St. Louis Blues have depth at goalie and right wing in the minors

By Suraj Sukumar

Dmitrij Jaskin - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Winger Dmitrij Jaskin leads Chicago Wolves rookies in points-per-game so far in 2013-14. His play earned him a four-game stint with St. Louis in late December (courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Chicago Wolves are the new AHL affiliate for the St. Louis Blues and have been somewhat productive this year. The Wolves are currently second in their division with a record of 19-13-1-2.

They are fifth in the conference and are comfortably eligible for the AHL playoffs. In their last 10, the Wolves are an impressive 7-2-1-0.

While the Blues have a solid group of prospect scattered across different levels of hockey, they have a good group of goaltenders and right wingers in the minors. Furthermore, the Blues have just one left wing and one center currently playing in the AHL, which only increases the value and importance of their prospects at other positions. Due to the Blues’ success this season, many of these players will stick it out in the minors to work on their game.

AHL

Jake Allen, G, 23

Allen has already had a solid career and is just 23 years of age. He got a taste of the NHL last season, playing in 15 games and showing that he does have what it takes to make it in the pros. He is currently the undisputed number one goalie in Chicago and has the numbers to go along with it. In 23 games played, Allen has a record of 14-7-2 with 2.17 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

If the goaltending situation in St. Louis changes, Allen will be the first to get the call. Both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott could be gone by next season, which opens the door for Allen to get the number-one gig. For now, the talented goaltender will continue to succeed in the AHL before making an inevitable transition to the NHL.

Ty Rattie, RW, 20

When considering the production he had as a junior player, it will take a while before Rattie can come close to having the same impact at the professional level. In the WHL, Rattie was simply one of the best players in the league. He is a great skater and has phenomenal hands. He is an offensive dynamo and is most valuable for putting up points. His last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks proved that.

For Rattie, the biggest issue will be size. He weighs in at just under 170 pounds, which will surely be a problem in the NHL. To have the same impact will not only require skill, but strength as well. So far in 2013-14, Rattie has 12 goals and seven assists in 34 games. This is his rookie year in the AHL so the production is a good sign of things to come. Rattie is still young and has plenty of time to find his game at the pro level, but he will need to get stronger both on and off the puck to reach his full potential in the pros.

Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, 20

Jaskin has been a tremendous surprise since coming over from Europe. In one season of junior hockey, Jaskin scored 46 goals and 53 assists in just 51 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. He did well enough to earn a two-game stint with the Blues last season. This year, in 23 AHL games, Jaskin has nine goals and eight assists. He impressed management enough to earn a four game call-up this season but has since returned to Chicago. Jaskin has shown that his game has transitioned well not only to North America but the professional level as well.

One thing Jaskin needs to work on is his consistency and penalty trouble. He is a feisty player who takes on all challengers, which might not be the best idea based on his talents. He is a player that will be called upon to score, and getting into battles that result in penalty minutes is simply unnecessary. This in turn is another reason why his production is inconsistent, as his mind sometimes drifts away from the game. He needs to stay focused to become a top-end point getter in the pros. For now, he will continue to work on his offensive game while filling a top-six roster spot. He should get his chance with the Blues next season if he does not stick around this year.

Tyler Shattock, RW, 23

After a long and productive junior career, Shattock has been trying to improve his play at the AHL level since 2010-11. He had enough trouble last year that he was sent on an ECHL stint for three games. After scoring five points in that time, he was brought back up to the AHL. This season, Shattock is on pace for the best season of his career, scoring two goals and eight assists in 32 games. This may not seem like major production, but it is a step in the right direction for Shattock.

Versatility would be Shattock’s best quality and he has proven it throughout his career. He is able to play all areas of the ice and possesses a solid point shot. Nevertheless, given the immense talent in the Blues’ system, Shattock will have to keep improving if he hopes to make it to the next level in the future.

Cody Beach, RW, 21

The gritty forward is not known for his offensive production, so maintaining a solid defensive game and a physical presence is the most important part of Beach’s game. He is currently last in points for forwards on the team but has tried to maintain his hard-nosed style. However, due to his lack of production, Beach was sent to the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL to work on his game a bit more. After scoring two goals in five games while adding 10 penalty minutes, Beach was recalled to the AHL by the Wolves.

One of Beach’s biggest assets is his physical frame. He is 6’5 and will likely grow stronger as he ages. He is already a big hitter but could work on his skating and offensive skills to give his game more versatility. Nonetheless, Beach is known for the fisticuffs and will need to keep doing his job as an enforcer to stay at the AHL level.

Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 22

Wannstrom was drafted back in 2010 and has not done very much to earn himself a chance at the NHL. He spent the first three years of his pro career in Sweden before making his way to North America. Last season, Wannstrom tried his luck in the AHL last season only to get sent down to the ECHL. After an unsuccessful run in North America, Wannstrom made his way back to Europe last year. This season, Wannstrom has spent time in both the ECHL and AHL, but currently finds himself at a standstill in terms of production. He was able to score three goals and two assists in four ECHL games, but has only mustered two goals and one assist in 13 AHL games.

By the looks of things, Wannstrom is extremely far from an NHL shot and needs to decide whether he wants to stay in North America or play in Europe. He has had minimal success in in the AHL and transitioning to the North American style of play may have been an issue from the start. He has a solid two-way game and can play a bottom-six role with some offensive upside. However, he will need to develop his skills and become more consistent if he hopes to find success in North America.

Sergei Andronov, RW, 24

Drafted back in 2009, Andronov has had similar issues as Wannstrom. Both players are overseas products and have had immense trouble in finding their niche in the North American game. While his production in the KHL was nothing special, the jump from Russia to North America is tough for any young player, especially one who has played overseas since 2006 and only arrived in 2012-13. Interestingly enough, Andronov is on pace to set career numbers across the board. In his first 31 games of the season, Andronov has nine goals and seven assists, which is a huge jump from his 19 points in 59 games last year.

The offensive skills have always been there for Andronov, but it is the consistency and level of play that have always been questioned. He is extremely talented in the offensive zone but simply cannot hold his own on the defensive side of the puck. Unless he is destined to be a top-six forward, the defensive part of his game needs to come together, or he will have plenty of difficulty trying to crack the NHL roster.

Jani Hakanpaa, D, 21

Hakanpaa is not looked upon for the offensive numbers, so his two goals in 24 games this season is nothing to worry about. The 6’4 defenseman is an absolute beast on the ice and can throw the body with ease. His primary role on the ice is to keep pucks and players out of the zone and he seems to be doing a good job of that. So far this season, Hakanpaa is a plus-10 player, and he has never been a minus player in any of his past seasons.

Hakanpaa’s big body has helped him transition to the North American game well. Playing in the SM-liiga prior to last season with Peoria, he has shown no signs of difficulties in the AHL. He will likely continue to play in the AHL unless injuries overcome the Blues’ blueline. If he could improve his skating and offensive abilities, Hakanpaa would have the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL.

Joel Edmundson, D, 20

Edmundson is another big body defenseman in the Blues’ pipeline and is currently playing his rookie season in the AHL. He found his offensive touch during his final year of junior hockey but has not been able to find the same success yet at the professional level. In 32 games this season, Edmundson has just one goal and three assists. However, his plus-two rating suggests that he is doing well in the defensive zone, and will need to bring his all-around game together as the season progresses.

Edmundson can throw the body and has a significant physical presence. His biggest concerns are his skating and inconsistencies on offense. He was a late bloomer on the offensive side in junior and could be the same in the AHL. As long as he maintains his responsibilities in his own zone, Edmundson will continue to get playing time and has the potential to be a top-six NHL defenseman, a top-four if the offense and skating start to improve.

Cade Fairchild, D, 24

One of the most welcomed surprises this season for the Blues is the production of Fairchild. He has suffered from injury problems, lack of production, and sheer bad luck in the past. He has been in the AHL since 2011-12 and his rookie season was his best pro campaign. Since then, it has been a troublesome road for Fairchild but he seems to be turning it around this season. In 20 games, Fairchild has 15 assists and is a plus-four. Since 2011-12, Fairchild has not come close to this production and this is a great sign of what the Blues expected.

Fairchild has always been credited for his offensive skills but he simply was not able to perform over the last two seasons. He has had just five games in the NHL and will likely stay in the AHL until he shows consistent production. One of his biggest downfalls is his height at 5’11. He will need to be quick on his feet and use his size to his advantage. He has the skills but just needs to find consistency and stay healthy. If he can, his chance at the NHL will arrive soon.

David Shields, D, 22

Shields is another defenseman making a splash this season. Since 2011-12, Shields has been in the AHL with one ECHL stint under his belt. Prior to 2013-14, Shields had just nine points in 107 career AHL games. This season, he has five goals and six assists in 33 games, all career-highs.

Shields is more of a defensive defenseman, making this season even more special for him. The most important thing for Shields is to continue his stay-at-home style while improving his skills in the offensive zone. He is a smart player, can throw the body and has a good shot. If he can improve his all-around play, he could become a solid player for the Wolves and likely get a chance at the NHL next season. Otherwise, he is still a good player in his own zone and will continue to have a spot in the AHL if he keeps up his solid play.

Pat Cannone, C, 27

Cannone was brought in from the Ottawa Senators to beef up the depth at center. With Cannone being the only North American pro center in the pipeline, his presence is definitely felt. The college product is setting a solid career scoring pace and could top his AHL rookie stats of 43 points in 76 games. This season, Cannone has played in 34 games for the Wolves and has scored eight goals and seven assists. However, to top that output, Cannone will need to stay consistent and continue to work in the offensive zone.

Outside of the inconsistent offense, Cannone is a reliable two-way forward who is still trying to find his game since arriving from the college level. If he can come close to the offensive numbers while maintaining his play at both ends of the ice, Cannone could become a key piece from the Wolves this season.

ECHL

Jordan Binnington, G, 20

Binnington is the classic case of just needing the playing time. He is definitely good enough to get a chance in the AHL, and in fact earned a shootout victory over Rockford in his first career AHL start on Sunday, but he is overshadowed by very talented players. To ensure Binnington gets the right amount of playing time, the Blues have kept him playing for the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL for most of the season. Allen’s recall to Chicago gave Binnington the opportunity, and even though Allen was returned to the AHL, Binnington has been kept with the Wolves for the time being.

So far in 2013-14, Binnington has maintained a record of 10-6-1with a 2.21 goals against average and .924 save percentage at the ECHL level. These are good numbers for Binnington’s first season as a pro and he should be able to keep it up for the rest of the season. He was selected to the Canadian World Junior team last year during his impressive final season with the Owen Sound Attack.  With that said, the skill is there, and the 20-year old has plenty of time to work on his game and prepare himself for the NHL. Once the Blues crease returns to full health, look for Binnington to continue manning the crease in Michigan unless a serious setback occurs with the Blues’ goaltending

Yannick Veilleux, LW, 20

Veilleux is the only left wing in the Blues’ system that is currently playing at the minor league level in North America. During the final year of his junior career with the Moncton Wildcats, Veilleux played eight games for the Peoria Rivermen last season after scoring an impressive 73 points in the QMJHL. This season, Veilleux seemed like the odd man out in Chicago and was sent to the ECHL. He has appeared in two AHL games and 21 ECHL games this season, scoring three goals and three assists so far for the Wings.

Veilleux is a physical player that has the makings of a power forward. However, his defensive game is lacking, which makes him a liability in a bottom-six role. If he can get his offensive numbers up, a second or third line role in the AHL could be a possibility. For now, Veilleux needs to become accustomed to the pro level of hockey and improve his two-way game and offensive skills to have an immediate impact at the next level.

Brett Ponich, D, 22

It remains to be seen if Ponich can make it at the AHL or NHL level. In 91 career AHL games, Ponich has just five assists. During that time, Ponich has spent ample time in the ECHL, now playing with the Kalamazoo Wings. He has played in 20 games this year and scored two goals and one assist. Given the numbers, Ponich has not made a case for himself by any means, and it will be interesting to see how long he stays in the ECHL, especially if it is for the whole season.

Ponich has the abilities to be a solid defenseman at the next level but just has not found his game. The general manager has already praised him for his size and work ethic, which could only mean that Ponich is trying to turn things around. He has great size and can work on the skills that come with being a big body. However, his output has been questionable and it would be surprising to see Ponich anywhere but the ECHL until he can finds a consistent level of play for the next AHL.

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