The Big Four
Rookie Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in the 2006 Draft, will have every opportunity to crack the lineup. Johnson spent last season at the University of Minnesota, where he scored 24 points in 40 games. He’s a big kid who might have to endure some NHL growing pains, but the Blues expect him to become a franchise cornerstone. Johnson can learn from Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman, a pair of veterans who’ve evolved from hot prospects to solid NHL players, Christian Backman, 27, and 29-year-old shot-blocking machine Jay McKee, who was injured for most of last season, round out the top of a pretty solid defense corps.
Get the point
The Blues’ defense didn’t score many power-play goals — not surprising on a team that finished 29th with the man advantage. Brewer was tops with just two, but he’ll continue to get minutes quarterbacking the power play. Brewer has been an offensive-type defenseman for most of his career and finished the season with 23 assists, one less than Jackman, who played only 70 games. Don’t be surprised to see Johnson getting significant power-play time.
In the Wings
Roman Polak -- The 21-year-old won’t make many mistakes in his own end. He played in 19 NHL games last season with the Blues and was a minus-3 with no points in his first big-league stint after spending most of the season with Peoria of the AHL, where he scored 12 points in 53 games and was a plus-1. The Blues originally drafted Polak in the sixth round in 2004.
Steven Wagner -- Signed by the Blues in March, the 23-year-old Michigan native played the last three seasons with Minnesota State. He scored six goals and had 29 points in 38 WCHA games last season, and at 6-foot-2, he’s got good size on the blue line.
Alexander Hellstrom -- The 20-year-old is big (6-foot-3) and a smooth defender. He’s got some developing to do after the Blues took him in the seventh round in 2006. Hellstrom has yet to play in North America.
Barret Jackman -- The 26-year-old was signed to an extension this summer, and the Blues are hoping the 2002-03 Calder Trophy winner can anchor the defense again. He had a career-best 27 points in 70 games last season, was first on the team with a plus-20 rating and averaged 21:29 of ice time. Jackman is a tough customer with a team-high 98 hits and 133 blocked shots. When it comes to marking the opposition’s top scoring threats, Jackman is the man.