Blues & Avalanche swing late night blockbuster

Trades are even happening while some are sleeping. NHLHS St. Louis Blues correspondent Jeff Quirin takes a look at the last trade in a busy day of deals.

While you were sleeping, the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche we’re busy burning the midnight oil.

The two clubs found a way to trump Brian Burke and Peter Chiarelli’s moves. The Blues sent franchise cornerstone rebuilding block defenseman Erik Johnson, forward Jay McClement and a conditional 1st round draft pick to the Avs for budding power forward Chris Stewart, offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2nd round draft pick.

Surprised? You have every right to be. Most of the NHL community was. However, signs pointing to changes beyond moving UFA rentals have been posted for a while.

When Doug Armstrong took over for Larry Pleau as General Manager last summer, everyone knew changes in philosophy were coming. Army was brought in to be the unbiased auditor. To see who plays their way in or out of the Blues future in order to get the franchise to the next level. Those that “should be” doing more and weren’t would be on the chopping block. A franchise hitting the end of a long, painstakingly frustraing 5-year rebuild was about to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. The season that was supposed to be the turning point.

Instead injuries debilitated the efforts to produce a winning campaign. Countless man games lost to concussions and freak accidents to key players stressed those healthy to a breaking point. Under such pressure, “those who can” would rise to the top and “those who can’t” would bottom out. A harsh testing method not only for those would be rentals, but for the core prospects that are not kids anymore as well. Team President John Davidson has said before that not all the prospects can be held on to. That the Blues drafted the best players available and would let them develop. At some point they would blossom or wilt.

Is wilting too strong of a description for Johnson’s development? For some it can be. Then again, as the top selection any draft, the player is expected to surpass his positional peers and hit benchmarks faster. Even taking a season lost to a serious knee injury in to account, expectations have not been met. Before the golf cart accident in the summer of 2008, EJ was like a powerful NFL running back. A just right balance of speed, agility, strength and skill all wrapped up in a lean package. Following the injury he has bulked up to resemble a full back. A slight loss in speed, mobility and a reduction in the use (and confidence in) skill.

The future is far from all doom and gloom for the top pick in the 2006 draft and US Olympian. What Erik needs is time. Just with Chis Pronger before him, to learn how to play with a big body in a lightning fast game is difficult. There is a tremendous learning curve. Sadly, the Blues don’t have time to wait. Hard decisions have to be made. While strength on the blueline is important, so too has become finishing ability from all forward positions. An area the Blues lack greatly. Armstrong knows you have to give to get.

Chris Stewart, a 23 year old Toronto native, comes to the Blues as a well known commodity. The 18th overall selection in the 2006 draft has killed the Blues over the last two seasons. Amassing 8 goals and 15 points in 9 career games. He is the enticing rare blend of size, speed and skill. Able to beat defensemen by going around them, blowing through them or shooting it past them. Think along the lines of Jarome Iginla or Brendan Shannahan. A power forward in every sense of the word. Including the willingness to drop the gloves and throwdown. He doesn’t have the experience or maturity yet to lay legitimate claim to the two a fore mentioned legends, but all the tools are there. Assistant Coach Scott Mellanby will play a key role in helping Chris get there if he ever does.

Kevin Shattenkirk is a player the Blues should be familiar with as well. The 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft was taken one pick after Lars Eller and five before Ian Cole. Two of the three Blues first round picks that summer. He was likely on their radar when picking up some important rebuilding pieces. The 22 year old Boston University product is have an excellent rookie season. Earning himself an appearance at the 2011 NHL All-Star game as part of the “rookie team”. Through 46 games Shattekirk has 8 goals and 26 points. Of which 2 goals and 8 assists have come on the man advantage. That’s 1 goal and 4 more assists on the power play than Johnson. Numbers may not always tell the story, but in this case they do. Where Johnson has struggled to develop in to a power play threat, Shattenkirk is making teams pay. Assistant Coach Brad Shaw will likely help Kevin develop and improve his defensive game as he did with another offensive defenseman,  Alex Pietrangelo.

The conditions for the draft picks are pretty straight forward. The Blues 2011 1st round pick will go to Colorado if they finish above of the bottom 10 in the final NHL standings. If the Blues finish in the bottom 10, the picks roll over to the 2012 draft. If the rollover occurs, the picks being swapped remain the Blues 1st round and the Avs 2nd round.

Don’t expect the Blues to be done. The days leading up to February 28th will likely be packed with a few more transactions. Once Jaroslav Halak returns form injury Ty Conklin will go back on the block. With the log jam on right wing, Brad Boyes, Matt D’Agsotini or BJ Crombeen could be moved (my money is on Boyes). Potential rentals Brad Winchester and Cam Janssen could be heading to new towns as well.

Keep you head up and avoid a blindside trade. They’re coming.