Several St. Louis Blues prospects enjoying strong start in Junior ranks

By Suraj Sukumar

 

Photo: C.J. Yakimowicz (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Photo: C.J. Yakimowicz has used his skating ability to help increase his offensive output in his second season with the London Knights (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

After so many players were lost to graduation, the St. Louis Blues’ prospect pool looked, for the most part, drained. With a very strong draft last year, the St. Louis Blues have put together a very promising group of prospects at the junior level. Leading the charge is the doubled-headed dragon of Ivan Barbashev and Robby Fabbri, who have helped replenish the center depth in the Blues’ system.

The Chicago Wolves have also benefited from some of the Blues’ draftees. Ty Rattie is currently making a name for himself with the AHL affiliate, while top prospect Jordan Binnington has recovered from a tough debut.

The Blues have eight players at the junior level, including one defenseman and no goalies.

QMJHL

Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats
Acquired: Round 2 (33rd overall), 2014

Ivan Barbashev, currently ranked the top forward in the Blues’ pipeline, has been everything the scouts expected so far this season. He has improved his goal scoring tremendously, notching 19 goals in 23 games so far in 2014-15. He is in his third season and has proven to have a great mind for the game. He is second in team scoring and has helped the team find success.

Barbashev knows how to control the puck well and can make the right decisions in the offensive zone. His defensive game will be something to improve on and it will be interesting to see if he can keep his current pace. He has been known to be inconsistent but this could be the year to shed that trait. Competition-wise, he seems ready to move on, but he will likely have to wait quite some time before he makes his pro debut.

Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: Round 6 (176th overall), 2014

Another draft pick from the 2014 Draft, Samuel Blais is now in his second season as a QMJHL player and has improved on his rookie season dramatically. He currently has 12 goals and 14 assists in 22 games, compared to his four goals and 10 assists in 25 games last year. He has been credited with impressive vision and playmaking ability, but size will continue to be a problem for him, especially as he moves on to the next level. Improving his defensive game and overall strength would be ideal for his future. Though he is second in team scoring, it would take a lot more for him to be a consistent impact player for the Tigres.

WHL

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

One of the best defensive prospects in the Blues’ system, Tommy Vannelli is an offensively-minded blueliner who also possesses good skating ability. In his first year of junior hockey, Vannelli scored 14 goals in 60 games, but has already scored 9 in 21 games this year. He is on pace to have a great year for the Tigers and there is a good chance he will get another year of experience in the postseason. One of the major issues in Vannelli’s game is his defense. While he has been able to hold his own at the junior level, he is still a ways away from possessing a solid two-way game. If he can continue to work on his defensive game, while adding some muscle to his frame, Vannelli can develop the skills to be a much better all-around player.

Zach Pochiro, LW, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: Round 4 (112th overall), 2013

Zach Pochiro started the season in the ECHL but was sent back to the WHL earlier this season. Playing in just four games so far with the Cougars, Pochiro has scored two goals and two assists while already posting eight penalty minutes. Having never gone to the postseason, Pochiro’s junior experience has been limited. He was over a point-per-game player last year, and though he continues to maintain that pace in the WHL, it is extremely hard to envision those skills transitioning to the professional level. He is a gritty forward with good size, but he will need to develop a more responsible game while improving his offensive abilities.

OHL

Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph Storm
Acquired: Round 1 (21st overall), 2014

A major part of a very successful Guelph Storm team, Robby Fabbri has been a very impressive player at the junior level and has continued to demonstrate those same skills in his third OHL season. After scoring 87 points last year, Fabbri has already notched 16 goals and 16 assists in 19 games. The most impressive part of his game is his speed and goal-scoring ability. He has very good breakaway acceleration and agility, which helps him maintain an above average defensive game.

His two-way ability and leadership are also great traits, but he will need to get stronger and more consistent in his own zone. Fabbri also has a good head on his shoulders, which has proven to be an asset in important games. At just 18 years old, it will be interesting to see what else Fabbri can accomplish at the junior level before hitting the pros.

C.J. Yakimowicz, RW, London Knights
Acquired: Round 6 (172nd overall), 2014

Rounding out the 2014 draft picks in the CHL, Chandler Yakimowicz is now playing his second season with the London Knights and has already improved on his rookie numbers. After scoring just seven points in 2013-14, Yakimowicz has scored six goals and four assists in 23 games. Billed more as a physical player, Yakimowicz has demonstrated good skating and offensive skills for his size, but it will take a lot more for him to be a reliable professional hockey player. As he rounds out his second year of junior hockey, it would be best for Yakimowicz to focus on his all-around offensive play while becoming an even better skater.

USHL

Maxim Letunov, C, Youngstown Phantoms
Acquired: Round 2 (52nd overall), 2014

Another 2014 draft pick making his way to this list, Maxim Letunov has been a very reliable player in the USHL. As a rookie, Letunov scored 19 goals and 24 assists in 60 games, while putting up eight goals and 12 assists in 17 games this year. He has been known for his puck skills and offensive instincts, but similar to his fellow Blues’ draftees, defense and size will be a major concern as he grows up. He will need to fill out his frame while also improving his defensive zone game if he hopes to become a more effective player In the future.

Sam Kurker, RW, Sioux City Musketeers
Acquired: Round 2 (56th overall), 2012

A bit of a late bloomer compared to his peers, Sam Kurker hit the college ranks before deciding to play junior hockey. He spent two years at Boston University before joining the USHL, and lucky for him, it seemed to help his game drastically. After scoring six goals and eight assists in 24 games last year, Kurker has already scored nine goals and six assists in 15 games so far this year. Outside of the offensive zone, Kurker is a good forechecker and has a grittiness to his game. As long as he continues to develop his offensive skills and defensive coverage, Kurker should be a solid two-way player in the future.

St. Louis Blues Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October

Starting with the AHL, there are a couple names worth mentioning as the season hits the 20-game mark. As the number one rated prospect in the Blues’ system, Jordan Binnington has been able to take over as the starting goalie of the Wolves with relative ease, and has made up for his poor start with very strong outings over the past few weeks. In nine games so far, Binnington is 6-2-0-1 with a 1.89 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. If his past play is any indication, expect Binnington to continue his impressive season.

Ty Rattie is another member of the Wolves who is enjoying a very strong season thus far. In 20 games played, Rattie has scored 13 points. He has maintained a plus-six rating and has thrown a whopping 68 shots on net. It seems Rattie is slowly finding his game at the professional level, which should make for an interesting case as the top 20 rankings roll around next year.

On the blue line for the Wolves, Petteri Lindbohm is making his North American debut this season and has not disappointed. Playing in 18 games so far, Lindbohm has scored an impressive four goals and three assists to go along with a plus-three rating. He is a good sized defenseman and has the skill to be a reliable player at both ends of the ice. It will be intriguing to see if he can keep up this point pace for the remainder of the season.

There is also one player in Europe who deserves some recognition. Ville Husso was the most recent addition to the Blues’ goalie depth but seems to be ready for an upgrade in ranking. Starting for the famous HIFK of the Liiga, Husso has played in 23 games and has maintained a 2.18 goals against average and .921 save percentage so far this year. He seems poised to carry the load for his European squad and should garner some very good experience in the process.

Lastly, the Blues have always maintained a solid amount of prospects at the NCAA level. The two most notable prospects at that level are Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko. While Schmaltz is enjoying another productive year at the University of North Dakota, Parayko has enjoyed even more success at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. In 13 games, Schmaltz has scored one goal and seven assists, while Parayko has scored three goals and six assists in 12 games. Both players have demonstrated solid offensive skill throughout their college careers and have become increasingly reliable in their own zone. Both players are still in their junior year and will hope to ride this kind of success into their final year of NCAA hockey.

The most surprising story to come out of the NCAA ranks for the Blues is Mackenzie MacEachern. After playing one year of junior hockey, MacEachern put up a modest eight goals and four assists in 36 games as a freshman at Michigan State University. This season, MacEachern is on pace to demolish those totals, as he already has four goals and five assists in just 11 games. If he can stay healthy and continue this pace, MacEachern could end the season as the biggest surprise in the Blues’ pipeline.

St. Louis Blues Prospect of the Month: OctoberSt. Louis Blues Headshots

There have been some very impressive starts to the season, especially at the junior level, but there is one player in the Blues’ system that deserves some extra credit. Going back to the AHL, Ty Rattie has been nothing short of spectacular so far this year. While many criticized the small-statured offensive playmaker, Rattie is putting those opinions to shame.

So far this year, Rattie has scored a league-leading 13 goals in 22 games and has been able to contribute consistently for the Wolves. His ability to control the puck in the offensive zone, to find the back of the net, and to use his speed to make up for his size have always been the primary attributes of his game. If the team has any success this season, you can almost guarantee that Rattie will have a major role to play.

Follow Suraj Sukumar on Twitter at @Sukumar_S87