After replenishing their prospect pool in the 2014 NHL Draft, the St. Louis Blues have plenty of young talent at multiple levels of hockey. Jordan Schmaltz continues to impress at the NCAA level while Mackenzie MacEachern continued his strong college career. Jake Walman, Austin Poganski and Dwyer Tschantz had productive freshmen seasons as well.
At the Canadian junior level, Tommy Vannelli finished with great numbers once again and is still one of the best defenseman in the pipeline. Last year’s draftee Samuel Blais has shown tremendous offensive instincts and just concluded his second season of QMJHL hockey with the Victoriaville Tigres.
As the Chicago Wolves contended for the AHL’s Calder Cup, many of the Blues’ young players got significant playoff experience. Joel Edmundson and Jani Hakanpaa maintained strong roles on the defensive side in the AHL playoffs, with Edmundson even tallying two goals and 13 shots on goal in the first-round defeat.
This year, the Prospect Awards feature several of the Blues’ top prospects who could make a splash in 2015-16.
With one of the busiest seasons this year, Robby Fabbri demonstrated immense dedication to stay on the ice. He has suffered through several injuries over the past year but has come back strong every time. During the summer, Fabbri suffered an injury during the Canadian junior summer camp and an upper-body injury during the Blues’ training camp. After making his way back, Fabbri played in the World Junior Championships and was instrumental towards Canada’s early success. Crashing into the boards in a game against Denmark, Fabbri suffered a high ankle sprain and missed the rest of the tournament.
Fabbri made his way back to the Guelph Storm and helped them reach another playoff berth in the OHL. Playing in 30 games during the regular season, Fabbri finished with 25 goals and 51 points. He also spent time in the AHL and proved he was ready, scoring a goal and three assists in three games. Fabbri finished the season competing in the OHL playoffs but fell in the second round to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in four games. Though Fabbri showed some consistency in the AHL, he still has one more year of junior eligibility to go, which mean next year’s training camp will dictate his immediate future.
Hardest Shot: Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
While there were a few candidates for this award, Ivan Barbashev proved to be a great goal scorer in 2014-15. Playing in in his third season of junior hockey, Barbashev lit the lamp 45 times and finished with 95 points in 57 games. He continued his success in the QMJHL playoffs scoring 16 goals in 16 games. He finished the postseason with 24 points but his team lost to the Quebec Remparts in the semi-finals.
Not only did Barbashev score at almost a goal-per-game pace, but he did it in dominant fashion. He utilized his precision from the front of the net on numerous occasions and proved to have a cannon for a shot. His skill is undeniable and his consistent growth suggests a motivation to improve. If Barbashev plays one more year of junior hockey, it would be no surprise to see him lead the league in goals by the end of the season.
Best Defensive Prospect: Petteri Lindbohm, D, St. Louis Blues (NHL)/Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Petteri Lindbohm was by far the most impressive defensive prospect in 2014-15. While playing most of his young career in Europe, Lindbohm has adapted quite well to the North American game. In his first AHL season, Lindbohm showed a good defensive presence and also contributed offensively. Due to his success, and significant injuries to the blueline in St. Louis, Lindobhm spent much of the second half of the season with the Blues.
With players getting healthy and the NHL playoffs around the corner, the Blues sent Lindbohm back to the AHL. Using his NHL experience to his advantage, Lindbohm continued his success in the AHL and is now helping the Wolves through the playoffs. With a strong 2014-15 season, Lindbohm should be one to watch during NHL training camp this fall.
Fastest Skater: Ty Rattie, RW, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
For those who have followed Ty Rattie’s career, this award should be no surprise. At every level of hockey, Rattie has continued to overcome the opposition by utilizing his skating ability to offset his small stature. He has a great shot and amazing hands which make him a solid offensive threat. He dominated the junior level and finished with strong numbers during his first season of professional hockey.
As a second year AHL player, Rattie was amongst the league leaders in goals and finished with 21 in 59 games. Most of his goals were breakaways and his end-to-end play helps him get away from the defense with ease. Rattie’s success at the start of the year earned him a midseason NHL call-up. Playing in 11 games, Rattie accumulated just two assists. Rattie was sent back down shortly after and will likely spend 2015-16 in the AHL as well.
Prospect of the Year: Jordan Binnington, G, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Consistency has been the name of the game for Jordan Binnington. After finishing very strong as a junior player, Binnington found success in the ECHL last year before getting a chance with the Wolves. Throughout the AHL season, the Wolves found themselves in a constant battle for a playoff spot and Binnington is a key reason for their postseason berth. In 45 games played, Binnington maintained a .916 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average. Though the Wolves ultimately fell to the Utica Comets in the playoffs, Binnington put up strong numbers again with a .938 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average in the five-game series.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Colton Parayko, D, University of Alaska-Fairbanks (WCHA)/Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Colton Parayko was emerging as a great prospect in the Blues’ system and confirmed that last season with 26 points in 37 games. This season, Parayko scored six goals and 17 assists in 34 games and earned himself a professional contract late in the season. Joining the Chicago Wolves with 17 games left in the regular season, Parayko scored four goals and three assists with a plus-4 rating. Parayko maintained his role with the Wolves and played in every playoff game. He is a good skater and his two-way ability has proved to be a great asset for the Wolves. Based on his performance in 2014-15, it will be interesting to see how well Parayko performs in a full AHL season next year.
After a very frustrating start to his first college hockey stint, Sam Kurker has bounced back as a good player in the USHL. After leaving Boston University, Kurker played in 24 games last year for the Indiana Ice and gained significant playoff experience. This season, Kurker played in 56 games for the Musketeers and scored 24 goals with 25 assists. Hoping to carry his junior success back to the NCAA, Kurker has decided to go back to college and attend Northeastern University next season.
Overachiever: Chandler Yakimowicz, RW, London Knights (OHL)
Drafted primarily as a grinding forward, Chandler Yakimowicz has performed well offensively for the Knights in his second season. He is a good skater for his position but his numbers are slightly inflated given his skill set. In 63 games this season, Yakimowicz scored 13 goals and 20 assists, while also contributing a goal and an assist in 10 playoff games. While his offensive success could continue as a junior player, there is very little chance it transitions to the professional level.
Underachiever: Max Gardiner, C, Pennsylvania State University (Big 10)
There were many players to choose from for this award but Max Gardiner has yet to duplicate his freshman performance. Playing in his third season of NCAA hockey, Gardiner managed just five goals and two assists in 33 games. While this is an improvement on his one assist in 22 games last season, it is far from his 22 points in 27 games in 2012-13. With one more season of NCAA hockey available to him, Gardiner has one more season to turn things around if he hopes to be successful at the next level.
Jaedon Descheneau presents a very interesting case for this award. Even though the Blues drafted Descheneau last year, he is now finishing his fourth season of junior hockey and has been a consistently productive forward. His point totals have been great since his second year and he has also produced in the postseason. Despite his offensive success, size continues to be a major concern for Descheneau. This is the primary reason he fell to the fifth round of last year’s draft and it will be intriguing to see how he transitions to the pros. At 5’9, Descheneau will have to spend the offseason gaining muscle mass and getting stronger if he hopes to turn some heads next season.
Prospect of the Month
There is no shortage of accolades this season for Binnington. As mentioned earlier, his success in the crease for the Wolves has been tremendous, and he has been carrying their team since the end of March. For the month of April, Binnington finished with a 4-2 record, a 1.81 goals against average, a .936 goals against average and a shutout. He has carried this momentum to the Calder Cup and gave his team a chance to win. He faced a ridiculous amount of shots in the five games but still maintained solid numbers. However, without the offensive support, it was difficult for Binnington to carry the load. Nevertheless, after such a strong AHL season, the Blues will have a crowded net during next year’s training camp.