Blues know success in the NHL draft combines hard work and a little bit of luck

News-DemocratJune 29, 2013 

During a St. Louis Blues pre-draft meeting in 2010, General Manager Doug Armstrong was listening to opinions on two players being considered for a first-round pick.

After listening to the pros and cons about college forward Jaden Schwartz and Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko, one of the Blues' scouts offered his thoughts.

"We were all sitting in the room and Doug had asked a question about the players," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues' Director of Amateur Scouting. "Dan Ginnell said 'What the heck. Let's go get both of these guys, we love them.' That kind of planted a seed with Doug and the (staff). The next thing you know, we're walking out of the first round and we had both Schwartz and Tarasenko."

The Blues, who had only one first-round pick heading into the draft, made it happen by acquiring Ottawa's No. 1 pick at 16th overall for former first-round pick and defense prospect David Rundblad.

They drafted Schwartz at No. 14 and Tarasenko two picks later. Two years later, both were on the Blues' opening night roster and made significant impacts at times last season.

Right now, the Blues don't own a first-round pick in Sunday's NHL Draft in New Jersey, having traded it to Calgary last season for veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

But with Doug Armstrong's track record for under-the-radar deals -- and the Blues apparently shopping goaltenders and looking for forward help -- don't rule anything out.

"It would be difficult right now to move up into the first round," Doug Armstrong said, "because I think we're a team that's positioning itself as trying to compete at the upper echelon right now.

"The way we're currently sitting I wouldn't predict us moving into the first round."

While the Blues typically stress a need to take the best player available, they're not picking until 46 other players have been selected. They own one pick in the second and third rounds, two in the fourth, none in the first and one each in the sixth and seventh.

Bill Armstrong believes the Blues will leave this draft with talent despite not having a first-round pick.

"I just think the depth of the draft is there," he said. "Sometimes you get into certain areas and you wouldn't be as excited with the talent level there. This year after you get through the first round it just runs for a long time and there's some exciting players there that could be pushed back.

"There's going to be a good player that comes down the pipe to us."

Armstrong talked about the 12 months of work that go into making the Blues' NHL draft day a successful one.

"It is a great job in a sense because you work as a team," he said. "There's a team on the ice and a team of scouts off the ice that are relentless in their pursuit of information about players. We've got a lot of passionate guys that have been around the Blues for a number of years, but it's all about projecting and looking into the future.

"When you do get one that works out, it's certainly worth the time you put in to get them."

Does it bother the scouting staff when picks and prospects are included in trades?

"Not really because if you look to win a Stanley Cup, you have to have a good amateur scouting side and a good pro side," Armstrong said. "There's so many different divisions of the hockey club and if you want to be successful, everybody has to take part in that.

"We get attached to them, but the scouts understand we have to put the best team on the ice."

The Blues have scouts around the globe scouring their particular areas for talent. Much cross-checking is done and players are seen numerous times searching for tendencies and potential flaws.

The team also does in-person interviews with players and coaches and anyone else connected to a prospect.

After that, the scouting staff meets and compiles a draft board list of talent from which the selections are made.

"We go back and massage it a little bit with new information that we find out in the weeks before the draft," Armstrong said. "We keep working at it and plugging along until there's a complete list on the board."

Before a pick is made, the Blues' braintrust of Doug Armstrong, Bill Armstrong, senior advisers Al MacInnis and Larry Pleau and vice president Dave Taylor all have final input.

"There's a lot of good hockey minds that sit around that table," Bill Armstrong said, noting that Doug Armstrong has the final say. "The main thing is to get the talent through the door."

Through the years the Blues have endured more first-round misses than hits.

They used the 17th-overall pick on goalie Marek Schwarz (six NHL games) in 2004, the 30th-overall pick on Shawn Belle (20 NHL games) in 2003 and the 48th overall pick in 2002 on Alexei Shkotov (never played in the NHL).

However, those same drafts produced David Backes (second round, 2003), Lee Stempniak (fifth round, 2003) and defenseman Roman Polak (sixth round, 2004).

In 1987, the Blues drafted Keith Osborne (16 NHL games) 12th overall only to see future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic go to Quebec (later the Colorado Avalanche) three picks later.

Signability is also important when considering European players, especially those from Russia. Many get lucrative offers from the KHL, the Russian pro league, and some use that as a stepping stone to the NHL.

The team was disappointed earlier this year when one of their top forward prospects, 2008 draft pick Jori Lehtera from Finland, passed on the Blues' offer to come to North America this season and instead signed with a KHL team.

"There' a lot of different factors when you draft players from overseas," Armstrong said. "Sometimes when you talk to them, you can see that in his personality and his commitment that he's already made up his mind that he wants to come over and play.

"You meet with these kids and try to talk to everybody and do a background search."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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