Wingers lead the way in St. Louis Blues Top 20 ranking

By Suraj Sukumar
Vladimir Tarasenko - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Vladimir Tarasenko maintains his place atop the St. Louis Blues prospect pool heading into the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

 
The St. Louis Blues have had continuous success in the NHL Draft. Finding franchise cornerstones like Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko has been huge for a team that usually finds itself drafting outside the top-10 picks. 

Leading the way in the updated Top 20 ranking is none other than Tarasenko, followed by Schwartz, Allen, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin. With that said, the Blues have several junior standouts that could make the roster with a good training camp. However, with an already full NHL roster, the Blues only have so many positions available for up-and-coming prospects.

In terms of depth, the Blues could use some work on the blue line and at center. While there have been plenty of draft picks at those positions, injuries and lack of NHL readiness has plagued those positions for the Blues, and the effects of this problem were seen throughout the Peoria Rivermen’s season last year. The Blues’ AHL affiliate has changed from Peoria to the Chicago Wolves, so maybe the shift in scenery could be what the Blues’ prospects need to flourish as professional players. While the wingers remain strong in the system, it is time for the centers and defensemen to step up in the coming year.

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

After a booming start to his NHL career, Tarasenko suffered from an injury at the end of February during the shortened NHL season. Even with the injury, Tarasenko still managed to play in 38 games. However, his point production took a hit, recording just 19 points by the end of the season. Recording eight points in his first 10 games, Tarasenko was on pace to lead rookies in scoring and potentially win the Calder Trophy. Nevertheless, the skills are undoubtedly there, but it will be Tarasenko’s responsibility to stay healthy in 2013-14.

There is no question that Tarasenko remains the Blues’ best prospect, but he will need to learn to play smart and use his skills when necessary. He has shown playmaking ability with a very strong shot. He is strong on the puck and is not afraid to get into the gritty areas of the ice. While his abilities have been on display, questions surrounding his durability will likely continue. Given his age, he has a long career ahead of him, so recovering well and playing a full NHL season would be the best thing for Tarasenko’s future. If he tries to do too much, he could find himself in the press box once again. The Blues should understand that going in to 2013-14. 

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

Considering how much the Blues love college prospects, Schwartz is easily their prized possession. Clearly one of the best college players coming into his own in the NHL, Schwartz finished his first NHL season on a high note, scoring three points in his last four games. His two-way ability is one of his primary strengths, while he still has the ability to create offensive chances. He scored just seven goals and six assists last season, but due to the shortened season, and seeing mostly third line minutes, Schwartz is well on his way to a prosperous NHL career.

It should be safe to assume that Schwartz will not be returning to the AHL, but he must continue to progress if he hopes to receive a larger role at the NHL level. He has all the makings of a reliable top-six forward, and if he can get his offensive numbers up, there is no telling what Schwartz can accomplish in the coming NHL season. He will likely start on the third unit out of training camp, but has all the skills and determination to work his way up the roster. Look out for Schwartz in 2013-14, he could very well be a breakout star for the Blues next season.

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

Allen had locked down the starting position in Peoria before getting the call from the NHL last season. While he only saw sporadic starts in goal, Allen still started 13 games and went 9-4-0 with a 2.46 goals against average and .905 save percentage. One thing is for sure, he will need to speed up is progress if he wants to take the starting position any time soon. However, at the same time, until the other goaltending prospects make their name in the pros, Allen could be the only choice for the Blues in the coming seasons.

Allen is undoubtedly the goalie of the future in St. Louis, and even with the duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott still under contract, he could still see an NHL roster spot coming his way in 2013-14. Nevertheless, both Halak and Elliott are under contract for one more season, leaving the door wide open for Allen to take his spot as the Blues’ starting goaltender.

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

Ty Rattie should be the most anticipated prospect in the Blues’ pipeline. After absolutely destroying the WHL, Rattie is poised to make his professional debut in the coming fall. Even though he should get an invite to training camp, the most likely scenario should be get him top line minutes in the AHL. The Blues have significant depth at the wing position, giving plenty of prospects the chance to dominate the AHL. However, given Rattie’s lack of size, it should take him some time to get used to the professional game.

Rattie is extremely fast, possesses a powerful but accurate shot, and has shown how clutch he can be on several occasions already. Taking after other undersized but speedy wingers in the NHL, Rattie will need to use his speed to avoid the big body checks and work his way past larger defensemen. Nevertheless, with his incredible skating abilities and strong shot, Rattie should be able to make an impact in his first season of professional hockey.

5.  (5) Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2011

If there is any surprise the Blues should be happy about, it is the play of prospect Dmitrij Jaskin. After a few stints in the Czech League with Slavia Praha HC, Jaskin tore up the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats last season. In 51 games, Jaskin scored 46 goals, 55 assists and was a plus-26. Even though he was in a men’s league, these are huge jumps from 12 career points in 63 career Czech games. Once playing with players his own age, Jaskin proved that he could be one of the best steals from the 2011 NHL Draft. He was the leading scorer for the Wildcats and did well enough to earn a two-game stint in the NHL last season.

Even though Jaskin did not score in his first two NHL games, it was a great reward for the strides he has made in his career thus far. He has become one of the most skilled and surprising players in the Blues’ pipeline, and with a solid training camp, Jaskin could find his name on the opening night roster. However, with very little experience at the professional level in North America, Jaskin may very well start his pro career in the AHL, at least until he proves what he can do at the pro level.

6. (6) Jordan Binnington, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2011

Jordan Binnington finished off an incredible junior career with the Owen Sound Attack last season. Starting in 50 games, he posted a record of 32-12-6, accompanied by a 2.17 goals against average and .932 save percentage.  To cap it off, Binnington was selected to the Canadian Junior team, but did not see much action. Nevertheless, Binnington grew on a consistent basis as a junior player, and could make a splash early in his pro career.

With Halak, Elliott, and Allen in the mix, Binnington will have to wait his turn when it comes to the parent club. Even worse, if the Blues continue to go with their duo, Allen could start the season in the AHL, cutting into Binnington’s starts drastically. In any case, Binnington is still very young, and with only one solid game under his belt in the pros, he will have plenty of time to prove himself. After Allen, Binnington should be considered the best goaltending prospect in the Blues’ system.

7. (NR) Tommy Vannelli, D, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2013

Tommy Vannelli was the first pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2013 NHL Draft and, coming as no surprise, is a college-bound defensive prospect hailing from the USHL. As mentioned, the Blues have had success with defensemen from the college level, and Vannelli is already one of the Blues’ best prospects on the blue line. He is extremely offensive minded and skates very well. At just 18 years old, Vannelli will have ample time to get his game intact before making the jump to the pros.

Vannelli has plenty of development time ahead of him. Originally expected to attend the University of Minnesota, the blueliner will instead skate in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers during the 2013-14 season. Vannelli could become a reliable defenseman with a high offensive ceiling.

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

Jordan Schmaltz is another college player who will become a major part of the Blues blue line in the future. After displaying tremendous skill in the USHL, Schmaltz joined the University of North Dakota as a freshman last season. In 42 games, he managed three goals and nine assists. While the numbers are not too impressive, he was only a freshman, making this year much more important in terms of growth. After playing a full season at the college level, Schmaltz should not only be comfortable, but will likely see the opportunity to produce at a much higher rate.

Schmaltz is still only 19 years old, giving him some time at the college level to hone his skills from the blue line. Schmaltz was drafted as an offensive defenseman, so this should be the season for him find his stride at the college level. He is a great skater with good hands and vision, and if he can start using those skills more comfortable at the college level, it will provide him with ample experience heading into his professional career.

9. (12) Joel Edmundson, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2011

Joel Edmundson poses an interesting predicament for the Blues. While Edmundson has only played in three WHL seasons, he has done well in all three. This past season, Edmundson was traded to the Kamloops Blazers as they prepared for the playoffs. In 15 playoff games, he recorded three goals and five assists. Given his size, Edmundson is an above average skater and can either throw the body or play the puck. With that said, Edmundson has shown good skill at both ends of the ice, and he will need to continue to grow as he prepares for his professional career.

If the Blues did not have so many commitments in the pros, and with a good training camp, Edmundson could have made his NHL debut in 2013-14. Nevertheless, the young defenseman is still AHL eligible, and given the Blues’ depth, Edmundson will likely join the Wolves. With the combination of size and skill, time in the AHL will give him the necessary experience to hone both his offensive and defensive skills.

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

Jani Hakanpaa had a two-year stint in the SM-liiga before making his way over to North America. Another giant in the Blues pipe line, Hakanpaa has proven his physical capabilities and, given his size, could easily transfer those skills over to the pros. Offense has never been a strong point for the Finnish youngster, but he showed some improvement in his first 14 games with the Rivermen, recording one goal and three assists. In 75 career SM-liiga games, Hakanpaa recorded 17 points.

Moving forward, Hakanpaa will likely garner ice-time simply based on his stature and ability to play in the defensive zone. However, if he can get his offensive numbers going in the AHL, Hakanpaa could see his stock rise in the future. He is currently listed on the St. Louis Blues roster and will be available for training camp. For now, he will need to concentrate on learning the North American game, while honing his skills at the AHL level.

11. (19) Max Gardiner, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2010

Max Gardiner saw the biggest jump for the St. Louis Blues since the last top 20, and for good reason. At a position with minimal depth in the Blues’ system, Gardiner has slowly made his mark at the college level and looks to be one of the bright spots at the center position. Playing at Penn State for the moment, Gardiner had a terrific first season with the Nittany Lions. Gardiner had 19 assists and 22 points in 27 games, proving his playmaking skills are well on their way. The center position still remains the weakest for the Blues, giving Gardiner extra attention as he goes into another year of college hockey.

While the passing skills are evident, Gardiner needs to become a more consistent offensive player, who can also be relied upon in the defensive zone. He has good size, but will need to get stronger if he hopes to be a solid two-way player. If the offensive skills do not stick, he has the makings of a good power forward. For Gardiner, playing another season at the college level will help, but the transition to the pros will be the most important in determining his future.

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

Ryan Tesink is an anomaly when it comes to the Blues’ best prospects. When he is on the ice, Tesink has proven that he can skate with the best players his age. However, injuries have become a major concern for the New Brunswick native. Since the 2011-12 campaign, Tesink has had knee issues that continued to plague his junior career. His production in the QMJHL is undeniable, but if he cannot recover and play a full season of hockey, his future as a top-nine forward certainly remains in doubt.

By the looks of it, Tesink seems to be all systems go. In this summer’s NHL Prospects Tournament, Tesink scored a hat trick against the Carolina Hurricanes, which included a shorthanded goal and the game winner. Tesink is an incredible skater, fearless forechecker, and comes with an amazing offensive upside. He is also good in his own end, willing to throw and take the body. Even for his size, Tesink likes to make his presence felt. If he can stay healthy and continue his torrid pace, Tesink remains a prospect to watch in the Blues’ system. The winger is eligible to play in either the AHL or be returned to Blainville-Boisbriand for another season of junior hockey, with the latter possibly being the more likely scenario given the time he missed in 2012-13.

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

Yannick Veilleux has completed his run as a junior hockey player and came out with an impressive career. Playing in the playoffs all four seasons of junior hockey, Veilleux remains one of the most interesting prospects to monitor. Finishing at over a point-per-game pace, Veilleux is a power forward that truly has a nose for the net. He went from scoring three goals as a rookie to 19 in his second year, 27 in his third, and 34 goals in his final season. 

Based on his junior career, Veilleux comes in to the pros as an all-around power forward. If the offensive skills take a while at the professional level, he still has the size, skill and experience to be a reliable two-way forward. At just 20 years old, Veilleux is very young and has ample time to work on his game. He will likely get an invite to Blues’ training camp, but will presumably end up in the AHL this coming season. 

14. (NR) William Carrier, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2013

William Carrier is another left wing prospect that helps boast the strength of the Blues’ system. Entering his fourth season of junior hockey this year, Carrier has seen an impressive rise in his point production, going from 12 in his rookie year to 70 in 2011-12. Carrier suffered an ankle injury in 2012-13, limiting him to just 34 games last year. Even in those 34 games, Carrier put up an impressive 16 goals and 26 assists, an even better pace than his 2011-12 campaign. He is a solid player that has demonstrated high-end skill throughout his junior career. He has good size and playing for an unsuccessful team has helped him take on a much larger role. He has a great shot and claims to have worked on his skating over the past year.

Most scouts believed that, if Carrier got a chance to play in the CHL Top Prospects Game, he would have made a much larger case for himself going into the draft. Playing with top level players of his age would have given him the chance to show his abilities. Sadly, with the ankle injury persisting, he never made it to the game. In any case, the Blues are not complaining, as they already signed their second round pick and will likely invite him to training camp. However, with one year left of junior eligibility, Carrier will likely spend one more season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.  

15. (18) Niklas Lundstrom, G, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2011

Niklas Lundstrom is in a perfect place as his pro career continues. With the depth in goaltending at both the NHL and AHL level, Lundstrom is currently battling for the starting spot with popular Swedish Hockey League club AIK. Last year, he also was the starting goaltender for the U20 Swedish junior team and participated in the World Junior Championships. After a stellar showing, Lundstrom has been gradually getting better with every season.

With several games under his belt, Lundstrom could receive ample ice-time while playing in Sweden. With that said, it is very difficult to predict when Lundstrom will make his way to North America. He has good size and has demonstrated high-end skill over the past year. However, given the depth of the Blues’ goaltending, coupled with his opportunity back home, Lundstrom will likely stay in Sweden for the near future.

16. (17) Colton Parayko, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2012

Colton Parayko has made impressive strides in his young career. As a college rookie with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko scored four goals and 13 assists in 33 games. Mostly known for his size and physical play, Parayko is a constant workhorse trying to improve his game. He is still an average skater, but at just 20 years old, Parayko has a few years of college hockey to improve his skating and offensive abilities.

Like many of the other college prospects in the Blues’ pipeline, Parayko is early in his college career and will gradually see an increase in responsibility. If he can continue to use his size and physical strengths, Parayko already has the makings of a reliable shutdown defenseman. He still possesses a strong shot, but needs to improve his offensive skills as a whole. For now, skating and offense are the biggest issues for Parayko, but he will have significant time to work on those aspects of his game at the college level.

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

Playing for Boston University, Kurker had a forgettable rookie campaign. Even though he is only 19 years old, Kurker will need to improve immensely in the coming season. He has all the makings of a classic power forward, creating offense the old school way of crashing the net and using his body. He has great hustle and remains a solid skater. He will need to work on his two-way game if he hopes to become a reliable power forward.

Making the jump from prep school hockey to the college level was definitely a problem for Kurker. However, given his age, he will have ample time to learn from his past experiences. In terms of offense, Kurker has good upside but will need to work hard at maintaining a consistent level of offensive output. Given his skill set, it will be very difficult for him to put up points in bundles. However, if he can use his gritty style to make plays at both ends of the ice, Kurker will surely prepare himself for the professional level of hockey. 
 
18. (10) Cade Fairchild, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2007

Cade Fairchild has had a troublesome start to his pro career. Fairchild spent four solid years at the University of Minnesota before starting his professional career in 2011-12. Since then, Fairchild has had problems not only staying healthy, but finding a consistent pace of production. In his first season with the Peoria Rivermen, Fairchild had a solid season, recording eight goals and 34 points in 68 games. In 2012-13, Fairchild had an abysmal eight assists in 43 games. Not only was his production at an all-time low, but he was clearly hindered by injuries as well.

Being drafted way back in 2007, Fairchild could be running his title of prospect a little thin. He is still only 24 years old, but has yet to make any kind of impact at the NHL level. Playing in only five games with the Blues in 2011-12, it really is difficult to predict when his next chance with the Blues will be. For now, Fairchild needs to concentrate on staying healthy and finding his offensive game that made him such a standout as a rookie in the AHL. Until then, Fairchild seems bound for the AHL as a top-six minor league defenseman.

19. (NR) Petteri Lindbohm, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 176th overall, 2012

Another blueliner with size that plays with a mean streak, Petteri Lindbohm skated in his first substantial SM-liiga games during the 2012-13 season. Lindbohm appeared in 35 games for Jokerit, the SM-liiga's top team during the regular season, finishing the year with four assists, a plus-three rating, and 61 penalty minutes. In addition to his professional experience, Lindbohm served as captain for Team Finland at the WJC and was voted one of this team's top three performers in the tournament.

At 6'3 and 209 pounds, the defenseman is strong and can impose is will in his own zone. His transition to playing against men last season went well, and he is poised again to servee as one of Jokerit's stay-at-home defensemen. His future in North America is still up in the air, but if he can continue to provide a physical presence and make life miserable for opposing forward, Lindbohm could be joining the Blues organization sooner than later.

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

After absolutely demolishing the high school level of hockey, MacKenzie MacEachern made the jump to the USHL for one season. In 50 games with the Chicago Steel, MacEachern has scored eight goals and 13 assists. He has great hands, speed, and frame for a winger, but he will need to improve his production if he wishes to garner the attention of the Blues.

Making the jump to the NCAA program may be the best thing for MacEachern. He will have a strong coaching team that will help develop over a four year span. He is extremely raw in terms of talent, so the experiences at the college level will help MacEachern greatly. He is committed to the Michigan State Spartans for the 2013-14 campaign, giving him loads of time to find himself as a consistent offensive threat.

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