St. Louis Blues possess strong depth at the European and college ranks

By Suraj Sukumar

Santeri Saari - Team Finland

Photo: Finnish defenseman Santeri Saari set a new career-high in pro games in 2013-14, spending 25 matches with Kiekko-Vantaa in Finland’s second-tier Mestis (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues have benefited greatly from college players and have several notable prospects climbing the ranks.

In the same light, the Blue have a number of prospects playing in Europe, but their likelihood of coming to North American is unlikely in the near future. Due to the success of the Blues, many of these prospects who still need time to prosper have ample opportunities to excel elsewhere.

Two prospects that have done really well at the college level are defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko. They have performed extremely well this season and their chances of success at the next level seem very bright. For now, the prospects at both the European and NCAA level need to continue to develop and utilize their opportunities, as the NHL and AHL teams will be difficult to crack for quite some time.

Europe

Niklas Lundstrom, G, Sodertalje (Allsvenskan) 
Drafted 5th Round, 132nd Overall, 2011

Niklas Lundstrom has had a tough season in Sweden and is quite a ways from challenging for a spot in either the AHL or NHL. He demonstrated good potential while playing in the 2013 World Junior Championships, but has not shown consistent play in the Swedish Hockey League. He played just two games for the SHL’s AIK before getting outplayed and sent down to Sodertalje. He played in 24 Allsvenskan games and maintained a 2.86 goals against average with a .895 save percentage. Lundstrom is still 21 years old and could pan out to be a legitimate number one goalie. He has shown good movement and quickness but inconsistencies have plagued his growth. Based on his lack of production and the depth already in the North America for the Blues, Lundstrom will continue to fight for playing time in Sweden.

Evgeny Grachev, C, Vladivostok Admiral (KHL)
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers in June, 2011

Evgeny Grachev has not seen NHL ice since 2011-12 and is now 24 years old. He spent last season in the AHL but has now made his way to the KHL. In 50 games played this season, Grachev scored six goals and 11 assists. One could argue that he was rushed into his pro career, but the Russian forward has just not found his place in North America. He has demonstrated good offensive instincts and maintained an impressive physical game. His most troubling flaw is his lack of consistency and effort on a full season basis. He is still fairly young and a good showing in the KHL could help him revive his pro career. He will likely remain in Russia for the near future.

Petteri Lindbohm, D, Jokerit Helsinki (Liiga)
Drafted 6th Round, 176th Overall, 2012

For his age, Petteri Lindbohm has been getting extensive looks in the Liiga and spent most of his time with the powerhouse Jokerit. However, going into this season, Lindbohm spent the beginning of the year with Assat Pori, and scored five points in 19 games before joining Jokerit again. His offensive skills have not developed yet but he has demonstrated sound defensive acumen and above average skating ability. He also has good size and plays a physical game, which helps him prepare even more for the North American style of play. He is just 20 years old and seems on the right track after signing his entry-level contract in March 2014, but he will likely remain in Finland with Sport next year in Liiga.

Santeri Saari, D, Kiekko-Vantaa (Mestis) / Jokerit (Liiga)
Drafted 6th Round, 173rd Overall, 2013

Santeri Saari is a very interesting prospect given his age and experience. He is just 19 years old right now but has been trying his luck at the pro ranks in Europe for a few seasons. Currently the property of Jokerit Helsinki, Saari has spent most of his time in the Mestis League and the Jr. A SM-liiga. He excelled in the U20 leagues and continued to represent Finland on the international stage. He spent most of his pro time with Kiekko-Vantaa over the past two seasons and has scored one goal in 32 career games. Saari is an extremely raw talent and should continue to develop in the European ranks. It will be some time before he makes his way to North America, but seeing what he can do next season when Jokerit transitions to the KHL will be a good indicator of his potential moving forward.

NCAA

Mackenzie MacEachern, LW, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd Round, 67th Overall, 2012

After a good rookie season in the USHL, Mackenzie MacEachern decided to make his mark on the college level and has done well in his first season of play. He is extremely offensively minded and has demonstrated great hands and skating early in his career. In 36 college games this year, MacEachern scored eight goals and four assists but is still making the transition as a rookie. He should be able to get his offensive numbers up next year if he sees more time on the ice. He has good size for a winger and possess a good hockey sense, but will need to pick up his defensive play to be a more reliable player. He is still only 20 years old and will likely spend the next few seasons in the NCAA as he continues to grow both physically and mentally.

Max Gardiner, C, Pennsylvania State University (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd Round, 74th Overall, 2010

In terms of declines, Max Gardiner may have experienced the largest fall in production in the Blues’ pipeline this season. After scoring 21 points in 23 games last season, Gardiner scored just one assist in 22 games in his third season of NCAA hockey. He is considered a good two-way forward and can play well at both ends of the ice. However, his lack of production in the offensive zone is something to be concerned about. Disregarding the offense, Gardiner has shown potential as a power forward but will need to get stronger to compete at the professional level. Gardiner will likely play one more season of college hockey before making the jump to the pros.

Max Tardy, C, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
Drafted 7th Round, 202nd Overall, 2009

Drafted all the way back in 2009, Max Tardy has been struggling as a college player and looks very much like a bottom-six forward at this time. He finished his fourth season of college hockey this season and did not fair very well offensively. In 25 games, Tardy scored just one goal and one assist. In the past two seasons, Tardy has combined for just three points in 39 games. He is a good skater and possesses a great level of confidence. However, he will need to improve in all facets of the game if he hopes to be an effective pro player.

Jordan Schmaltz, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 1st Round, 25th Overall, 2012

The only first round picks on the this list, Jordan Schmaltz is doing extremely well as a college player and has improved dramatically since his freshman year. After scoring 12 points in 42 games last season, Schmaltz put up six goals and 18 assists in 41 games as a sophomore. His impressive growth combined with his dynamic offensive skills makes him a very interesting prospect to watch moving forward. His passing ability is phenomenal and he has the potential to run his own power-play unit. At just 20 years old, Schmaltz has another two years at the college level before he makes the leap to the pros. It will be interesting to see how much he can improve on this season next year.

Colton Parayko, D, University of Alaska-Fairbanks (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd Round, 86th Overall, 2012

Drafted in the same year as Schmaltz, Colton Parayko made similar strides in his game and showed tremendous improvements as a sophomore as well. After scoring 17 points in 33 games last season, Parayko has scored seven goals and 19 assists in 37 games this year. Furthermore, his physical game makes him a threat at both ends of the ice, making him a very reliable two-way defender. He has always been considered a very hard worker and his work ethic has paid dividends. He is also just 20 years old and will have another two seasons to perfect his game before making the jump to the pros. If he continues to make giant leaps in his production, it will be intriguing to watch him develop at the professional level down the line.

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