St. Louis Blues Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By John Jaeckel
Photo: Yannick Veilleux plays the rough and tumble style of game of a power forward but will need to develop for at least one more year in the QMJHL before joining the St. Louis Blues organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Credit former Blues player personnel director and current GM Doug Armstrong and his staff; as the team's NHL fortunes appear to be on the rise, the St. Louis Blues' talent pipeline is also one of the deepest and strongest in the game.

At forward, not only is there significant quality depth, particularly at center and right wing, but this group also displays an interesting and promising range of skills, with both finesse and power players.

On defense, there are a significant number of legitimate NHL prospects who project as at least second or third pairing defenseman. And, clearly, recent NHL history shows that a team can never have enough NHL quality defensemen, especially come playoff time.

Finally in net, the Blues have average depth, but high prospect Jake Allen appears to have all the earmarks of a future NHL netminder.

Left Wing

As far as pure left wings, the Blues system is conversely somewhat weak.

Stefan Della Rovere, originally acquired in trade from the Capitals, has five points in ten games at Peoria (AHL). He projects as a fourth line grinder, with good strength and maximum effort at all times.

Further depth here is comprised of 2010 sixth rounder Stephen Macaulay, small but feisty Ryan Tesink and 2011 fourth round pick Yannick Veilleux, who has the size and game to project as a possible power forward in the NHL.

Center

2010 first round selection Jaden Schwartz heads this group. A crafty playmaker with elite vision and instincts, Schwartz is working on his game at Colorado College.

While 2008 second round selection, Philip McRae physically resembles his father former Blues' tough guy and current team scout, Basil McRae, his game appears to have more finesse and offensive upside. While currently at Peoria (AHL), McRae is on the verge of making the jump to the Blues.

Immediately following McRae, the Blues selected Finnish center Jori Lehtera in the third round of the 2008 draft. Lehtera played last year for the ill-fated Yaroslavl club in the KHL, but is with Novosibirsk this year, registering 20 points through 18 games and is plus-eight. Lehtera has good size and offensive skill, but is working on improving his defense and physical play.

Another Yaroslavl alumnus, Evgeny Grachev is currently playing left wing on the Blues' fourth line. Acquired in trade from New York in May 2011, the 6'4, 225-pound Russian bears all the earmarks of a solid NHL power forward, with good hands and puck protection skills.

After once putting up 100 points as an overage junior in the WHL, Brett Sonne has become a less spectacular pro in his third season at Peoria.

Further depth is provided here by Anthony Nigro, 2010 third round selection Max Gardiner, and college forwards Trevor Nill, Travis Erstad, and Max Tardy.

Right Wing

The gem of this position and perhaps the entire Blues pipeline is 2010 first round draft pick, Russian Vladmir Tarasenko. The total package, Tarasenko is similar to Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, he is the well-schooled son of a hockey coach, combining speed, creativity and a terrific shot. And while capable of setting up the play, his greatest talent is perhaps as a goal scorer. Though barely 5'11, Tarasenko is a solid 205 pounds and is now in his fourth season of pro hockey at Novosibirsk, where he has 21 points through 20 games and is plus-seven.

Scouts have differed wildly on 2011 second round selection Ty Rattie. Some see a sure-fire offensive force at the NHL level, while others see a player who is too small and not athletic enough in spite of obvious vision and skill.

Drafted 41st overall this summer by the Blues, Dmitri Jaskin is a Russian who grew up in the Czech Republic, where he currently plays for Slavia Prague. Jaskin is big and physical with a nasty streak.

Now an overage junior, WHL agitator Cody Beach was dealt from Calgary to Moose Jaw last season, amassing 236 penalty minutes between the two clubs. At 6'5, Beach is around 200 pounds but still needs to fill out. He has been signed by the Blues.

2010 second round pick Sebastian Wannstrom is back with Brynas (SEL) after stepping back in competition level to Tier 1 Leksands last year. This season, Wannstrom has three goals and zero assists and is minus-two in 12 games.

This is a deep position for the Blues, with further depth provided by Sergei Andronov (third round 2009) and the versatile Tyler Shattock.

Defense

2007 first round selection Ian Cole recently made his 2011-12 NHL debut in a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, after 26 Games with the Blues last season. Cole is a physically strong young man, who developed his two-way game at the U.S. National Under 18 Program and Notre Dame.

Former Portland Winterhawk Brett Ponich is in his first pro season at Peoria. The 6'7 defenseman is coming off a fairly serious knee injury last season. Ponich's game is snarl and muscle in the defensive zone. Scoreless in 14 games for the Rivermen, he has 19 penalty minutes.

2006 third round selection Jonas Junland has bounced between North America and Europe and is now playing for Astana Barys in the KHL. He possesses solid puck-moving ability but there is a chance he'll never return to North America.

Now in his first pro season at Peoria, 2007 fourth round pick Cade Fairchild is on the small side, but has good puck-rushing abilities.

Finnish blueliner Jani Hakanpaa is 6'4 210, and strong defensively but needs to work on skating. Hakanpaa has the raw physical characteristics required to be a tough, stay-at-home style defender in the NHL.

Former former NHL defender Jeff Beukeboom's son, Brock Beukeboom was picked in the third round in 2010. After three seasons at Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), he has moved to Niagara, where he has an assist and is plus-two through eight games.

Another big Blues' defense prospect is 2011 second round selection WHL blueliner Joel Edmundson who stands at 6'5. Edmundson is very raw, but has the size, snarl, vision, and shot to eventually develop into an NHL defenseman.

A compact, but strong 5'9 200 pounds, former free agent Mark Cundari might remind some of Nashville's Franki Bouillon at first, however he also possesses a solid offensive game, registering 30 points in 60 games at Peoria last year.

Yet another defenseman with size, stay-at-home blueliner David Shields, was picked in the sixth round in 2009. Signed by the Blues, Shields may have some untapped offensive upside as well.

This group is rounded out by Farjestad (SEL) offensive defenseman Kristoffer Berglund, 2011 draftee Teemu Eronen, and OHL tough guy Anthony Peluso.

Goaltending

The cream of this crop is Jake Allen, who has the size, technical proficiency and athleticism to be a solid number goalie in the NHL. Drafted in the second round in 2008, Allen is in his second pro season at Peoria.

The Blues selected two goalies this past summer: Owen Sound (OHL) netminder Jordan Binnington in the third round and Swede Niklas Lundstrom in the fifth. Binnington also has desirable height, but needs to fill out more. Lundstrom is in his second season in the Swedish Elite league with AIK.

Drafted the same year as Allen, Paul Karpowich is now a senior at Clarkson University (NCAA). Through 12 games, Karpowich is one of the leading goalies in the ECAC with a 1.81 GAA and .941 save percentage.