St. Louis Blues boast left wing talent at junior level

By Suraj Sukumar

Zach Pochiro - Prince George Cougars

Photo: Zach Pochiro, the St. Louis Blues’ fourth round pick in 2013, leads the Prince George Cougars with 54 penalty minutes while ranking fourth on the team with 10 goals through 26 games (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues currently possess talented youths at all positions in the CHL. This season, the Blues most talented junior players are at the left wing position. While Tommy Vannelli is an exceptional player on defense, the combination of William Carrier, Zach Pochiro, and Ryan Tesink provides the Blues with significant depth at the position.

At right wing, most of the Blues’ prospects are well on their way to the NHL level. Players like Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin are currently making their professional debuts, and should get a chance at the NHL in the near future. Even OHL standout Jordan Binnington is currently transitioning to the pros, solidifying the Blues’ goalie depth for years to come.

Despite these prospects moving on, the Blues continue to find solid players at the junior level and maintain a talented group of CHL players in 2013-14.

WHL

Tommy Vannelli, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 2nd round (47th overall) in 2013

Quite possibly the most prized possession in the Blues’ pipeline, Vannelli is a talented defensive player that is currently dominating the WHL. Vannelli is second in rookie scoring for defensemen, only behind Finnish sensation Julius Honka, who is projected to go early in the 2014 NHL Draft. Vannelli has an impressive nine goals and 24 points, with five goals coming on the man advantage. This is especially impressive as the coaching staff have given him powerplay minutes in his rookie season.

Vannelli is a high-end talent that can really do everything from the blue line. He is a good defender for his age but demonstrates outstanding offensive instincts, puck skills, and skating. One thing Vannelli should continue to work on is his defensive game. He has a solid nose for the net but being a responsible player in his own zone will make him more reliable overall.

Being a product from the U.S. development team, it is quite surprising that Vannelli did not make the U.S. World Junior squad. While there could be many reasons behind this decision, Vannelli should use this as fuel to take his skills to the next level, as he has all the makings of a top-four defenseman. At just 18 years old, time is on his side and it will be interesting to see how he improves this season.
 
Zach Pochiro, LW, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 4th round (112th overall) in 2013

Pochiro is increasing his value as he grows at the junior level. While his 159 career penalty minutes suggest a knack for the physical play and a lack of discipline, his offensive output has been increasingly impressive. In his first junior season, Pochiro recorded 15 goals and 24 assists with his 105 penalty minutes. This season, Pochiro has a surprising 10 goals and 12 assists in 26 games. While it remains to be seen if he can keep this pace, these are great numbers for a power forward with his skill set.

Pochiro continues to grow in the offensive zone but remains a power forward with a solid two-way game. This is just his second season of junior hockey which should give him ample time to refine his skills and become a more consistent player. Working on his overall skating and puck handling will give him an added edge in the offensive zone, while maintaining his solid defensive play will keep him honest. He will need to work on his discipline if he hopes to become a reliable power forward in the future.

Tyrel Seaman, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 7th round (206th overall) in 2012

Seaman has been limited by injury throughout his junior career. He scored six goals and 13 assists in 2011-12 but skated in only 32 regular season games. In 24 games in 2012-13, he scored three goals and five assists. A head injury cut his season short and has remained enough of a concern that he has yet to suit up for the Wheat Kings in 2013-14, putting his future with the Blues in doubt.

Nick Walters, D, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Acquired: 4th round (116th overall) in 2012

Throughout his junior career, Walters has been on a few teams, including the Everett Silvertips and the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was traded again this season to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and has four assists in nine games with his new team.

Walters is by no means looked to for offensive production, but his physical play is what makes him a solid asset. He plays fearlessly and is willing to drop the gloves with anyone. He is still an extremely raw talent, but has shown some offensive ability, primarily his puck-moving skills. He had a short taste of pro hockey with the Peoria Rivermen last season but spent most of his time with the Wheat Kings.

Walters has demonstrated a solid defensive game with a hard-nosed style of play, but he will need to bring more to the table to have an impact in the pros. If he can continue to work on his puck skills and become a better skater, Walters can round out his game for the next level of hockey. 

QMJHL

William Carrier, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired: 2nd round (57th overall) in 2013

There are many who believe that Carrier could have gone higher in this year’s draft had he been healthy throughout the 2012-13 season. Playing in 34 games last season, Carrier scored an impressive 16 goals and 26 assists before suffering an injury. This year, Carrier is picking up right where he left off, scoring nine goals and 25 assists in 30 games. With this perhaps being Carrier’s last season of junior hockey, maintaining this pace will be crucial for his development as he prepares for the pros.

Carrier is a big reason for the incredible depth at left wing in the Blues’ pipeline. He can really do everything, from scoring goals to getting dirty in the corners. If he stays healthy, he should be a solid player in the QMJHL this year, making the Blues extremely happy with their second round draft pick. Carrier has already started working on his skating which not only shows his drive but his ability to improve in all aspects of the game, which goes a long way in the pros.

Carrier has always demonstrated his immense skill, but was simply a victim of his own style of play. He plays hard which only leads to dangerous situations, and being such a talented scorer, he will need to be smarter with his physical game. Playing on a team where he does everything, Carrier will have the opportunity to focus on his offensive output when he reaches the next level. He has already shown he can dominate the junior ranks, which should help his transition to the pro game. For now, Carrier will continue lighting it up in the Quebec league before fighting for a chance at the NHL. While his production could merit a tryout, it is highly likely that the Blues will have him spend time in the AHL before he joins the NHL team.

Ryan Tesink, LW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Acquired: 6th round (162nd overall) in 2011

Tesink is one player who could really be a steal in the draft. For a sixth round pick, Tesink has more than surpassed his draft position. One of the major factors in his production was his time with the Saint John Sea Dogs, where he played with highly touted prospect Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA). That was the first time Tesink reached a point-per-game pace, and he has maintained that ever since. This season, Tesink has played in 19 games and scored five goals and 20 points before going down with another injury.

One of the main concerns with Tesink, which could be a major reason for his low draft stock, is his injury history. He has consistently missed time due to injury and his health remains a concern as he makes the transition to the pros. This will be his final season of junior hockey and it will be imperative for his development that he gets back on the ice.

Tesink has always demonstrated his skill when on the ice. Similar to Carrier, Tesink plays a high-energy style and is a victim of his own game. As he ages, Tesink will need to forgo the physical game to maintain a responsible scoring role in the future. He is amazingly conditioned and can skate with the best players his age, but injuries remain a concern, which could play a huge role in his professional career.

Francois Tremblay, G, Val d’Or Foreurs
Acquired: 5th round (146th overall) in 2012

Tremblay has been a workhorse for the Foreurs throughout his junior career. Even though he has posted winning records for the past two seasons, his numbers have not been very good. So far this season, Tremblay has posted a 15-7-0 record with a .891 save percentage and 3.07 goals against average. This will be his final season of junior hockey before he makes the jump to the pro ranks.

Tremblay has natural size and can cover the net well. He has demonstrated solid puck control skills and defends the glove side well. His major issue has always been his lateral quickness, which he needs to improve if he hopes to become a reliable goaltender. With so much talent in the pipeline, Tremblay will have ample time to find his game at the professional level.

The goalie situation in St. Louis makes it difficult for Tremblay to earn a spot in the near future. Jake Allen is currently forced to play in the AHL while Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott manning the crease for the parent club. Jordan Binnington, a junior standout from the OHL, is now playing in the ECHL to have more of an opportunity to start games. With that said, Tremblay will have the rest of the season to tweak his skills as he hopes for an opportunity to join the AHL next season.

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