A few surprises creeping up in the St. Louis Blues Top 20 Rankings

By Suraj Sukumar
Ivan Barbashev - St. Louis Blues

Photo: St. Louis Blues prospect Ivan Barbashev has shown a strong two-way game. (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

The most significant change in the Blues’ pipeline is the graduation of Jake Allen.  He has spent parts of the past few seasons in the NHL and has looked good behind Brian Elliott. While Allen has done enough to graduate this season, several prospects have made a good impression with the coaching staff and are garnering much larger roles as the season progresses. The trade of the promising Maxim Letunov in the deadline deal for Zbynek Michalek also opens up a spot in this ranking. Outside the NHL, other prospects have either been assigned to ECHL roles or are developing in the AHL.

1. (1) Ivan Barbashev, C, 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2014

Barbashev is getting huge acclaim for his offensive production in the QMJHL but it is all-around ability that helps him keep the top spot in the Blues’ system. He is a solid defensive player but will need to improve on those skills to transition well to the professional level. He is currently in his third season with the Moncton Wildcats and has obliterated his numbers from last season. In 50 games played, Barbashev has scored 39 goals and 42 assists while maintaining a very significant role with this team.  He also played a key role for Russia in this year’s U-20 World Junior Championships in Toronto, scoring three goals and three assists in seven games.  For now, Barbashev will have to focus on his junior career as he separates himself from the rest and develops into a very reliable two-way scoring center.

2. (2) Jordan Binnington, G, 8.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2011

If it were not for Allen, Binnington would be a more popular name by now. He has been successful at all levels of hockey in his career and has taken the reins of the Chicago Wolves’ net in the AHL. Binnington has played in 35 games this season and holds a record of 19-12-4. He currently holds a goals against average of 2.42 and a save percentage of 0.913. Skillwise, Binnington could be ready for an NHL stint but will likely spend another season in the AHL. The Blues currently have Allen and Elliott manning the crease and Binnington deserves to play regularly. With that said, expect Binnington to be a mainstay in the AHL but could make a nice splash in training camp next season.

3. (5) Robby Fabbri, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2014

In terms of maturity, Fabbri has looked incredibly poised for a 19-year old. He has been a solid player for the Guelph Storm in the OHL and helped lead the team to an OHL Championship last season. He was also instrumental in getting them to the Memorial Cup Finals, where they lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. While this would have been his third season in the OHL, he suffered a right ankle injury during the WJC and has not played since. In the first 22 games this season, he scored 18 goals and 20 assists with a +11 rating. He will need to focus on his recovery process as he tries to make his return to the OHL, especially with this being his third injury in less than a year.

4. (9) Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2011

Jaskin is in line to make the jump to graduation by the next Top 20 ranking. He has been playing in the NHL for most of the season and has maintained his roster spot with no issues. While his eleven goals and four assists in 38 games is impressive for his playing time and age, Jaskin’s two-way ability is what has helped him keep his NHL role. As long has he continues his impressive play, Jaskin could be a full-time NHL player moving forward.

5. (4) Ty Rattie, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2011

After starting the season very well, Rattie was called up for a very short stint in the NHL before being sent back to the AHL. While his size will always be questioned, he has proven his offensive abilities at all levels of hockey so far. He has scored 17 goals and 14 assists in 51 games this season, but still needs to fill out his frame before realizing his full potential. He has always been good at using his size as an advantage, but he will need to get stronger to be as effective in the NHL.

6. (6) Jordan Schmaltz, D, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2012

Still the top defensive prospect in the Blues’ system, Schmaltz has gradually gotten better with every NCAA season. In 35 games this year, Schmaltz has scored three goals and 23 assists, topping his point totals of last year. Even with so much experience under his belt, Schmaltz could use another season of NCAA hockey before making his way to the pros. He is a strong skater with amazing offensive instincts and puck-moving ability. As long as he gets stronger and improves his defensive game, Schmaltz should be more than ready for the next level.

7. (7) Tommy Vannelli, D, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2013

Number two on the Blues’ defensive prospect list, Vannelli is in his second season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and is on pace to break his previous totals as a rookie. His 12 goals and 23 assists in 44 games are more than impressive, while his +19 rating suggests his defensive ability is also improving with experience. As long as he continues to develop in all facets of the game, Vannelli should be more than ready when time comes to move up.

8. (13) Ville Husso, G, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2014

The 20-year old netminder has been playing for HIFK Helsinki and has maintained the starting role for two seasons. He has shown consistent success and was a part of Team Finland at the WJC. His 16-11-10 record is quite impressive, while his 2.36 goals against average and 0.910 save percentage are also very respectable. There has been talk of him making his way to North America soon, but the Blues might elect to wait to bring him over as the goaltending position is already very deep in both the NHL and AHL.  

9. (10) Colton Parayko, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2012

Another defensive prospect at the NCAA level, Parayko is a very strong candidate to make a successful jump in a few years. He is in his third year of hockey at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and has maintained a much larger role this season. After scoring 26 points in 37 games last year, the big-bodied Parayko has scored six goals and 17 assists in 34 games. With one more season at the college level, Parayko should garner even more responsibility as an all-around defenseman before moving up to the professional level.

10. (NR) Petteri Lindbohm, D, 6.5B
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2012

One of the most impressive defenseman in the Blues’ system this season, Lindbohm has had a very strong year since coming over from Europe. He started the season in the AHL and scored six goals and 11 assists in 41 games before getting the call-up to the NHL. He has now played in 17 games for the Blues and scored two goals and an assist. Regardless of the point totals, Lindbohm looks like a very promising two-way defenseman and has very good size to maintain a strong physical presence. He is a good skater and will likely remain with the team for the rest of the season. At just 21-years old, Lindbohm will surely increase his on-ice reliability by next year’s training camp.

11. (17) Jani Hakanpaa, D, 6.5B
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010

Another large defenseman playing in the AHL, Hakanpaa is a physical specimen who can throw the body very effectively. He is already quite big for a 22-year-old and will likely fill out even more. He has played in 46 games for the Wolves this season and has scored four points. One of the key areas of improvement for him is his skating. He is not very light-footed and needs to work on his pivoting and change of direction. As long as he improves in those areas, while improving his overall offensive ability, Hakanpaa should become a reliable defensive defenseman in the near future.

12. (12) Jake Walman, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2014

One of the impressive draft picks from last year, Walman has been making his debut as a freshman at Providence College. In 34 games, Walman has scored one goal and eleven assists, but seems to be on the right track in terms of development. His greatest asset going into the draft was his skating. He was considered one of the best skaters of the draft class and should improve offensively next season. A major focus for his development should be filling out his frame. He is listed around 190 pounds but is over six feet tall. At just 19 years old, Walman will have plenty of time to build his overall strength and improve his all-around ability as well.

13. (NR) Sam Kurker, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2012

At just 20 years old, Kurker has had quite the eventful hockey career so far. After opting out of Boston University to join the Indiana Ice of the USHL, Kurker seemed keen on staying at the junior level before making the jump to the professional level. However, after getting moved to the Sioux City Musketeers for this season, Kurker has decided to go back to the NCAA and play for Northeastern University next year. Kurker’s numbers were unimpressive prior to this season but he has turned his career around quite well. In 43 games, Kurker has scored 20 goals and 19 assists. While it seems like his development is back on track, it will be quite some time before we see him make the jump.

14. (19) Jaedon Descheneau, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2014

In his final year of junior eligibility, Descheneau has been a very productive player for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL and has continued his success this season. In 64 games, Descheneau has scored 29 goals and 44 assists. He was close to topping the 100 point mark last season and could come close to that total with a solid finish this year. One of the key issues with Descheneau is his size. He fell down the draft due to his 5’9 stature and needs to fill out quite a bit before making the jump to the pros. He has the offensive skill to keep him afloat but his strength and defensive ability should be the main areas of focus for his development.

15. (15) Niklas Lundstrom, G, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2011

A product of Sweden and the SHL, Lundstrom has been disappointing in terms of production since arriving in North America. He has spent the majority of his rookie season with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL and looks to be their primary netminder for the time being. In 28 games, Lundstrom has a record of 13-13-2 with a 0.886 save percentage and 3.28 goals against average. In terms of development, Lundstrom is a long way from competing with the current talent in the Blues’ system. With the emergence of Husso and the success of Allen and Binnington, it will be interesting to see how this plays out for Lundstrom next season.

16. (18) Joel Edmundson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2011

After suffering a back injury early this year, Edmundson has recently stepped on the ice and has impressed the Blues’ front office. He has played in eight games and has scored a goal and an assist. While he does possess some offensive upside, his primary strengths lie in his size and physical play. He is already getting some looks from the management staff but he will need to stay consistent and maintain his solid play. With Zbynek Michalek still not ready for game action, there is a slight chance that Edmundson could see some NHL time before the season is over.

17. (11) David Shields, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2009

After last season’s performance, it seemed like Shields was ready for an opportunity in the NHL. He showed a strong defensive presence with the ability to put up some points, scoring five goals and 10 assists in 55 games for the Wolves. This season, Shields has returned to his old ways and has yet to score a goal in 40 games. His defensive presence is also lacking in comparison, and at 24 years old, one must wonder if last season was just an outlier. Depending on how he finishes the season and enters training camp, Shields could be a mainstay at the AHL level moving forward.

18. (NR) Mackenzie MacEachern, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2012

Playing at the NCAA level with Michigan State University, MacEachern has improved significantly since being drafted by the Blues. In his freshman year, MacEachern put up eight goals and four assists in 36 games. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 13 assists in 32 games. He has good size and offensive skill but still needs to develop a more reliable two-way game. He has the frame for it and adding a physical presence will only increase his versatility. With two more years at the NCAA level, MacEachern has plenty of time to work on his all-around game.

19. (NR) Zach Pochiro, C/LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2013

Pochiro is a solid grinder at the junior level and has put up good point totals for his skill set. He has been given two stints in the ECHL within the last two years but has only played a total of 17 games, where he totalled just four assists and a -7 rating. In the WHL, Pochiro has been a point-per-game player even though he maintains a strong physical presence. Pochiro should make an appearance come training camp later this year.

20. (NR) Samuel Blais, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th Round, 176th Overall, 2014

In terms of improvement, Blais has been an integral part of the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres offense this season. After playing in 25 games with Victoriaville last season after making the mid-season jump from midget AAA, Blais has played in 57 games so far this year, scoring 29 goals with 42 assists. He is a good skater with solid offensive awareness but needs to get bigger. At 5’11, his size will remain a question, but he still has two more seasons to get stronger and improve his two-way play.