St. Louis Blues have positional depth developing at the junior level

By Suraj Sukumar
Luke Opilka - St. Louis Blues

Photo: St. Louis Blues prospect Luke Opilka is part of a crowded and talented depth chart at goaltender, but gets a chance to shine on the international stage with Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

 

The St. Louis Blues have continued to find success through the NHL draft and have several intriguing prospects at every stage of hockey. While most of the Blues prospects are at the professional or college level, the young talent at the junior level has given St. Louis even more to look forward to down the line. The most impressive aspect of their junior prospect pool is the level of skill at forward, on defense, and in net.

While the Blues do not possess a tremendous amount of junior prospects, they tend to have versatility and solid upside. They have a few power forwards finding their stride and a couple defensemen taking their respective leagues by storm. Nevertheless, most of the prospects at the junior level still require seasoning, which suggests they will not see NHL action for quite some time.

QMJHL

Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 6th round, (176th overall) 2014

Despite his small stature, Samuel Blais has continued to be a strong offensive player. In his third season with the Victoriaville Tigres, Blais has 15 goals and 20 assists in just 26 games to lead the team. He is a great skater and can make solid offensive plays consistently. He was always criticized for his size, which made him fall to the sixth round in the NHL draft. On the plus side, Blais has surpassed the six foot mark since draft day and has filled out his size quite well. With that said, Blais needs to focus on adding some muscle to his frame, making him a much stronger player for the next level.

OHL

Vince Dunn, D, Niagara IceDogs
Acquired: 2nd round, (56th overall) 2015

The most notable prospect for the Blues at the junior level is Vince Dunn. Their first selection in the most recent entry draft, Dunn has become a household name at the OHL level with his strong offensive play from the blueline. In 26 games so far, Dunn has scored eight goals with 16 assists and has maintained a +3 rating. He has great vision with the puck and can make consistent scoring chances from the back end. Along with his overall offensive talent, Dunn is also an incredible skater and can hold his own on the defensive end. At just six feet even, Dunn has some time to grow both in height and weight, which should make him a stronger defensive presence as a pro.

Luke Opilka, G, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 5th round (146th overall), 2015

In his first season of junior hockey, Luke Opilka has performed tremendously well and looks to be the goalie of choice for Kitchener. This season, Opilka has maintained a record of 16-3-2 with a 2.42 goals against average and a 0.918 save percentage. He has good size for a goaltender but it is his athleticism that keeps him performing well. The Illinois native was quite excited about being chosen by the Blues and it seems to be motivating him to perform at this level. With plenty of time to develop, Opilka looks to be another talented goaltender ready to join the already talented Blues goaltending depth chart.

Dmitrii Sergeev, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, September 2014

Dmitrii Sergeev made a name for himself after getting invited to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and impressing the Blues front office. He was signed as an undrafted rookie and is now in his third season with the Kitchener Rangers. Despite solid offensive skill, Sergeev has good size and maintains a strong physical presence. In 25 games so far this year, Sergeev has two goals and 11 assists to go along with a plus-7 rating. As long as he maintains a similar level of play, Sergeev will be a very intriguing prospect to watch by the end of the season.

Chandler Yakimowicz, RW, London Knights
Acquired: 6th round (172nd overall), 2014

Chandler Yakimowicz is old-school style power forward that has pretty good skating for his skill set and size. He can throw the body with the best of them and has been able to provide a significant physical presence for the Knights. Nevertheless, his scoring totals are very minimal and he will need to work on his versatility to have success as a pro. He has currently played in 20 games so far this season and has only scored two goals with one assist. While points are not his area of expertise, being able to contribute in all aspects of the game will give him a tremendous upper hand as he makes his way to the professional ranks. For now, Yakimowicz needs to focus on maintaining his physical presence while also improving his skating and overall offensive abilities.

Liam Dunda, LW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 6th round (176th overall), 2015

With two seasons of junior hockey under his belt, Liam Dunda has emerged as a gritty forward with a solid physical game. Very similar to Yakimowicz, he has good skating for his size but needs to improve his overall versatility. He is a massive power forward who is still very raw in terms of potential and skill. With 26 games played in 2015-16, Dunda has scored four goals with three assists, which is fairly impressive given his skill set and role with the team. He will still need to work on his skating ability and overall offensive play to become a more versatile and reliable player at both ends of the ice. He still has another year of junior eligibility which will surely help his development for the next level.

WHL

Glenn Gawdin, C, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 4th round (116th overall), 2015

Hidden behind gems like Ivan Barbashev and Robby Fabbri at the center position, Glenn Gawdin has been playing with the Broncos for the past four seasons and looks to be improving in his third full season of junior hockey. He has a good two-way game but has improved offensively since last season. So far in 23 games, Gawdin is a point-per-game player with eight goals and 15 assists. He has continued to display his overall offensive skills and has become a better playmaker in the process. He is a good skater with a great shot and should continue to perform at a high level in the WHL.

Adam Musil, C, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 4th round (94th overall), 2015

In terms of two-way centers, Adam Musil presents a very interesting case based on potential. He has demonstrated solid responsibility at both ends of the ice and has maintained respectable offensive numbers in the process. Despite his below-average skating, Musil has found ways to improve and also uses his own set of skills to make plays. In 29 games so far this year, Musil has nine goals and 11 assists, which is a much better ratio than last season’s numbers. He is relatively good with the puck and can make good passes. Due to his physical, two-way style of play, Musil will need to focus on being a better skater for the professional level.

Jaedon Descheneau, RW, Kootenay Ice
Acquired: 5th round (124th overall), 2014

In terms of offense, Jaedon Descheneau has provided the Kootenay Ice with tremendous production and was a go-to player for them over the last three seasons. He is a good skater with solid playmaking ability and can also hold his own on the defensive end. He had a good training camp with the Blues and was a major part of the prospects tournament back in September. Sadly, with just two games into the 2015-16 campaign, Descheneau suffered a shoulder injury which required season-ending surgery. Size has been a major concern with Descheneau, and it will be important for him to bulk up to maintain his two-way game and have similar offensive success as a pro.    

St. Louis Blues Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects

In terms of the best performing prospects as a whole, plenty of Blues talent has been on display in the AHL. Ty Rattie has been an unbelievable player for the Chicago Wolves and Ivan Barbashev has had a solid rookie campaign thus far. While Rattie has tallied eight goals and six assists in 16 games, Barbashev has four goals with eight assists in 18 games. On defense, Jordan Schmaltz has been able to display his solid playmaking ability with nine assists in 21 games as a rookie while Petteri Lindbohm has earned himself another NHL call-up. In net, Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley have split starts over the first 21 games and have maintained very similar numbers. Barring an injury or poor play, the Wolves will likely continue using a tandem in goal for the remainder of the season.

In Europe, the big name for the Blues is Ville Husso. He continues to man the crease for HIFK Helsinki of the Liiga and has played tremendously well to kick off the season. In the first 20 games, Husso has a 2.17 goals against average and a 0.923 save percentage.

At the NCAA level, Mackenzie MacEachern has been earning his stripes as a junior player with Michigan State University. After a solid sophomore campaign, MacEachern has kicked-off 2015-16 with seven goals and six assists in 15 games. He is a highly-skilled offensive forward and his abilities are coming alive this season. If he continues to keep this pace, MacEachern will surely turn some heads by season’s end. Jake Walman was off to a fantastic start to his season for the Providence Friars, sitting in the top ten scorers among all college hockey players. A shoulder injury will dampen that a bit, and cost him a chance to represent Canada at the World Juniors, but the sophomore defenseman will look to regain his form before the end of the season.

St. Louis Blues Prospect of the Month

Colton Parayko - St. Louis BluesThe Blues have plenty of young talent across the board but there is not a player more deserving of this award than Colton Parayko. In the last system rankings, it was discussed how Parayko could shoot up the top 20 rankings for the Blues. While Fabbri had a lot of upside going into this season, Parayko has not only outperformed him, but every other prospect in the Blues system. In fact, Parayko has been one of the most productive Blues defenseman at the NHL level.

During the first few months of the season, Parayko played in 22 games and scored five goals with seven assists. He has averaged almost 20 minutes of ice-time and has managed a +10 rating in that process. His consistency and overall impressive play has made him a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy. As long as he keeps his current pace and maintains a similar role, Parayko will end the season as one of the best young defenseman in the NHL.