St. Louis Blues Still Regret Not Drafting Stastny

(above) The St. Louis Blues may have missed out on drafting DU Alum Paul Stastny, but the St. Louis Pipeline has been producing talented recruits for DU ever since

by Jeff Gordon

Fans may remember departing Blues scouting director Jarmo Kekalainen more for one player he missed -- DU alum and star center Paul Stastny -- than all the promising players drafted on his watch.

Stastny grew up in St. Louis. His father, former Blues player and scout Peter Stastny, is one of the true legends of the game.

Paul hung around the team as a kid. He skated with various Blues and Blues alumni. Even though he went off to play Omaha of the USHL and Denver University, he returned home for the summers.

He was sitting for the Blues in the second round of the 2005 draft, 37th overall, but the Note took rugged defenseman Scott Jackson instead. Stastny went to the Colorado Avalanche at 44th overall . . . and the rest is unpleasant history for the Blues.

Stastny has become one of the elite playmakers in the NHL. He has scored 264 points in 279 regular-season games for Colorado.

He became the No. 1 center the Blues so glaringly lack. Stastny is one of those rare players who make teammates better. He is becoming a “franchise” talent. With the help of his agent, former Blues scout Matt Keator, he landed a $33 million contract extension in Colorado.

And what became of Jackson? He never signed with Blues and later landed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent. He did a solid job for Norfolk in his second AHL season, earning a one-game promotion to the NHL.

(In fairness to Jarmo, most scouts liked Jackson. TSN ranked him 29th among prospects for that draft. He had potential. And it wasn’t like Stastny was rated as a can’t-miss player in ‘05. Central Scouting ranked him just 74th among North American skaters that year. But still.)

Kekalainen made some great draft calls for the Blues. Defenseman Roman Polak, picked 180th overall in 2004, was his biggest score. Polak has become a force on the blue line, arguably the team’s best all-around defender.

But what if Jarmo had hit one more home run – Stastny? The Blues would have become a perennial playoff force.

Imagine him playing with David Perron, T. J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Lars Eller. And how about the prospect of Stastny and Erik Johnson running the power play for years to come?

Passing on Stastny was like 1987 all over again for the Blues. That year Blues scouts loved a center from the Western Hockey League, but general manager Ron Caron opted to draft for need.

After all, the Blues already had two strong offensive-minded centers, in Bernie Federko and Doug Gilmour. What they needed was a scoring winger.

So Caron took Keith Osborne 12th overall, on the strong recommendation of rookie Blues coach Jacques Martin. The center the Blues liked, Joe Sakic, went to Quebec instead three picks later.

Sakic went on to play for the Nordiques with Peter Stastny. Many years later, he tutored the younger Stastny while winding down his 1,641-point career. Symmetry!

Such stories explain why the Blues have never won a Stanley Cup. The franchise has done lots of good things, but it has never quite put it all together. It has been one move short many times.

For all the good Kekalainen has done the franchise, his biggest whiff came on the most obvious prospect imaginable.

Sports executives can’t live in the past, but that one has to sting. The impact was massive.

Had the Blues drafted Stastny, perhaps they, and not the Blackhawks, would be the Western Conference’s breakout team.

Had Jarmo made that call, perhaps he would have realized his dream of becoming a NHL general manager. Instead, he heads back home to run the Jokerit franchise in Finland.

Hopefully he learned to never, EVER overlook a talented prospect in his own backyard again.


dggoddard said...

Incoming recruits Scott Mayfield, Jarrod Mermis and Dakota Mermis all played youth hockey for the St. Louis Jr. Blues.

Chris Butler was also from St. Louis.

Anonymous said...

Quite the connection. Interesting to see if the Blues will pass on Mayfield this time around.

Didn't Stats help bring Butler to DU? I'm sure it also had an effect on Mayfield and the Mermises.