Blues have done their homework for NHL draft; local prospects await the call

News-DemocratJune 26, 2014 

St. Louis Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong and his staff have done their research, conducted their draft interviews and traveled around the globe watching players and talking to coaches, family members and hockey insiders.

So what happens if Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong decides to trade the club's first-round pick at 21st overall in pursuit of an instant impact player for the NHL roster?

The simple answer is to make sure the team selects the top player available in the second round.

Such is the life of an NHL scouting director in a league where first and second-round picks are never guarantees and occasionally an undrafted player becomes a superstar.

"That's what makes it interesting," Bill Armstrong said. "It's a tough profession and there's a high rate of failure, so you've got to have energetic scouts that see the good in players and are willing to take chances on their projections."

The Blues have two second-round picks (33rd and 52nd overall) and two sixth-rounders among their nine picks. Under both Armstrongs, the plan has typically been drafting best player available regardless of position.

If the Blues have an organizational need, even at the NHL level, it's for playmaking centers than can also score.

"One thing you love in St. Louis is ownership is always giving us an opportunity to see the world," Bill Armstrong said. "There's no excuses -- find the best player and travel. We've put a ton of money into scouting.

"Our standard is to find the best player and when those best players are tied, then it goes to the position. We're a team that's moved into an area where we're trying to win a championship. Sometimes when that happens you're higher in the draft or you might have someone else's picks, so as a staff you've got to work harder to find good players."

There's also a strong local draft connection this year.

Shiloh resident Connor Chatham, who attended Althoff and Belleville East and played for Plymouth in the Ontario Hockey League last season, is expected to be drafted in the top five rounds.

He would be the first metro-east player ever drafted. Chatham (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) had 13 goals and 31 points in 54 games with Plymouth last season.

Another intriguing prospect with local ties is center Ryan MacInnis, the son of Blues senior advisor and Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis.

The 18-year-old MacInnis grew up in St. Louis and had 16 goals and 37 points in 54 games last season for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, racking up 30 points in his final 47 games. He is expected to be taken in the top two or three rounds and is one of nine sons of former NHL players expected to be drafted.

MacInnis is ranked 20th among North American skaters and is considered a solid two-way player.

Armstrong said having MacInnis' dad sitting in on draft meetings isn't that strange at all and the club values his opinions immensely.

That same hockey information gathered during a Hall of Fame career has been passed down to MacInnis' son as well.

The last local son of a former Blues player drafted by the Blues was center Philip McRae, a second-round pick in 2008 who played in 15 NHL games.

"We've dealt with it before and we know the ways to address it and deal with it," Armstrong said. "I think about it like if that was my son in the draft, how would we handle it -- and that's the way we go about it."

The history of the Blues draft, like that of most NHL franchises, has been a hit or miss proposition.

For every Alex Pietrangelo (fourth overall in 2008), T.J. Oshie (24th overall, 2005), Jaden Schwartz (14th overall, 2010) and Vladimir Tarasenko (16th overall, 2010) there are clunkers like Marek Schwarz (17th overall, 2004), Shawn Belle (30th overall, 2003), Alexei Shkotov (48th overall, 2002) and Tyler Rennette (40th overall, 1997).

Thanks to the Internet, there's a lot more information available out there on players. But that almost never trumps the well-trained set of eyes and ears of a veteran NHL scout who also knows all the right questions to ask and might be good friends with a coach or team connection.

"Everybody knows the same players, there's no hidden players," Armstrong said. "It's just the order that you put them in. There's less super-sleepers across the world because of all the tournaments, the Internet and all the scouting services available."

On a team looking for scoring, the Blues have an intriguing forward prospect in Ty Rattie.

After scoring a combined 105 goals and 231 points in 131 games the previous two season with Portland in the Western Hockey League, Rattie had an impressive AHL debut with the Chicago Wolves.

He racked up 31 goals and 48 points in 72 games, no easy task.

"He just keeps scoring," Armstrong said. "The last guy that got that many goals in the AHL in his first year was Tyler Toffoli and he's in the NHL now (with the Kings). If you score that many goals as a first-year AHL player that's a good thing.

"There's parts of his game that he needs to tidy up and keep improving, but he's off to a good start. He's been able to score at every level."

While NHL teams put players through their paces and conduct interviews at the league scouting combine, they also try to add as many layers of information as possible from a variety of sources.

"Maybe it's a kid going through a tough transition, maybe there'e something going on in his home life, there's so many different variables," Armstrong said. "That's where the experience of your scouts come in and the knowledge that you can acquire. You're trying to fit all those pieces together at the end of the day and see what you can find."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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