Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blues fill need with selection of two forwards at draft

Team selects center at No. 14, trades former
No. 1 pick to nab Russian winger at No. 16

After dealing away two prospects last week in order to lock up their goalie of the future, the Blues entered Friday's NHL Entry Draft looking to replace a glaring need.

There were two players the Blues had targeted with their first-round pick at No. 14 on Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The problem was, they only had one first-round pick at the time.

Once they completed 50 percent of the equation, incoming general manager Doug Armstrong made an impromptu deal with the Ottawa Senators and the Blues were in business.

Needing to address the forward position, the Blues used the 14th pick to select center Jaden Schwartz and then dealt defensive prospect David Rundblad to the Senators in exchange for Ottawa's first-round pick at No. 16 and used it to select Russian winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

After dealing away Lars Eller and Ian Schwartz to Montreal in order to acquire goalie Jaroslav Halak, the Blues had an agenda heading into the draft and according to team president John Davidson, they came away with more than they bargained for.

"We're very excited about knowing that we had made the trade, losing Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, that we needed to find some forwards," Davidson said. "I can't tell you how happy we are. We targeted both of these players in the draft. We were going to be happy with one and if we could get two, we'd be real happy. Now, we are excited. We are very excited about both players."

Schwartz, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound center, played for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League last season. He tallied 33 goals and 83 points in 60 games, leading the league as a 17-year-old. He was the youngest player since 1982-83 to lead the USHL in scoring.

And with much going on in his life, Schwartz, who turned 18 on Friday, said it was a day to remember.

"It's a very special moment for me and my family," he said. "We didn't know if I was going to get picked in the first round. I didn't know where I was going to go. It's my birthday, so it's a very special gift for me. I couldn't be happier about going to an organization like St. Louis."

Schwartz, who will attend Colorado College in the fall, also has had his mind elsewhere. His older sister Mandi, 22, has gained attention throughout the hockey world recently because of a battle with acute myeloid leukemia and cancer. She's a hockey player at Yale University.

"She's back in Regina (Saskatchewan) right now and also she's got leukemia and she's battling cancer right now," Schwartz said. "She's going to go to Seattle for a bone-marrow transplant pretty soon, so she couldn't make it. ... I just want to say hello to her because I know she's watching. She means a lot to every single one of us. This is for her.

"We're getting closer in finding a match and I know we will with all the support we're getting."

Schwartz was predicted by many publications as a late first-round, early second-round pick, but when he heard his name in the middle of the first round, it was a great feeling.

"There's all these predictions and what people think, but coming in here, I was excited to be here and was hoping for a first-round birthday gift," said Schwartz, whose best friend Brandon Gormley was picked ahead of him at No. 13 by Phoenix. "I'm happy that happened."

Schwartz said his success in the USHL was no fluke.

"I got off to a good start, and I just kept on going from there," he said. "I was comfortable and I got a lot of opportunity there. I didn't expect it, but I'm very happy with the year I had and I'm very excited about it."

Gormley and fellow defenseman Cam Fowler, who were predicted to both go as early as Nos. 4 and 5 in the draft, began to fall down the draft board and nearly fell into the Blues' laps.

But as Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen said, the Blues had one agenda.

"Our plan coming in here today was to get Schwartz and Tarasenko," said Kekalainen, who is conducting his last draft with the Blues before departing to take over as president and general manager of Jokerit HC in his native Finland.

When the host Los Angeles Kings moved up from 19 to 15 to nab USA Under-18 defenseman Derek Forbert, Armstrong set a plan in motion with fellow GM Bryan Murray to work out a deal.

The Blues wasted little time in selecting the 5-11, 202-pound Tarasenko, who had 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games with Sibir Novosibirsk of the Russian-affiliated Kontinental Hockey League last season.

"He's a tank," Kekalainen said about Tarasenko. "Great shot, good speed, good hockey sense, strong on the puck. There's not a lot of things not to like about him.

"If his name was Walt Smith, he would have been long gone before 16, at least I think so."

Tarasenko, who has two years remaining on his contract with Sibir Novosibirsk, can be bought out. He's already displayed his willingness to get to North America and the NHL as quick as possible.

"Music to my ears," Davidson said. "We'll see where that goes. We want to be respectful to everybody, including where he's playing and (who) he belongs to. We want to be very respectful to everybody involved."

Tarasenko, who speaks little English, added, "I don't know where I can play next year, but if I can buyout (the) contract (in Russia), I will come to North America. But we will talk about this when I come back to Russia."

Tarasenko cost the Blues Rundblad, the team's first-round pick (No. 17 overall) in last summer's draft.

With a sudden influx of offensive-minded defensemen, the Blues had a glutton on their blue line and even though were high on Rundblad, he was expendable to fit a piece that was needed in the immediate future.

"It's very difficult to fit an Erik Johnson, an (Alex) Pietrangelo and a Rundblad onto your team at the same time," Davidson said. "There's not enough ice. There's not enough power play time. ... We know that in making our goalie trade for Halak, we traded away a very good forward prospect in Lars Eller that we needed to find some forwards."

The Blues will have five picks (Nos. 44, 74, 104, 134 and 164) in rounds 2-7 when the draft commences once again at noon on Saturday. They will have one pick -- barring any other trades -- in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

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