St. Louis Blues have positions of strength on display in the minors

By Suraj Sukumar
Ivan Barbashev - St. Louis Blues

Photo: St. Louis Blues prospect Ivan Barbashev scored 58 goals and 119 points last season in all his QMJHL action, and has been good and reasonably prolific as a rookie pro (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The St. Louis Blues have a plethora of talented prospects and many of them play in the AHL. While a few have received NHL opportunities over the last year, others are still finding their footing at the ripe age of 21 or 22. The goaltending prospects are incredibly talented and the defensive group looks very promising. At forward, the Blues have plenty of big names on the prospect front but will be patient with their development. Several of these young players will benefit from larger opportunities which will likely happen at the minor league level.

Ivan Barbashev, C, 20

Barbashev is having a solid rookie campaign in the AHL. At just 20 years old, Barbashev has proven he belongs at the pro level and has been a consistent player for the Chicago Wolves. He has scored six goals with 11 assists in 29 games and is still developing at both ends of the ice. He is a good skater and is earning some much needed experience in the AHL.

If Barbashev ramped up his offensive totals, he could be the next young Blues prospect to see NHL action. Regarded as a good two-way center in the QMJHL, Barbashev needs to focus on his physical and defensive play to maintain the same level of overall production as a pro. He is developing consistent skills in the offensive zone and his skating ability will help him.

Jordan Binnington/Pheonix Copley, G, 22/23 

With the goaltending prospects growing in St. Louis, it will be interesting to see how the season ends for Binnington and Copley. As it stands, Binnington and Copley are splitting starts and both have played relatively similar. Playing in 17 games and holding a record of 8-6-2, Binnington has a 2.57 goals against average and a 0.910 save percentage. Copley’s record in 18 games is 8-9-1 with a goals against average of 2.65 and a save percentage of 0.908. Needless to say, very little has separated these two in the AHL. Both goalies are likely to continue splitting time in the AHL. The Wolves have a very competitive tandem and can use it to their advantage down the stretch.

Binnington had a December to forget after giving up most of the starts to Copley but has come back strong in 2016 and received a call-up to St. Louis when Jake Allen sustained injury. In the end, the constant need to compete for starts will help their experience and development as pro goaltenders.

Ty Rattie, RW, 22

The offensive winger has continued to impress at the AHL level in 2015-16. While his goal scoring is lower than last year’s production, he is making the right plays and providing his teammates with solid chances. He has always been considered an offensive threat but his size will always be his weakness. He overcomes the difference with his impeccable skating and good hands. He has scored nine goals with 14 assists in 29 games and has improved in the defensive zone as well. Despite his stint in the NHL (five games so far, two assists) he should spend most of 2016 as a go-to offensive player in the AHL.

Jordan Schmaltz, D, 22

The best defensive prospect in the Blues system – with Colton Parayko all but established as an NHLer – Schmaltz is having a solid season in the AHL. He is third in team scoring for defenseman with three goals and 14 assists in 34 games. Only two points behind Peter Harrold, Schmaltz is coming off a relatively slow December and will look to pick things up in 2016. While his offensive numbers are great, Schmaltz is still developing in the defensive zone. His skating keeps him in the game but he needs to have a more physical presence to be effective at the professional level.

Petteri Lindbohm, D, 22

Probably the most active defenseman over the last few seasons, Lindbohm made a name for himself last season after a solid run in the NHL. This season, Lindbohm has split time between the NHL and AHL and looks to be sticking with the Wolves for the near future. He played in 7 NHL games this season but did not muster a single point. Since he was a liability in the defensive zone as well, the Blues sent him back to Chicago. With the Wolves, Lindbohm has two goals and seven assists in 28 games. He has a much better defensive presence and will likely be a mainstay on the Wolves blueline barring significant injuries to the Blues defensive group.

Konrad Abeltshauser, D, 23

Coming over from the San Jose Sharks, Abeltshauser brings size and good defensive play to the Blues’ prospect pool. He is 6’5”, weighs 225 pounds and is a pretty good skater given his stature. He is a physical presence and uses his size to his advantage. He had some offensive success both in junior and with the Worcester Sharks, but in 19 games he has just five assists. Nevertheless, given his role with the Wolves, Abeltshauser should have a solid season on the back-end and could be a candidate to get called up in the near future.

Tommy Vannelli, D, 20

After an impressive junior career, Vannelli kicked off his pro career this season in the AHL. Sadly, Vannelli only played seven games before going down with an injury. He had one assist and a plus-4 rating but did not look out of place in the AHL. He is a good skater with solid offensive abilities and has improved in the defensive zone. Once he returns, it will be interesting to see if his development takes a step back or if he transitions well despite missing time.

Yannick Veilleux, LW, 22

After slow start to his AHL career, Veilleux has put together a great start in 2015-16. He has seven goals with eight assists and has already surpassed his production from last season in just 34 games. Veilleux spent his first season of pro hockey in the ECHL but is now in his second full season with the Wolves. He is a good power forward with some offensive upside and is slowly showing that in the AHL. He has improved his skating and is much stronger around the net. He should spend the remainder of the season in the AHL barring significant injury problems at the NHL level.

Cody Beach, RW, 23

Playing limited time in both the ECHL and AHL over the past two seasons, Beach has yet to find a place a as a pro. He is a power forward who plays a grinder role but has maintained a spot on the Wolves roster so far this season. Playing in 22 games, he is the penalty-minutes leader for the Wolves. Beach will want to stay healthy and finish his first full season as an AHL player.

Jacob Doty, RW, 22

Signed in 2013, Doty is an undrafted player in the Blues system and is currently playing for the Wolves. He is in a similar role as Beach and needs to maintain a physical presence to keep his spot on the team. He has played in 23 games and continues to be a power forward on the Wolves bottom-six.

ECHL

Zach Pochiro, LW, 21

After playing just one game in the AHL, Pochiro was sent to the ECHL to play for the Quad City Mallards. While he found some offensive success at the junior level, he is still regarded as a two-way forward with a gritty side to his game. He currently has six goals and nine assists in 24 games but it is his minus-11 rating that stands out the most. To be effective at the next level, Pochiro will have to get better at both ends of the ice.

Niklas Lundstrom, G, 22

After a very tough season in the ECHL last year, Lundstrom has rebounded well in 2015-16. He has started in 12 games for the Elmira Jackals and has a record of 8-3-0. After posting a 3.05 goals against average and 0.895 save percentage in 36 games last season, Lundstrom has improved to a 2.99 goals against average and 0.926 save percentage. As long as he continues to perform, Lundstrom should finish the season in a starting role with the Jackals.

Ryan Tesink, LW, 22

After a very up-and-down junior career, Tesink has spent the past two seasons in the ECHL. He has improved from last year with three goals and nine assists in 30 games so far, after posting just two goals and nine assists in 36 games. Tesink does not have much offensive upside as a pro but could be a good two-way forward. He is a good skater and can forecheck well. However, his defensive ability is not on par with the professional level and he will need to work on his overall game to make it at the next level.

Non-Minor League Prospect Update

At the NHL level, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson are the key names who have stuck around with the Blues so far this season. While Fabbri continues to deal with injury problems, Parayko and Edmundson have been a consistent part of the Blues defense and do not look out of place at the NHL level. However, all three players have slowed down offensively and will need to rev up their game to have an impact down the stretch.

The Blues have plenty of players at the junior level but the players who have stood out so far are Vince Dunn and Luke Opilka. Dunn is the most promising defensive prospect at the junior level and continues to improve every year for the Niagara IceDogs. He is an offensively-gifted player but possesses a sound defensive game. In 33 games, Dunn has nine goals and 19 assists with a plus-8 rating. For Opilka, manning the crease for the Kitchener Rangers has been great for his development. In 24 games, he holds a 2.32 goals against average with a 0.921 save percentage and should remain the starting goalie for Kitchener this season.

Opilka’s teammate and fellow Blues prospect, Dmitri Sergeyev, is having a strong season as well. In his third year of junior, he has two goals, 11 assists and a plus-7 rating. He played an important defensive role for silver medalists Team Russia in the World Juniors as well. Glenn Gawdin is also having a strong season and has ramped up his offensive game with eight goals and 19 assists in 26 games. His plus-6 rating also shows his two-way game is improving along with his defensive play.

The Blues have a few prospects at the NCAA level but the key names are Jake Walman and Mackenzie MacEachern. Both players have high-octane offensive talents and are proving it this season. In 16 games, Walman has twelve goals and nine assists as a defenseman – a total which leads his Providence squad in scoring despite some time missed with injury. MacEachern has also improved his offensive numbers with eight goals and nine assists in 22 games. Austin Poganski is also showing signs of becoming a stronger two-way forward and has mustered five goals and five assists in 22 games for a good North Dakota squad. As for Sam Kurker (a junior in his first season with Northeastern) and Dwyer Tschantz (just returning from injury), both players have had limited success with their squads but could finish the season strong in the new year.

As for the Blues’ European prospects, lanky puck-moving defenseman Niko Mikkola played well for the gold medal-winning Finnish team at the World Juniors and has also had a solid impact on his club team, Kalpa of the Liiga, with four points in 33 games. At 21 years old, Santeri Saari is starting to show some signs of offensive ability but still needs to develop on the defensive end to stand a chance in North America as a pro.

Prospect of the Month

Ville Husso - St. Louis BluesThere are a few players in the Blues system who have played well but Ville Husso certainly had the best end to 2015. Since last season, Husso locked up the starting spot with HIFK of the Liiga as a teenager and never looked back. This season, Husso is currently posting a 2.09 goals against average and 0.925 save percentage in 26 Liiga games. He looks ready for a North American opportunity but will likely ride out such a significant role with HIFK. Not to mention, which such a crowded group for the Blues in North America, it will be interesting to see how they handle his progression in the coming months. Based on his production last month, Husso could surely end up the best goalie in the Blues system by season’s end.