Jarmo Kekalainen was a successful scout, assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting for the St. Louis Blues. His list of scores at the draft ranges from T.J. Oshie and David Perron to Alex Pietrangelo. He was generally a "best player available" guy, which meant at times the Blues draft haul was heavy at one position or another.
But that's not the scout's problem; it's the general manager's problem. And Blues GM Doug Armstrong handled an imbalance in the Blues asset portfolio -- inherited from Kekalainen -- in ways that are paying off handsomely for the Blues in 2013.
Going back to the beginning of the Blues rebuild, after former owner Bill Laurie essentially stripped the team (good bye, Chris Pronger) and sold them for parts, the team faced a decision with the first overall draft pick in 2006. Go with forward? Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel were available. Or go with defense? Hot Minnesota product Erik Johnson was available too.
The Blues selected Johnson, entering the debate of whether you can project a franchise defenseman at age 18 or not. But more importantly for Doug Armstrong several years later, the Blues that year selected the first of what would be three blue chip right-shooting defensemen.
In 2008, with the fourth overall pick and the infamous trio of talented defensemen at the top of that draft, the Blues again took the righty in Alex Pietrangelo. That's two blue chippers.
One year later in 2009, with the 17th overall pick the Blues again selected a talented puck-moving righty in David Rundblad. In hockey, left-shooting defensemen are more common, but every team needs a high-quality right-handed shot on the blueline.
Suddenly the Blues had what appeared to be three. "Best player available" and all that. It would soon become Armstrong's problem.
Armstrong joined the Blues as assistant GM in 2008, but with the clear plan that he would assume the GM duties from Larry Pleau in 2010. By that time the trio of prospects would be nearing "ripe" stage, and Armstrong would have to start pondering how to handle this embarrassment of riches.
What he decided ended up being critical ingredients for the contending team the Blues ice in 2013.
Take 3 Prospects; Reap a Norris Candidate, Two Scorers, and an Equal Prospect
For starters, he identified Pietrangelo as the true gem of the bunch, even though Johnson had a higher draft pedigree. The Blues brought Pietrangelo along slowly, but today he is their top defenseman and a Norris candidate.
Rundblad was the first to go. The Blues dealt him at the draft in 2010 when they saw another target was still available at 16th overall that year: Vladimir Tarasenko, who was just named Rookie of the Month by the NHL for January 2013. Rundblad has since been traded a second time, from the Ottawa Senators to the Phoenix Coyotes in the Kyle Turris deal.
Shattenkirk is one of the top-scoring NHL defensemen since that trade; Johnson is not. He's a key Avalanche defenseman who signed a lucrative deal over the summer, but he's not the defenseman the Blues thought he would be on Draft Day in 2006. He was expendable.
Stewart, meanwhile, has had ups and downs in his tenure with the Blues -- more of the same from his time with the Avalanche -- but Armstrong's one-year "prove it" contract with Stewart over the summer motivated Stewart to shed weight and show up to camp in great shape.
Stewart is off to a strong start in 2013 with four goals in eight games. Shattenkirk is second on the team with nine points in eight games. And Tarasenko leads the team with 10 points.
It's early in 2013 yet, but so far it looks like Armstrong took what Kekalainen gave him and created a windfall. "Best player available" works as a draft strategy only if you know what to do with a surplus at one position when it randomly accumulates. In dealing two young righty defensemen for two key scorers and another righty defenseman who outscores both of the others, Armstrong handled his surplus like he's been dominating a fantasy league.
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