Blues junior prospects 2009-10 review

By Tony Piscotta

Eleven players in the St. Louis Blues organization played junior hockey this season with one, forward Max Tardy, playing in the USHL.

Of the 10 prospects in the CHL, four are still hoping to participate in the Memorial Cup championship. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (Barrie Colts) and Mark Cundari (Windsor Spitfires) are going head-to-head in the OHL Finals while forwards Ian Schultz and Tyler Shattock are playing for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL Finals against the Tri-City Americans.

OHL

Alex Pietrangelo, D – Barrie Colts
Acquired: 1st round (4th overall), 2008
18 January 1990, 6’4, 205 lbs

Pietrangelo started the season in St. Louis and appeared in nine games for the Blues before joining Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. A mid-season trade brought him to Barrie and he has often been dominant on a team that breezed through the three rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs, losing just once to St. Mike’s in the finals. Pietrangelo played in just 25 regular-season games in Barrie, scoring 29 points in 25 games. In 14 playoff games (including Game 1 vs. Windsor), Pietrangelo has been an offensive force as well, scoring two goals with 11 assists. Rated the top prospect in the Blues organization by Hockey’s Future, Pietrangelo has all the requisite tools to be a top-flight defenseman.

Mark Cundari, D – Windsor Spitfires

Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, September 2008
23 April 1990, 5’9, 200 lbs

Cundari plays on a Windsor team that is loaded with high past or future NHL draft picks. He was the third highest scoring defenseman in the regular season behind Ryan Ellis (NAS) and Cam Fowler (2010), with 54 points in 63 games. The Spitfires, the defending Memorial Cup champs, have faced a more difficult path to the OHL finals, falling into a 3-0 deficit in the Western Conference finals before winning four straight games against the Kitchener Rangers. While his height (5’10) is a concern, Cundari is solidly built enough to withstand physical play and also possesses offensive instincts and the character necessary to be successful.

Phil McRae, C – Plymouth Whalers

Acquired: 2nd round (33rd overall), 2008
15 March 1990, 6’2 , 190 lbs

The Whalers featured a pair of Blues prospects who were acquired in mid-season trades and their career paths appear headed in opposite directions. Phil McRae, son of former NHLer Basil McRae, was the Whalers leading scorer in the playoffs – scoring goals in the first five playoff games and finishing with six goals and nine assists in nine playoff games. The Plymouth Whalers, fourth in the Western Division, were swept in the conference semifinals by the Spitfires.

In the regular season, McRae had 14 points in 19 games with Plymouth, and 37 points in 33 games with London.

A second-round pick in 2008, McRae was a member of the gold medal-winning USA squad at the World Junior Championships and seems to be getting closer to reaching the potential he showed coming out of youth hockey in St. Louis.

James Livingston, RW – Plymouth Whalers

Acquired: 3rd round (70th overall), 2008
8 March 1990, 6’1 , 190 lbs

Livingston, a third-round pick of the Blues in 2008, was hoping to play a more prominent role in Plymouth after his career stagnated a bit in Sault Ste. Marie. Instead, he remained in a lower line role. After scoring 14 goals in 36 games with the Greyhounds, he posted mediocre numbers in his 24 games in Plymouth (3 goals, 6 assists) and was not much of a factor in the playoffs, scoring once in eight games. The Blues would have to sign him by June 1 to retain his rights.

Anthony Nigro, C – Ottawa 67s

Acquired: 6th round (155th overall), 2008
11 January 1990, 6’0 , 190 lbs

Ottawa 67’s forward Anthony Nigro has developed into a well-rounded, two-way player to go along with his shooting skills that first attracted the attention of St. Louis scouts. In 12 playoff games for Ottawa, which was eliminated by St. Mike’s in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Nigro scored six goals and added seven assists. His 46 assists in 61 games during the regular season led Ottawa and helped him score a point a game.

David Shields, D – Erie Otters

Acquired: 6th round (168th overall), 2009
27 January 1991, 6’3, 215 lbs

Erie Otters defenseman David Shields, drafted in the sixth round in 2009, scored more goals this season than ever, but his total offense per game was actually down from 2008-09. He was +10, a good number on the team. The Rochester, NY native will return to Erie for at least one more season. Though not as gifted as some of the other Blues prospects, he does have a tall frame.        

WHL

Ian Schultz, RW – Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 3rd round (87th overall), 2008
4 February 1990, 6’3 , 185 lbs

The aptly named Hitmen feature a group of large-bodied, punishing forwards and both Schultz and Shattock fit the bill. Schultz, a native of Calgary, is in his third year with the Hitmen and is one of the team leaders. More of an opportunist than a pure scorer offensively (he scored 24 goals in 70 games during the regular season and seven more in the playoffs in 20 games), Schultz’s forte is his bruising body checking and willingness to battle in tight areas. The younger brother of Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz, Ian’s 150 PIMs were second to Cody Beach on the Hitmen. Though likely headed to Peoria next season, Schultz could one day fit in well on St. Louis.

Tyler Shattock, RW – Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 4th round (108th overall), 2009
10 February 1990, 6’3 , 190 lbs

Shattock joined Calgary after a mid-season trade with Kamloops. A pure scorer in Kamloops who had been hampered by injuries earlier in his WHL career, he had 22 goals in 42 games for Kamloops. But he didn’t score as much for Calgary during the regular season, just eight goals in 30 games. He’s scoring just below a point a game in the playoffs, with his 10 playoff assists tie him for second in that category. Like Schultz he plays with a lot of energy – though his checking technique and over-exuberance sometimes lead to unnecessary penalties. Still somewhat raw in terms of his tactical game, his scoring ability and willingess to compete are encouraging signs.

Brett Ponich, D – Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 2nd round (48th overall), 2009
22 February 1991, 6’7, 215 lbs

The Portland Winterhawks turnaround this season was one of the big stories in the WHL and defenseman Brett Ponich played a huge role in it. His selection in the second round was a bit of a surprise since neither he nor Portland had had much success the previous two seasons. Ponich’s -39 plus/minus in 2007-08 was among the league’s worst and his nickname of Tree was as much a testament to his hulking frame as a comment on his perceived limited mobility. A team captain this season, under coach Mike Johnston’s tutelage, Ponich’s play was impressive enough that the Blues signed him to an entry-level contract in March.

Limited offensively, though he has a strong shot, his game is that of a stay-at-home defender such as Hal Gill or Colin White. He had 14 points in 66 games and was -3 on a generally plus team. In the playoffs, he had three points in 13 games and was tied for a team worst with a -5.

QMJHL

Jake Allen, G – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Acquired: 2nd round (34th overall), 2008
7 August 1990, 6’1, 190 lbs

Neither the QMJHL playoffs nor the IIHF World Junior Championships ended as Drummondville goaltender Jake Allen would have liked but in between he played some outstanding hockey and put up some impressive numbers. Allen began the season with the Montreal Juniors, thenstarted for Team Canada. After he recorded a pair of shutouts early in the tournament, the championship game was a downer as he was pulled in the third period of as Canada eventually lost in overtime to the USA. Traded from Montreal to Drummondville for a pair of first-round picks in the OHL draft while he was in Saskatchewan, Allen rebounded upon his return to juniors, playing with a much stronger Voltigeurs lineup. He was dominating during the second half of the season, winning 18 games with a GAA of 1.75 and a .933 save percentage. As with Team Canada, the playoffs had a disappointing conclusion after starting off well. Facing Moncton in the semi-finals after breezing through the first two rounds, Drummondville ran into a wall of sorts in Flyers prospect Nikola Riopel. With the exception of Game 3, when Allen backstopped Drummondville to a 2-1 overtime win with 40 saves, the Voltigeurs could not solve Riopel while Allen appeared ordinary at times.

USHL

Max Tardy, F – Tri-City Storm
Acquired: 7th round (202nd overall), 2009
27 October 1990, 6’0, 170 lbs

Tri-City Storm forward Maxwell Tardy was selected by the Blues in the seventh round last June after an outstanding season for Duluth East HS (MN) and is a long-term project. He will likely spend a second season in the USHL before heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2011. Tardy’s first season in juniors was a mixed bag. He finished as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 12 goals and 24 assists in just 52 games but had a plus/minus of -11. The Storm finished fourth in the West and were swept by the Omaha Lancers in the first round of the playoffs. Tardy plays a more cerebral game and relies on instincts and quickness to make plays and does not yet have the strength and bulk of the other Blues forward prospects. While there will be some pressure playing college hockey in his hometown after being a Mr. Hockey finalist in high school, the time at UM-D should allow him to develop physically and improve his technical and tactical skills.