"Tomorrow’s Blues" by Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
In preparation for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, your "Game Time" Prospect Department will be spending some time over the next few weeks breaking down the Blues’ past drafts by position -- goaltender, defense, center and wing. We will analyze these positions in the print edition of "Game Time," and will also be conducting a series of polls here on the website, where we will ask the readers of this fine publication to select the Blues’ all-time best drafted player at each of those four positions.
We’ll start with goaltending, which is where most general managers start when trying to build or rebuild a franchise...
Historically, some of the best goaltenders in the NHL have worn the Bluenote, going back to the franchise’s earliest days with legends Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall splitting duties between the pipes. The current group of three goalies on the NHL rosters consists of a duo -- Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott --that won the Jennings Trophy last season as the best goaltending tandem in the league, and the man who is currently outplaying both of them, 22-year-old New Brunswick native Jake "The Snake" Allen.
Keeping in mind that Curtis Joseph, whom some might call the best goalie the Blues ever developed in their system, was signed as an undrafted free agent, the first poll here on the website will ask readers to choose between the following drafted players as the best goaltender ever drafted by the St. Louis Blues In alphabetical order, these players are:
Ben Bishop (85th overall 2005), who was raised in St. Louis and played minor hockey here before moving on to the University of Maine and Peoria. Bishop made his NHL debut with the Blues in 2008-09, and appeared in a total of 13 games for the club before being dealt late last season to Ottawa.
John Davidson (5th overall 1973), a big Ottawa native who played his junior hockey out west in Calgary with the old Centennials, and made his debut with the Blues in 1973-74. Davidson’s best years as an NHL goalie were spent with the New York Rangers, and he later served a long and distinguished tenure as the Blues’ president and the public face of the franchise.
Guy Hebert (159th overall 1987), the only NHL player ever to be drafted from little Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, made his pro debut with Peoria in 1989-90, and played two seasons with the Blues before being the first player chosen by Anaheim in the 1993 expansion draft. Hebert is now coaching at a high school in southern California, a place fast becoming a hotbed of potential talent.
Mike Liut (56th overall 1976) was a tall, rangy netminder who played four years at Bowling Green University in the CCHA, and then spent two years with the Cincinnati Stingers of the old WHA before joining the Blues for the 1979-80 season. A workhorse who averaged over 60 games played each of five full seasons with the Blues, Liut was traded to the Hartford Whalers in February 1985 along with Jorgen Pettersson for Mark Johnson and Greg Millen.
"Just the facts, ma’am..."
The very first player the Blues ever drafted was a goaltender, Gary Edwards of the Toronto Marlboros. Edwards was selected by the Blues at sixth overall in the 1968 Entry Draft, and wore the Bluenote in a total of 12 games during a pro career spanning 15 seasons, 13 of which saw him on an NHL roster.
The Blues have drafted a total of 41 goaltenders since 1968, broken down as follows:
Round 1: Three (Edwards, John Davidson 5th overall 1973, Marek Schwarz 17th overall 2004). Two Canadian-born players who had long and relatively distinguished careers in pro hockey, and a Czech born player who’s NHL and AHL career was so un-distinguished that the Blues haven’t gone anywhere near a goalie in the first round for almost a decade.
Round 2: Two (Jake Allen 34th overall 2008, Ed Staniowski 27th overall 1975). Staniowski was solid and reliable backup for the Blues, Jets and Whalers in the 70’s and 80’s, and is now a lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Army who has seen combat in Afghanistan, Africa and Bosnia.
Round 3: Eight. The Blues have drafted more goaltenders in the third round than in any other single round of the draft. Of the eight goalies drafted by the Blues in that round, however, only two have thus far appeared in the NHL: John Garrett (38th overall 1971) and Ben Bishop (85th overall 2005). Current prospect Jordan Binnington (88th overall 2011) appears the next most likely player to be added to that short list.
Round 4: Three. Swiss native Reto Berra is the Blues’ most recent goalie pick in the fourth round (106th overall 2006), a round that also saw the Blues draft a pair of collegians six picks apart in 1976. The lesser-known of those college goalies was Paul Skidmore, chosen 61st overall from Boston College. The other was a guy named Liut.
Round 5: Four, including picks in the last two consecutive drafts (Francois Tremblay 146th overall 2012 and Niklas Lundström 132nd overall in 2011). The Blues also used a fifth round pick to select “The Hyphenator,” Chris Beckford-Tseu, at 159th overall in Jarmo Kekalainen’s first draft with the club in 2003.
Round 6: Three, none of whom ever played even a minute for the Blues’ primary minor-league affiliate at the time of their selection. In 1985, for example, the Blues selected Rich Burchill from Catholic Memorial HS in Boston at 121st overall; two picks later, the Winnipeg Jets selected a guy by the name of Danton Cole.
Cole went on to play eight seasons in the NHL, and is currently a coach with the US National team development Program in Ann Arbor; Burchill played one season for the Johnstown (PA) Chiefs of the ECHL in 1989-90 after a pedestrian college career, and vanished into obscurity.
Round 7: Four. Current prospect Paul Karpowich was the last goalie selected by the Blues in the seventh round (185th overall in 2008), and the most prominent goalie selected by the Blues in that round would be Pat Jablonski, chosen 138th overall in 1985 out of the Detroit Compuware program. Jablonski began his pro career as Curtis Joseph’s backup in Peoria when the Rivermen competed in the old IHL, and played 128 NHL games over parts of eight seasons, last appearing on an NHL rink for Carolina in 1997-98.
The Best Of The Rest... and Tomorrow’s 'Tenders
Of the 41 goalies selected by the Blues in their draft history, 14 of those were chosen in rounds later than Round 7, which is the last round of the “modern” draft. The Blues actually did fairly well with those late, late picks, as five of the 14 goalies chosen spent some time in the NHL. In addition to Hebert in 1987, the Blues also used very late picks to select NHLers Dave Tataryn (104th overall 1970), Bob Froese (160th overall 1978), Scott Fankhouser (yes, he played some NHL games for Atlanta after being drafted 276th overall by the Blues in 1994), and Reinhard Divis (261st overall 2000), the only Austrian goaltender ever to appear in the NHL.
The Blues currently boast a goaltending prospect stable five players deep. The Blues’ next "Goalie of The Future" will come from this lineup, presented here in alphabetical order:
Jake "The Snake" Allen, St. Louis (NHL), 6’ 2, 195 lbs., born Aug. 7, 1990. Even after Tuesday night’s horror show vs. Edmonton, Allen still has just about the best numbers of any Blues’ goaltender. He has the most wins with eight (Halak 6, Elliott 3) and the best save percentage at 90.6 (Halak 89.3%, Elliott 85.1%). Halak’s goals-against average of 2.13 is better than Allen’s 2.45, but Allen’s mark still places him among the top 30 goaltenders in the NHL.
Among rookies, Allen leads the way in goals-against average, wins and shutouts (one, vs. Phoenix on Mar. 14), and his saves rate of 90.6% is behind only that of Florida rookie Jakob Markstrom at 92.1%.
Jordan Binnington, Owen Sound (OHL), 6’ 2, 170 lbs, born Jul. 11, 1993. The Toronto-area native has had a career season for Owen Sound, and has signed an entry-level contract with the Blues, so he will be in Peoria once his OHL season ends. In the regular season, Binnington appeared in 50 games (3011 minutes) and posted a 2.17 goals-against average, 93.2% save percentage, and a 32-12-6 record with seven shutouts. In the OHL playoffs to date, Binnington has a 1.88 GAA, 95.0% saves rate, and two wins in three games.
Paul Karpowich, Peoria (AHL), 6’ 2, 192 lbs, born Oct. 25, 1988. Karpowich has proven he can be an everyday goaltender; in four years with Clarkson University, Karpowich played 7556 minutes out of 8952 total minutes (84.4%) of game time for the Golden Knights. He is the school’s leader in virtually every goaltending category as a result. Karpowich turned pro this year, and has spent most of the season in Evansville (25 GP, 3.27, 90.0%, 7-13-2, 1 SO), but he has been in Peoria backing up Mike McKenna since Allen was called up to St. Louis in February.
Niklas Lundström, AIK Solna (Elitserien), 6’ 2, 187 lbs, born Jan. 10, 1993. Lundström may be the most talented of all the Blues’ current goalie prospects, but like all Europeans, it will be a question of when he can be enticed away from home to come to North America. He spent most of this season as a 19-year-old backup for AIK’s senior Elitserien club (14 GP, 3.10, 3-8-1, 90.2%), but was dominant for the most part against his age group. In the World Junior Championships, Lundström posted a 1.60 GAA and a 94.4% saves rate in four appearances, and in nine games played in the J20 Superelit, Sweden’s top junior league, he put up a 1.55 GAA, 94.6% saves rate, and an 8-0-1 record.
Francois Tremblay, Val-d’Or (QMJHL), 6’ 2, 200 lbs, born Aug. 29, 1994. Like the rest of the Blues’ current crop of goalie prospects, Tremblay is a big goalie who plays a butterfly style. In the regular season with Val-d’Or, Tremblay posted respectable numbers (46 GP, 3.42 GAA, 89.4%, 22-16-3), but he has yet to see any action in the QMJHL playoffs.
Next time in "Tomorrow’s Blues," we move outward from the net and analyze the Blues’ draft history on defense. As with goaltenders, the best defensemen in Blues;’ history were not drafted by the club, but there have been solid players who heard their names called by the Blues on draft day... including one player who’s number hangs from the rafters at the Scottrade Center. So until next time, remember... "if we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil."