The Blues franchise depth at D has seemingly been a strength for a long while now. Our plan, post lockout, was get a true franchise defensemen with our lottery pick, and surround him with other young quality defensemen. And we have, just not around the young defensemen we thought we would. Johnson is gone, but, in the immortal words of Diamond Dallas Page, that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing! Petro is king, and the Blues still have quality D-Men out the ass.
1. Alex Pietrangelo- Not a shock here. Petro was a revelation in his first full year, and should have won ROTY if not for something stupid called a “rule”. Still, lets be honest here, Petro was the best 1st year player in the NHL. In random stat news, Alex Pietrangelo was one of only 5 Defensemen to get at least 10 goals, 30 assists, and a +15 in the NHL this year. Not bad for a 22 year old in his first regular season. He also had the best +/- (+18) of any D-Man on a non playoff team (I’m not counting Goligoski on Dallas, because he got his entire +20 on Pittsburg). Basically, I’m just showing really creative ways to tell you what we already know. Alex Pietrangelo is awesome. If I did one of these with no position restriction, he’d be No.1, and I wouldn’t have to think about it.
2. Kevin Shattenkirk- See, now this is were the Johnson trade is skewed. Kevin Shattenkirk, in his rookie season, Kevin Shattenkirk got more points then Erik Johnson in any of EJ’s first 3 seasons. His 43 points matched Petro’s, but Kirk played in less games. Once Shattenkirk got away from the hell that was the Colorado Avalanche goaltending situation, where he had a -11, he answered back with a +7 in 26 games with the Blues. And, unlike EJ, I can’t remember Shattenkirk making a costly turnover in his own zone in his time here, and I can remember EJ doing that, like, over and over again. Look, I know EJ’s young, and is more physical (though he was never as physical as he probably should be), I have no reservations in saying that last season, Kevin Shattenkirk was the better player. And he’s younger then EJ. I’ve heard some really solid comparison for Kirk (Dan Boyle, Brian Rofalski being the two that jump out at me. I’ve heard Lidstrom a couple times, but no way in hell am I touching that until he’s won a couple of Norris’s) and, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirk becomes a perennial 50 point defensemen, and you don’t find those very often.
3. Roman Polak- I originally had Polak at 4, but thought better of it, mainly because the Blues have so many good young puck moving D-Men, that a good young Defensive Stopper actually has more value to us. Roman Polak is our wall. Only 12 points (3 of them goals though, and I think that might go up if Roman learns to control his shot), and only a -4, but this is about more then that. Roman is basically being groomed to take Jackman’s spot as our Defensive Specialist, and he’s already done a fine job of that.
4. Ian Cole- I’m tempted to try to get the nickname “The Cole Miner”, but I think 1 wrestling reference is enough in this write up. We didn’t see that much of Ian Cole this year, but he was solid when he was up, 1 goal, 3 assists, +6 in 26 games. Cole figures to be a reliable two way defensemen who you can count on in any situation. There are a couple things worth noting that limit my placement on him a bit: history of concussions isn’t good, and he tends to take too many penalty minutes (98 in 70 games between St. Louis and Peoria). I wouldn’t be stunned if Cole starts out in Peoria just due to process of elimination (Everyone else has 1 way contracts save Petro and Kirk, and neither of them are going anywhere), but if he does, that shouldn’t drop your opinion of him. Cole is still a very valuable piece to our defensive puzzle
5. Barret Jackman- Figuring out our 5-7 for me is a fucking chore. I’m going to give Jackman the spot here, once more, due to us needing a steady hand as a Defensive D-Man then we need puck movers. Jackman has his lapses, bad turnovers, no question, but he still is a damn fine PK man, and useful to us
6. Carlo Colaiacovo- Carlo didn’t come of a bad year, per say, but not a particular memorable one. First year as a Blue he had a minus, first year as a Blue he didn’t get to 25 assists. 3rd year as a Blue he didn’t get to 70 games (out of 3), but that’s not particularly surprising. Carlo is a good overall defender that is capable of playing on both ends, probably more talented offensively then Cole and slightly worse on D. He’s 28 now, more or less in his prime, and probably figures in more as a 3rd pairing defender then anything. But I’d say he’s a good 3rd pairing defender who you can count on to contribute.
7. Nikita Nikitin- Where did this dude come from? I mean, he’s been here a year, but I’m still shocked he came over in the first place, but I can’t say I’m not pleased with what I’ve seen from him. He had been a solid hand for his home town team of Omsk for a couple years, but it was still an absolute shock when he decided to sign with us last year, and he came in and competed from a roster spot from day one. I think he proved he was too talented for the AHL level (14 points in 22 games). The Blues signed him again to a 1 year deal, this time 1 way, so expect him on the big club all year, cause my gut says he doesn’t clear wavers. N64 has a big shot from the point that we got to see a bit on some powerplays, and could probably make a solid option on our second Powerplay unit. He had 9 points and a +1 in 41 games in the note last year, which would lead you to believe he wasn’t a defensive liability. He was at about a hit a game, so he doesn’t seem to shy away from the physical play, and he blocked a fair amount of shots… I honest to go don’t know what this guys upside is. He’s only 23 years old. Has he topped out? Can he prove to be a reliable two way defender, ala Carlo? Does he have more upside, and be a potential top 4 defensemen like we assume Cole will be? Hell, does he show to be another one of those Russian players everyone slept on in the draft who proves he has what it takes to be a true top level talent in the American game? I generally have no idea. My guess is somewhere in between Cole and Carlo. You have to figure coming to live here in spite of not knowing a word of English when he signed his contract had to be a hell of culture shock too, so I don’t even know if that affected him at all this year. There are so many questions amount Nikitin I really don’t know, but what I think I know is that he’s an NHL caliber defensemen. I guess that will have to be good enough for now, and hopefully we learn good things from here.
8. Brett Ponich- Ponich moves ahead of our other solid defensive prospects to me because, once more, he plays in a way that we need more young defensemen to play. Ponich played on what had to be the most loaded Canadian Junior team in the land this year, the Portland Winterhawks, in which I’m rather sure he was the Captain. Though dealing with an injury, Ponich had a very solid season, and the big 6’7 D-Man should be heading to Peoria this year to start. Ponich is a giant defensemen in a league where that’s sorta becoming trendy since Chara stepped on the scene. I certainly don’t think Ponich will be Chara, and I don’t think he has the offensive capabilities to be compared to Tyler Myers… But hopefully he can turn into a big physical presence ala a Roman Polak who you don’t want to mess with.
9. Mark Cundari- From undrafted free agent to standing a solid chance at playing in the NHL someday, not a bad run for Cundari. Cundari made his initial name for himself playing on Windsor when Windsor had Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, and Ryan Ellis (they still have Ellis, who put up a 100 point season there this year. Worth noting, Ellis is a defensemen. Yikes.) Cundari enjoyed a fine first season in pro hockey, with 10 goals and 20 assist for the Riverman. He’s always taken too many penalty minutes (5 straight years of over 100 for a dude who’se 5’10), but Cundari has turned into a legit NHL prospect from a very humble start.
10. Jonas Junland- The problem with Jonas Junland isn’t talent. He’s already proven he can dominate the AHL level. It’s that he doesn’t want to play in the AHL level, and wants a chance in the NHL level. Thing is, the Blues don’t have a shortage of guys like Junland. He’s a very talented puck mover, no question, but the problems with him have always been “weak in his own zone”. I think Junland could play in the NHL, I don’t think it will be here. If I’m Blues management, I’m trying to unload him, possibly in a package deal.
Aaah… Blues goaltending. We thought it would be our strength. Honestly? I thought it was our weakness last year. However, not all is dim my friends. Jaroslav should be better in his second year leading this team… right? Right.
1. Jaroslav Halak- The Halakness monster came over with oh so much hype. I don’t want to say he single handedly took the might Crosby’s and the Fightin Ovie’s out of the playoffs. When we traded for him, we all had thought the jackpot had been hit. And in the early going, Jaro was so so so damn good. And then hard times fell upon us. I like Jaro, I really do. But a 910 Save Percentage isn’t good enough. Honestly, it might not even be close to good enough. The Blues were 28th in the NHL in Save Percentage last year folks. The amazing thing about that is the fact we finished 28th in the league in Save Percentage while being only one of 3 teams to get 10 shutouts. Take out those 10 games, what do you think our save percentage would be then? Basically, Blues goaltending was feast or famine, and while Conklin certainly didn’t help that, Halak was that by definition. And I don’t think you can blame it on the defense, at least in quanity of shots. Maybe Blues D let opponents slip in for easy looks more often then other teams, but I don’t think that’s an excuse. Long story short: It was Jaro’s first year as starter. He had some injuries. He underperformed. Lets see how he’ll do in his second go around. If it’s not better then his first… then No.2 on my list is going to become our starter much earlier then we hoped.
2. Jake Allen- The Snake got his first taste of pro hockey, and I don’t think he disappointed. Sure, by the end of the year his GAA and Save Percentage had fallen of a bit. But it was his first year playing at this level, and I’m not surprised there was some wear and tear. Jake is probably considered a top 5 or so goaltending prospect, certainly top 10, and, chances are, will get a chance to be the 1 in Peoria next year. I’m optimistic
3. Ben Bishop- The big man had an up and down year, and seems like a safe bet to take over back up net minder position for the Blues next year. I imagine the Blues will sign someone to compete with him, but you’d have to think it’s Bishops job to lose. Problem is, he’s shown lapses at the NHL level. After playing a great period, he’ll totally bomb the next. Game by game and that’d be a concern, but period by period is a red flag. I’m willing to give him a pass on it being nerves, and I hope he proves he can at least be a solid back up, we shall see.
So, there ya go. If you wanna post thoughts, be my guest. But, basically, I’m tired, and have the draft to pay attention to later to see if any of these players I’ve taken the time to describe to people who already get to watch them play all the time. Kinda stupid in retrospect, but still. Lets Go Blues! Someone Buy Us Please