With several players making their jumps to the AHL level, the St. Louis Blues have plenty of prospects moving forward in their hockey careers. The Chicago Wolves will be stacked with Blues prospects, many who are considered their very best, and there is a good chance a few of them will see NHL action by season’s end.
The biggest name to emerge entering the 2015-16 season has been Colton Parayko, a player who was dominant at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and showed up in a positive way throughout training camp and the preseason schedule. As for the rest of the Blues’ prospects, there are notable players who should make a difference for their respective squads in the coming season. While some are hoping to come back from a poor outing last year, others look ready to improve on their already impressive careers both in and outside the NHL.
With one year left of junior eligibility, it seems Robby Fabbri is well on his way to make the NHL roster. He has been praised for the past two preseasons and has shown immense versatility as the Blues have tested him in several situations. He may have even got his chance last season if it were not for injury. If the Blues feel he is not ready, Fabbri would be forced to re-join the Guelph Storm of the OHL. Last season, Fabbri finished with 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games. He was also a major contributor for Canada at the World Junior Championships earlier this year prior to suffering another injury.
His offensive production has already been noticed, but it is his ability to keep up with the play and his responsibility on the ice which makes him the leading forward prospect to make the big club. Barring a setback in training camp or preseason, Fabbri should get a shot to prove he belongs early in the NHL season. He is extremely driven and motivated to take the next step in his career and, as long as he stays healthy, 2015-16 looks like the right time for him.
Bounceback Pro Prospect
Joel Edmundson, D, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
After suffering an injury last season, Joel Edmundson was limited to 30 games in the AHL but was able to produce four goals and eight assists. His offensive production increased drastically from the previous season where he played 64 games and scored just four goals and four assists. Offense aside, Edmundson is a big player who skates well for his size. He is a sound defensive player who has strong awareness in his own zone.
Throughout training camp, Edmundson has impressed greatly. However, with how deep the NHL defensive corps is, and Colton Parayko or Petteri Lindbohm likely ahead of him, Edmundson will likely get another chance at a full AHL season. He will be a mainstay on the Chicago Wolves’ blueline and could have a very impressive season in 2015-16. If he remains consistent and continues to improve in the AHL, Edmundson could get an NHL shot before season’s end.
This is a very interesting situation for both the Blues and the Wolves. While the AHL affiliate has two talented goaltenders battling for starts to commence the season, St. Louis can use this year to judge the better prospect. Binnington, 22, and Copley, 23, are both at the right age to take the next steps as a professional goaltender. The competition between the two will be the best thing for both players, as it will force them to play harder and help their development. Both players will be restricted free agents by the end of the season which will only help their motivation to succeed this season.
Copley came over in the T.J. Oshie trade and provides an even larger boost to the Blues’ goaltending depth. Both Copley and Binnington are highly-skilled goaltenders and have found success in the AHL. With Jake Allen, Binnington and now Copley in the mix, the Blues will have some very tough decisions to make in the coming year. While Allen will continue to split starts with Brian Elliott – who is on a three-year deal- Copley and Binnington will be playing for both ice-time and contracts in 2015-16.
Vince Dunn, D, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
A newly-drafted defenseman for the Blues, Dunn tops the junior prospect group for a few reasons. While he is in a close race with Tommy Vannelli of the Medicine Hat Tigers on the Blues depth chart, Dunn has shown he can produce a high level early in his career. Entering his third season of junior hockey, Dunn almost doubled his offensive production since his rookie season and went from a minus-8 to a plus-8 in one season.
Flirting with a point-per-game pace as a defenseman last season, Dunn is an amazing offensive playmaker and is a great skater as well. However, he will need to focus on becoming a better all-around player as well in 2015-16, as his own zone play needs to get even better. At just 18 years old, Dunn is well on his way to dominating the OHL ranks and should be able to improve on his 18 goals and 56 points in 68 games from last year.
Despite a very impressive training camp, Samuel Blais returns to his junior squad for 2015-16 without an entry-level contract. Blais does look primed to be an offensive stud this season. He already surpassed the 30 goal mark with 34 last season and finished with 82 points in 61 games. For a sixth-round draft pick, Blais looks like he could surprise a few by next year’s training camp. His offensive skills should continue to flourish at the junior level but his two-way game needs to get better. With that said, Blais will need to focus on becoming a more complete player, primarily in his own zone, throughout the 2015-16 campaign.
Luke Opilka, G, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
With only a few high-end prospects at the junior level this season, Lukas Opilka presents an interesting case as the Blues’ breakout prospect for 2015-16. The Missouri native has gained some attention in the U.S. National Team Development Program and will be joining the Kitchener Rangers for his first season of OHL hockey. Drafted in the fifth round in the 2015 draft, Opilka was coached under Blues’ fan favorite Keith Tkachuk in minor hockey and was a major standout at the AAA level.
Even though Opilka’s numbers do not look as attractive since making the jump to the development team, this season could be a major boost for him. Not only will he be playing for a highly-competitive junior team in the Rangers, but he should also have the opportunity to play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. He may not be the tallest goalie, but he makes up for it in athleticism and decision-making. As long as he stays healthy and finds consistency between the pipes, 2015-16 for Opilka could be the most important season in his development moving forward.
Top Amateur Prospect
Jake Walman, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
Interestingly enough, Jake Walman could fall under almost any category of choice on this list. Not only could he be an offensive breakout player this season but he is also an unsigned prospect – not that there is a rush. After scoring one goal and 15 assists as a freshman, Walman looks poised to shatter those numbers as a sophomore. Praised for his skating, Walman’s style of play will improve with more confidence. He is a good sized defenseman who has ever-improving playmaking ability but needs to focus on his defensive game as well.
Being a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Walman was invited to both WJC summer camps but has chosen to represent the Americans. Whether he competes in the WJC tournament this year remains to be seen, but he will surely gain plenty of ice-time at Providence which should help him become a better two-way defenseman.
Austin Poganski, RW, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
A pretty good skater for his size, Austin Poganski is old-school style player who may not have the hands or the speed of an elite player, but can use his size and strong goal-scoring ability to compete in the offensive zone. The biggest criticism against Poganski is his lack of consistency and poor defensive play. While he shows a solid compete level and physical game, he can be unreliable in his own zone and needs to create better chances offensively.
In terms of improvement, Poganski has become a much better defensive player since his USHL days. Going into 2015-16 as a more confident player, Poganski should be able to improve his offensive play as he becomes a sound defensive player as well. As a prototypical power forward, Poganski will need to use his size to become a more consistent goal scorer, and he should be able to top his four goals and 10 assists in 38 games as a freshman.
Bounceback Amateur Prospect
Mackenzie MacEachern, LW, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
A lot more was expected of Mackenzie MacEachern as a sophomore at the NCAA level. After scoring eight goals and four assists as a freshman, MacEachern scored 11 goals and 15 assists as a sophomore – showing not just better offensive awareness but an improving team around him. As a junior for the Spartans, MacEachern should take on a lot more responsibility in the offensive zone, which should transition into a lot more chances to showcase his skills.
Top European Prospect
Ville Husso, G, HIFK (Liiga)
With an already crowded depth chart at goaltender, Ville Husso is another solid prospect to add to the list. He has become a major prospect in Finland and is the starting goalie for the HIFK hockey club. At just 20 years old, Husso has already been the starter in his country’s top league for two seasons and took part in the WJC tournament for Finland last year. If this is his last season in Europe, Husso looks primed to be another great prospect for the Blues in net.
While not the biggest goaltender, Husso has good speed in the crease and a quick glove hand. His athleticism allows him to make quick decisions and he controls the puck well. If he continues at his current pace, Husso will surely compete with the likes of Binnington and Copley as the season progresses. After getting drafted in his second year of eligibility, Husso has surprised many with his play over the last year, and it looks like he will only get better in 2015-16.
Santeri Saari, D, HPK (Liiga)
A journeyman at 20 years old, Santeri Saari has spent time in the KHL and the Swedish Allsvenskan over the last year before making his return to Finland. A good sized defenseman who is still finding his footing as a professional player, Saari may just be a late-bloomer with some upside. Coming up through the Jokerit system as a teenager, Saari was unable to keep his spot with the franchise once it moved to the KHL and he has been looking for a new home ever since. Making his way back to Finland, Saari has a chance to regain some consistency and find success as a defensive defenseman with HPK.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Niko Mikkola, D, KalPa, (Liiga)
The Blues’ most recent draft pick from the European ranks, Mikkola is a lanky 19-year old defenseman who has shown some flashes of offense in the KalPa junior ranks. His defensive game is quite sound for his age and the level he plays at, and he should maintain a full-time role with his Finnish club. He is still a very raw talent but has pretty good skating for his size. As long as he continues to improve, Mikkola should gain some attention in 2015-16.