Blues Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Robby Lewis

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Alex Pietrangelo, D – 8.5C
2. T.J. Oshie, F — 8B
3. Lars Eller, C – 8.0C
4. Ian Cole, D – 7.5C
5. Aaron Palushaj, RW – 7.5C
6. David Rundblad, D – 7.5C
7. Jake Allen, G – 7.5C
8. Brett Sonne, C- 7.5C
9. Philip McRae, C – 7.0C
10. Jonas Junland, D – 7.0C
11. Cade Fairchild, D – 7.0C
12. Simon Hjalmarsson, LW – 7.0C
13. Kristoffer Berglund, D – 7.0D
14. Ben Bishop, G – 6.5C
15. David Warsofsky, D – 7.0D
16. Anthony Nigro, C – 6.5C
17. James Livingston, RW – 6.5C
18. Ian Schultz, RW – 6.5C
19. Sergei Andronov, RW – 7.0D
20. Jay Barriball, C – 7.0D

1. Alex Pietrangelo, D – OHL Niagara

Drafted: Round 1, 4th overall, 2008
Born: 1-18-1990
6’3, 206 lbs

Pietrangelo was sent back to the OHL from the Blues last fall before he reached the nine-game limit for junior players. The smooth defenseman had one assist in eight games with the Blues, and scored eight goals with 21 assists in 36 games with the IceDogs. Pietrangelo looked very confident and poised for his age during his time in St. Louis, and continued to be the best player on the ice during most shifts for Niagara. Pietrangelo also played for the Rivermen of the AHL during the final weeks of their season.

Pietrangelo has a good shot at making the Blues team during training camp, and staying there, especially with Ian Cole staying with Notre Dame another year. All parts of Pietrangelo’s game are solid, and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a top-pairing defenseman for the Blues.

2. T.J. Oshie, C – NHL Blues

Drafted: Round 1, 24th overall, 2005
Born: 12-23-1986
5’11, 170 lbs

Oshie debuted with the Blues to start the season, but was hampered with an ankle injury that would not go away. The former Fighting Sioux returned for good in February, and became a force in March when he was rookie of the month after posting 13 points in 14 games.

The scrappy American can play all three forward positions and plays much bigger than his body should allow him too. He hits very hard. Oshie was shuffled around lines all season, but will find a full-time home on a scoring line. He has the total package.

3. Lars Eller, C – Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg
Drafted: Round 1, 13th overall, 2007
Born: 5-8-1989
6’0, 198 lbs

The oft-injured center finally stayed healthy this season and reminded St. Louis why they made him a first rounder. Eller had 12 goals and 17 assists in 48 games in the SEL. He led the team with a plus-13 rating, and remains arguably the top defensive-forward prospect in hockey.

During the Blues’ recent rookie camp, Eller caught lots of eyes with his aggressive play. He looked really solid on offensive rushes, but can get back on the defensive side in a split second. He already provides an NHL-caliber shot and has amazing vision. He has said he is willing to go down to the Rivermen if that’s what St. Louis deems, but if Eller stays healthy, it will be hard for the Blues to demote him.

4. Ian Cole, D – Notre Dame

Drafted, Round 1, 18th overall, 2007
Born: 2-21-1989
5’11, 215 lbs

It was hard to imagine Cole’s stock rising any more after his productive 2007-08 season, but the physical defenseman had yet another stellar season for Notre Dame. He continues to get bigger and stronger. Opposing forwards never look too eager when they see Cole standing in their way.

Cole had his best offensive season to date, scoring six goals and adding 20 assists in 38 games. He still likes to get physical, but he knows he is more valuable out of the penalty box. While opting to stay at Notre Dame for another year is not what St. Louis wanted to hear, they are willing to wait.

5. Aaron Palushaj, RW – University of Michigan
Drafted: Round 2, 44th overall, 2007
Born: 8-7-1989
6’0, 185 lbs

Palushaj continues to show all of the signs of becoming a top-six forward in the NHL. He does not stray away from physical play, and has one of the quickest wrist shots out of the Blues’ prospects. Palushaj’s decision to become pro makes his eventual NHL debut that much sooner.

The reason his stock continues to rise is because of his consistency. Palushaj never takes a night off, and was Michigan’s go-to guy for a big goal. While he is a passer first, Palushaj’s goal numbers will go up as the level of talent he plays with does. It is likely Palushaj will get his first taste of the NHL at some point this season.

6. David Rundblad, D – Skelleftea HC
Drafted: Round 1, 17th overall, 2009
Born: 10-8-1990
6’2, 189 lbs

Rundblad was 10th on the Blues’ draft board, and the choice for a defenseman surprised many, but it shouldn’t have. The Blues have made defense a top priority, and Rundblad just adds more depth to a very talented core. Rundblad’s specialty is his ability to move the puck into the offensive zone.

Scoring 10 assists in the SEL is no small feat, and Rundblad did so as an eager teenager trying to earn his stripes. With a full season under his belt, Rundblad will only get more confident and learning with men is the way to do so. The talented Swede looks very steady for a player of his age, and plays both the offensive and defensive sides of the ice.

7. Jake Allen, G – QMJHL Montreal Juniors

Drafted: Round 2, 34th overall, 2008
Born: 8-7-1990
6’2, 175 lbs

This past season, Allen took great strides at becoming a great netminder. He helped lead the Juniors to a winning season. His save percentage jumped from .907 to .913. The Canadian goalie also figured out how to steal games for his team. On nights when Montreal could not find offense is when Allen usually played his best. He didn’t always win, but he kept his team in the game.

Allen is very quick in net and plays a controlled butterfly style. The Blues want Allen to get more experience before they bring him to the crowded goalie competition in Peoria.

8. Brett Sonne, C – WHL Calgary Hitmen
Drafted: Round 3, 85th overall, 2007
Born: 5-16-1989
5’11, 200 lbs

What a difference a year makes. Sonne became one of the Blues’ top offensive prospects after a stellar season with the Calgary Hitmen, scoring 48 goals and adding 52 assists. He was the WHL Player of the Year.

No longer considered a potential third line forward, Sonne showed that he can excel on both ends of the ice. He is a quick skater and works hard at his forechecking. The Blues likely do not have room on their roster for Sonne this season, but he will get a chance to show what he can do in Peoria. If his numbers translate professionally, we are looking at another future top-six forward for the Blues.

9. Philip McRae, C – OHL London Knights

Drafted: Round 2, 33rd overall, 2008
Born:  5-15-1990
6’2, 189 lbs

McRae looked much better in his third season with the Knights. Deemed by some draft gurus as a reach last year, McRae scored 29 goals and added 31 assists in 59 games for the Knights. During the Blues’ Pro-Orientation Camp in July, McRae and T.J. Oshie thrilled eager fans with their chemistry. McRae looked like much like an NHLer.

The son of former NHL player Basil McRae, the young McRae still has a ways to go on his skating. But he is working on it. If he improves his skating, McRae will have a very bright future.

10. Jonas Junland, D – AHL Peoria
Drafted: Round 3, 64th overall, 2006
Born: 4-15-1987
6’2, 198 lbs

After fighting past an early shoulder injury, Junland was very good in his very season in North America. He had 13 goals and 18 assists in 70 games with the Rivermen, but he continued to improve on his defensive play, which was always his Achilles heel.

The Blues liked what they saw of Junland in training camp last season, and if not for the injury, Junland might be a regular in their lineup now. He does everything right, and has never had an attitude problem. The only thing working against him is a very deep defense pool in St. Louis.

11. Cade Fairchild, D – University of Minnesota
Drafted: Round 4, 96th overall, 2007
Born: 1-15-1989
5’11, 186 lbs

Fairchild lived up to his reputation this season as an offensive defenseman. His point total jumped from 15 to 33 and he did this is in 35 games instead of 40. His good outlet pass has become great, and he is electric on the power play. His hard slap shot is very tough for goalies to stop.

The Minnesota native still needs to become more responsible with his defensive assignments. Too many times last season, Fairchild was on the wrong side of an odd-man rush. While his offense is what makes him intriguing, he must find a way to balance it with his defensive game.

12. Simon Hjalmarsson, LW – Boras HC (Swe-1)
Drafted: Round 2, 39th overall, 2007
Born: 2-1-1989
5’11, 169 lbs

The hardworking Swede seems like the forgotten man in the deep pool of St. Louis prospects. After a disappointing 2007-08 season without former linemate Eller, Hjalmarsson bounced back with 14 goals and 19 assists in 40 games in the Swedish farm league, showing that he still possesses the offense seen before.

Although size is not on his side at 5’11, Hjalmarsson can deliver bone-chilling hits and is very tough to knock off the puck. He is a smart player and knows that he will not always be able to outmuscle players. His wrister is second to none on this list, and could have a good rookie year in the SEL if he is given the chance this season.

13. Kristoffer Berglund, D – Lulea HF

Drafted Round 5, 125th overall, 2008
Born: 8-12-1988
5’10, 180 lbs

Berglund put up great numbers in his first year in the SEL. He scored three goals and added 22 assists in 52 games, which led all defensemen on his team. Often criticized because of his size and inability to play physically, Berglund did not change his game after moving to the next level. He continued to do what brought him to the dance, play smart and create opportunities for his offense.

The Swede will not overpower many people, but he will outsmart a lot of them. He knows what to do with the puck when he’s outnumbered. If Berglund makes the jump to North America, he probably won’t be stuck in the AHL.

14. Ben Bishop, G – Peoria

Drafted: Round 3, 85th overall, 2005
Born: 11-21-1986
6’7, 205 lbs

The 6’7 goaltender appears to be stuck in a stalemate with himself. After three great seasons with the University of Maine, Bishop has been sub-par in his time in Peoria. Fighting for playing time was an issue, but a .897 save percentage and 2.81 GAA are not what the Blues want from Bishop.

Still intrigued by his size, the Blues are eager to see what Bishop can do as the full-time starter in Peoria. He will have to outplay Chris Holt to get this, but the signing of Ty Conklin means he will probably not be yo-yoing between St. Louis and Peoria as much. This may be Bishop’s last chance to wow St. Louis before Jake Allen turns pro.

15. David Warsofsky, D – Boston University
Drafted: Round 4, 95th overall, 2008
Born: 5-30-1990
5’8, 160 lbs

Part of the national champion Boston University team, Warsofsky looked very good on the offensive side of the ice this season. He led Hockey East freshmen defensemen with 23 points in 45 games. His size was not an issue while on the offensive, but he was exposed on the defensive side of the ice at times.

Warsofsky is very quick and knows what to do with the puck. He is not a defensive liability, but he must build muscle in order to make up for his size. If he gets a little bigger, he can become a serviceable offensive defenseman in the NHL.

16. Anthony Nigro, C – OHL Ottawa 67’s
Drafted: Round 6, 155th overall, 2008
Born: 1-11-1990
6’0, 189 lbs

After being traded to the 67’s, Nigro showed the offense that got him drafted. In 67 total games, he scored 30 goals and added 39 assists. The change of scenery gave him a more offensive role in a more offensive system. With Ottawa, Nigro looked like the power forward he showed glimpses of before. Power forwards are lacking on the Blues, and Nigro could end up being the missing piece to that puzzle in a few years. It is more likely he will end up being a solid role player.

17. James Livingston, RW – OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Drafted: Round 3, 70th overall, 2008
Born: 3-8-1990
6’1, 200 lbs

Livingston’s offense was a bit of a disappointment this season. He scored 20 goals and added 17 assists in 37 games. The offensive drop was not the surprising part. Livingston had a minus-26 rating and was a liability on the defensive side of the ice. His PIM decreased too, but this was more because Livingston became better at not taking bad penalties.

He delivers some of the hardest checks in the OHL, and he knows what to do with the puck when given the opportunity. Chances are, if Livingston can figure out what he is doing wrong defensively, his offensive game will gradually come back too.

18. Ian Schultz, RW – WHL Calgary Hitmen
Drafted: Round 3, 87th overall, 2008
Born: 2-4-1990
6’1, 179 lbs

The tough forward showed the Hitmen what they wanted to see this season. He was the team’s secondary enforcer, but also stayed on the ice enough to put up good offensive numbers. He had 15 goals and 26 assists in 58 games to go along with 127 PIM.

Schultz has the potential to be the player that every team needs to have. He can score garbage goals, but also stick up for his teammates.

19. Sergei Andronov, RW – KHL Tolyatti Lada
Drafted: Round 3, 78th overall, 2009
Born: 7-19-1989
6’0, 183 lbs

Playing for a defense-first team, Andronov scored eight goals and added four assists in 47 games. His stock rose greatly this season, after not being drafted in previous years.

Andronov is rarely beaten to loose pucks, and he adds a bit of grittiness when he’s on the ice. When given the chance to score, Andronov does not often disappoint. Because he has had the chance to play a tight defensive system, he could conceivably become a very good two-way player.

20. Jay Barriball, C – University of Minnesota

Acquired: In trade with San Jose in 2007
Born: 5-27-1987
5’9, 155 lbs

Barriball bounced back with a solid junior season at Minnesota — 11 goals and 23 assists in 34 games. This was coming off a season where he had just 21 points 41 games. Barriball looked like the same player that the Blues traded Bill Guerin for in 2007, and the 5’9 forward achieved this with his dedication.

Barriball is a team leader and is never satisfied with his game. He is always looking to make himself and his teammates better. He hit a rough patch, but battling back with a good season shows that he can work past adversity. He could find himself still in the Blues’ plans, but he must show that he has put his offense together.

Missing the cut

Jori Lehtera, C – Tappara Tampere
Drafted: Round 3, 65th overall, 2008
Born: 12-23-1987
6’2, 191 lbs

The Finnish forward showed again that he is a top playmaker. He scored nine goals and added 38 assists in 58 games with Tampere. Lehtera is constantly a force offensively on the ice and knows how to use his big body to hold onto the puck. When he has the puck in the offensive zone, goalies are not at ease.

Lehtera still has to come a long way defensively to bring his game to North America. He uses his size offensively, but he seems too ready to roll over on the defensive side. He tends to get frustrated at himself, and this is not something St. Louis likes to see.