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New draft class has its work cut out

Saturday, 07.11.2009 / 3:08 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

At the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, the Blues picked Swedish defenseman David Rundblad in the first round and defenseman Brett Ponich in the second. Both were selected ahead of projections. But St. Louis management showed its faith in what Nelson Ayotte has done to improve the physical strength and agility to make a prospect into a better athlete.

It's interesting, but on draft day, Rundlbad told NHL.com's Shawn Roarke that the Blues told him he needed to get bigger, stronger, more muscles, more powerful. When asked how much training he had done, Rundblad responded with an astounding, "None."

"You kind of look at David and say, he's already shown us he has the kind of hockey instincts and hockey sense and skills to someday play at the NHL level," Blues chief amateur scout Jarmo Kekalainen observed. "Two Swedish scouts told me they think Rundblad will be better than Victor Hedman (who was the No. 2 pick in the draft by Tampa Bay) in time.

"Now, all we have to do is make him a better athlete."

Ponich is 6-7 and very skilled. But skating is also one prerequisite he'll have to improve on to make it to the NHL. Kekalainen talked about how his skating and footwork have to get better.

Ayotte draws up a profile in his mind and a plan on paper to make every Blues prospect better. Here's what he said about Rundblad and Ponich: "Since David has never really trained, we'll give him a full-body strength program to work on -- featuring the kind of explosion he's going to need to become a faster and quicker skater. With Brett, we'll start with a lot of work on strengthening his hips and ankles for the kind of agility the scouts feel he needs to make it to the NHL."

Ankles. Hips. Full body makeover.

All of it does matter.