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Hull of a Lot of Potential

By Brian Weidler, GT Prospect Department.Â

Tonight, the Blues pay tribute to Brett Hull, the man, the myth, the legend...

For many Blues' fans, Hull is the reason why they are Blues' fans in the first place. For others, who grew up admiring the exploits of Bobby Hull, Brett is a chip off the old block. No matter which view one takes, however, it goes without saying that Brett Hull's importance to the Blues' franchise, and to the city of St. Louis, is very significant. Hull's record-setting goal totals in the late 80's and early 90's put St. Louis firmly on the hockey map, and perhaps the best Blues' team of all time -- the 1990-91 squad that was 47-22-11 for 105 points -- was powered by Hull's 86 goals and 131 points.

As much as his goal-scoring touch, it was Hull's off-ice charisma, and his electrifying presence on the ice, that packed both the old Arena and the new Kiel/Savvis/Scottrade Center. Tonight, as the Blues honor Brett Hull by raising his #16 to the rafters, we'll look at three players at different stages of development (minor pro, US college, and Europe) who have the potential to become a home-grown Brett Hull for this franchise. All current statistics are as of December 4, 2006.

Konstantin Zakharov (Peoria, AHL): There are some physical similarities, as Hull was listed at 5'11, 203 pounds, and Zakharov is listed at 6'01, 195 pounds. Also, like Hull, Zakharov was a prolific junior scorer. As a 19-year-old, Hull exploded for 105 goals in 56 games with Penticton of the BC Junior League. Zakharov didn't quite hit those totals, but at age 18 managed 33 goals in 55 games at a higher junior level, with Moncton of the QMJHL.

Both players are snipers first, although Hull's passing ability was somewhat underrated due to the emphasis placed on his lofty goal-scoring totals. Both are also perimeter players, in that they prefer to stay out of the main traffic areas, but will go to the net for scoring chances on occasion. Both have adequate size to play a more physical game, but tend to stay away from that style of play. Zakharov will, however, throw a check more often and more effectively than Hull did, and Zakharov has developed into a much more defensively-aware player than Hull was.

Zakharov's a handsome devil, but doesn't yet have the charisma, the "it" factor that made Hull such a phenomenon in St. Louis. He's only 21, however, and time is on his side if he can continue to round out his game, and learn to play at both ends without sacrificing his offensive creativity.

** Zakharov at age 21: Currently 12 GP, 3-1-4, 10 PIM.
** Hull at age 21 (1985-86): Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA), 42 GP, 52-32-84, 46 PIM.

T.J. Oshie (North Dakota, WCHA): At first glance, there would seem to be more differences than similarities between Oshie, a center, and Hull, a right wing. Oshie, at 5-10, 180 pounds, is a little smaller that Hull was, and as a center, Oshie is a more accomplished passer and playmaker than Hull was.

Where the two players are similar, however, is in their desire to be the absolute best they can be, and in their shot. Like Hull, Oshie has a cannon of a shot and also has a very heavy and deceptive wrist shot. Also like Hull, Oshie is adept at getting his shot off quickly and at any moment, from any point in the offensive zone. Hull was taught a work ethic by Brian Sutter, one of the absolute masters of that particular aspect of athletic prowess; Oshie has an innate, natural ability to push himself to excel, and to exceed expectations at every turn.

The two also share the WCHA as a coming-out party for their skills, Hull with the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth, and Oshie with the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota, where he was 24-21-45 in 44 games as a freshman last year. Finally, both players have an electrifying presence on the ice, one that brings people out of their seats in anticipation of the next move. It remains to be seen whether Oshie has the same off-ice charisma as Hull, but that may come as the on-ice accomplishments continue to mount and Oshie continues his climb to the NHL.

** Oshie at age 19 (he'll be 20 on December 23): Currently 14 GP, 3-8-11, 8 PIM.
** Hull at age 20 (1984-85): Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA), 42 GP, 32-28-60, 24 PIM.

Juhamatti Aaltonen (Oulu Kärpät, Finland): The native of Ii, Finland shares more characteristics with Hull than either Oshie or Zakharov. Hull was a late-round draft pick (6th round, 117th overall in 1984) as was Aaltonen (9th round, 284th overall in 2003). Both are right-hand shots who play the right wing. Both gained notoriety as goal-scorers in junior (Aaltonen scored 76 goals in 97 games over three seasons in the Finnish junior league). And both are players who have had their work ethic and intensity questioned in the past.

Hull overcame those questions, and carved out a 19-year Hall of Fame NHL career. Aaltonen is still a work in progress, but he's making strides in his second season as a regular in the tough elite league in Finland. Aaltonen was asked last season to contribute offensively after Kärpät lost their scoring leader from 2004-05, and he responded with a solid rookie season of 13 goals and 25 points in 50 games. He's stepped up to the plate again offensively this year, has made great strides in improving his defensive awareness as well, and word out of Finland is that he's starting to develop the sort of "what-will-he-do-next" on-ice presence that sets the top scorers apart.

** Aaltonen at age 21: Currently 29 GP, 8-12-20, 34 PIM.
** Hull at age 21 (1985-86): Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA), 42 GP, 52-32-84, 46 PIM.

"If we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.