Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz lead the way in St. Louis Blues top 20

By Brad Gardner
Jake Allen - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Jake Allen remains the top goaltending prospect in the St. Louis system, but more recent picks like Jordan Binnington should challenge him in the near future. (courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)

 
The St. Louis Blues prospect system is led by a pair of potential top-line forwards in Russian winger Vladimir Tarasenko and Saskatchewan native Jaden Schwartz. Both are dynamic players capable of piling up the points and it should not be long before the duo is lighting the lamps for the Blues.

Further down Hockey's Future's belated Fall rankings list there are a couple potential starters in net along with a blue line corps that includes both offensive-minded players as well as behemoth defensemen capable of controlling the defensive zone. Eleven of the team's top 14 prospects on this list were first or second round draft choices, so there are still plenty of talented prospects working towards the NHL roster.

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

The NHL lockout delayed the North American debut of Vladimir Tarasenko, who chose to spend another season in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, the team that acquired him during the 2011-12 season. The winger has a powerful shot and continues to put it to good use in Russia's top pro league, ranking in the league's top 20 scorers with 13 goals along with 29 points in 26 games on the season.

Tarasenko is expected to step right into the Blues' lineup when he finally arrives in North America. His speedy, hard-nosed game should fit right into the St. Louis line-up, where he should eventually assume a scoring role. He has the potential to be an all-star player in the NHL, and along with his pro experience overseas, that puts him ahead of the rest of St. Louis' prospects.

2. (2) Jaden Schwartz, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2010

Even without Tarasenko, the Peoria Rivermen still had another high profile debut at the AHL level in Jaden Schwartz. The highly-skilled winger was fairly quiet to the start the season but has begun to make the transition to the pro game and become a more consistent contributor in the Rivermen line-up.

Hockey sense and playmaking skills are Schwartz' best assets, but at 5'9, he will have to find ways to use those skills with less space as he progresses at the pro level. He has the speed and elusiveness to excel at the pro level despite his physical limitations, but it will likely just be a matter of gaining experience and establishing consistency at the pro level.

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

Following 57 goals in 69 games during the 2011-12 season, Ty Rattie was the top returning scorer in 2012-13 for Portland. Although he has still managed solid totals of 19 goals and 47 points in 30 games so far this season, he has taken a bit of a back seat to some of the team's younger players like draft-eligible Nicolas Petan and 2012 pick Brendan Leipsic (NAS).

The winger will skate with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships and be expected to score some goals for the squad. He has a great feel for the offensive zone and is good at putting himself in position for scoring chances. That said, without much size and without explosive skating ability, many will keep a close eye on Rattie to see how he handles the top international competition and then the pro level next year.

4. (4) Ian Cole, D, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2007

Ian Cole is the top ranked defenseman in the Blues system and among the most experienced players with 52 NHL games already under his belt. Cole may not have the offensive upside of prospects like Jordan Schmaltz or Cade Fairchild, but his strong and steady game will likely see him established in the NHL long before the team's other options.

At 6'1 and about 225 pounds, he can use his strength and size effectively in the physical game as well as make a good first pass out of the zone. His 13 points in 29 games is actually his best production as a pro. He will benefit from significant ice time in Peoria as long as the NHL lockout drags on and have a chance at cracking the Blues line-up whenever training camps open up.

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

The development of Jake Allen in the AHL has been up-and-down to say the least, and the 2012-13 season has been no different. He has played a lion's share of the games for Peoria with Mike McKenna serving as the back-up. Allen has earned a 8-11-2 record, 3.05 goals against average, and fallen in the save percentage column from previous years to .902. His six October starts represent a microcosm of his play, allowing two or fewer goals in three starts but 16 total goals allowed in the other three starts.

With Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott signed through 2014 with the Blues, Allen is firmly third on the organization's depth chart. He will need to begin to put some consistent stretches together in his third pro season if he is to unseat either of the two established goaltenders on the Blues' depth chart.

6. (7) Cade Fairchild, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2007

Cade Fairchild had a strong rookie season in 2011-12, finishing second among Peoria defensemen with 34 points in 68 games. The University of Minnesota alum has been hampered by a leg injury so far in 2012-13, and even when healthy, has notched just one assist through 14 games.

Not an especially big defenseman at 5'11 and 190 pounds, Fairchild relies more on his skating and offensive instincts to make an impact. His mobility and passing ability have certainly made an impact in the transition game for the Rivermen, but there is no question the team would like to see more production from the top offensive-defenseman on the Peoria roster.

7. (NR) Jordan Schmaltz, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2012

The Blues' first pick in 2012, Jordan Schmaltz was coming off of a USHL title run with the Green Bay Gamblers when the Blues added him to their stable of blue line prospects. Schmaltz entered his freshman year at the University of North Dakota in 2012-13, where he has registered a goal and three assists through 18 games.

Schmaltz' production has been impacted by a relatively limited role. The North Dakota blue line has plenty of veteran players, and even with his offensive instincts, he has yet to make much of an impact on the score sheet. The mobile defenseman should become more comfortable at the college level as he gains more experience. 

8. (6) Philip McRae, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2008

It has been a mixed bag for Philip McRae at the pro level. Now in his third season, he has provided fairly consistent secondary production for the Rivermen, even skating in 15 games with the Blues as a rookie, but whether he will be able to hold down a top-six role in the NHL is still unknown.

McRae uses his size well to protect the puck but has had his share of struggles in the defensive end. So far this season he has registered five goals and five assists in 27 games and has one of the worst plus/minus ratings on the team at minus-9. Still looking to breakthrough offensively in the AHL, McRae still has a ways to go if he is to live up to the expectations set for him since he was drafted.

9. (8) Jani Hakanpaa, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010

Jani Hakanpaa's stock rose significantly last season and the big blueliner has continued to succeed in the SM-liiga. Although he was signed to an entry-level contract by St. Louis over the summer, Hakanpaa returned to the SM-liiga for another season with the Espoo Blues.

At 6'5 and 218 pounds, it is easy to guess how Hakanpaa makes his mark on games. Between his physical play and willingness to lay that massive frame on the line to block a shot or clear the front of his net, he is just the type of shutdown defensemen that NHL teams covet. The Finnish blueliner can expect some time in Peoria to transition to the North American ice surface, but the big Finn is yet another NHL-bound prospect for the Blues on the back end.

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

After spending the 2011-12 season in his native Czech Republic at the professional level, Dmitri Jaskin transitioned to the QMJHL this season. He has been on fire all season, registering 23 goals and 50 points in only 31 games for Moncton. The 19-year-old leads the team in goals and is tied for the lead in points in his first taste of North American hockey.

The Blues have several potential power forwards in their system, but Jaskin has set himself apart this season. Having succeeded already in his first taste of North American hockey as well as his first season outside of his native Czech Republic, Jaskin has been a force in the Quebec league and been nearly impossible to knock off the puck.

11. (NR) Jordan Binnington, G, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2011

While Jake Allen has long been the top goaltending prospect in the Blues system, the organization has bolstered their depth in net at each of the last two NHL drafts. Third round selection Jordan Binnington has perhaps the best chance of the newer additions to make an impact for the Blues.

Now in his fourth season with the Owen Sound Attack, Binnginton is enjoying the best season of his career. He has earned a 17-6-3 record to go along with a 2.31 goals against average and .930 save percentage, both marks that would be career-highs if he can keep them up. Binnington's track record earned him a spot on Team Canada's roster for the upcoming WJC, where he is expected to back-up Malcolm Subban (BOS) during the tournament in Ufa, Russia.

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

A sluggish start to the season for Edmundson and the Moose Jaw Warriors eventually gave way to a trade in which the hulking blueliner was traded to Kamloops. The Blazers are in better position for a long playoff run, but with none of their defensemen having been drafted into the NHL, they had a need for a player who could contribute at a high level.

Edmundson fits the bill and then some. The 6'4 blueliner has scored six points in six games since joining the Blazers and is only two points off from duplicating his production from 29 games with Moose Jaw. Edmundson's willingness to play the physical game and drop the mitts has also helped endear him to the fans in Kamloops. Poised to turn pro in 2012-13, Edmundson will look to continue his strong play in his final junior season.

13. (NR) Sam Kurker, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2012

A productive high school forward from Massachusetts, Sam Kurker chose to jump straight from prep school to the college level with Boston University. He has scored two goals in 11 appearances thus far, but one of those goals was a big one that helped the Terriers take down the then number-one ranked University of New Hampshire Wildcats.

The 18-year-old already has great size at 6'2 and just over 200 pounds, and unlike many other recent picks, does not have too far to go when it comes to filling out and adding strength. Needless to say, Kurker will still have to prove he can contribute at a high level in the NCAA, but he should get the opportunity to do so as he gains more experience with the Terriers.

14. (16) Sebastian Wannstrom, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2010

The Peoria Rivermen had a pair of European forward prospects join the team in 2012-13 with Swedish winger Sebastian Wannstrom signed with the Blues and Russian Sergei Andronov signed to an AHL contract. Wannstrom made the trip overseas with plenty of professional experience under his belt in the Swedish Elite League, but much of it was spent playing in a limited role.

He has run into a similar problem in North America and spent a few games in the ECHL when Peoria's injury situation improved. Through 16 AHL games with the Rivermen, Wannstrom has scored a goal and two assists, but he has not exactly been skating in an offensive role. The skilled Swede could use more significant ice time to build confidence if the Blues expect him to have much of an offensive impact.

15. (NR) Teemu Eronen, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2011

Jokerit is the SM-liiga's top team in large part because of a pair of NHL players, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Detroit's Valtteri Filppula, but they have also gotten important contributions from homegrown talent like defenseman Teemu Eronen. Eronen ranks third behind the two NHL players on the team in ice time, averaging just over 22 minutes per game, and he trails only Karlsson in scoring among the team's defensemen with 15 points in 31 games.

Known for his offensive skill set, Eronen is a smooth skater and makes smart plays when the puck is on his stick. He will never be dominant defensively from a physical standpoint, but if he finds any success in North America in the future it will be due to his offensive talents.

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

Drafted out of Michigan high school hockey and committed to Michigan State, Mac MacEachern is another big forward in the Blues 2012 draft class. While he could stand to fill out his 6'3 frame, MacEachern is already good in puck protection and strong on his skates. He does not shy away from throwing his body around or joining a puck battle along the boards, proving already to be handful for many USHL players.

MacEachern is skating with the Chicago Steel this season as he prepares for the college level. He has been limited to just 13 games on the season due to injury, but has been productive with 10 points in those games.

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

Another rough and tumble winger in the Blues organization, Cody Beach is making his pro debut this season. The physical winger has split time between Peoria and the ECHL's Evansville Ice so far, notching six points in 17 ECHL games and five assists in seven AHL games on the season. Naturally, he has also contributed in the penalty minutes department, racking up a total of 80 penalty minutes already this season.

The 20-year-old Beach, who was recently reassigned to Peoria, projects as a bottom-six forward at the next level who can get under the skin of the opposition and chip in some offense. Continuing to adjust to the pro game and learning to play his game without crossing the line will be keys as he continues to develop against professionals.

18. (17) Ryan Tesink, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 162nd overall, 2011

Feisty Quebec league winger Ryan Tesink made a name for himself as the scrappy spark plug that gave the Saint John Sea Dogs' top lines a break. Now in his fourth h season with the club, he is playing a more prominent role and ranks second behind Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) with 38 points through 33 games this season.

Tesink's offense is not what will get him to the NHL, however, but instead his work ethic and willingness to stand up for himself and his teammates. He would be an ideal fit in a checking line or energy role where he could use his nonstop motor to give his teammates a lift. Tesink will likely turn pro next season and work on translating his game to the next level.

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

Yannick Veilleux is also a forward from the QMJHL, although his game is less rambunctious than that of Tesink's. The 19-year-old Veilleux plays a reliable two-way game and proved to be a capable complimentary scoring line forward for Shawinigan during the team's Memorial Cup win last season.

He is now skating with the Moncton Wildcats in 2012-13 and has maintained his point-per-game pace with 18 goals, 39 points in 35 games. A solid two-way winger, Veilleux should be in line for a pro contract at the end of the season. His more likely projection is a checking line  player that can chip in other areas of the game, but it will likely take time at the pro level before the Blues know exactly what they have in the forward.

20. (9) Brett Ponich, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2009

Big blueliner Brett Ponich has been limited by injury since turning pro in the 2011-12 season. When healthy he provides a physical, if not fleet of foot, presence on the Peoria blue line, but the 6'7 defenseman has yet to establish himself at the pro level.

Ponich was assigned to Evansville in the ECHL in early December in order to begin a rehab assignment, appearing in seven games with the Icemen. The stay-at-home was reassigned recently to Peoria where he should continue to see ice time, but he will have his work cut out for him when it comes to putting himself in position for a call-up to the big club.

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