Alex Pietrangelo leads elite group of prospects for St. Louis Blues

By Brad Gardner
Photo: Alex Pietrangelo will hope to remain in the NHL full-time for the 2010-11 season.

(Photo Courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)

After graduating a number of prospects from the system over the last couple years, the Blues added a pair of high-end offensive prospects in the first round of the 2010 draft with their selection of Jaden Schwartz 14th overall and Vladimir Tarasenko 16th overall. They join an organization that includes defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, and Jonas Junland, as well as goaltenders Jake Allen and Ben Bishop, to form one of the most balanced groups of prospects in the NHL. Aside from Tarasenko and Schwartz, other new additions to the top 20 include 2010 picks Sebastian Wannstrom and Max Gardiner as well as free-agent signing Mark Cundari.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (1) Alex Pietrangelo, D, 8.5C
2. (NR) Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 8.0C
3. (NR) Jaden Schwartz, C, 8.0C
4. (3) Jake Allen, G, 7.5C
5. (2) Ian Cole
, D, 7.5C
6. (4) Brett Sonne, C, 7.0C
7. (5) Philip McRae, C, 7.0C
8. (8) Ben Bishop, G, 7.0C
9. (6) Jonas Junland, D, 7.0C
10. (15) Jori Lehtera, C, 7.0D
11. (NR) Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 7.0D
12. (7) Cade Fairchild, D, 6.5C
13. (NR) Max Gardiner, C, 7.0D
14. (9) Kristoffer Berglund, D, 7.0D
15. (14) Tyler Shattock, RW, 7.0D
16. (11) Brett Ponich, D, 7.0D
17. (10) Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 6.0B
18. (NR) Mark Cundari, D, 6.5C
19. (12) Anthony Nigro, C, 6.5C
20. (13) Sergei Andronov, RW, 7.0D

1. (1) Alex Pietrangelo, D, 20
Drafted 1st round, 4th overall, 2008

One of the top defensive prospects in the game, Pietrangelo is finally poised to play his first pro season this year for the Blues. He appeared in nine games with St. Louis last season with one goal, one assist. He stuck with the big club until Canada’s World Junior camp got underway. At the WJC, he was named the Best Defenseman of the tournament and led all defensemen in all three scoring categories with three goals, nine assists for 12 points. He finished his year with the OHL‘s Barrie Colts, producing nine goals and 29 points in 25 regular season games and 14 points during the Colts’ 17-game playoff run.

Pietrangelo projects as a top-pairing defenseman that could impact a game at either end of the ice. He fits a similar mold as Erik Johnson on the back end and Blues fans could see that duo patrolling the blue line in St. Louis as soon as this season.

2. (NR) Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 18
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2010

The Blues traded Swedish defensive prospect David Rundblad to Ottawa in order to draft Tarasenko. The top Russian-born talent available in the 2010 draft, he was projected as a top five pick by many outlets but concerns about his status in Russia caused him to slide to the middle of round one. He is under contract with Sibir Novosibirsk, where he scored 13 goals, 11 assists in 42 games last season. He added four goals and one assist in six games for Russia‘s U20 team at the WJC.

Tarasenko is a talented goal scorer with a quick, accurate shot as well as playmaking abilities. He is an excellent skater with blazing acceleration. The winger has been playing at the pro level in Russia for two years and plays with a lot of grit and toughness, both of which bode well for his adjustment to the North American style. He is expected to spend the 2010-11 season in Novosibirsk and join the Blues organization the year after.

3. (NR) Jaden Schwartz, C, 18
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2010

Although Schwartz was projected by many as a late first round talent, his extremely high offensive ceiling caught the Blues attention. The Saskatchewan-native was the USHL‘s leading scorer last season with 33 goals and 50 assists for 83 points in 60 games and was named the Forward of the Year.

Schwartz combines excellent vision and hockey sense with supreme passing ability, making him an excellent offensive facilitator. Though he does not possess ideal size at 5’10, he has shown good skating and elusiveness. The pivot is headed to Colorado College next season where he will look to add some strength and improve the defensive side of his game.

4. (3) Jake Allen, G, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2008

Allen was awarded the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award and the QMJHL‘s Jacques Plante Trophy for his stellar season with the Montreal Juniors and Drummondville Voltigeurs. He had a 29-14-0 record in 45 total games with a 2.20 goals against average and .922 save percentage. He finished the season strong with an 18-3-0 record after being traded to Drummondville. He al
so had a strong showing at the WJC for Canada, notching a 2.06 goals against average and .902 save percentage in helping the squad to the silver medal.

Allen can be a suffocating goaltender with his quick and controlled movements around the crease area. His rebound control is strong as well, making him very difficult to beat when he is on his game. The netminder will begin his pro career in Peoria where he will likely split starts with Ben Bishop.

5. (2) Ian Cole, D, 21
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2007

Cole was hampered again by concussions during his junior season at Notre Dame but still managed three goals and 16 assists in 30 games. He was also among the team leaders with 55 penalty minutes. The balanced blueliner looked good in a nine-game stint in the AHL with Peoria to finish the year, scoring one goal and four assists.

Cole is physically strong and solidly built, making him difficult to handle along the boards and in his own zone. He also possesses some solid puck moving ability and has a heavy shot. The Ann Arbor-native will have shot to join the Blues this season but for a cup of coffee but will spend the season in Peoria.

6. (4) Brett Sonne, C, 21
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2007

Sonne played his rookie season in Peoria, scoring 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in 77 games. Though not spectacular numbers, the pivot finished strong with seven goals and eight assists coming in the final 33 games of the season.

Sonne projects as an aggressive forward who plays with a physical edge. While he has a solid offensive skill set, many of his points will likely come from his hard work around the net. He will likely center a line in Peoria again this season, with the possibility of a call-up if things go well.

7. (5) Philip McRae, C, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2008

McRae began his OHL season with London, scoring 11 goals and 26 assists for 37 points in 33 games with the Knights. He was traded to Plymouth where he produced five goals and nine assists in 19 regular season games. He came on during the playoffs, leading the Whalers in playoff scoring with six goals and 15 points in nine games before the squad was eliminated by Windsor.

McRae projects as a power foward at the next level with his sizable frame and the strength he has added since being drafted. He flashed his offensive upside in his final year of junior and will attempt to translate that to the AHL in Peoria this season.

8. (8) Ben Bishop, G, 23
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2005

In his second pro season, Bishop saw action in 48 AHL games with Peoria and finished with a 23-18-4 record. His 2.77 goals against average and .901 save percentage were both slight improvements over his rookie season.

Bishop is able to cover a lot of net with his 6’5 frame and is also very athletic for his size. He should split starts with Jake Allen for the Rivermen this year in a season that could have major implications for the organization’s pecking order in net.

9. (6) Jonas Junland, D, 22
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2006

The offensively-gifted blueliner had his second consecutive All-Star season in the AHL with Peoria, recording 14 goals, 30 assists for 44 points in 74 games. Junland led the league’s third best power play unit with 11 man advantage goals during the season. He also notched two assists in three games with St. Louis.

Junland signed with Farjestad in the SEL for the 2010-11 season, but expressed his goal is still to eventually play for the Blues. With other defensive prospects like Pietrangelo and Cole likely joining the big club over the next couple seasons, the logjam on the St. Louis blue line may not be any better for Junland down the road.

10. (15) Jori Lehtera, C, 22
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2008

Lehtera had a stellar season in Finland, earning the SM-liiga’s Golden Helmet as the league’s top player. The pivot led the league with 50 assists and 69 points in 57 games for Tappara Tampere. Having been drafted at 20 years old, Lehtera is perhaps the most notable example of the Blues striking gold on a player that was passed over in previous drafts.

The Helsinki-native is a talented puck-handler and playmaker. Lehtera will ply his craft in a new league this year as he has joined Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL for the 2010-11 season. His future in North America remains unclear, but the talent is surely there.

11. (NR) Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2010

Wannstrom was the leading scorer in Sweden‘s SuperElit junior league last season with 30 goals and 57 points in 35 games. Though he was passed over completely in 2009 and not even on many radars in the second round this year, his production and excellent goal scoring ability made him a late riser on many draft boards.

After being held scoreless in 18 SEL games with Brynas last season, Wannstrom notched his first Elite League point with an assist in his third game of the 2010-11 season. He will look to stick with the big club throughout the rest of the year.


12. (7) Cade Fairchild, D, 21

Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2007

A testament to the depth of the Blues’ defensive prospects, Fairchild is yet another talented, mobile, puck-moving defenseman on the horizon. He skated in 39 games as a junior at the University of Minnesota last year, scoring four goals and adding 17 assists for 21 points.

One of the elder statesmen on the Gophers’ blue line last season, Fairchild will again be leaned on heavily at even strength and on the power play in his senior season.

13. (NR) Max Gardiner, C, 18
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2010

One of the top talents from the Minnesota high school ranks in the 2010 draft class, Gardiner had another strong season for Minnetonka High School with 17 goals and 43 points in 17 games. He missed eight games with a wrist injury and was still just one point shy of leading the team in scoring.

A creative playmaker, he also displays a good compete level and a willingness to work in the dirty areas. Gardiner projects as a power forward with his 6’3 frame, though he will need to fill out and add some strength during his time at the University of Minnesota.

14. (9) Kristoffer Berglund, D, 22
Drafted 5th round, 125th overall, 2008

Another talented European player that was overlooked in two NHL drafts, the Blues took a flyer on Berglund in 2008 and he has developed into a good player in Sweden. He had another solid season in the SEL with Lulea, scoring six goals and 16 assists in 55 games.

A good skater with excellent hockey IQ, Berglund signed with Farjestad in the SEL where he will play with Jonas Junland during the 2010-11 season.

15. (14) Tyler Shattock, RW, 20
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2009

Shattock began his fourth junior season with the Kamloops Blazers, where he served as a team captain and scored 22 goals and 50 points in 42 games. He was traded to the contending Calgary Hitmen and proceeded to score eight goals, 20 assists in 30 regular season games. He added five goals, 12 assists during the team’s 21-game playoff run and another two goals, five assists in a stellar four games at the Memorial Cup.

Shattock is a versatile forward with a solid shot and good playmaking abilities. He has excellent size at 6’3 200 pounds and will need to continue to use that to his advantage as enters his rookie pro season with Peoria in 2010-11.

16. (11) Brett Ponich, D, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2009

The gigantic defenseman appeared in 66 games for the WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks last season, scoring one goal and 13 assists in his third junior season.

Standing at 6’6, Ponich is a punishing physical force on the ice. He has already signed his entry-level contract with St. Louis but will likely return to Portland for his final year of junior eligibility where he will need to continue developing his skating for the pro level.

17. (10) Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 20
Acquired via trade from Washington, 2010

Della Rovere was an All-Star in his final OHL season, finishing the year with 18 goals, 23 assists for 41 points in 57 games with Barrie. The chippy winger also led the Colts with 125 penalty minutes. One of Canada’s primary checkers at the WJC, he flashed an offensive side with three goals and three assists in six games.

Though he flexed some offensive muscle in juniors, he projects as more of an energy player at the pro level. His ability to get under the skin of the opposition will likely be his calling card as he prepares to join Peoria in the AHL next season.

18. (NR) Mark Cundari, D, 20
Signed as free agent, 2009

Although the spotlight in Windsor was on the offensive-defensemen Ryan Ellis (NAS) and Cam Fowler (ANH), the Blues’ free agent pickup Cundari also played an important role in each of the Spitfires two consecutive Memorial Cup victories. He scored a career high 54 points in 63 regular season games last year and then added 18 points in 19 playoff games as the Spits plowed through the OHL playoffs.

Cundari is dependable in his own end and plays with more strength and physicality than might be expected from a defenseman standing 5’10. He obviously displayed some offensive prowess in junior, albeit on a loaded Windsor team. Cundari will be a rookie pro in 2010-11.

19. (12) Anthony Nigro, C, 20
Drafted 6th round, 155th overall, 2008

Nigro skated with the Ottawa 67’s in his final junior season, scoring 16 goals and 46 assists for 62 points in 61 games. He tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with six goals and 13 points in 12 games.

A solid two-way forward, Nigro benefits from an exceptional work rate and great hockey IQ. He will also make the pro jump next season, likely spending the year in the AHL with the Rivermen.


20. (13) Sergei Andronov, RW, 21

Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2009

Drafted at 20 years old, Andronov again showed improvement in the KHL in his first season as a Blues prospect. He scored five goals and nine assists in 33 games with Lada Togliatti to begin the season but was traded as the team was floundering financially. He finished with 19 games for CSKA Moscow, where he scored another five goals and three assists.

The Russian forward is a good skater with sound positioning. His combination of hockey sense and soft hands should help him continue producing for CSKA Moscow in 2010-11.