Judging by the success of the St. Louis Blues both in the NHL and at the NHL Entry Draft, 2015 has very little meaning in terms of prospects. The Blues seemed to do well at the 2014 NHL Draft and have replenished the pipeline in a big way. Not only did they draft ten players last year, but they came away with some of the best potential steals of the draft, including Ivan Barbashev of the QMJHL‘s Moncton Wildcats in the second round (33rd overall).
Judging by the Blues’ current draft picks in 2015, there is very little opportunity to find the same quality of players as last year. The Blues draft three times in the first four rounds but do not own a first round pick. Nevertheless, as the Blues have done in the past, they will surely make the most of their draft picks in 2015.
Top 10 Prospects
The most important area of improvement for the Blues is on the left wing. Yannick Veilleux, the highest rated left winger in the Blues’ pipeline, is far from an NHL-calibre prospect at the moment and is still finding his footing in the AHL. In addition, Ryan Tesink and Zach Pochiro have yet to crack the AHL. NCAA prospects Mackenzie MacEachern and Samuel Blais are even further from NHL-readiness and have yet to spend time in the minors. In 2014, the Blues traded their best left wing prospect, William Carrier, to Buffalo in the deal that brought Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the Blues. Since then, the Blues have yet to find a similar talent to replenish their prospect pool.
With only a late second round draft pick in the first two rounds, the Blues will surely do their homework to ensure the best possible player is taken with the 56th overall selection. In this case, the Blues should try their absolute best to chase a left wing prospect or at least trade for one. Jaden Schwartz was their best draft pick on the left side and Dmitrij Jaskin has been shifted from the right wing to fill that hole. With that said, the Blues will need to use the 2015 NHL Draft to better their left wing depth to improve their long-term success at the position.
First, the most impressive aspect of the Blues is their drafting ability. Despite finding success over the past few seasons in the NHL, the Blues have continuously found success at the draft and have reaped the benefits on several occasions. From drafting Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko 14th and 16th overall in 2010 to Ty Rattie and Jaskin in the second round of 2011, the Blues have made the most of all their picks in the first two rounds. They continued that success last year by selecting Robby Fabbri 21st overall and Ivan Barbashev 33rd overall, while 52nd overall selection Maxim Letunov, since traded to Arizona, could also have the potential to be something special in the future.
In addition to their drafting ability, the Blues have maintained incredible depth at center. Even though their NHL roster is full of big names like David Backes and Paul Stastny, the Blues still have names like Jori Lehtera, Fabbri and Barbeshev ready to play a role in the long run. This was a key problem last year with very limited depth at the position. By taking two high-end players with their first two selections last year, the Blues have built a very strong corps down the middle for years to come.
Lastly, the Blues have been very successful in finding young goaltending. One of the main reasons they moved away from Jaroslav Halak was the emergence of Jake Allen. Allen has played will for the Blues over the last few seasons and looks ready to take on a much larger role. Right behind Allen is the very talented Jordan Binnington, who has been superb at every level of hockey so far. He is currently the starting goaltender for the Chicago Wolves and should remain the same next season. The Blues also have two European prospects in Ville Husso and Niklas Lundstrom. While Husso has maintained a consistent role in Finland’s Liiga, Lundstrom has found it difficult to be successful as a number one goaltender and played for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL last season.
It is quite difficult to find major organizational weaknesses within Blues. There seems to be a consistent amount of prospects making a successful jump to the NHL which suggests the Blues are one of the best drafting teams in the NHL. They have one of the fastest rising stars in Tarasenko and have built incredible depth at the NHL level both with prospects and through trades. However, if there is one area of weakness within the Blues organization it has to be in the defensive zone.
Outside of star Alex Pietrangelo and stalwart Barret Jackman, the entire Blues defense was traded for and not drafted. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Zbynek Michalek were the big names manning the blueline this year and were all part of trades to improve the defensive corps. Judging by the Blues’ defensive prospect group, the constant need to trade for defensemen makes sense. Jordan Schmaltz, the top rated defenseman in the pipeline, is going into his final year at the University of North Dakota and will likely not join the team till 2016-17 at the earliest. Tommy Vannelli is still making his way through the junior ranks in Canada and the rest of the defensive prospects are primarily playing in the AHL with limited success. Whether this draft can fix these issues remains to be seen, but the Blues need to find ways of generating success on defense through their prospect pool, rather than give up long-term assets for short-term fixes.
If there is one thing the Blues are great at, it is using the current draft to improve team-specific issues. Last season it was the center position and prior to that it was primarily on defense. The Blues used their 2012 and 2013 initial picks on defensemen, and used back-to-back picks on centers last year. With ten selections last year and only six this year, it will be imperative for the Blues to keep the same mentality. If their pattern stays true, it would not be surprising to see a left winger or defenseman go in the second round to the Blues. On the other hand, the Blues could very well try to find the steal of the draft, as they have, and draft the best player available. Whether their selection is based on team needs or the best player at the 56th pick, the Blues have had incredible success in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft and this year should be no different.
St. Louis Blues 2015 Draft Picks: Round 2 (56th overall), Round 4 (94th overall, 116th overall), Round 5 (127th overall, 146th overall), Round 6 (176th overall).