Going into the year, it was unclear who would step up this season but several St. Louis Blues prospects have made a huge splash in 2015-16. The most notable names are Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson. While Fabbri and Parayko were highly-touted as the season progressed, Edmundson took advantage of his opportunity and has been a mainstay on the Blues’ blueline. With all three players graduating this season, the 2016 Prospect Awards opens the door to new up-and-coming names in the Blues’ prospect pool heading into the NHL Entry Draft.
Hardest Worker: Ville Husso, G, HIFK (Liiga)
At the young age of 21, Husso has already been a go-to netminder at the professional level and has maintained the starting gig for HIFK since 2013-14. He has been a part of three World Junior Championship teams and represented Finland during the European Hockey Tour in Russia. He had a monster season with HIFK helped them to a finals appearance this season. Despite losing to Tappara in six games, Husso posted a 1.55 goals against average and a 0.935 save percentage over 15 playoffs games. The Blues are already stacked at the goaltending position and, if he makes his way to North America next season, the addition of Husso will created a crowded group at the professional level.
After posting impressive numbers in the QMJHL, Barbashev has been a welcomed addition to the Wolves’ roster and had a productive rookie season. His minus-14 rating needs to be improved given his two-way abilities, but his rookie totals of 10 goals and 18 assists are impressive numbers for a 20 year old. He has always been credited for having a good shot but needs to find consistency at the pro level. He posted 25 and 45 goals in his last two seasons of junior hockey and should see his numbers improve as a sophomore next season.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jordan Schmaltz, D, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
As noted, Parayko and Edmundson have become full-time NHL players. And while Vince Dunn could have been given the same honors, Schmaltz’s production as a rookie at the professional level needs to be recognized. Schmaltz also had a rough minus-10 rating but his offensive numbers look very promising. He finished the season with six goals and 30 assists in 71 games and garnered more power play time towards the end of the season. Given the crowded blueline at the NHL level, there is a good chance Schmaltz spends another season at the AHL level unless a roster spot opens up.
Fastest Skater: Jake Walman, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
Despite a tough injury which cut his season short, Walman has been praised for his skating ability and entered his draft class as one of the best. He had a respectable rookie campaign but turned it up as a sophomore in a big way. He was on a point-per-game pace with 13 goals and 15 assists in 27 games prior to his injury and showed impressive defensive awareness given his skill set. As long as he stays healthy, Walman could have an incredible season as a junior next year.
Prospect of the Year: Robby Fabbri, C/RW, St. Louis Blues (NHL)
It was truly a toss-up between Parayko and Fabbri but the edge must be given to the 20-year old forward. While Parayko shocked everyone with his hot start and 33-point rookie campaign, Fabbri had the much harder hill to climb. Coming back from serious injuries, Fabbri has proven his heart and has been on a steady incline all season. He forced tough decisions like sending Dmitrij Jaskin back to the AHL and has maintained his roster spot with ease. He has garnered even more responsibility towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. Parayko, on the other hand, has been on a slight decline and is now playing on the third pairing in the playoffs.
In terms of statistics, Parayko’s plus-28 rating is another shocker, but Fabbri’s 15.8 shooting percentage primarily as a third line player is truly amazing. He finished the regular season with 18 goals and 19 assists in 72 games and is close to a point-per-game pace in the playoffs. With that said, Fabbri was the best Blues prospect in 2015-16 and should be a top-six forward moving forward.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Austin Poganski, RW, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
From a college hockey perspective, Poganski was one of the best players in the nation since the start of 2016. His numbers were solid in the regular season but his success at NCAA tournament put his name on the map. He finished the regular season with 10 goals and 15 assists and is improving as a two-way power forward with every passing game. He helped lead the University of North Dakota to a National Championship and has certainly jumped in the Blues’ prospect rankings as the 2015-16 season comes to an end.
Performing well for Canada at the U-17 and U-18 levels, Gawdin has really improved in the WHL over the past two seasons. After posting 22 points in 66 games in 2013-14, Gawdin scored 54 points 72 games last year but improved drastically on those numbers this year. Playing in 53 games, Gawdin scored 19 goals and 34 assists with a plus-7 rating, a career best at the WHL level. He has become a leader with the Broncos but had his season cut short due to injuries. He has the makings of a productive two-way center but needs to continue with the same consistency and development as he prepares for the professional level.
Playing behind a great squad in Kitchener, Opilka maintained a strong record of 27-11-5. The wins look great, but he had a 2.70 goals against average and a 0.906 save percentage in the regular season. He was given the nod for just one playoff game and was pulled in the first period. While his numbers looked impressive during the 2015-16 campaign, it is clear Opilka has some work to do in terms of development. However, at just 19 years old, the Missouri native has plenty of time to improve his consistency and overall abilities as he continues his OHL career with the Rangers.
Underachiever: Zack Phillips, C, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
After a strong junior career, Phillips has not found consistent success at the pro level. The Blues traded for Phillips at the deadline but he continued to spend the season at the AHL level, going pointless in nine games. He split time between the Providence Bruins and the Wolves this season but also saw two stints in the ECHL. At 23 years old, Phillips has yet to see NHL action but still boasts the potential to become a better player at the pro level. He is currently playing for the Kalamazoo Wings but should have a chance at cracking the Wolves roster next season.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Pheonix Copley, G, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
After coming over in a blockbuster trade, Copley had a lot risk associated to his acquisition. TJ Oshie is a top line player and is excelling with the Washington Capitals. While Troy Brouwer has certainly fit it well for the playoffs, Copley was a requested piece to the puzzle and the Blues are hoping he can produce while splitting time with Jordan Binnington in the AHL. He finished the 2015-16 season with a 17-18-3 record, a 2.92 goals against average and a 0.904 save percentage but has the potential to improve on those numbers. He was much better when manning the crease for the Hershey Bears in 2014-15 and could see more action in 2016-17.
Prospect of the Month
While no longer a true prospect by Hockey’s Future standards, Robby Fabbri deserves some extra credit. The 2015-16 season saw one of the best rookie groups in decades – well beyond even the worthy trio nominated for the Calder Trophy – and Fabbri was certainly a deserving nominee on many lists. Fabbri’s playoff arrival comes as no surprise to those who followed him in his junior career. After kicking off his NHL career in style, Fabbri has become a great asset for the Blues in the postseason. He was a major part of their win over the Chicago Blackhawks and scored a goal with four assists in seven games. He has not slowed down against the Dallas Stars in the Conference Semifinals and now has two goals and eight assists, good for second overall on the team. The Blues look like a strong candidate to make it to the Stanley Cup finals and Fabbri is gaining plenty of experience in the process. He is a bona fide top-six player in the making and should be a major part of the Blues organization moving forward.