St. Louis Blues continue to reap benefits of 2008 NHL Draft

By Suraj Sukumar

Alex Pietrangelo - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues' fourth overall pick in 2008, has developed into the team's top blueliner, leading the team with over 25 minutes of ice time per game this season. (courtesy of Scott Kane/Icon SMI)

While some teams experience a lack of draft picks, or reliable prospects, the St. Louis Blues had an abundance of both in 2008. Headlining the list of 2008 draft picks was Alex Pietrangelo, a soon-to-be superstar in the NHL. Along with Pietrangelo, nine other selections were made by the Blues in 2008.

Even though Pietrangelo stands out in terms of talent and NHL readiness, the rest of the nine selections could become reliable professional players down the line. Sadly, out of the ten prospects, only three players have seen time with the NHL club. Therefore, it will be some time before a final assessment can be made on some of the prospects selected in 2008. Nevertheless, here is an update on the 2008 draft selections of the St. Louis Blues.

Alex Pietrangelo, D, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) – 1st Round, 4th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 198

If there is one player that has long passed the status of a prospect, it is Alex Pietrangelo. In fact, Pietrangelo could stand as one of the best draft selections in 2008. He had a stellar three year run for Team Canada after being drafted, winning the gold medal alongside other standouts Jordan Eberle (EDM) and John Tavares (NYI) in 2009, a silver medal and the U20 tournament's Best Defenseman award in 2010, and a Men's World Championship Best Defenseman award in 2011.

After a memorable career internationally and with the IceDogs and the Barrie Colts in the OHL, Pietrangelo has been making a solid transition to the NHL. He is currently logging the most ice time of any Blues’ defenseman and could soon become one of the best number one blueliners in the NHL. Last season, Pietrangelo amassed 12 goals and 39 assists in 81 games, while also managing a plus-16 rating. This season, Pietrangelo has three goals and 12 points in 21 games.

Whether the consistent points continue or not, Pietrangelo has become the focal point of the Blues blue line and will not be seeing a demotion for the rest of his career.  He is currently one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and, with time, should solidify his role as one of the NHL’s most skilled and versatile players on the blue line.

Philip McRae, C, London Knights (OHL) – 2nd Round, 33rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 15

Phil McRae has been trying to find his niche at the pro level for quite some time in the AHL. After a long and successful OHL career with the London Knights and Plymouth Whalers, McRae has spent three seasons in the AHL, receiving one NHL stint of 15 games. In those games, McRae managed just one goal and two assists, while also earning a minus-10 rating.

After a less than spectacular 15 game tryout with the NHL club, McRae has spent the last two seasons in the AHL trying to find his game. Last season, McRae played in 71 games for the Peoria Rivermen and managed 23 goals with 16 assists to go along with a minus-10 rating. In 44 games so far this season, McRae has seven goals and 11 assists, with another poor minus-11 showing. He is still young and shown some flashes of offensive skill, but given the depth at the NHL level, McRae will have to do a lot more to earn himself a spot with the NHL club.

Jake Allen, G, St. John’s Fog Devils (QMJHL) – 2nd Round, 34th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played:

Jake Allen is certainly considered the goalie of the future in St. Louis. Judging by the other prospects available to them, he seems like the best choice, too. After a stellar showing in the World Junior Championships with Canada, Allen has shown glimpses of his high-end skill at both the junior and pro level.

Allen had an incredible career in the QMJHL before joining the Blues organization. In the AHL, Allen has been a pretty good goalie on a pretty bad team. This season, Allen has appeared in 34 games for the Rivermen, posting a record of 13-18-2 with a 0.904 and a 2.92 goals against average. Due to injuries and struggling goaltending, Allen was called up by the Blues for five games. While he posted a winning record (3-1), his save percentage (0.895) and goals against average (2.62) were slightly below average.

As mentioned, Allen is the goalie of the future in St. Louis, and he will need to consistently show his skill to maintain that title, especially on a struggling AHL team like the Peoria Rivermen.

Jori Lehtera, C, Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga) – 3rd Round, 65th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Jori Lehtera is a very interesting case. Even though he was drafted in 2008, Lehtera is currently 25 years old, much older than the average prospect from the 2008 draft. In addition, Lehtera has yet to play a single game in the NHL, but played seven games for the Rivermen in 2008-09 and managed just one assist.

When considering his European totals, Lehtera is a very different player. He played his first four seasons in the SM-liiga, playing his rookie season for Jokerit Helsinki then the Tappara Tampere for the next three years. In his final SM-liiga season in 2009-10, Lehtera scored 69 points (19 goals, 50 assists) in 57 games.

After an impressive showing in the SM-liiga, Lehtera joined Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL and managed 16 goals and 37 points in 53 games during the 2010-11 season. Lehtera then joined the Novosibirsk Sibir in 2011-12 and scored 10 goals and 26 points in 25 games. This season, he amassed 17 goals and 48 points in 52 regular season games. If Lehtera continues to show his consistent scoring touch overseas, he may be able to earn himself a chance at the NHL down the line. 

James Livingston, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – 3rd Round, 70th overall
Status : Prospect (SJS)
NHL Games Played: 0

James Livingston had an extremely long OHL career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Plymouth Whalers. He was not much of a point getter, but he was able to provide a physical aspect to the game for both OHL clubs. However, Livingston has never played for the Blues, as he was released prior to signing an entry-level contract.

He was signed as a free agent by the San Jose Sharks and was assigned to the AHL affiliate Worcester Sharks. In his first AHL season, Livingston played 68 games for the AHL Sharks and scored six goals and 20 points. He is regarded as a good defensive forward that needs to work on his offense and his skating if he hopes to be a more effective professional player. He will likely spend the remainder of the 2012-13 season in the AHL.

Ian Schultz, RW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 3rd Round, 87th overall
Status: Prospect (MTL)
NHL Games Played: 0

Similar to Livingston, Ian Schultz was not signed as a rookie by the St. Louis Blues. He spent four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and was an effective enforcer. He is considered a very physical forward that needs to work on almost all other aspects of his game, including offense, defense, and skating. While throwing the fisticuffs remains a forte for Schultz, it is still one of his only skills at the pro level.

Schultz has shifted between the AHL and the ECHL as a prospect for the Montreal Canadiens. He is currently playing for the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL and has amassed seven goals, 15 points, and 139 penalty minutes in 27 games. Schultz should be considered a potential bottom-six, role-playing forward. 

David Warsofsky, D, U.S. National Team Development Program – 4th Round, 95th overall
Status: Prospect (BOS)
NHL Games Played: 0

David Warsofsky was a college product from Boston University. However, similar to the last two draft picks, Warsofsky did not see his pro career kick off with the Blues’ organization. Warsofsky was involved in a trade for Vladimir Sobotka in 2010, which brought Sobotka to the Blues and sent Warsofsky to the Boston Bruins.

With the amount of defensemen in the Blues’ system, compiled with the immense depth at forward in Boston, this trade was perfect for both parties. Warsofsky has been considered a very good defenseman with incredible vision and a good shot. On the other hand, his size will continue to be an issue until he can prove his abilities at the professional level on a consistent basis. Since the Bruins have such a strong group of defensemen in the NHL, Warsofsky has spent his first two pro seasons with the Providence Bruins. He will have ample time and opportunities in the AHL to develop his skills for the next level.

Kristofer Berglund, D, Bjorkloven IF (Allsvenskan) – 5th Round, 125th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Kristofer Berglund was drafted by the Blues but has yet to play a single game in North America. He had a good showing in Sweden's second tier pro league before getting drafted by the Blues. He stayed in Europe and joined the Swedish Elite League, playing for Lulea HF. In his first season, Berglund played 52 games and scored three goals and 25 points. However, he has seen a gradual decrease in production every season since his stellar rookie campaign.

He is now a member of the Vaxjo HC in the Swedish Elite League, his third team since 2009-10. He has been praised for his hockey vision and passing, and has demonstrated his offensive skill quite often. He is also a good player at both ends of the ice, but needs to get stronger to have a more effective role at the professional level.  A career in North America seems very unlikely, especially because he is under contract in Europe through 2013-14.

Anthony Nigro, C, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 6th Round, 155th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Based on the previous draft selections of 2008, Anthony Nigro is more of a bright spot for the Blues’ organization.  He had a successful OHL career with the Guelph Storm and Ottawa 67’s, but has yet to translate his successes to the professional level. He has spent the last three seasons with the Peoria Rivermen, being sent to the ECHL this year for his atrocious start. After 19 games in the ECHL, Nigro was reassigned back to the Rivermen and is currently playing in the AHL. If he wants any chance of playing in the NHL down the line, he will need to improve his two-way game to reach as a bottom-six forward in the NHL or earn back his scoring touch, which he demonstrated towards the end of his OHL career. 

Paul Karpowich, G, Wellington Dukes (OPJHL) – 7th Round, 185th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Paul Karpowich is currently the last ranked goaltender in the Blues’ system on Hockey’s Future and will, most likely, not see starts in the NHL for quite some time, if ever. Playing most of his early career with Clarkson University of the ECAC, Karpowich has yet to play for the Rivermen. He is currently playing for the Evansville Icemen of the ECHL, and has a record of 7-13-2 in 23 games started. His 3.26 goals against average and 0.900 save percentage are nothing special, and will not merit him a chance at joining the AHL.

Karpowich is a long ways away from a chance at the AHL, or NHL for that matter. With Allen maintaining the role of “goalie of the future,” Karpowich will have his work cut out for him if he plans to move up to the AHL any time soon.