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Notebook: Ponich rising among Blues' brass

by Staff
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Once upon a time, St. Louis Blues GM Ron Caron would not let his scouts convince him to draft a defenseman 6-4 or taller. Now the team is hoping it has a hidden gem in 6-7 Brett Ponich, a second-round pick in June.

"If you saw him early last season, you might have come away thinking he looked like Big Bird on skates, if you know what I mean," said Marshall Davidson, Western scout for the Blues. "But the more we went back to see him, the better he got."

Now, after a summer of power-skating with some of his Portland Winter Hawks teammates, Ponich is even more confident in his future.

Some feel that coach and former NHLer Travis Green will name Ponich captain in Portland this season. And there are those within the Blues organization who credit new ownership in Portland along with Green and Mike Johnston, a former NHL assistant coach in Vancouver and Los Angeles under Marc Crawford, with completely retooling that famed junior franchise in just one season.

Ponich said he thought he could take advice with the best of them until Johnston invited into his office one day for a video session. Little did Brett know what was coming.

"Mike turned on the machine on and I'm there looking at clips of Chris Chelios, Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara and Hal Gill," Ponich said with a smile. "Competitive guys. Big guys in Pronger, Chara and Gill. I would be lying if I didn't say that something really clicked when I saw that video and listened to Mike Johnston comment on what we were seeing."

"I heard his skating was a little subpar after the draft," Blues President John Davidson said. "What I see is someone lighter on his feet than I expected and with a lot of potential with that reach of his."

--Larry Wigge

Nieuwendyk lauds Benn - New Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk has liked what he's seen in the team's top prospect -- forward Jamie Benn.

"It seems like a long time ago I was injured with that concussion. I feel really good. I've recovered from that and it's just nice to play some games (in Traverse City) and get that out of the way."
-- Carolina Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter

Benn, of course, led all goal-scorers during the 2008 Traverse City Prospects Tournament, connecting five times in four games en route to leading the Stars to the championship. He posted 46 goals and 82 points in 56 games to lead the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup of the Western Hockey League last season. The Stars see Benn, a fifth-round pick in 2007, as a future star in the League.

"I don't think he's too far off at all," Nieuwendyk said. "If he doesn't make our team, I'm sure he'll be called up from time to time. We have a great situation where our minor league affiliate (in Texas) is only two-and-a-half hours down the road, so that's going to be a big bonus for us.

"He's already in a man's body and we'll take a good look at him at training camp."

The Stars report to training camp on Sept. 12 in Frisco and the team will open its preseason schedule four days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the American Airlines Center. The Stars will play seven preseason games as well as an exhibition game against their new American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, on Sept. 30 at the new Cedar Park Center.

--Mike G. Morreale

Not a lone Ranger -- Michael Del Zotto, a first-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2008, is opening more than a few eyes in Traverse City.

"He's going to push for a roster spot," said Michael Barnett, former Phoenix Coyotes GM and current scout for the Rangers. "He's very creative with the puck. Smart, smart player and great competitor."

--Larry Wigge

Heads up -- Carolina Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter, one of three former first-round draft picks from Carolina invited to Traverse City this week, declared himself ready for training camp and free of all concussion-like symptoms.

"It seems like a long time ago I was injured with that concussion," Sutter told "I feel really good. I've recovered from that and it's just nice to play some games (in Traverse City) and get that out of the way."

Sutter completed his first full professional season with the Hurricanes in 2008-09, notching 6 points in 50 games. He was sidelined eight games after suffering a concussion on Oct. 25, 2008, in a collision with New York Islanders forward Doug Weight. Sutter had his head down as he was leaning forward for a loose puck in the neutral zone when Weight caught him with his shoulder.

Sutter, the son of Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter, scored 68 goals and 154 points in 205 career games with the Red Deer Devils of the Western Hockey League. He also skated for Albany at the end of the 2007-08 regular season, posting 4 goals, 12 points and a plus-2 rating in 22 games.

Sutter scored an empty-net goal in his team's 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday during the opening day of competition at the Prospects Tournament.

--Mike G. Morreale

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