Top 10 prospects
The St. Louis Blues hold the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft.
The Blues missed the playoffs in 2009-10, failing to improve on their promising 2008-09 campaign. They fired coach Andy Murray in January, after a terrible start saw them flounder to a 12th place spot in the Western Conference by the Olympic break. Interim coach Davis Payne, formerly of the Peoria Rivermen, was hired full-time in April after improving the Blues defensive commitment for the rest of the season.
With Payne at the helm, the Blues are expected to compete for a playoff spot next season with a revamped roster. The recent trade for Montreal Canadiens’ playoff hero and goaltender Jaroslav Halak has renewed the squad’s commitment to success next season and likely spells the end for last year’s starter Chris Mason.
As with most non-playoff teams, the Blues need depth at all positions. With the 14th overall pick, the Blues will probably pick the best player available, rather than for a specific need.
The Blues have strength and talent at defense and center, with two pivots and five defensemen among their top ten prospects. Alex Pietrangelo is widely considered to be the best prospect currently not playing in the NHL, and should compete for a spot with the Blues next season.
St. Louis also has a plethora of offensive defensemen in their system, outside of Pietrangelo. The list is led by 2007 first-round pick Ian Cole and recently resigned Swedish rearguard David Rundblad. They also have some goaltending depth, with both Jake Allen and Ben Bishop coming off strong seasons in the QMJHL and AHL respectively. Bishop will look to make the Blues out of training camp as a backup to Halak.
Despite the promise of both Allen and Bishop, the Blues could use a little more depth at goaltender. With Halak on board, incumbent Mason will probably not be re-signed. Backup Ty Conklin is signed for another year, but needs to be pushed by either Allen or Bishop to maintain his sharpness.
The loss of Lars Eller and Ian Schultz to Montreal will hurt the forward prospect depth. Eller looked to be the only sure-fire scoring prospect in the system, and even he projected to be more of a playmaking pivot at the NHL level. The Blues are particularly thin at left wing.
The Blues have proven to be heavy drafters of defensemen. In 2009, they took three defenseman among their six picks. Similarly in 2008, St. Louis drafted star prospect Pietrangelo, along with two others. The trend may continue. By stockpiling young defensemen, St. Louis may soon be in a position to package one of them for a premiere scoring prospect.
St. Louis has also not been afraid to pick young Americans from the national development programs, including current Blues cornerstones Erik Johnson and T.J
Oshie. There are several promising Americans expected to go early in the 2010 draft, including defenseman Jonathan Merrill and goaltender Jack Campbell.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result at No. 14: Jonathan Merrill, D, U.S National Under-18 Team.
The Stanley Cup finals proved that building a strong defense is imperative to a contending team, with both the Blackhawks and Flyers having mobile and smart defense corps. The Blues may try and emulate their Western Conference rivals, and develop their own dominant defense force.
In Merrill, the Blues get a defensive stud to compliment their offensive rearguards and a key component of their future defense corps. At 6’3, Merrill is a well-rounded player who can contribute offensively and make smart decisions in his own zone. He has an active stick, and often forces the puck-carrier to the corner. He’s also a heavy hitter, and a perfect partner for an offensive-minded defenseman.
His selection could allow the Blues to peddle one of their other prospect defensemen for a scoring prospect, or deal one of their veteran defenseman (such as Eric Brewer) for immediate help.