The St. Louis Blues have continued to benefit from a stellar pipeline and this year was no different.
Even though many of the Blues’ prospects will not see NHL ice time for a while, they have been making great strides at their respective levels of hockey to become more reliable players. While there were some players who should have performed better this year, others exceeded their expectations to garner much more attention heading into next season. With that said, some awards were much easier to decide than others, further proving that some prospects in the Blues system could be ready for NHL ice time in 2014-15.
After several top prospects graduated prior to this season, Jake Allen took over the top spot in the Blues' pipeline and has performed consistently to merit that rank. In what could be his final year in the AHL, Allen was the go to player to man the crease and was the undisputed number one goalie for the entire season. In 52 games this year, Allen maintained an immaculate 33-16-3 record, with a 2.03 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. With Ryan Miller likely on the move, expect Allen to compete for, and likely win, the back-up goaltending job for the Blues next season.
With several options to choose from in this category, the award has to go to Jordan Binnington. If it were not for Allen's extended stay in the minors, Binnington make have had his coming out party this season. Lucky for him, instead of riding the pine while waiting for his opportunity, Binnington started for the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL and did splendidly for his first season out of junior. In 40 games played, he managed a record of 23-13-3 while posting a 2.35 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. He did even better in three playoff games, putting up a 1.89 goals against average and .946 save percentage. He has consistently improved over the last few seasons and if Allen does make the jump to the NHL, expect Binnington to make a huge splash as an AHL rookie next year.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jordan Schmaltz, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Even though Tommy Vannelli could steal this award next year with another great performance in the WHL, Jordan Schmaltz has lead the Blues’ defensive prospect group since he was drafted. Last season, Schmaltz displayed a good amount of skill as a rookie for the University of North Dakota, but doubled his production as a sophomore this year. In 41 games played, Schmaltz scored six goals and 18 assists, topping his three goals and nine assists from last season with ease. He is a good skater and has continuously growing skills from the blue line. He has the potential of a first line power-play quarterback and he will be entering his third season of college hockey. Of all the defensive prospects in the Blues’ pipeline, Schmaltz seems the most likely to have a major impact in the near future.
Fastest Skater: Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Dmitrij Jaskin could have easily won the Prospect of the Year or the Breakout Candidate for 2014-15 awards, but Jake Allen was a rock for the Chicago Wolves and should find himself in the NHL next season. Jordan Binnington seems like the most deserving candidate for the starting job and has been spectacular at every other level of hockey thus far. Only fitting, Jaskin wins the award that best suits his skills and performance. At just 21 years old, Jaskin has an incredible stride and can change directions very well. He is poised to get stronger and become an even better skater, which should further prove why he is the rightful candidate for this award. His skating speed and strength helps him create plays and continues to be a major part of his offensive game. He finished the AHL season with 29 points in 42 games and is likely to improve on those numbers if he stays in the minors next season.
Hardest Shot: Ty Rattie, RW, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
The biggest question surrounding Ty Rattie was his size at the professional level. He has always used his skill to overcome larger and stronger defenders, but the AHL is far from a league of teenagers. Despite this, Rattie silenced the critics by having a stellar rookie season, scoring 48 points in 72 games. Of those 48 points, a whopping 31 were goals, with some displaying his wicked shot from awkward angles. He finished first on the Chicago Wolves and fifth in the AHL in goals scored. If there is anyone who deserves this award this year, it is Ty Rattie.
It would be hard to mention Ryan Tesink without mentioning some of his flaws. He has suffered from injuries and had a tough time staying healthy throughout his junior career. However, when you think about his style of play, it almost makes sense that he gets injured so much. Tesink uses his skating to overpower players and is a fearless forechecker. He gets into battles and is an impressive physical player given his skill and size. What he needs to work on is playing responsibly and avoiding injuries, while still maintaining his intense style of play. For a sixth round draft pick, Tesink has been a reliable player and should have a chance at making the AHL squad next season.
Overachiever: David Shields, D, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
After being drafted in the sixth round by the Blues, Shields was almost invisible until the 2013-14 campaign. He surpassed his entire AHL offensive production to date with 15 points and a plus-10 rating. Prior to this year, Shields tallied a total of nine points and a minus-13 rating in two full AHL seasons. This was by far Shields' best season of hockey and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain or improve on this level of production next year.
Underachiever: Brett Ponich, D, Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL)
While there were a plethora of players to choose from this year, Brett Ponich takes the cake for a few reasons. First, when compared to fellow second round draftees on the Blues, he is oceans apart in terms of development. Though Ponich is not the only Blues’ prospect at the ECHL level, he is one of few to have had a fair chance at cracking the AHL roster prior to the demotion. He has played in three different AHL seasons and was sent to the ECHL for the two most recent seasons. With just three goals, five assists and a minus-2 rating in 2013-14, it seems doubtful that Ponich will see relevant ice time in the AHL next season.
Highest Risk/Highest Reward Prospect: Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, Chicago Wolves (AHL)
After spending most of his youth in Europe, Sebastian Wannstrom was incredibly low on the system depth chart before playing his first season of North American hockey in 2012-13. He was an ineffective player in the Swedish League and did much of the same as a rookie in the AHL, which led to his demotion to the ECHL and return to Sweden. This season, Wannstrom has started to turn heads, after scoring 10 points in 37 games in the AHL and five in four games in the ECHL. He finished the year playing for the Wolves in the AHL playoffs and has scored one goal and two assists in six games. Given his age at 23, it will be interesting to see where he peaks. At this rate, he could very well make up for lost time, but there is a chance that it is a little too late. Consistency will be a big factor in his development if the Blues hope to get a better player out of the second round pick. As long as he continues to see playing time, the rest is in his hands.