After a season with only a few high-end prospects in their system, the St. Louis Blues will enjoy a deeper prospect pipeline heading into the 2014-15 season. A major help in replenishing the prospect pool was the 2014 NHL Draft, where the Blues made 10 picks, including six in the first four rounds. With the current depth on the Blues’ roster, many of their prospects will spend time at other levels of hockey to improve their overall game.
Jordan Binnington has excelled at all levels of hockey thus far in his career. After posting very successful individual seasons with the Owen Sound Attack, Binnington earned an opportunity to gain more ice time playing for the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL. He had the skill to play in the AHL, but playing behind Jake Allen would have limited his playing time greatly. Going into this season, Binnington will be manning the pipes for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and should be poised to have another great season.
Though he stands 6’2”, Binnington is still very light and seems small in the crease. However, he is very quick between the pipes and can make very athletic saves. He excels in the butterfly position and has a high ceiling in terms of skill. This season will be a major factor in determining Binnington’s NHL future, but it is safe to say he will have the opportunity to take over the starting role for the Wolves in 2014-15.
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, St. Louis Blues (NHL)
While there has not been official word, chances are that Dmitrij Jaskin will stick with the Blues to start the regular season. Last season, Jaskin played in 42 games for the Chicago Wolves and scored 15 goals and 14 assists before earning himself a call-up to the NHL club. He played 18 games and scored a goal and an assist while demonstrating a good two-way game and poise for his age.
The Blues have already sent down a few players, but Jaskin has remained in camp with the NHL club. He has spent time on the third line and could stick around if he shows he can maintain a full-time role. Jaskin has demonstrated a very impressive offensive game in the past, so seeing some of those skills at the NHL level will only further the Blues’ trust in the young Russian forward.
Unsigned for 2015-16
David Shields, D, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
David Shields broke out as an AHL player in 2013-14 after a lengthy start to his professional career. In 55 games played, Shields recorded five goals and 10 assists, more than his career totals prior to the 2013-14 season. He garnered significant playing time for the Wolves and ended with a plus-10 rating. At just 23 years old, Shields looks to be improving with every season and could become an important player for the Wolves in 2014-15.
Going into this season, Shields is in the final year of his contract and his gradual improvements would suggest a new contract coming his way. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and Shields will have to stand out this season to ensure he sticks with the organization. There is incredible depth on the Blues’ blue line and it will be an uphill battle to join this group on a long-term basis. Nevertheless, his offensive trend along with his defensive abilities should help him take his game to the next level in 2014-15.
Considered a major steal in the 2014 NHL Draft, Ivan Barbashev is going into his third season of QMJHL hockey and is poised to put up great numbers in 2014-15. At just 18 years old, Barbashev has recorded 133 points in 118 junior games. His 25 goals in 48 games last season were very impressive, and his playmaking skills are only going to get better with age.
Going into this season, the Russian-born playmaker will want to become more consistent as he approaches the next level. He has shown great vision, passing skill and the ability to dominate in the offensive zone. With that said, if Barbashev can become a more responsible player in his own zone while taking his skills to the next level, the Blues could have very well found the steal of the draft.
A player who has dominated at the junior level, Jaedon Descheneau has not been signed by the Blues yet and is entering his final season of junior eligibility. Last season, Descheneau scored 44 goals and 54 assists in 70 games. In 13 playoff games, Descheneau continued his torrid pace by scoring 20 points in 13 games. He has been part of a very successful junior team and will likely play a major role for Kootenay in 2014-15.
The major concern with Descheneau is size. While the skills are there he is only 5’9, but he is trying to bulk up. If he can show a consistent improvement in his game, Descheneau should get an opportunity at the AHL level. For now, he will need to focus on becoming a stronger player while maintaining his offensive skill and instincts.
Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Rounding out the list of junior prospects to watch, Samuel Blais is going into his second season with the Victoriaville Tigres and is poised to break out in all offensive categories. Drafted in the sixth round, Blais played in 25 games as a QMJHL rookie, scoring four goals and 10 assists. He also played in the postseason, which should give him plenty of experience heading into 2014-15.
At just 18 years old and in his second season of junior hockey, Blais has a good amount of time to get noticed by the Blues. He will have a much larger role with the team and should create offense as a top-six forward. He has good height for his age, but could use a boost in his strength.
With so many NCAA prospects in the Blues’ pipeline, Jordan Schmaltz is still the best amateur prospect in the organization. Ranked sixth in our latest edition of the Blues’ Top 20, Schmaltz has become a centerpiece for the University of North Dakota. He has been on a rising trajectory in terms of point production and should be able to improve on his 24 points in 41 games he scored in 2013-14.
One of the most interesting factors about Schmaltz is he is just 20 years old and will be playing in his third season of NCAA hockey. He has two more seasons at the college level to improve his game and will likely spend significant time on the powerplay. His brother will be joining him at the University of North Dakota, which will add more talent to an already stacked team. With an even better season than last year, Schmaltz could become the most prized defensive prospect in the Blues’ organization.
Freshman to Watch
Jake Walman, D, Providence College (NCAA)
Drafted in the third round of the 2014 Draft, Jake Walman played his Junior A hockey with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and stood out in the OJHL. Known primarily for his offensive skill, Walman will have ample opportunity to become a reliable player at both ends of the ice for Providence College in the fall. He is a phenomenal skater and can handle the puck very well. He has good size and should be able to make an immediate splash at the college level.
Unsigned in 2015-16
Max Gardiner, C, Penn State University (NCAA)
While Max Gardiner fits the bill for several of the above categories, he remains unsigned for next season and has a lot to improve on after his performance in 2013-14. In his first year with Penn State and second year in the NCAA, Gardiner scored 21 points in 23 games. As a junior in 2013-14, Gardiner had just one assist in 22 games. He was focusing heavily on his academic work and missed the last eight games with an injury. If Gardiner is trying pursue a career in the NHL, he will need to have a similar season to his sophomore year while proving he can be dependable at both ends of the ice.
Ville Husso, G, HIFK Helsinki (SM-liiga)
Adding to the already deep goaltending in the Blues’ system, Ville Husso is a young goaltender with a great deal of experience already under his belt. Drafted in the fourth round, Husso has grown up in the HIFK Helsinki organization and has become their primary goaltender in 2014-15. In 2013-14, Husso played in 41 games for HIFK in the SM-liiga and had very impressive numbers. He maintained a 1.99 goals against average and .923 save percentage. He seems ready to improve on those numbers and has already mentioned his desire to play in North America. For now, Husso will need to stay consistent if he hopes to fight for a spot next year.
New Team in 2014-15
Santeri Saari, D, Jokerit (KHL)
Still trying to find his footing offensively, Saari has been gradually improving in lower levels of hockey but will be making his KHL debut in 2014-15. Playing in one of the top leagues in the world, Saari will get a good amount of experience playing against some of the best players outside of the NHL. He is a very strong and tall defender for his age, which will be one of his main assets going into the season. If he can improve his offensive numbers while gaining more responsibility for Jokerit, Saari seems poised to be a good shutdown defenseman.