A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
A habitual contender, the St. Louis Blues are not shy about trading draft picks for present assets, which is a fine strategy when it works. Unfortunately, they have also made a habit out of fading in the early rounds of the playoffs, in spite of fantastic regular season point totals, leaving the organization without anything to show for their spent future assets. Thankfully, however, they have not dealt away too many of their high picks and prospects, as the cupboard is still stocked with promising talent, some of which project as very high end players in the NHL. Where their strategy hurts them is in prospect depth, as there is relatively little outside of the players listed here.
- Robby Fabbri, RW, Guelph (OHL) 5-10”, 170. 21st overall, 2014
- Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton (QMJHL) 6-0”, 180. 33rd overall, 2014
- Jordan Schmaltz, D, North Dakota (NCHC) 6-2”, 180. 25th overall, 2012
- Vince Dunn, D, Niagara (OHL) 6-0”, 185. 56th overall, 2015
- Petteri Lindbohm, D, Chicago (AHL) 6-3”, 209. 176th overall, 2012
- Colton Parayko, D, Alaska-Fairbanks (WCHA) 6-5”, 191. 86th overall, 2012
- Ty Rattie, RW, Chicago (AHL) 6-0”, 178. 32nd overall, 2011
- Ville Husso, G, HIFK (Liiga) 6-3”, 205. 94th overall, 2014
- Joel Edmundson, D, Chicago (AHL) 6-5”, 190. 46th overall, 2011
- Jake Walman, D, Providence (Hockey East) 6-1”, 170. 82nd overall, 2014
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Pheonix Copley, G, Hershey (AHL) 6-3”, 190. Trade: Jul. 2, 2015. Originally: UFA: Mar. 19, 2014 (Washington)
- Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL) 5-9”, 164. 176th overall, 2014
- Tommy Vannelli, D, Medicine Hat (WHL) 6-2”, 165. 47th overall, 2013
Much of the Blues’ relative success in the organizational rankings comes from their absurdly strong 2014 draft. Not only are four of the top ten, plus one of the sleepers from that draft class, but another member was used in the mid-season trade to add defenceman Zbynek Michalek to the roster. Furthermore, a fourth sleeper in Jaedon Descheneau was also selected that weekend.
That draft, like this list, began with Robby Fabbri. Like many undersized players with large hearts and scoring talent, he is often compared to the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher. If Gallagher were more skilled, the comparison would be apt. Not only is Fabbri a shifty and elusive skater able to side step a hit, but he also slows the game down around him for his team while speeding it up for the defenders tasked with stopping him. He is the type of player for whom the puck seems to find whenever he is on the ice. Finally, he is a very responsible and hard-working player when backchecking. He still needs to learn when to avoid corners as, regardless of his size, the danger he courts would put anyone on the shelf more often than is necessary. He missed over half of last season due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the WJC, a result of an awkward fall more than physical play. He should get a strong chance to make the Blues out of camp, either as a center or right winger, but will likely end up back in Guelph after nine games or fewer.
The second Blues pick in 2014 was Ivan Barbashev, a skilled Russian center playing in the QMJHL whose fall out of the first round was inexplicable after posting 130 points over 116 games in his first two seasons in North America. Following those two seasons up with a 95 point breakout last year, which included a pivotal role in the silver medal winning Russian WJC side, many teams are now kicking themselves for passing up on Barbashev. He has good vision and soft hands as well as good strength to use in puck scrums. Barbashev plays with patience, letting the play develop before making his move, but is also willing to try risky maneuvers to create a spark, such as between-the-legs drop passes from the rush. Like Fabbri, Barbashev also plays a physical game, whether it be crashing the net with gusto or smashing opponents against the glass. He, too, may earn an early season cameo with the Blues before completing his CHL eligibility.
The third selection of that 2014 draft was sent to Phoenix, but the fourth pick was a promising blueliner from the Toronto Junior A scene named Jake Walman. He has since enrolled at Providence College and ended his freshman season as an NCAA champion. That season has created enough interest that he seen as a strong bet to make this year’s Canadian entry for the WJC. He is a smooth skater with strong hands although he needs to gain more strength in the rest of his frame before turning pro. Even without that extra muscle, he does not suffer in his own zone at the collegiate level.
Next in line was Finnish netminder Ville Husso. Big and calm, he is the type of goaltender that can prevent coaches from panicking when the opposition has a clean breakaway. He is hard to beat from in close due to exceptional net coverage ad quick lateral movements. Only 20 years old, he has been a starting ‘tender in the Finnish men’s league for two seasons already, and while he is slated for a third season at present, he projects out as a starting netminder in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.
Of the final five players drafted by St. Louis in 2014, the most notable one is Victoriaville’s Samuel Blais. A late bloomer, Blais put up 82 points in 61 games in his first full season in the Q’. He has great hands and is an above average passer but his skating has long been a weakness.
Of course, 2014 was not the only time the Blues had drafted well. 2011 has already yielded scoring winger Dmitri Jaskin and left a few more in the pipeline who should make some noise in St. Louis. Netminder Jordan Binnington is the default third string goalie for the Blues this year, although there are doubts he projects as anything more than a fill-in. A more high caliber prospect is scoring winger Ty Rattie. With 51 goals in his first two AHL seasons, it is surprising that he has not received more than 13 NHL games to strut his stuff. Rattie has good hands, offensive instincts and an above average shot which he puts to great use on the half-wall during the power play. Thanks to his diligence in his own zone, he projects as a bottom six winger, with third line upside. He should get more NHL opportunities this season.
Although the upside is third pairing defenseman, Joel Edmundson is fairly safe as far as prospects go in terms of his likelihood to have a bonafide NHL career. At his best, he might remind some Blues’ observers of a latter day Barret Jackman. A crease-clearer who makes a good first pass, the former Moose Jaw Warrior only needs to prove that he can keep up with the pro pace to earn an NHL opportunity. He had begun to show greater offensive potential last season before being knocked out of action for a long stretch due to injury. If he can repeat that effort over a longer stretch this year, the floor will be raised.
The Blues’ 2012 draft class is most notable for its blueliners. First rounder Jordan Schmaltz, whose younger brother Nick featured in the Blackhawks list, projects as a two-way defender who can slot into a second pairing. His point shot is already a weapon, although it could stand to see some improvement in terms of its accuracy. His hockey sense will also ensure that his production carries over from the college game in this, his rookie season as a professional. He may have flown under the radar somewhat since being drafted, but with only four Blues’ defensemen signed past the present season, his AHL apprenticeship may be short.
Colton Parayko may have been better suited to fit as one of the system’s sleepers were it not for his eye-opening AHL cameo after he completed his collegiate duties at the tail end of last season with four goals from the blueline in 17 games. He is a massive player with great physical tools and a strong work ethic who still needs to reduce his mental errors on the ice. If his first full season is anything like his brief debut, no one will be overlooking Parayko in this system any more.
Picked later than the other two although closer to a full time NHL role is Petteri Lindbohm. After appearing in 23 games last season, his name appears in the depth chart this year as a potential third pairing contributor. Not an exciting player, the Finnish defender is a no-nonsense stay-at-home type who will help his team maintain the possession advantage when he is on the ice. The only question he will need to answer is whether he can play heavy minutes without being sheltered excessively.
There is little to say about the 2013 draft other than a mention of Tommy Vannelli, a decent puck moving defenseman who might have featured on the top ten of a more barren system, but gets pushed off here. A solid contributor in the junior ranks, he needs to add a fair amount of beef to his rangy frame to avoid being bullied as a professional.
2014 has already been covered and the book is still out on 2015, especially as they only picked once in the first three rounds, but their first pick was one of, if not the, fastest blueliners in the draft in Vince Dunn. Although his decision making can at times be atrocious, he can be electric at his best. One high ranking NHL team official mentioned him as being in a similar mould to Toronto Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner. Dunn is a little undersized but has enough muscle to stand up to most oncomers. If he learns to slow the game down when defending just a touch, he could be one of the steals of this draft.
Before closing, a few quick words a netminder acquired in trade in Pheonix Copley. An undrafted free agent signed by Washington out of college, he had the ninth best save percentage in the AHL among goalies who appeared in at least 15 games. Good at covering the net, many believe that he was a secret key for St. Louis in trading T.J. Oshie to Washington in exchange for Troy Brouwer. It would not surprise to see Copley leapfrog Binnington in the organizational depth chart.
Even without much depth past the top ten, the quality of prospect found on this list is high enough to keep the Blues in cheap high end talent for a few more years yet. As alluded to above, their 2014 draft class may end up as one of the most pivotal for any franchise in the past few years. If the Blues avoid trading many more future assets for present help they could rise up this list even more. That said, with a rising sense of urgency to win now, it would not be a surprise to see the team ship more picks and prospects out of town for marginal short-term upgrades.