Blues prospect pool top-heavy with elite offensive talent

By Brad Gardner
Dmitri Jaskin

Photo: Dmitri Jaskin struggled in his second season with Slava Pravia HC. There is some belief Jaskin might benefit from playing in the CHL in 2012-13. (Ken McKenna/HF)

There has been plenty of movement among the St. Louis Blues top 20 this season. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz remain the top prospects in the system but there are several new names among the organization's top 10 prospects. Even after graduating several talented defensemen in recent years, the St. Louis pipeline has a new wave of blue line prospects on the horizon. The 2011 draft class also made an impact, led by Ty Rattie's breakout WHL season as well as a pair of QMJHL prospects making their debut in the rankings.

1. (1) Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2010

Vladimir Tarasenko remains the Blues top prospect after a standout season in the KHL. The winger was traded midseason from his hometown club Sibir Novosibirsk, coached by his father, to SKA St. Petersburg. Between both stops, he ranked seventh in the entire league with 47 points in 54 games. Although he took some time to get acquainted to the new team and diminished ice time with SKA, Tarasenko led the team in scoring during the playoffs with 10 goals and 16 points in 15 games. Despite his club not making it to the finals, Tarasenko still ranked third in goals and fourth in points among all postseason players. The winger's excellent acceleration and diverse offensive talents make him difficult to stop, even at the professional level. He now has four years of pro hockey under his belt and could make the jump to North America as soon as this summer. Another year in Russia is not out of the question, however, as St. Louis likely expects him to step right into the line-up when he does finally make the jump.

2. (2) Jaden Schwartz, C, 8B
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2010

Jaden Schwartz had a busy season between leading Colorado College in offense, wearing the 'C' for Canada at the World Junior Championships, and then making his NHL debut at the end of the season. With a combination of skill and off-the-charts hockey sense Schwartz did not have much trouble making an impact at any stop. He ranked second on Colorado College with 15 goals and first with 41 points in only 30 NCAA games on the year. As Canada's captain, the center notched two goals and five points in six games in helping his squad to the bronze medal. Schwartz was signed to his entry-level contract soon after finishing up his college season and skated in seven NHL games with the Blues. Earning 11:41 of ice time per game, including some power play minutes, Schwartz managed a goal and an assist in his first taste of pro hockey. His understanding of the game is probably his biggest asset, but his puck-handling, vision, and confident playmaking abilities are a close second. Though his 5'9 frame may keep him from developing into a top-line, do-it-all center in the NHL, Schwartz' high-end offensive ability makes him a potential top six cornerstone.

3. (9) Ty Rattie, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2011

An explosive WHL season catapulted Ty Rattie into Hockey Future's top 50 prospect rankings and up to third on the Blues top 20 list. Yet another supremely talented, but slight, forward at 5'11 and 170 pounds, Rattie paced the high-powered Portland Winterhawks offense with 57 goals and 121 points in 69 regular season games. In doubling his goal total from his draft year, the 19-year-old Rattie ranked third in the league in both goals and points. Portland fell one win short of the WHL Championship against Edmonton but Rattie was still all over the place, leading the league with 19 playoff goals in 21 games.

While part of his success has been the excellent chemistry with fellow 2011 pick Sven Baertschi (CGY), Rattie's offensive acumen makes him stand out on his own as well. He has a hard, accurate shot and is able to get it off very quickly. He is also a talented playmaker, using his vision and hockey sense to find space for himself and linemates. Filling out should help Rattie become more accustomed to protecting the puck in traffic as open space is harder to come by at the next level, but his offensive breakout for Portland was perhaps the best performance by any Blues prospect this season. 

4. (4) Ian Cole, D, 7B 
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2007

Second year pro Ian Cole again split time between the NHL and AHL, skating in 22 games for Peoria with one goal, three assists, and a minus-eight. While his early-season numbers may not have indicated that he was knocking down the door to the NHL, Cole nonetheless was recalled to St. Louis and skated in another 26 games with the big club. He held his own against NHLers, registering one goal and six points with a plus-seven rating. At 6'1 and 225 pounds, Cole has the size to compete at the top level and the hockey smarts to contribute at either end. He may never turn into a consistent offensive producer, particularly with more offensively-oriented defensemen like Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk ahead of him on the depth chart, but he is capable of moving the puck and starting the break out. He killed penalties for the Blues and provided a steady defensive presence while averaging nearly 16 minutes per game. Although he has not been mistake-free in his NHL stints, and barely even cracked the lineup during the playoffs with only two appearances, Cole should still be in the mix for a third-pairing and penalty kill role next season.

5. (3) Jake Allen, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2008

Jake Allen appeared to be heading in the wrong direction at the start of the season when he struggled to keep the puck out of his net and began to lose starts to Ben Bishop. He was able to turn it around, however, and his overall numbers on the year turned out to be solid. His 13-20-2 record was more of a product of the Peoria's struggles as a team than his own as he managed a .915 save percentage and 2.93 goals against average in 38 appearances. After allowing four or more goals in five of his first eight games in October and November, he did so just five more times the rest of the season. Allen retook the reigns when Bishop was traded to Ottawa and turned in a strong performance in March with a .936 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average en route to a 5-5-1 record. With a 6'2 frame and sound positioning, the 21-year-old goaltender still has the tools to become a starter in the NHL. The Blues have Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott under contract through 2013-14, but Allen may force the team's hand if he is able to sustain his strong play over the course of a season.

6. (5) Philip McRae, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2008

After filling the net with 12 goals in his first 22 games of the season, Philip McRae's offensive output declined the rest of the way. The 6'2 pivot still finished with 23 goals, tied for second on the team, and 39 points over the course of 71 games in his second pro season. Despite the marked difference in production, McRae's overall game improved over the course of the season as he was asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting when skating with the veteran top six forwards. The son of former NHLer Basil McRae, Philip has an NHL pedigree and the tools to develop into a top-nine power forward. He is strong on the puck and is not afraid to take his lumps by working in the high-traffic areas. Having lined up at both center and wing in Peoria, he also possesses some versatility that would help him slot into an NHL roster. The Blues' success this season likely means fewer job openings going forward, so McRae is likely destined to at least begin the 2012-13 season in Peoria.

7. (15) Cade Fairchild, D, 7C 
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2007

Just when NHL observers thought that Ian Cole would be the final blue line prospect for awhile to crack the St. Louis roster, the next wave of defensive prospects began to assert themselves. Cade Fairchild led the way in 2011-12 with a breakout rookie campaign for Peoria. The 23-year-old blueliner developed into one of the team's best options over the course of the season, finishing second among blueliners in scoring with 34 points in 68 games. His eight goals, only two of which came on the power play, led the team's defensemen. At 5'11 and 175 pounds, Fairchild relies largely on positioning in the defensive end. He is a smart player at both ends of the ice and proved to be a mature rookie when it came to pinching in offensively and making decisions with the puck. St. Louis has plenty of offensive skill among their blueliners already, so Fairchild is likely to open the season in the AHL. He did skate in five games with the big club this season and is not far away from another opportunity with the Blues if he can keep up his strong play.

8. (16) Jani Hakanpaa, D, 7C
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010

Another defensive prospect on the rise in the system is Finnish stalwart Jani Hakanpaa. The 6'5 and 218 pound defenseman's devastating physical game reached an entirely new audience at the WJC this year, where he wore an 'A' and played on Finland's top pairing. He is believed to have some offensive upside and was one of his SM-liiga team's top scorers from the blue line with five goals and 12 points in 41 games. While that side of his game is still developing, Hakanpaa's defensive presence, intangibles, and aggressive style are what have earned him a bump in these rankings. He plays a mature, reliable defensive game and does not hesitate to lay the lumber when given the opportunity. He is expected to spend another year with the Finnish Blues club in the SM-liiga, but Hakanpaa is a potential two-way blueliner with second or thid pairing potential in the NHL.

9. (6) Brett Ponich, D, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2009

Not many teams can boast a prospect that makes Hakanpaa look small, but the Blues boast great size among their defensive prospects. Former Portland Winterhawk captain Brett Ponich stands 6'7 and 220 pounds and is another example of the size and tenacity that the Blues have added to their pipeline in recent drafts. Ponich wrapped up his rookie pro season in 2011-12, his first action since a knee injury cut his final junior season short. In 61 AHL games with Peoria, the burly blueliner managed five assists and an even rating. He was one of four defensemen on the team to not end up in the minus at the end of the year, a credit to his safe and reliable defensive game. Skating is still an area in need of improvement, but Ponich is good at using his huge frame and long reach to close gaps and dictate opposing offenses. He will likely continue developing with the Rivermen, but could make a solid shutdown option for the Blues within the next couple seasons.

10. (17) Joel Edmundson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2011

Few WHL clubs looked forward to facing the size and mean streak of the Moose Jaw defensive corps. Dylan McIlrath (NYR) is a feared physical presence and 18-year-old blueliner Joel Edmundson plays a similar style. At 6'5 and 190 pounds, the defender already looks the part of a crease-clearing, bone-crunching physical player. He has contributed on the score sheet as well, registering four goals and 23 points in 56 games in his second WHL season. He added another three goals and five points in 14 playoff games for the team, which fell to Edmonton in the Eastern Conference finals. Emundson is not known for his scoring prowess, however, as much as his size and defensive presence. The 18-year-old defenseman can move well for his size but could still improve in that area. Filling out his gigantic frame will also be necessary but Edmundson projects, much like Ponich, as an intimidating shutdown defenseman at the pro level.

11. (7) Jori Lehtera, C, 7D
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2008

Although his future in North America is murky, Jori Lehtera's success overseas keeps him among St. Louis' best forward prospects. Lehtera scored above a point-per-game pace in his second KHL season and his first with Sibir Novosibirsk where he skated alongside Tarasenko early in the year. The 24-year-old center scored 10 goals and 16 assists in 25 games during the season, which was shortened by a knee injury. A skilled and smart forward, Lehtera is an effective playmaker and able to hold his own in the defensive zone. Including his three and a half years of pro hockey in Finland, the 6'2 Lehtera is one of the most-seasoned prospects in the system. With only seven AHL games in his career, Lehtera is likely looking for an opportunity in the NHL rather than the minor leagues. Having not played out the second year of his NHL contract, however, the Blues still maintain his rights if he decides to return to North America.

12. (10) Dmitri Jaskin, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2011

The Blues took a chance on the big Russian-born, Czech-raised forward Dmitri Jaskin in the second round, adding another potential power forward to their stable of wingers. Jaskin remained overseas for the 2011-12 season, playing 30 games at the top level in the Czech Extraliga and 10 games each at the junior level and the second tier pro league. Though he proved to be above the U20 level with six goals and 17 points in 10 games, his production with Slavia Praha's top club was less than stellar. He came through with three goals and four points in seven games during the club's relegation playoffs, but managed just one goal and one assist over the course of 30 regular season games. Despite being one of the handful of drafted players on the Czech WJC team, his two points in six WJC games did not do much to make up for those struggles. Skating and consistency are areas still in need of improvement, but Jaskin's 6'2 frame, nose for the net, and north-south style still make him an intriguing prospect and further experience at the pro level overseas should only aid his development. The WHL should not be ruled out either as his CHL rights are owned by the Calgary Hitmen.

13. (13) Cody Beach, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2010

The younger brother of notorious WHL pest Kyle Beach (CHI), Cody Beach has largely followed in his brother's footsteps. Though not as productive a goal-scorer, the younger Beach has the same tendency to get under the skin of opponents and provide a physical presence for his club. He is not without offensive skill, evidenced by his second place finish among Moose Jaw's scorers with 56 points in 58 games. He led the team with 41 assists and his total of 229 penalty minutes was enough to lead the entire WHL during the regular season. Playing on the edge did cost Beach some games this season, earning him a seven-game suspension on a hit to the head of Brandon's Bruno Mraz as well as some shorter suspensions for embellishment and unsportsmanlike conduct. His playoff total of four goals and 10 points in 13 games was not enough to keep Moose Jaw from falling to Edmonton during the playoffs.

Beach does not really project as a point-producer at the pro level, though with his 6'5 frame and surly disposition, he could become an abrasive bottom-line checking forward.

14. (11) Evgeny Grachev, C, 7D
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2008 by New York Rangers
Acquired via trade June, 2011

Evgeny Grachev, once one of the top power forward prospects in the league, struggled to establish any offensive presence in his first season in the St. Louis organization. In 39 games for Peoria, the Russian winger scored three goals and 10 points. He skated in 26 NHL games with the Blues, most of them early in the season, but managed just one goal and three assists while averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time per game. Grachev combines size at 6'4 and 224 pounds with a set of soft hands but too often falls into the trap of playing the perimeter and not utilizing his huge frame. With another year left on his contract, the winger will have to begin putting things together more consistently if he hopes to see another opportunity with the NHL club.

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

The Blues' fourth round pick in 2011, Yannick Veilleux skated in his third season for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL. The powerful winger increased his production again in 2011-12, ranking third on the team with 27 goals and fourth with 58 points in 59 games. He added another five goals and 11 points in 11 playoff games for the club. Veilleux has solid size at 6'2 and 195 pounds and more importantly knows how to use it along the boards and in protecting the puck. He may not support a scoring line on his own at the pro level, but he has the tools to develop into a complimentary top-nine forward capable of putting the puck in the back of the net.

The Cataractes were the hosts of the 2012 Memorial Cup, so even though they had an abbreviated run in the QMJHL playoffs, they still made an appearance (and won) the CHL championship tournament. In six Memorial Cup games, Veilleux managed two goals and six penalty minutes.

16. (14) Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 6C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2010

Swedish winger Sebastian Wannstrom completed his second full year at the pro level in Sweden with Brynas. For a lineup littered with young prospects, Wannstrom has still struggled to get much ice time and his production has therefore not been all that impressive. After just two assists in 2010-11, the skilled winger scored eight goals and 15 points in 43 games this season. Much of that production came late in the year when Wannstrom earned increased ice time due to injuries and absences among the top six forwards. A playmaker with decent size, his overall game has improved as he has been used in a checking role for most of his SEL career. Signed to a contract by St. Louis in June, 2011, Wannstrom may opt to spend another year in the Elitserien but he could also make the jump to North America if he is willing to develop in the AHL.

17. (NR) Ryan Tesink, LW, 6C
Drafted 6th round, 162nd overall, 2011

Winger Ryan Tesink has proven to be a valuable depth player for the two-time defending QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs. At 6'0 and 165 pounds, the forward's work ethic and willingness to battle against bigger players earned him respect in the dressing room while his offensive ability has also made an impact when injuries hit the team's top six. Tesink himself missed some time with a knee injury, finishing with 13 goals and 40 points in 36 regular season games. He added another seven goals and six assists during the club's 16-1 run through the Quebec league postseason. Tesink also contributed to the Saint John Sea Dogs 2012 Memorial Cup run, posting three goals and 14 penalty minutes in four games.

Though he may not project as a top six scorer at the pro level, the 19-year-old Tesink is a swift skater capable of succeeding in a variety of roles and projects as more of a complimentary top-nine player at the next level. With another year at the junior level in 2012-13, Tesink may see an increased role next season for a Saint John team that could lose a lot of their top-end talent.

18. (19) David Shields, D, 6C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2009

Defenseman David Shields was signed to a free agent contract out of the OHL to provide depth in the minor league system and he ended up earning consistent ice time in Peoria for much of the season. Sent down to Alaska in the ECHL early in the year, he picked up a goal and six points in 12 games and improved his confidence. He finished the regular season with four assists and a minus-four rating in 48 AHL games before getting sent back to Alaska for a taste of postseason experience, adding two assists in three playoff games with the Aces. At 6'3 and 204 pounds, Shields has the size and defensive reliability to compete at the professional level and should continue to see ice time in Peoria.

19. (12) Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 6C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2008 by Washington
Acquired via trade July, 2010

Acquired from Washington during the summer of 2010 for D.J. King, Stefan Della Rovere spent the entire 2011-12 season in Peoria. He played in a checking role and spent time on the penalty kill as his production took a dip in his second pro season. The chippy winger contributed four goals and 10 points in 69 games for the Rivermen while ranking third on the club with 116 penalty minutes. At 5'11 and 205 pounds, Della Rovere is not exactly an intimidating presence on the ice. He does not shy away from working in the corners or doing the dirty work, going so far as to drop the gloves six times over the course of the season in Peoria. Offense may be limited for Della Rovere, but he could get a shot in the Blues' bottom six next season.

20. (NR) Brock Beukeboom, D, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2010 by Tampa Bay
Acquired via trade February, 2011

The main return in the trade that sent defenseman Erik Brewer to the Lightning during the 2010-11 season, Brock Beukeboom is a difficult player to project at the pro level. His inconsistency at the junior level led to some disappointing point totals despite expectations that he might develop into a two-way blueliner. Though not as physical as his father, former NHLer Jeff Beukeboom, Brock is still capable of using his size to his advantage even though he is still learning aspects of the defensive game. After a miserable 2010-11 season, Beukeboom bounced back in his fourth junior season, his first as a member of the Niagara IceDogs. He finished the regular season with five goals and 16 points in 47 games but, more importantly, turned his minus-11 rating from 2010-11 into a plus-22 rating this season. The defenseman added another two goals and three assists in 19 playoff games for Niagara, which lost in the OHL finals to London. The 20-year-old defenseman will be eligible to play in the AHL next year and will likely join the glut of rearguards developing in Peoria.