Plenty of players making a jump in St. Louis Blues Top 20 rankings

By Suraj Sukumar
Ivan Barbashev - St. Louis Blues

Photo: St. Louis Blues prospect Ivan Barbashev had just one point in February as part of the tough apprenticeship of becoming a pro (courtesy of Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

 

The St. Louis Blues prospect pool has seen some ups and downs over the past season but the positives have certainly made a difference for the NHL club. Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko have been welcomed additions to the franchise and do not seem to be moving anytime soon. With their NHL careers taking off in style, both players have hit graduation, which has opened the door for other Blues prospects to move up the list.

While some players have seen tremendous spikes in development and production, others have stayed stagnant or even derailed in 2015-16 . Several Blues defensive prospects are trying their luck in Europe while others are trying to find their game at the AHL level with a Chicago Wolves team that is not near contending. With Ty Rattie perhaps the only NHL-ready forward in the system, the Blues have plenty of scouting to do as the 2015-16 season concludes in the coming months.

20. (NR) Dmitrii Sergeev, D, 6.5C
Acquired via free agency, September 2014

Gaining plenty of attention for the Kitchener Rangers, Sergeev is developing into a well-rounded defenseman at the OHL level. His offensive numbers have improved despite some injury troubles and he has become a major part of the Rangers’ defensive group.  He also represented his country at the World Junior Championships but did not have much success in seven games. He is becoming a good two-way defender and his playmaking ability has also been improving.

19. (NR) Niko Mikkola, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2015

Mikkola is a more long-range prospect for the Blues. He has to add some weight to a lanky frame, but as a second-year pro for KalPa of the Liiga, Mikkola had an encouraging season. He played an effective shut-down style as part of Team Finland at the WJC, letting the forwards do their work. With his club team, though, Mikkola contributed more fully to the offense. Though his season is over after losing a three-game play-in series, Mikkola showed some promising growth that must continue off-ice over the summer.

18. (16) Yannick Veilleux, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2011

The gritty two-way forward has garnered a larger role with the Chicago Wolves in his second full season in the AHL. This year, Veilleux has been a stronger offensive threat while playing more important minutes. He is tenth in team scoring with eight goals and 13 assists but needs to improve on the defensive end. Regarded more as a checking line forward, Veilleux will need to prove he can shut down the opposition more consistently at the professional level to earn a qualifying contract.

17. (NR) Glenn Gawdin, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 116th overall, 2015

In terms of development, Gawdin has shown solid progress in his first three seasons of junior hockey. Playing for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL, Gawdin showed much better offensive instincts and has become a more responsible defensive player. He always had a strong shot but is becoming a better skater as well. He had 19 goals and 34 assists in 53 games with a plus-7 rating. At just 18 years old, Gawdin is becoming a well-rounded player but could have benefited from playing the full season after missing 19 games this year.

16. (17) Mackenzie MacEachern, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2012

Spending the past three seasons with a Michigan State University – a program that has struggled with a talent gap in recent years – MacEachern has shown improvements as an offensive player but has a lot of work to do in his own zone. He has a nose for the net and scored 14 goals in 37 games this season to lead his team. He also had 16 assists which helped top his previous career-high of 26 points but his defensive play took a major hit after taking on a larger role. His minus-19 rating is certainly a pause for concern after he managed a minus-1 rating as a sophomore. Known primarily for his scoring ability and skating, MacEachern needs to improve his defensive awareness to become a well-rounded player.

15. (NR) Adam Musil, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2015

Although being from a famous hockey family has helped Musil’s stock as a prospect, his solid play shows some promise as well. While below-average skating ability has impacted his brother David’s career as a pro, it is less of a concern here. The 19-year-old Musil improved his scoring across the board this season for the Red Deer Rebels, a team which gets to host the Memorial Cup, giving him a nice chance to show his defensive ability and physical strength on the national stage. While he is far from a guarantee, there has been some progress for this player.

14. (NR) Luke Opilka, G, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 192nd overall, 2015

A native of St. Louis, Opilka has taken on the reins of the Kitchener Rangers’ net and has not looked back. Coming over from the United States Development Program, Opilka has shined in his first season with the Rangers. Playing in 44 games, Opilka has a record of 27-11-5 with a 2.70 goals against average and 0.906 save percentage. He is a good athlete and protects the net well despite his smaller size. His leg strength allows him to move quickly in the crease and his raw talent gives him a lot of potential moving forward. As long as he continues to start, the constant on-ice experience will certainly speed up Opilka’s development.

13. (20) Samuel Blais, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2014

Traded to the Charlottetown Islanders mid-season, Blais has become a top-end offensive threat in the QMJHL. He had an impressive training camp earlier this year and has been fantastic while splitting time between the Islanders and the Victoriaville Tigres. In his third season of junior hockey, Blais had 33 goals and 49 assists in 63 games. He has good skating ability and drives hard to the net. While he could improve in the defensive zone, his overall development has been impressive over the past few seasons. Blais is slowly filling out his frame and is looking like a solid value pick for the sixth round.

12. (8) Tommy Vannelli, D, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2013

After a strong junior career, a lot was expected of Vannelli going into his rookie season with the Wolves. However, after playing seven games, Vannelli was injured and has not returned to the lineup. He is a great skater and has been a solid offensive player throughout his career. After missing most of the 2015-16 season, Vannelli will have a lot to prove during next season’s training camp.

11. (19) Austin Poganski, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2014

Developing a much better game this season, Poganski has improved tremendously in his second year with the University of North Dakota. He has scored nine goals and 14 assists in 40 games but has shown improved skill in all facets of the game. He has become a force at both ends of the ice and has been one of the best college players since the start of 2016. He has a good shot, solid skating ability and plays a powerful game. His on-ice awareness has helped him develop at a high level and he should be a go-to player as UND starts NCAA Tournament play.

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