The St. Louis Blues had only four draft picks in 2013, and were unable to select a player until the 47th overall pick. The Blues already boast high-end skill at the forward positions and tried to improve their defensive prospects in this year's draft.
Not only do the Blues have talent at the NHL level, but they have youth on their side as well. Many of their top tier prospects are NHL ready. There is ample time for the current prospects in the pipeline to develop, and there will be several young prospects to choose from at the start of the next NHL season.
The Blues have a history of drafting prospects both from Finland and the U.S. National Team Development Program. There are several college prospects currently in the system that could make their way over to professional hockey, and the Blues needed to avoid drafting players at a similar point in their development. Adding forwards at left wing will surely help the Blues in the future as well, balancing the level of talent at all positions both in the AHL and NHL. After this year's draft, the Blues have done well in diversifying their prospect pool, increasing the chances of developing successful players at all positions.
Tommy Vannelli, D, Minnetonka (MN-HS)
2nd round, 47th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 165 lbs.
The Blues tried to beef up their defense with their first pick in the 2013 draft. Vannelli has demonstrated skills at both ends of the ice, both at the high school and international level. Last season, Vannelli split time between his Minnetonka High School hockey team and the USNTDP. Vannelli led all defensemen on his high school team with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in 25 games as they went on to win the Lake Conference championship. In addition, he helped the United States finish second place at the U18 World Junior Championships in Russia, scoring two goals and an assist. He plans to be a major part of the University of Minnesota hockey program for the near future.
Vannelli is a great skater with good acceleration and agility. He is very good with the puck and is a defenseman with a good first pass. His shot is average at best, but he is a good candidate to run the powerplay at any level of hockey he plays at. In terms of the pros, Vannelli is still undersized and could benefit from increasing his muscle mass, primarily in his upper body. He is a good decision-maker but will need to add some size to be able to truly shut down opposing teams.
The Blues have recently acquired NHL-level talent on the blue line and will not need to rush their younger talent. Ian Cole recently became a mainstay on the St. Louis blue line, and other prospects will be making the jump to the AHL level this coming season. Vannelli joins an already young group of prospects on defense and it will be a few years before we see him make an impact at the professional level.
William Carrier demonstrated top level skill during the 2011-12 QMJHL season. In 66 games, Carrier had an impressive 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists) and played in 4 playoff games, scoring three goals and three assists. During the 2012-13 season, Carrier suffered from an upper ankle injured that kept him on the sidelines for most of the season. Carrier did play in 34 games, scoring 16 goals and 26 assists. The Blues believe this was a steal in the second round, and they were quite happy to trade up for the pick.
Carrier was actually projected by some to go in the first round, particularly coming into his draft year, but he fell into the second. Even though he was injured, he proved to have great poise and skill when he did play. He is a great skater with top level speed, and can make great plays with the puck. He is a natural power forward with great skill in the defensive zone. He has the skill to be a top six forward, but if the offense does not click at the professional level, he would still make for a great third line forward.
Carrier will be attending rookie camp with the Blues and will be returned to Cape Breton prior to the coming season. He will have a chance to fight for a spot with the Blues during NHL training camp, but it is likely he will be returned to the Screaming Eagles for at least one more season. He will have the time to improve his offensive game while bettering his play in the defensive zone. If he can grow to being an offensive power forward, his professional future will look very bright.
Hockey's Future shot video of Carrier's media scrum at the 2013 NHL Combine, a conversation that was captured in this HF video.
The Blues traded up again to draft Pochiro in the fourth round. He is a St. Louis native and has been a physical presence throughout his hockey career. He played in the NAHL in 2011-12, scoring 34 points in 52 games for Wichita Falls. He also had 154 penalty minutes and has been known to drop the gloves for his team. In 2012-13, Pochiro joined the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League and was very productive in his first season. In 65 games, Pochiro scored 15 goals and 24 assists. More importantly, he had 105 penalty minutes and showed he can contribute with the fisticuffs.
His abilities on the offensive side of the ice make him an interesting prospect to follow. He is very undersized for his style of play, so his main focus should be to pack on some weight during his WHL career. Bulking up will only improve his ability of shutting down the opposition, making him a reliable force in the WHL. If he can continue to show both a nose for the points and maintain his physical presence, Pochiro could become a terrorizing force for the Blues in the future. Nevertheless, to maintain a strong presence on the ice, Pochiro will have to grow physically and improve his defensive game.
Santeri Saari, D, Jokerit U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
6th round, 173rd overall
Height: 6'1 Weight: 191 lbs.
The Blues have a few Finnish prospects developing overseas and Santeri Saari can be added to that list. Saari spent his previous season with the Jokerit junior club, and scored 23 points in 46 games. He has demonstrated high-end offensive skill but will need to solidify his defensive game as well. He is a smooth skater and can make great passes. If he can become a force in his own zone, Saari could make his way to North America in the near future.
The Blues could use some offensive blueliners in the pipeline and Saari has the skills to fill that void. Saari also played in two games with the parent club, Jokerit Helsinki, but failed to make his presence felt. Nevertheless, Saari will have ample time in Finland to improve his game and try to become an offensive force in the SM-liiga.