(Photo by "Game Time" reader Jeff Mueller)
The dividing line between player development philosophies in the Blues' organization is drawn at 2010. The four drafts prior to 2010 were conducted by then-Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen, while the four drafts since 2010 (including that year) have been conducted by the Armstrong braintrust, GM Doug Armstrong and Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong.
2006 through 2009, then, are the last years of the Kekalainen Era (KE), while 2010 through the present day are the opening years of the Age of the Armstrongs (AoA). References to drafts between 2006 and 2009 will be referred to henceforth as "KE drafts," while drafts from 2010 forward will be referred to as the "AoA drafts." The graphic above left charts the players selected by league during the entire eight-year control period under study here, while the graphic below right focuses solely on the sources of players drafted in the Age of the Armstrongs.
Just seven prospects remain in the organization from the KE drafts, five of them from the last KE draft in 2009. Those prospects are: Sergey Andronov, Brett Ponich, Tyler Shattock, David "Agent Of" Shields, and fading college prospect Max Tardy. The only other prospects remaining in the system who were scouted and drafted in the Kekalainen Era are Jake Allen (34th overall 2008) and Cade Fairchild (96th overall 2007).
The rest of the players in the Blues’ prospect stable have been drafted, traded for, or signed as free agents in the Age of the Armstrongs. Of the five full-time NHL players on the current roster who were drafted in the last eight years, three are from KE drafts (Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole and Patrik Berglund), while two were chosen in the first AoA draft, Jaden Schwartz at 14th overall and Vladimir Tarasenko at 16th overall.
"We got them ol’ low-down Euro Blues..."
In the last decade, a perception has arisen that the St. Louis Blues draft a lot of Europeans. And there’s a good reason for that.
The Blues have selected a total of 62 players in the last eight Entry Drafts, from 2006 through 2013. Of those 62 players, almost one-third (19 total, or 30.6%) have been players of European origin. Seven players have been selected from European junior leagues -- three from Finland, four from Sweden -- while 12 players have been drafted out of the European pro leagues, either the country’s elite league or their second league.
By country of origin:
• The Blues have drafted five players from Sweden in the last eight drafts, two from the Elite league (Elitserien, now the Swedish Hockey League) and three from the Allsvenskan.
• Two players from the Finnish elite league (SM-Liiga, now known simply as Liiga).
• Two players from the Czech Extraliga, that nation’s top league.
• Two players from the KHL in Russia, which is arguably the second-best league in the world.
• One player from Switzerland’s NL-A, or Nationalliga-A.
Some other brief notes about the Blues and drafting Europeans: Of the 19 Euros drafted by the Blues in the last eight drafts, just eight have been drafted in AoA drafts, while the other 11 were drafted in the Kekalainen Era.
Only one European prospect from the KE drafts remains in the organization as property of the Blues. The Moscow-born Andronov was drafted 78th overall in 2009 from Lada Togliatti of the KHL, and finally made his way to North America for the 2012-13 season, where he enjoyed modest success at the AHL level with Peoria and has positioned himself as a potential callup should injuries open a roster spot on the third or fourth line.
Of the other ten Euros drafted in KE drafts, three have been traded (Reto Berra, Lars Eller, and David Rundblad) while the Blues have allowed the playing rights on the other seven to lapse. Of those seven players, only Swedish blueliner Jonas Junland (64th overall in 2006) ever played an NHL game for the Blues.
The 2006 Entry Draft was the "high-water" mark for the Blues in terms of drafting Europeans, with five of the nine players drafted that year being of European origin. In no draft since then has the team drafted more than three players from Europe. In fact, of 12 players in total drafted by the Blues in the last two Entry Drafts, only two have been Europeans. Both have been defensemen from Finland, Petteri Lindbohm in 2012 and Santeri Saari in 2013.
Only twice in the last eight years -- Eller in 2007 and Rundblad in 2009 -- have the Blues made a European their first selection in the Entry Draft, and only four times in the last eight years have the Blues chosen a European in the first round of the Entry Draft (Berglund in 2006, Eller, Rundblad, and Tarasenko in 2010).
Major Junior: A Major Contributing Factor
As is the case with virtually every other NHL club, the three major junior leagues (Ontario, Quebec, Western) operating under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) have provided more players to the Blues’ prospect stable than any other source.
Of the 62 players drafted by the Blues in the last eight drafts, 24 have come from the three CHL leagues. This number has been evenly split between the last four Kekalainen Era drafts and the Age of the Armstrongs, with 12 players being drafted out of the CHL in each era.
In the Kekalainen Era, the Ontario League was the league of choice. Of the 12 players drafted out of major junior in the KE drafts, six were drafted from the OHL, while four came from the Western League and just two from the Quebec League. In the Age of the Armstrongs, however, the OHL has received short shrift, as the Blues have drafted just one player (Jordan Binnington) out of Ontario since 2010.
Half of the prospects drafted out of major junior in the AoA drafts have come from the Western League, while an additional five were drafted out of the QMJHL, where Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong was once the Blues’ chief scout, and where he found Jake Allen and David Perron for the Blues.
All told, in the last eight drafts, the Western League has provided ten prospects to the Blues, seven of which -- Cody Beach, Joel Edmundson, Zach Pochiro, Ponich, Ty Rattie, Shattock and Nick Walters -- remain in the prospect stable. 2011 draftee Tyrel Seaman has retired from hockey after suffering multiple concussions over the last several seasons; 2008 draftee Ian Schultz was traded to Montreal as part of the Halak deal; and 2007 draftee Brett Sonne was released as a free agent after last season.
Center prospect Jacob Doty, currently skating for Medicine Hat of the WHL, is the only undrafted prospect in the Blues' current stable. The 6' 3, 218-pound Doty, a native of Billings, Montana, was signed as a free agent following a strong performance in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament this past summer.
In the last eight years, the Blues have not drafted a player from the ‘Dub in the first round, and only Rattie has been a WHL alumnus who was the Blues’ first selection in a draft (32nd overall in 2011).
The OHL and QMJHL have each provided seven players to the Blues in the course of the last eight drafts. Five of the seven QMJHL players -- Allen, William Carrier, Ryan Tesink, Francois Tremblay and Yannick Veilleux -- remain with the organization. 2007 first-round selection David Perron was traded during the off-season for Magnus Pääjärvi, and 2010 sixth-round pick Stephen Macaulay was not offered a contract. Perron was the only QMJHL alumnus to be drafted in the first round by the Blues over the last eight years, and no player from the “Q” has been the Blues’ first selection in any draft.
Aside from Alex Pietrangelo, drafted fourth overall in 2008, Binnington and Shields are the only OHL players who remain with the Blues’ organization after having been selected from that league in the last eight years. Enforcer Anthony Peluso was lost to Winnipeg on waivers last season, and the three OHL’ers drafted in 2008 -- James Livingston, Philip McRae and Anthony Nigro -- have all moved on. Livingston was never offered a contract by the Blues, Nigro was released as a free agent after last season, and McRae was extended a qualifying offer, but chose to play in Finland this season and will likely not be returning.
Pietrangelo is the only OHL player drafted in the first round by the Blues over the last eight years, and also the only OHL player to have been the Blues’ first selection in any of those drafts.
The Best Of The Rest...
The amateur ranks in the United States -- high schools, the United States Hockey League and the US National Team Development program in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- have been a rich source of draftees and prospects for the Blues over the last eight years. The Blues have drafted eight players out of US high schools in the last eight years, five more out of the USHL, and four from the USNTDP.
The high school prospect haul for the Blues has been evenly split between the KE and AoA drafts, with four players coming to the Blues via that route in each era. The Armstrongs have made the scouting of US high schoolers a higher priority that Kekalainen did, however, as the four players drafted from American high school programs in the AoA drafts were all chosen at 74th overall (Max Gardiner 2010) or higher. The high school player drafted highest by the Kekalainen team was Andrew Sackrison, selected 124th overall in 2006.
All of the high schoolers selected by the Armstrongs -- Gardiner, Sam Kurker, Mackenzie Maceachern and Tommy Vannelli -- remain with the organization, while Tardy is the only Kekalainen selection out of high school who is still hanging onto a place in the prospect stable.
The Blues have only made three first-round selections so far in the Age of the Armstrongs, and two of those -- Jordan Schmaltz in 2012 and Schwartz in 2010 -- were drafted out of the USHL. None of the other USHL players drafted by the Blues over the last eight years was selected higher than 44th overall (Aaron Palushaj in 2007), and none of them remain with the organization. As for players drafted from the USNTDP, Erik Johnson (first overall 2006) and Cole (18th overall 2007) are the only first-round picks made by the Blues from that source. The Blues have not selected a player from the USNTDP since David Warsofsky 95th overall in 2008, and only Cole and Fairchild from that source remain with the organization.