Roster cuts have come out, and the team's down to ten defenseman competing for seven spots. When you look at the guys who are left, it boils down to more like five guys battling for two positions. I think we can safely assume that Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson, Roman Polak, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Barret Jackman will all be starting the season with the team unless something happens and one of them gets hurt during a pre-season game.
In all actuality, the competition boils down to Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Nathan Oystrick, and Tyson Strachan. One of them is a top draft pick, three of them are prospects - one highly touted - and one is a journeyman who has been bumped back and forth between the NHL and AHL level of hockey. Three of these guys are going to be disappointed.
The expectations for the lower two defenseman pairings might not be that high, unless you consider that the Blues don't have a true defensive line-up based on ability. We currently have five NHL caliber defensemen who are paired based on chemistry and, if need be, performance in previous games. None of the three pairings are expected to perform to a level any less than the other two. This means that not only are there expectations of competency for the 6th defenseman, the 7th man doesn't need to be a brick on skates. He should be a viable and productive member of the blueline.
I'm not going to argue in favor of any particular one, but after the jump, I'll be looking at the pros and cons of each one - you guys make the call. If you were coach, which one is most deserving of a roster spot?
The fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft was expected to be an impact player, though not as quickly as the two defenseman taken in front of him - Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian. Doughty and Bogosian were both noticeably bigger than Pieterangelo at the draft even, and both of them continue to outpace Petro in size and strength. Given a taste of NHL life at the starts of both the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Pietrangelo was sent down to juniors and finished last season with the Peoria Rivermen. He's more than able to score, as he showed in 2007-2008 with his 53 points in 60 GP with the Niagara Ice Dogs. He's just not been big enough to crack the roster.
That has changed this off-season, with Petro apparently hitting puberty late and reaching 203 lbs at 6'3". That still puts him at a lower weight to height ratio than Doughty and Bogosian (6'0", 212 lbs and 6'3, 215 lbs, repectively) , but it's also much better than it has been in the past. He's by no means considered small by NHL standards, and many think that with his increased size the 6th defenseman position is his to lose.
Cole is the other Golden Child of the Blues' defensive prospects. At 6'1" and 211 lbs, he's bulkier than Petro. He's good for slightly more than a point every other game based on his NCAA stats, and the Blues' 2007 first rounder (18th overall) has a solid point shot which could be helpful in motivating the powerplay unit to score. His size also keeps him from getting knocked around easily, which means that boardwork and the corners aren't a problem for him. He also can run over people if needed, which as we all know is what makes a fan favorite in STL.
The Blues' fifth round pick of the 2004 draft has taken longer than Cole and Petro to mature, though he has chosen to play in Russia for the past few seasons to hone his skills. The five seasons with Avangard Omsk have done him well, seeing him put up a respectable number of assists as well as a fairly decent +/- rating. The physical defenseman would be more of a Polak-esque mold of defenseman - not expected to score though he can; more expected to be big, physical, and rough when needed. Come to think of it, he and Polak'd make a pretty ok third pairing. He's not used to the long season and the style of the North American game, so hopping directly into the NHL might be challenging for him on the ice.
A fifth round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 entry draft, Strachan has played 38 games with the Blues split over the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons. He's familiar with the defensemen that he'd hypothetically be joining, and he's also been beaten up by Colton Orr, so that's a plus. His experience is an asset, though you have to question why his development's taken so long.
The oldest of the five, Oystrick was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 7th round (198th overall) of the 2003 draft. He's been a servicable call up and 7th defenseman, getting called up in 2008 and playing 53 games that season. Unfortunately for Oystrick, that's been the only time he's been in the NHL long-term, spending almost all season with the Chicago Wolves last season before getting traded to the Ducks to play only three games. Questions arise over his motivation level - he's got skills and he has the ability to be an NHL defenseman - so why hasn't he stayed in the NHL?