By Brian Weidler
In the last issue of "Game Time," we looked at the Blues' top two picks in last June's Entry Draft: Erik Johnson and Patrik Berglund. We turn our attention now to the rest of the Blues' picks in June.
Tomas Kana, center, shoots right. 6'0, 202 pounds, born November 29, 1987 in Opava, Czech Republic.
A personal favorite of the "Game Time" prospect department , Kana is a center in the Michal Handzus mold -- decent size (though not as big as Handzus), good skater, committed to defense first, but possessing enough offensive upside to be a legitimate threat.
At the tender age of 18, Kana was a regular with HC Vitkovice Steel in the ultra-competitive Czech Extraliga (elite league), where he racked up 5-9-14 totals, with a plus-3 and 50 PIM in 42 games. NHL Central Scouting had Kana in their top five among Czechs and Europeans in every report last season, and praised his skill level, hockey sense, and overall attitude. The Blues liked all of those attributes, too, and chose him with the first pick of the second round (31st overall) in June.
Kana came to St. Louis in July for the Prospect Camp, and looked like he belonged. He was paired most often with fellow Czech Michal Birner, now toiling for the Blues in Peoria, and the two seemed to mesh fairly well. Kana and Birner were slated to work together again at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in August, and then Kana would follow Birner's path by reporting to the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL and competing in major junior. Kana, however, did an unexpected about face, and opted to remain in the Czech Republic for at least the upcoming season.
Kana is back with Vitkovice (13 GP, 1-2-3, minus-2, 14 PIM), and the Blues are continuing to work to get Kana back to the States within the next season or two. The word is that they do not see his contract with Vitkovice as an insurmountable obstacle, so hopeful Blues' fans can look forward to seeing this highly-regarded prospect back in camp before too much more time has passed.
Jonas Junland, defense, shoots left, 6'2, 198 pounds, born November 15, 1987 in LinkÃ¶ping, Sweden.
Junland is a player with good size and a ton of offensive upside. He rang up impressive 17-23-40 scoring totals in only 32 games last year with his hometown LinkÃ¶ping squad in the Swedish J-20 Superelit circuit, and ten of those goals came on the power play. He was also a plus-3, and had a modest 44 minutes in penalties before a shoulder injury and surgery ended his season in late January.
After being chosen 64th overall by the Blues in June, he reported to the Prospect Camp and showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury. Junland is back in Sweden now, picking up where he left off with 3-4-7 totals, 20 PIM, and a plus-8 in five games for the LinkÃ¶ping juniors so far this season. He's also seen action in 8 games with the Elitserien club, and has two assists, 8 PIM, and a plus-4 in those games.
After the draft, Blues' European scout Ville Siren praised Junland's size, shot, and focus, and indicated that the national team coach in Sweden already "has plans for him." He could be the big-time offensive defenseman the Blues have been looking for, and is definitely a player to keep an eye on.
Ryan Turek, forward/defense, shoots right, 5'11, 170 pounds, born September 22, 1987 in Southfield, Michigan.
No relation to the former Blues' goaltender, this Turek is a versatile American who can play both forward and defense, and did so in fine fashion for Omaha of the USHL in 2005-06. Turek rang up 17-11-28 totals, with a plus-2 and 71 PIM in 52 games for the Lancers, drawing the eye of the Blues and Midwestern scout Mike Antonovich.
Antonovich, NHL Central Scouting, and all of the other scouting services, were universal in their praise of Turek's skating, balance, defensive skills, and passing. All of the scouts surveyed also gave him high marks for aggressiveness, especially for a player of his size. Central Scouting in particular noted that Turek is "the first one to loose pucks in the corners or along the boards," that he "plays with an edge and with self-assurance," and "does not back down from any kind of confrontation -- (he) comes to play."
In an interview with Larry Wigge after the Blues' draft, Antonovich noted that Turek would be playing defense exclusively at Michigan State, where he has enrolled and will be playing for the next few years. Junland and Turek look to provide the Blues with a pretty solid one-two punch on defense in years to come.
Reto Berra, goaltender, catches left, 6'4, 189 pounds, born January 3, 1987 in Bulach, Switzerland.
Berra was ranked 7th among European goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting in 2005, but went unclaimed. For 2006, his ranking moved up to third thanks to a solid performance at the World Juniors, and the Blues swooped in on the big Swiss at 106th overall this year.
The Blues are apparently trying to corner the market on goaltending prospects having names beginning with the letter "B," with no less than five players in the system right now fitting that description. Berra, one of the two Europeans in that category, attended the Blues' Prospect Camp in July, and displayed several of the attributes that Central Scouting noted about him last year: "handles the puck well with his stick ... good, quick glove ... technically already quite sound, no real flaws in his game ... quick legs, uses them very well ... difficult to beat down low ... a good, composed competitor with fine concentration ... works hard ... a mature player."
Berra is currently playing behind Finnish import Ari Sulander on the ZSC Lions club in Switzerland, and has only appeared in one game thus far at the Nationalliga-A level. The most likely scenario is that he will compete again this season for the GCK Lions at the Nationalliga-B level when their season commences in November, and the Blues will work to get him to North America in 2007 to get some playing time at the ECHL level.
Andrew Sackrison, left wing, shoots left, 6'1, 178 pounds, born November 12, 1987 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Described by Mike Antonovich as "a highly-skilled goal scorer and raw athlete," Sackrison popped home 41 goals in 26 games with St. Louis Park HS last season before being chosen by the Blues with the 124th pick in June. He attended the Blues' July Prospect Camp, is committed to Minnesota State-Mankato (alma mater of Blues' prospect David Backes) for the 2007-08 season, and is currently toiling for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, where he has a goal and an assist, and is a plus-2 with no PIM in two games thus far.
Matthew McCollem, left wing, shoots left, 6'0, 185 pounds, born May 6, 1988 in Somerville, Massachusetts.
McCollem also attended the Blues' Prospect Camp in July after being chosen 154th overall in June, and created some buzz among the fans in attendance with his speed, grit, and nose for the net. The solid winger was listed at six feet, 185 pounds, but Blues' scouts put his size at closer to 6'2, 210 pounds as of now. McCollem put up point-per-game totals in prep school last year (17-11-28 in 28 games, with an eye-opening 48 PIM, for Boston's Belmont Hill School), and will return there for his senior year before moving on to Harvard in 2007-08.
Alexander HellstrÃ¶m, defense, shoots left, 6'2, 207 pounds, born April 17, 1987, in Falun, Sweden.
Another 1987-born player who was ranked by Central Scouting in 2005 (80th European), and passed over, the big stay-at-home blueliner rounds out the Blues' 2006 Entry Draft as the 184th overall selection. HellstrÃ¶m isn't an offensive dynamo by any means (a goal and an assist in 45 games over the last two seasons in Sweden), and that coupled with concerns about his skating led the Blues to pass on him in 2005, despite liking many of his other attributes. The skating issue was addressed to Kekalainen's satisfaction between 2005 and last season, and HellstrÃ¶m joined the Blues' organization because, as Ville Siren noted in an interview with Larry Wigge this summer, "He competes like hell ... every shift." HellstrÃ¶m has also returned to Europe after attending the Prospect Camp, and is currently 0-1-1 with a plus-3 and 6 PIM in four games for IF BjÃ¶rklÃ¶ven in the Allsvenskan (second division).
Overall, the "Game Time" prospect department grades this draft an A-minus for the Blues. Of course, Johnson was a no-brainer, and the Berglund and Kana picks also look to be very solid, although there is concern about Kana's commitment after returning to Europe. Junland and Turek are an up-and-coming pair, each bringing different and valuable skills to the table, and Berra gives further depth and quality to the Blues' pool of goaltending prospects. Sackrison and McCollem have several years of development ahead at the NCAA level, but look to bring skill and character to the Blues' organization. HellstrÃ¶m is the kind of no-nonsense, competitive, stay-at-home defenseman that every organization can always use.
There is also some concern about having so many Europeans to get signed, but the Game Time prospect department stands by our motto, "In Jarmo We Trust." Certainly, Kekalainen and the Blues have taken this into consideration before picking these guys, and they've drafted these players with at least some idea of their intentions as far as getting over here within that dreaded two-year window.
Until next time, then, remember, as always -- "If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.