Tomorrow's Blues Online with Brian Weidler
The Blues are quietly building a very impressive stable of young defensemen, through both trades (Carlo Colaiacovo) and free-agent signings (Brendan Bell), but especially through the NHL Entry Draft. In each of the last four drafts, the Blues have spent a first-round pick on a defenseman (Erik Johnson, 1st overall 2006; Ian Cole, 18th overall, 2007; Alex Pietrangelo, 4th overall, 2008; and David Rundblad, 17th overall, 2009).
In total, 12 of the Blues' last 35 picks in the NHL Entry Draft, going back to the 2006 draft, have been blueliners. Of these picks, 2009 second-rounder Brett Ponich is the tallest at 6' 6, and brings with him perhaps the loftiest set of expectations as well, considering his draft position and ranking going into the draft.
After the jump, check out what the latest addition to the Blues' burgeoning stable of potential impact defensemen has to say about being drafted in the second round, who he patterns his game after, and more...
Ponich, a native of Beaumont, Alberta, may well be this year's poster boy for "off-the-board picks" by Jarmo Kekalainen and he Blues' scouting staff. The 6' 6, 205-pound southpaw was not ranked at all by NHL Central Scouting in their Midterm Rankings, and rose to 151st overall in their Final Rankings.
On his NHL Draft Notes blog, "Red Line Report" scout and contributing editor Michael Remmerde summed up what was for many the consensus on Ponich going into last June's draft:
"...the more I look at my notes, the more I realize this is a pretty decent mid-round sleeper. I just wish he showed just a little more natural aggressiveness. If I'm in an organization that needs this role (big stay-at-home d-man), you'd have to argue pretty hard for this guy with your 4th... maybe even your 3rd, depending on who else is available. I'd guess he goes somewhere in the 3rd or 4th. Some whispers around that he could sneak into the 2nd round, but that's iffy to me."
Kekalainen and the Blues heard the whispers, and took a flyer on the big Albertan midway through the second round in Montreal. Your "Game Time" Prospect Department had a chat with Ponich after a practice at the Blues' Pro Orientation Camp in early July, and here's what this gentle giant had to say about his draft position, and about his future with the Blues.
GAME TIME: Brett, the first thing I wanted to ask you is, what was your reaction to being drafted in the second round after being rated somewhat lower than that? Did you think you could go that high?
PONICH: No, I was really trying to just get drafted. My goal going into the year was to be drafted, and going in the second round was exciting. I had heard a few rumors, and didn't know exactly where I would go, but being drafted by St. Louis is very exciting.
GAME TIME: OK. One of my readers is a guy that's in the Army, and he's deploying to Iraq soon. He wanted me to tell you that when he comes back next year, he wants to hear about you knocking on the door of playing in the NHL, or else. Do you think you can meet that timetable?
PONICH: You know, I don't know right now. I will definitely try, because I want to be here. I want to play here this year if I can; I want to be here right now. I love this city, and I'd definitely love to play for the Blues.
GAME TIME: This organization has a lot of talent and depth on defense, as you probably know. How do you feel about being in an organization that has so much talent at your position? Would you have preferred to be drafted to some place where you might have an easier path to the NHL?
PONICH: I don't think there's any such thing as an easy path to the NHL. No matter what team you're going to, it's going to be tough to crack the roster. There are good players on every team, and you know, St. Louis does have a great defense. They've got a lot of great young players coming up, and it just means I'll have to work a little harder to try and grab a spot.
GAME TIME: OK, now some people have said that your skating isn't all that, but it sure didn't look bad to me when you were out there. What do you think about your skating? Would you say that's one of your strengths, or is it something you might want to work on a little bit?
PONICH: My skating is for sure something I want to work on as much as possible. You can never be too fast, or too quick.
I've been out in Portland this past month; actually, I was out there during the draft. I've been on the ice pretty much twice a day working on skating, doing that kind of thing, working with (ex-Winter Hawk and current Buffalo Sabre forward) Paul Gaustad.
I don't think there's anything I overlook when I'm training. Skating is one of the things that I put an emphasis on, but I try to improve everything.
"I want to be here. I want to play here this year if I can; I want to be here right now. I love this city, and I'd definitely love to play for the Blues ... St. Louis does have a great defense. They've got a lot of great young players coming up, and it just means I'll have to work a little harder to try and grab a spot."
GAME TIME: OK, some of the basic questions now. Who would you say you model your game after?
PONICH: Oh, I love to watch Chris Pronger. He's a big guy like me, and he controls the pace of the game with his passing. He makes great passes, never throws it off the boards, always makes a smart play, so I love to watch him.
I also watch Hal Gill, because he's another big defenseman who makes the safe play, the simple play, and he's also a smart player. Sticking with the big guys, I love to watch Zdeno Chara too. He's tough, he's smart, and he's a great player.
GAME TIME: Yeah, Jarmo Kekalainen mentioned your name in the same sentence with Chara after you had been picked by the Blues...
PONICH: Oh, I don't know if I'm ready for that yet, but if I can get close to him, that'd be awesome.
GAME TIME: Do you consider yourself a physical kind of player, or are you more of a finesse defenseman?
PONICH: Well, I'm a big body, so I want to be as physical as possible. I'm looking to add a little more of that to my game, be a little tougher. When I need to be tough, I'll be tough.
GAME TIME: Do you like to throw 'em, or would you prefer to stay out of that kind of thing if you could?
PONICH: I try to keep under control, as little emotion as possible; like I said, if there needs to be a fight, I'll fight, but I don't want to lose my head and put my team down a man. I don't want to fight just out of aggression; I want there to be a purpose for it.
PONICH: Oh, I've had quite a few over the years... I've had "Pony," "Poncho," "Ponzie." There's a ton of names out there. And "Tree." I get "Tree" a lot.
GAME TIME: OK, tell us real quick, if you would, what you consider to be the strengths of your game, and what you consider are the areas of your game that you might need to work on a little bit.
PONICH: Well, I'm a defensive defenseman, so I consider myself pretty strong in the defensive zone. I'll try to make the safe play, and my first pass out of the zone, I think, is one of my strengths.
I really want to work on my skating, and the offensive side of the game. I'd like to add a little more to that, mix up my shots.
GAME TIME: OK, and if you do end up going back to Portland this year, what does it look like for the Winter Hawks? How are they looking for next year?
PONICH: Oh, we've had a couple of rough seasons the past two years (30-106-8 in the last two seasons), but our 17-year-olds this year are going to be a lot better. They'll be a big part of turning the team around, and we're going to be a lot better this year.
GAME TIME: All right.... thanks a lot for your time, Brett. I appreciate it, and good luck to you this year.
PONICH: Thank you.
PONICH SCOUTING REPORT
"Gigantic defender still needs to add some meat to his 6-foot-7, 205-pound frame .. fairly heavy slap shot when he gets all of it .. not the next Paul Coffey when it comes to stickhandling , however possesses pretty decent feet for a player his size .. passes are not always on the mark which puts the intended target in a poor position to do much with it .. has the ability to carry up the ice and elude a checker or two .. will pinch in from the point .. works hard along the boards for loose pucks .. not surprisingly sports a long wingspan which helps him create turnovers .. a regular on the penalty kill .. chosen by Winter Hawks in the second round (30th overall) of the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft."
--McKeens Hockey Prospects website
|BRETT PONICH ... Defense, shoots left. 6' 6", 205 pounds. Born February 22, 1991 in Beaumont, AB.|
|St. Louis' 2nd selection (48th overall) in 2009 NHL Entry Draft.|
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