With 10 picks, the St. Louis Blues used the 2014 NHL Draft to replenish their coffers and added some very respectable talent to the pipeline. This was the first time since 2008 the Blues drafted double-digit players, and based on their success the last time around, this could be considered an extremely important draft for the Blues down the line.
The biggest concern for the Blues must have been the center position, but the addition of Robby Fabbri will help rectify that in the future. Moving down the list, the Blues continued to improve forward depth with players that can play center and left wing, another position that needed a few upgrades going into the draft. Here is a look at all 10 of the Blues’ draft picks in 2014.
Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)
1st round, 21st overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 170
On any of the bottom 10 teams in the NHL, Robby Fabbri may have gotten a good look in training camp and could have earned a start in the NHL. However, on such a skilled team, chances are that Fabbri is returned to the OHL to continue his successful junior career. When asked if he was told about his NHL future for this season, Fabbri said it was never brought up but he is willing to do whatever it takes to earn his stripes.
Fabbri’s junior season was nothing short of stellar this year. He helped the Guelph Storm become one of the best teams in the country and went on to win the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the OHL playoffs MVP. He thanked his coaching staff and team, and says he would not have been able to accomplish this without them. When asked about his performance in the playoffs, Fabbri simply replied, ”I enjoy winning, I hate losing.” It was due to this mentality that his sophomore campaign was so successful.
Fabbri is offensively skilled but provides a solid two-way game. He compares himself to Blues restricted free agent and recent KHL signing Vladimir Sobotka, who is good at attacking the tough areas and playing a solid physical game. The only major hindrance in Fabbri’s repertoire at the moment is his size. He could benefit from more strength and muscle mass to his frame, as it would help him develop the right skills at both ends of the ice.
Fabbri was an invitee to the 2014 NHL Combine where he spoke with the media following his testing session. His comments are captured in this HF video.
Another Russian-born youngster playing in Canada, Ivan Barbashev has demonstrated tremendous growth in his first two years of junior hockey. In his second season, Barbashev scored 25 goals and 43 assists in 48 games, while also adding 10 points in six playoff games. Barbashev has also played on the U17, U18 and U20 Russian squad in the past few years, and he could be a dominant player in this year’s tournament if selected.
One of the most interesting storylines surrounding Barbashev is his relationship with fellow Blues’ prospect Dmitrij Jaskin. They are considered best friends and developed together with the Wildcats. If both players continue to improve and show the ability to play at the NHL level, we could be looking at another interesting duo in the NHL.
Barbashev maintains a very good two-way game while still producing at a point-per-game level. He has great playmaking ability and puck possession skills, making him dominant in the offensive zone. Going into his third season with the Wildcats, expect Barbashev to become a much bigger part of this team and will have ample time to find his game.
Barbashev met with the media following his selection by the Blues, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Another Russian-born player joining the Blues’ ranks, Maxim Letunov was very impressive in his first year of USHL hockey. He was able to score 19 goals and 24 assists in 60 games as a rookie, and will be sticking with the team for the upcoming season. In 2015, Letunov will be joining his Phantoms’ teammate and Toronto Maple Leafs draft choice John Piccinich at Boston University.
While the offensive gifts are obvious, his defensive game could use some work. He is quite lanky for his height and is not a reliable two-way player at the moment. He needs to add a significant amount of muscle mass while developing the physical side of his game. One more season with the Phantoms followed by a full NCAA career could be just the perfect thing for the Russian winger.
Jake Walman, D, Toronto Jr. Canadiens (OJHL)
3rd round, 82nd overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 175
Jake Walman is an interesting pick for the Blues because they seemed to have wanted him from the very start. When asked about knowing he was going to get selected by the Blues, Walman discussed his combine experiences, comfort with the team and interviews. He went on to say, “the vibe I got from them was something I did not feel from the other guys. Every time St. Louis had a pick, I was on the edge of my seat.”
Walman is an excellent skater and is very confident with the puck. He is prototypically an offensive defenseman, but only started playing the position recently. His offensive skills are quite impressive but he will need to become a better player in his own zone.
Walman rejected the chance to play for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL to attend Providence College in the fall. He was leaps and bounds above the competition in the OJHL and playing in the NCAA will provide a much better idea of where he is at in terms of development and potential.
Ville Husso, G, HIFK Helsinki (Liiga)
4th round, 94th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 185
Husso was actually draft eligible last season but was not selected. He says he used that experience to train extremely hard in the offseason to make a name for himself going into this year’s draft.
Coming from the European ranks, Ville Husso provides the Blues with another solid European goalie who is not in a rush to make their way over to North America. When asked about when he would think about coming, Husso thought he should feel ready after one or two more years in Europe. After a stellar first season with HIFK, expect Husso to pick up right where he left off in 2014-15.
Austin Poganski, RW, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
4th round, 110th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 198
Austin Poganski is a strong, two-way winger with some offensive upside. While the USHL is not the best gauge for his overall skill, his 31 points in 55 games is impressive. He is a good skater and enjoys crashing the net to make plays from the wing. On the other hand, his defensive game does still needs improvement, but his frame will allow him to grow physically over the next few years.
Poganski will be leaving the USHL ranks to join the University of North Dakota. Interestingly, one of the Blues’ top prospects Jordan Schmaltz is also playing at UND, which will be a be a great bonus for the younger and inexperienced Poganski.
Jaedon Descheneau was a bit of a late bloomer in the WHL, but he has come into his own over the course of three seasons. This year, Descheneau put up 44 goals and 54 points in 70 games with a very good Ice team. When looking at his numbers, one would wonder why he fell all the way to the fifth round. At 5’9” and 185 pounds, Descheneau will be hindered by his size for the most part, but as long as he keeps building strength and developing his physical game, Descheneau should be an interesting player to follow in the coming years.
C.J. Yakimowicz, RW, London Knights (OHL)
6th round, 172nd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 198
One of the bigger players drafted by the Blues, C.J. Yakimowicz is very good at using his size and bases his game mostly on the physical side. His skating is pretty good for his size and style, but he needs to keep developing the rest of his game to become a more complete player. His offensive output will be limited as a pro, but his work ethic and bruiser style of play is always welcomed in a bottom-six role.
Yakimowicz met with the media following his selection by the Blues, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
6th round, 176th overall
Height: 5-9 Weight: 164
Samuel Blais played just his first half season of junior hockey last year but looked good in his first 25 games. He scored four goals and added 10 assists, displaying some of his very good passing skills. Blais could actually use more selfishness in his offensive game, as he is such a pass-first player. His skating could use some improvement while his defensive game needs a lot of work. This should be the main focus of his development in the coming years.
Dwyer Tschantz, RW, Indiana Ice (USHL)
7th round, 202nd overall
Height: 6-6 Weight: 201
Dwyer Tschantz, the biggest player drafted by the Blues, is an absolute beast in terms of size, and he has demonstrated some good offensive skill as a USHL rookie. He should continue to develop his two-way game to utilize the combo of size and skill at both ends of the ice. With the operations for the Indiana Ice being suspended for the 2014-15 season, Tschantz was selected by Sioux City in the ensuing dispersal draft. However, the first player from Delaware selected in the NHL draft is slated to begin his NCAA career at Cornell University in 2014-15.