Friday, June 24, 2011

Blues begin new era without first round pick

Bill Armstrong takes over for Kekalainen;
team releases 2011-12 regular season schedule

ST. LOUIS -- When the 30 NHL teams converge on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center for the first round of the NHL Entry Draft tonight, each franchise will bank their hopes on getting that player that could one day be a game-changer someday.

The Blues have been working diligently on those matters with fervor since the current ownership group/management team in particular have taken over.

However, barring any major shakeup via trade, for the first time since 2002, the Blues will be bystanders for the first round tonight.

The Blues, who would have been picking 11th tonight when the draft kicks off at 6 p.m. (central time), surrendered their pick to the Colorado Avalanche per the terms of the teams' trade on Feb. 19 that brought Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues.

And not only will this be the first time in nine years the Blues will not select in the first round, but they will also go into a draft for the first time since that 2002 season without Jarmo Kekalainen, who had been the team's assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting. The Blues hired Bill Armstrong (no relation to GM Doug Armstrong) to replace Kekalainen after the 41-year-old Richmond Hill, Ontario native spent seven seasons with the Blues as an amateur scout.

But Bill Armstrong will have to wait until Saturday to put his first prints on this franchise. The Blues, unless any deals are made, will have three picks in the second round, two picks in the third round and one each in the fourth through seventh rounds of the draft, which concludes Saturday.

The Blues will pick No. 32, 41 and 46 in the second round. The 32nd pick is the second pick of the second round, which was obtained from Colorado in the Stewart/Shattenkirk trade that saw 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson and Jay McClement go to the Avalanche.

The Blues' original pick in the second round is 41st, but they acquired the 46th pick from Buffalo in the deal that sent Brad Boyes to the Sabres at the trade deadline last season.

The Blues also have an extra third round pick this year, theirs at No. 72 and No. 88, obtained from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eric Brewer trade.

There's been plenty of scuttlebutt out there that the Blues could package one or multiple picks from this draft for NHL-ready players, something Doug Armstrong has made clear that he's willing to do ... if the price is right. But should no deals transpire, the Blues could undoubtedly get some hidden gems in this draft.

They've had players selected in the second round or later that have turned out to become solid NHL players, players such as David Backes (third round, No. 62 in 2003), Nikita Nikitin (fifth round, No. 136 in 2004) and Philip McRae (second round, No. 33 in 2008) to name a few.

* NHL releases 2011-12 schedule -- The Blues and the rest of the teams in the NHL saw their respective regular season schedules unveiled on Thursday. The season begins on Oct. 6 and concludes with all 30 teams playing on April 7.

The Blues open their season at Scottrade Center on Oct. 8 against the Nashville Predators, one of only three home games in the month of October as the Blues play eight of their first 11 games on the road.

The Blues feature a trio of five-game homestands for the upcoming season; they play the host to the Dallas Stars in the annual day-after Christmas game and play in Detroit on New Year's Eve. Nine of 11 games in January will be played on home ice, and the Blues will play Winnipeg once this season, in Manitoba on Feb. 25.

And near the end of the season, the Blues have a brutal stretch where they play 13 of 16 games away from home beginning Feb. 23 and ending March 25.

The Blues will end their season at Dallas against the Stars on April 7.

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