Cristiano Simonetta The Hockey Writers
Blues Pipeline Boasts Talent at All Positions
For the most part, the St. Louis Blues pride themselves on shaping their roster from within instead of seeking players outside the organization. They aren’t likely to sign a highly-touted free agent or pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade before the deadline (Ryan Miller excluded, for obvious reasons).
Nonetheless, the Blues have developed a formidable cast of homegrown talent. Captain Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jake Allen headline the current core of St. Louis draftees. The list also extends to Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, three players who made their NHL debuts during the 2015-16 campaign.
Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz are not far behind after joining the big-league club late in the season last year, either. This level of success from the prospect pool might hint at a future dry spell, but the Blues possess a number of players capable of making the jump in 2017-18.
Although most hockey fans last heard the 20-year-old blueliner’s name over five months ago, after his off-ice fight in the American Hockey League, Vince Dunn shined in 2016-17. During his first year of professional hockey with the Chicago Wolves, Dunn notched 13 goals and 32 assists in 72 games.
The second-round pick in 2015 was rewarded for his splendid rookie season with an All-Star game nod. At six-feet tall, the Peterborough, ON native is not the biggest body on the ice, yet Dunn’s doggedness makes up for his lack of size.
Wolves Defenseman Vince Dunn on being named an AHL All-star & his expectations on turning pro this season. #quickquotes #selfiestickchats pic.twitter.com/nYfIaQR0Pq
— Jason Shaver (@theshaves) January 26, 2017
His ability to strip attackers of the puck and join the rush has skyrocketed him up the Blues’ depth chart. He doesn’t shy away from physicality and doesn’t falter under the opposition’s forecheck due to his patience. Dunn’s presence could be needed in St. Louis sooner rather than later based on their troubling offensive production from the back-end.
Pietrangelo and Parayko each put up 35+ points or more last season, but the loss of Kevin Shattenkirk to a trade in February will be felt next year unless drastic improvements are made. Edmundson, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo combined for 40 points in 244 regular season games. If that trend continues, it won’t be surprising to hear Dunn’s number called up to the NHL in 2017-18.
When longtime captain David Backes left for free agency in 2016, the Blues lacked a power forward who could eat up minutes at both ends of the ice. Many fans viewed center Tage Thompson as a fitting replacement after he was drafted 26th overall in 2016. Like Backes, Thompson has size (at six-foot-five) and hands around the net.
In 70 games spread out over two seasons at the University of Connecticut, Thompson scored 33 goals and added 31 assists. He turned pro mid-season last year, spending 26 games with the Wolves, including their ten-game playoff run. Representing the United States, Thompson won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships last winter.
On a team lacking centres, Thompson has the opportunity to breakout at training camp and steal an opening-night spot. The Blues don’t have many proven options available up the middle and Patrik Berglund’s offseason injury doesn’t help.
Thompson’s unique combination of quickness and size gives him a noticeable advantage over other prospects in St. Louis. And his prowess on the power play is another compelling attribute that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. New addition, Brayden Schenn will assist with the top grouping, but Thompson can also mature into a solid weapon on the man-advantage. His lethal release from the left circle could be useful down the road if St. Louis’ power play woes continue early into next season.
Despite the fact he’ll most likely be sent back to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League in 2017-18, forward Jordan Kyrou is a talent that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The 35th overall pick in 2016 (a selection St. Louis traded up for by sending goaltender Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames) is coming off an impressive World Junior Summer Showcase performance. Playing for Canada, the Toronto native scored four goals in three games, including a two-goal outing versus Sweden.
Kyrou’s play-making and hockey IQ was on full display during his third year with the Sting in 2016-17. The 19-year-old dished out 64 assists along with 30 goals in 66 games, which ranked first on his club by a wide margin and he increased his point total by 43 from last season. Kyrou will be looking to hit triple digits in his fourth and final season with the Sting. Perhaps an eye-popping showing at the World Juniors will raise his stock faster than expected.
Until then, he’ll have the chance to wow members of the Blues brass at camp and in the preseason. Still a raw prospect, Kyrou remains a long-shot to make the NHL this season. However, Fabbri, Edmundson and Parayko heard the same thing in 2016.
Down the Line
Aside from the three previously mentioned, Ville Husso, Jake Walman and Klim Kostin are among the top Blues prospects who have the best shot at making their NHL debuts within the next two years.
Husso, the oldest of this trio at 22 years of age, turned in a substantial season with the Wolves in between the pipes. The Finnish goaltender was 13-6-0 in 22 appearances with a goals-against average of 2.37 and a save percentage of .920.
If Allen or Carter Hutton suffer long-term injuries next season, Husso would see his name on the back of a Blues sweater in no time. On the other hand, with the Blues sharing the Wolves with the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s unsure how much playing time the fourth-round pick in 2014 will receive next season.
Walman, an offensive defenseman with three years at Providence College under his belt, will also be fighting for ice in 2017-18. He suited up in seven games with the Wolves after turning pro in late March. The 21-year-old made an early impact during his short AHL tenure, scoring a game-winning goal in the Wolves’ first-round series last April.
A third-round selection in 2014, Walman’s strongest quality is his knack for producing scoring chances from the point. His shots are able to consistently pierce through traffic and get to the goaltender, an element the Blues defense has been lacking in pivotal moments of hockey games.
Then there’s Klim Kostin, the 2017 first-round pick who has drawn comparisons to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. He’s made it clear he wants to play in North America after signing his entry-level contract in July and even has high hopes of playing in the NHL in October.
Kostin’s confidence will be put to the test in Traverse City in September, but the Russian forward already has St. Louis fans raving after his brief appearance at the Blues prospect camp. The 18-year-old’s explosive offense is reminiscent of Tarasenko, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for most of the 2016-17 season with the Moscow Dynamo, which led his slide down the draft board until the Blues snagged him at pick No. 31.
A healthy Kostin against NHL-ready talent will determine how much hype he’s worthy of. And if he turns out to be the real deal, it’s another win for the Blues scouting staff, who have done well forming the future in St. Louis.
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