Blues Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Ian Altenbaugh

Top 20 at a glance

1. Alex Pietrangelo, D
2. Patrik Berglund, C
3. T.J. Oshie, C
4. Lars Eller, LW
5. Ian Cole, D
6. Aaron Palushaj, RW
7. Jake Allen, G
8. Philip McRae, C
9. Ben Bishop, G
10. Cade Fairchild, D
11. Steve Wagner, D
12. Jonas Junland, D
13. Brett Sonne, C
14. David Warsofsky, D
15. Nicholas Drazenovic, C
16. Nikolai Lemtyugov, RW
17. Jay Barriball, C
18. Kristoffer Berglund, D
19. Simon Hjalmarsson, LW
20. Marek Schwarz, G

The Blues Top 20 has a decidedly different feel to it than last fall as David Perron and Roman Polak have since graduated while players such as Marek Schwarz and Nikolai Lemtyugov left to play in Europe. Others like Jake Allen and Brett Sonne have experienced breakout seasons, asserting themselves among the elite prospects in a Blues organization already loaded with young talent.

1. Alex Pietrangelo, D – 8.5C

6’3, 206 pounds
1st round, 4th overall, 2008
January 18th, 1990

Pietrangelo began the season with the Blues out of training camp. During his eight games, the right-handed defenseman showed the fluid skating and deft puck-handling that had been so highly touted.  However, he still was pretty raw and on Nov. 14, Pietrangelo was returned to the OHL for more development. Upon returning to the OHL, the right-handed defenseman posted 11 points in his first five games. While he has cooled off statistically, he has been dominant in both zones, controlling the play at will. Currently with 8 goals, 20 assists in 30 games, Pietrangelo has nothing left to prove in the junior level and there is no reason to think he will not only once again join the Blues NHL roster out of training camp next year but stay for good.

2. Patrik Berglund, C – 8.0B

6’4, 210 pounds
1st round, 25th overall, 2006
June 2nd, 1988

An early Calder Trophy favorite, Berglund sits currently tied for third in points among NHL rookies this season with 17 goals, 21 assists in 57 games. With injuries to forwards Andy MacDonald and Paul Kariya, Berglund has seen increased responsibility, often playing on the Blues top power-play unit. The slick Swede has proven to already be an adroit two-way forward, demonstrating good instincts on the back check. It is his offensive play that is so impressive. Planting himself in front of the net or in the slot is his preferred method of scoring goals but he has a good enough slap shot and one-timer to score off the rush and from the high slot. His puck distribution has improved steadily as the season has gone on. One facet of his game that could stand major improvement is faceoffs. He is beat cleanly on the draw far too often. His size, strength, and skill as well as the fact he is still growing suggest that Berglund will only get better.

3. T.J. Oshie, C – 8.0B
6’0, 194 pounds
December 23rd, 1986
1st round, 24th overall, 2005

If not for 24 games missed due to ankle injuries, Oshie would be among those in contention for the Calder Trophy. Instead, he will have to settle for a successful rookie campaign in which has posted 9 goals, 14 assists in 36 games, establishing him as one of the many bright up-and-coming talents of the NHL. Often put on wing instead of his natural center position, the forward has seen success on the power play this season, scoring five goals, playing mostly on the second unit. Although Oshie possesses natural goal-scoring ability and shows willingness to pay a physical price to score goals, he is more of a playmaking forward. He is also very adept at using his speed to create passing and scoring lanes for teammates.

4. Lars Eller, LW – 7.5C

6’0, 198 pounds
May 8th, 1989
1st round, 13th overall, 2007

Eller is a forward currently playing for Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg of the SEL. Originally from Denmark, he is considered an offensively gifted two-way forward. Able to play both wing and center, Eller has a good first pass, a diverse array of shots, and has shown flashes of gritty, physical play. Still, his best assets are his speed and vision. In his first full season in Sweden’s top level of hockey, Eller has proven able to perform at a high level at a young age, posting 11 goals, 14 assists in 47 games, only further fueling speculation of him coming to North America next fall. Eller’s mix of skill, speed, and two-way play makes him an ideal linemate for one of the Blues young centers.

5. Ian Cole, D – 7.5B
6’1, 211 pounds
February 21st, 1989
1st round, 18th overall, 2007

Cole has already exceeded last year’s total of 20 points as Notre Dame’s top defenseman with 6 goals and 16 assists in 33 games. While Cole is considered to have raw offensive ability, it is his physical play that defines him as a player. The thick-framed blueliner has shown a diverse package of skills this season from clearing the front of the net to manning the point on the power play. Cole may plan to go pro next season or return for his junior year.

6. Aaron Palushaj, RW – 7.0B
6’0, 185 pounds
September 7th, 1989
2nd round, 44th overall, 2007

Teaming with Louie Caporusso at Michigan to pick up offensive slack left by former teammates Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, Palushaj has followed a successful freshman season with an even more productive sophomore one. Not only is he closing in on last year’s point total of 10 goals, 34 assists with 10 goals, 31 assists in just 33 games, but he has also played an increased role on both special teams. Although he plays with a pass-first mentality, Palushaj has the instincts of a goal scorer. This season he has shown the ability to score off the rush, in front of the net, in high-traffic areas, and alone in the slot. He has also shown a willingness to mix it up along the boards, and pay the price around the net. Considered close to NHL ready, Palushaj needs to further fill out his frame to withstand the rigors of a long professional hockey season.

7. Jake Allen, G – 7.5C
6’2, 175 pounds
August 7th, 1990
2nd round, 34th overall, 2008

Drafted last summer, Allen has quickly established himself as one of the Blues best goaltending prospects. In his first season as a starter, he is among the top-ranked goaltenders of the QMJHL with a 2.85 goals against average, 1607 shots faced, a .917 save percentage, and three shutouts. Allen is also one of the main reasons the Montreal Juniors, who have difficulty scoring goals, remain in playoff contention. As a young goaltender, Allen demonstrates many favorable traits such as an acute ability to follow the puck through traffic. He is swift with his glove hand and shows good instincts as to when to freeze the puck or to play it. Regardless of the uncanny poise Allen has shown early on, he is a still fairly raw. He has another year of junior to go.

8. Philip McRae, C – 7.0C
6’3, 191 pounds
March 15th, 1990
2nd round, 33rd overall, 2008

McRae has experienced a breakout season in 2008-09, already exceeding last season’s totals of 18 goals, 28 assists. A former teammate of Erik Johnson, Ian Cole, and Cade Fairchild for the USA Under-18, McRae brings to the Blues organization a mix of sandpaper and skill. Playing for a London Knights team that is expected to compete for the Memorial Cup, McRae has little left to prove in at the junior level of competition. McRae has the mind, body, and skills to be a power forward but will need to further fill out his 6’3 frame to play his preferred style of game. After producing 27 goals, 30 assists in his first 44 games, he has only 2 goals, 1 assist in the month of February.

9. Ben Bishop, G – 7.0C
6’7, 205 pounds
November 21st, 1986
3rd round, 85th overall, 2005

One of the biggest players in the Blues organization and among the biggest goaltenders in professional hockey, Bishop has had a rollercoaster of a first full professional season. Starting out the season in Peoria, Bishop was called up to the NHL on October 21st and made his NHL debut on the 24th. But with less than 16 minutes left to go in his second NHL game, Bishop sustained a lower-body injury and was placed on injured reserve until Nov. 6. Upon Bishop’s return, he played his third NHL game, a shootout loss against the San Jose Sharks before being returned to the AHL. Bishop has continued to play between Peoria and St. Louis this season, most recently making two appearances in December. Bishop’s play has steadily improved over the season, but he has just a .897 save percentage, 2.81 GAA and 15-16-1 record.

10. Cade Fairchild, D – 7.0C
5’11, 186 pounds
January 15th, 1989
4th round, 96th overall, 2007

An undersized defenseman with brilliant puck-moving abilities, Fairchild has assembled an impressive sophomore season despite a lackluster showing at the 2009 IIHF World U20 Championship. Still considered to have a lot of potential, Fairchild’s crisp outlet passes and smooth puck-handling have made him an offensive specialist, power-play quarterback, and leading defensive scorer on his team with 8 goals, 21 assists in 30 games – almost double what the next defenseman has scored. Never expected to be a physical player at 5’11, Fairchild has increased his level of physical play this season and shown a willingness to get in shooting lanes and block shots.  

11. Steve Wagner, D – 6.0B
6’2, 190 pounds
March 6th, 1984
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007

The Minnesota native is a gritty defender who, coming out of training camp, was slated as a mid to bottom-pairing defenseman on the Blues. By the middle of October, it looked as though Wagner carved out a niche, playing on the second units of the power play and penalty kill as well and taking a regular shift at full strength. The Blues found themselves in a 2-7-1 slump in early November however, and by the time the slump had been broken, Wagner was a regular healthy scratch and eventually sent to the AHL on Nov. 27. Since his return to Peoria, Wagner has been called up and returned on many occasions, never seeming to be able to secure a spot on the roster.

Some of Wagner’s struggles can be blamed on the situation, but Wagner will never be an offensive force as shown by his modest 2 goals, 2 assists in 22 games in the NHL this season, and his 6 goals, 13 assists in 34 games in the AHL. If he wants to remain in the NHL, he must display a greater level of consistency in his own end.

12. Jonas Junland, D – 7.0C

6’2 198 pounds
November 15th, 1987
3rd round, 64th overall, 20006

Playing his first season in North America, Junland’s debut did not go as planned as he sustained a shoulder injury before the season began. Sidelined until October 25th, the slick Swede made an immediate impact with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL, posting eight points in his first 15 games. Because of his success in the AHL and the injuries to the Blues lineup, Junland was given a one-game cup of coffee December 18th. Although Junland is the top-scoring defenseman on the Peoria Rivermen with 10 goals, 16 assists in 52 games, his increased emphasis on defensive play and crisp outlet pass suggest he may be better suited for a two-way role in the NHL.

13. Brett Sonne, C – 7.0C

6’0, 184 pounds
May 16th overall, 1989
3rd round, 85th overall, 2007

Sonne flew under many people’s radars last year because he missed 43 games to injuries. While there were questions about how quickly he could rebound, there are none now. He was a  part of Team Canada’s gold medal winning team in the 2009 WJC and among the top scorers in the WHL with 46 goals, 46 assists in 57 games. Since returning from the tournament, Sonne was among the most offensively productive players in the WHL going on a 16-game, 31-point streak from January 18th to February 20th.

The Alberta native is strong on his skates and uses his speed to create most of his offensive opportunities. He uses his superior leg strength to shake off defenders and drive to the net. While Sonne is 6’0, 184 pounds, he has a thick frame and should fill out at around 200 pounds.

14. David Warsofsky, D – 7.0C
5’9, 170 pounds
May 30th, 1990
4th round, 95th overall, 2008

A captain for the 2007-08 USA Under-18 team, there was never any doubt about Warsofsky’s abilities to lead his team on and off the ice. The only doubt was whether at 5’9, his abilities would successfully translate to professional hockey on the blue line. In his first season at Boston University, Warsofsky has transitioned well into college hockey so far, playing on both special teams and showing a knack for joining the rush. He has 3 goals, 14 assists in 33 games, good for fourth among defensemen on veteran team. The only major knock on Warsofsky is his frame. He is still too easily pushed around in his own zone and will need to bulk up if he expects to go pro. 

15. Nicholas Drazenovic, C – 7.0C

6’2, 182 pounds
January 14th, 1987
6th round, 161st overall, 2005

In his second professional season, Drazenovic has continued to improve in all facets of the game, but most notably he has learned to use his speed and vision to play better defensive hockey. His current totals of 9 goals, 18 assists in 58 games is off the production from last season but is a reflection of the Rivermen’s struggles to create offense. While it is not yet known if his offensive ability will translate into NHL success, he does have the vision, speed, and hockey sense to at the very least be a proficient checking forward if not a solid middle-six contributor.

16. Nikolai Lemtyugov, RW – 7.0D
6’0, 176 pounds
January 15th, 1986
7th round, 219th overall, 2005

A talented winger with a scoring touch, Lemtyugov got off to a strong start for the Rivermen, posting 5 goals, 14 assists in his first 27 games.  Regardless, the Blues felt that he had not progressed enough to deserve to be called up to the NHL.  Disappointed with his initial assignment to the AHL and with the Blues assessment of his progress, Lemtyugov headed for Russia to play for the Cherepovets Severstal of the KHL. Lemtyugov is under contract with the Blues through the 2009-10 season and will likely return to North America next fall to give the NHL another shot.

17. Jay Barriball, F – 6.5C

5’9, 167 pounds
May 27th, 1987
7th round, 203rd overall, 2006
Acquired via trade in 2007 (San Jose)

A teammate of Fairchild at Minnesota, Barriball established himself as one of the more intriguing prospects in the Blues system this season. After a down year in 2007-08 in which Barriball scored just half a point a game, the 5’9 forward has returned with a vengeance, back to his point-a-game pace from 2006-07.  He has 9 goals, 20 assists in 29 games so far. Offensive ability has never been a question for the forward. His major impediment has always, and will continue to be his size. At only 167 pounds, his frame looks too slight to be able to withstand the rigors of a full season of professional hockey.

18. Kristoffer Berglund, D – 6.5C
5’10, 180 pounds
August 12, 1988
5th round, 125th overall, 2005

Passed over in 2006 and 2007 drafts. the 20-year-old Berglund is a mobile skater with good puck distributing instincts. His first pass is crisp and with 3 goals, 22 assists in 51 games for Lulea in his first SEL season. While not a physical player by any means, Berglund is smart and is able to use his speed and instincts to compensate for any lack of physical play in his zone. Still he needs to add strength to his upper and lower body as he gets knocked off the puck fairly easily.

Because SEL rink sizes are four meters wider and a meter shorter, Berglund will have to adjust his style of play to a more north-south game to play in North America. His mobile skating and crisp outlet pass suggest that he should be able to make that transition fairly well.

19. Simon Hjalmarsson, LW – 6.5C
5’11, 170 pounds
February 1st, 1989
2nd round, 39th overall, 2007

Hjalmarsson has been among the top performers for Boras HC, the minor-league team for Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg of the SEL with 14 goals, 19 assists in 40 games. He also played a strong tournament for Team Sweden in the 2009 WJCs, with six points in six games.

The hard-working forward has a good wrist shot and above-average passing ability but he is most noted for his good work ethic and two-way abilities. He has also shown a knack for killing penalties. Still, if the native of Varnamo, Sweden expects to play in North America, he will have to add a fair amount of muscle to his 170-pound frame. 

20. Marek Schwarz, G 7.0F

6’0, 180 pounds
April 1st, 1986
1st round, 17th overall, 2004

Failing to make the NHL roster out of training camp, Schwarz was recalled in late October because a hip injury to Manny Legace but only saw spot duty in place of an injured Ben Bishop. That would serve as the high point in this season for Schwarz as he was returned to the AHL shortly thereafter and after about a month in the AHL, was demoted to the ECHL. The former first-round pick struggled mightily in the ECHL, posting a 3.15 goals-against-average in five games before returning to Europe in late January to finish out the season. 

Although Schwarz remains under contract for the remainder of this season, he will be a restricted free-agent next summer. He’s likely out of the Blues long-term plans, but could resurface with another club.