjalmarsson has been over for both Development Camps since he was drafted, and displays some intriguing skills, but unless he makes the commitment to come over and play in Peoria next season, he might have to be written off. The Russian Andronov is a possibility as well, as he'll be age-eligible for the AHL next season.
We know a lot of Blues' fans are fed up with Russians after the defections of Shishkanov, Zakharov, Shkotov and Lemtyugov, and we certainly wouldn't blame them for feeling that way. All of those players, however, had some success in the AHL, which apparently led them to believe that they had earned at least a legitimate shot at the NHL... and who knows, perhaps they were right.
Something else to consider is that all of those Russians - except Lemtyugov - came over to play major junior immediately after being drafted. All played in the QMJHL - Shishkanov and Shkotov with the Quebec Remparts, and Zakharov with the Moncton Wildcats.
Your GTPD has long advocated, and will do so here again, that if the Blues are going to draft European forwards, they need to either draft those who will come over and play major junior immediately, so as to acclimate themselves to the North American game and lifestyle and demonstrate a commitment to playing the game over here...
...or else they need to do something they haven't done yet under Jarmo Kekalainen, and that is to draft European-trained players who have already made the commitment to come over and play major junior in their draft years.
Here's just one example of the kind of player we're talking about: Alexander Burmistrov of the Barrie Colts (OHL).
Burmistrov, a 6'0, 170-pound native of Kazan, Russia, is tearing it up in the OHL right now (14-27-41 in 32 games, plus-21, 24 PIM, 2 PP, 1 SH, 4 GW), on a team that has not lost in regulation since Oct. 15 (21-0-0-1 in that span). More telling perhaps, and indicative of his individual impact, is that Burmistrov is the only significant addition to a Barrie squad that was three games under .500 last season, and is now the top-ranked team in all major junior hockey.
This kid could have stayed in Russia and dominated with the Bars Kazan team in the MHL (Russia's top junior league) - who are doing all right without him at 18-13-3 as it is - and still been a high draft pick this year. He chose instead to come over and start getting used to North American hockey right away, and took the chance of getting lost in the shuffle of the heavily-scouted OHL.
You want some more?
How about Ivan Telegin of the Saginaw Spirit, a big (6'3, 185 pounds) center with impressive numbers as well (32 GP, 18-13-31, plus-7, 14 PM, 5 PPG) who has also scored a team-leading four of the all-important "first goals."
Or, jumping east to Quebec, what about Kirill Kabanov of Moncton? Considered at one time to be a contender for the first overall selection in 2010, Kabanov aggravated an old wrist injury and underwent surgery in November, with an expected return of mid-February. This will certainly drive his draft stock downward, leaving the Blues with the possibility of "stealing" him with a pick in the second to fourth rounds.
Or perhaps one of the Czech pair of playmaker Jakub Culek, or sniper Petr Straka of the Rimouski Oceanic. Straka leads Rimouski, and leads all QMJHL rookies, with 18 goals in 34 games, while Culek's 28 assists has him tied for 8th overall in the "Q," along with fellow draft-eligible Russian Stanislav Galiev of the league-leading Saint John Sea Dogs.
If the Blues want to add the skill of European forwards to the organization, drafting guys like this is, in our considered opinion, the way to do it.
We'll address European defensemen and goalies in a separate post. For now, we at the "Game Time" Prospect Department welcome and encourage your comments and thoughts below. And as always, remember... "If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.