The Chicago Wolves, the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate, have enjoyed a very strong season thanks to several of the Blues prospects who remain on the roster. While a few have been called up due to their impressive play, many of the young players on the Wolves’ roster have come through with solid seasons thus far.
Even though there are a few defensemen playing in the AHL, the majority of success is due to the forwards and goaltending this season. Up front, the Wolves have relished in the production of Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin. On the back end, Jordan Binnington has filled in well for Jake Allen in net and remains the number one prospect in the Blues system.
Jordan Binnington, G, 21
Jordan Binnington has rebounded nicely from his shaky start and seems to be in a time-share situation with Wolves’ goaltender Matt Climie. Climie has now played in 20 games and Binnington 16, but Binnington supports a 10-5-1 record while Climie is 8-8-3. Binnington also has the better individual statistics, maintaining a 2.28 goals against average and a 0.912 save percentage.
With an injury to Brian Elliot, Binnington had a very unlikely chance of joining the Blues. Instead of calling up the 21-year old, the Blues decided to go with a veteran in Martin Brodeur. Although this could be seen as a knock on the young goaltender, Binnington has been developing strongly as an AHL player and disrupting his development would be a tough call for the management team.
Binnginton has continued to impress at every level of hockey and seeing him make a splash in camp next year would not be out of the question. With that said, Binnington should finish the season as the top goalie in Chicago.
Ty Rattie, RW, 21
Always questioned for his size, Ty Rattie has proved the critics wrong at every level of hockey and has been the best offensive player for the Wolves. Leading his team with 15 goals, Rattie has impressed with some highlight reel finishes and continues to be a dynamic offensive player. With such a crowded roster at the NHL level, it would take a large number of injuries or a much more impressive season for the Blues to call up the young right winger.
One of the biggest differences in Rattie’s game is his playmaking. As a junior player, Rattie demonstrated incredible passing ability and bringing back some of that skill would help his overall game tremendously. He has become a solid goal scorer at the professional level, but a more versatile offensive game will help him become a more dominant player. Unless he gets the call, consider Rattie a dominant top-six forward for the remainder of the season.
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, 21
A player that deserves some praise, Dmitrij Jaskin has been stellar all season long and has now played in 16 NHL games this year. Starting in the AHL, Jaskin scored four goals and 11 assists in 18 games to go along with a +6 rating, which earned him a shot in the NHL. In those 16 NHL games, Jaskin has scored four goals and three assists while maintaining a top-six role. If he continues to impress, Jaskin might be able to keep his spot with the big club.
What separates Jaskin from Rattie is his two-way game. He possesses a larger frame and a more physical aspect to his game. He has played for the Blues in each of the last two seasons but looks to be turning heads this year. He is a good skater and can be a strong player in the offensive zone, which should be his main focus as he tries to make the jump to a full-time NHL player.
Cody Beach, RW, 22
The physical side of the game remains Cody Beach’s forte. Over the last two seasons, Beach spent time in both the AHL and ECHL but looks to be a full-time AHL player this year. Primarily a fourth line player, Beach brings a very physical and grinder-style of play which has been very welcomed by the Wolves this year. He has already accumulated 136 penalty minutes in 27 games but has scored two goals and seven assists with a +3 rating. As long as he continues to improve in all facets of the game, Beach should remain a full-time player at the AHL level this year.
Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 23
Developing well at the AHL level, Sebastian Wannstrom played in 14 games before going down with an injury for about a month. He has already returned to the lineup and has scored two goals and seven assists in 17 games. He looks healthy and could be on the verge of a breakout season. Prior to injury his numbers were very solid and he remains a good two-way player as well. If he continues the same success he had prior to missing the month of December, Wannstrom could be a very important part of the Wolves’ success this season.
Yannick Veilleux, LW, 21
After spending the entire season with the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL last season, Yannick Veilleux is trying to find his footing as an AHL player this year. Though he showed some offensive abilities at the ECHL and junior levels, Veilleux has yet to breakout as an AHL player. He is a gritty forward but that added bonus of offensive production always made him a strong second or third line player. Playing in 27 games so far this year, Veilleux has four goals, one assist and 50 penalty minutes. Given his numbers and skill level, Veilleux has a lot of seasoning to do at the AHL level.
David Shields, D, 23
Starting the season on the injury list, David Shields has missed consistent time and has not looked like the same player this year. After a breakout campaign in 2013-14, Shields looks far from replicating similar success this year. Most believers hoped to see more from the blueliner after he demonstrated all-around skill last year, but injuries have made this year a tough one for Shields. In 20 games this year, Shields has just four assists and is a -3. If he can start the new year healthy and show some consistency in his game, Shields should have the ability to turn his season around in the AHL.
Jani Hakanpaa, D, 22
A very welcomed big-bodied defenseman, Jani Hakanpaa has been impressive this year after playing a few games in the ECHL. He has played in 25 games for the Wolves and has scored a goal and two assists. More importantly, Hakanpaa maintains a +3 rating and looks to be bringing his hard-nosed style and physical play more consistently. If he can finish with better numbers than 2013-14, the big defenseman should turn some heads in training camp next season.
Joel Edmundson, D, 21
As reported previously, Joel Edmundson remains on the injury list and has yet to start a game for the Wolves in 2014-15. He was a solid rookie last year in the AHL and should be a productive player once he returns. For now, Edmundson will look to get healthy as the second half of the season rolls around.
Niklas Lundstrom, G, 21
Playing with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, Niklas Lundstrom has been a below-average goaltender. He was a highly-touted prospect as he played in the top Swedish leagues, but his North American debut has been a troublesome one. He currently maintains a 13-10-1 record with a 2.88 goals against average and a 0.896 save percentage. Nevertheless, Lundstrom has good potential and should try to perform better in the second half if he hopes to join the AHL ranks next season.
Ryan Tesink, LW, 21
Making his professional debut this year, Ryan Tesink has been an uneventful story thus far in the ECHL. He too plays for the Aces and has been another disappointment along with Lundstrom. In 19 games so far, Tesink has one goal and 2 assists with a -7 rating. He is a good skater and had demonstrated some offensive gifts throughout his junior career. However, given his inexperience and lack of consistent play due to injuries, Tesink will have to prove a lot at the ECHL level before making the jump to the AHL.
St. Louis Blues Top Performing Non-Minor League Prospects
At the junior level, several players have made major splash since the October update. Most notably, Maxim Letunov has now scored 13 goals and 22 assists in 29 games, after posting eight goals and 12 assists in 17 games approaching the month of December. In the nine games played, Letunov has scored a whopping five goals and nine assists, demonstrating immense improvement in just a month. He is currently playing for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL and the 18 year old should continue to dominate at the junior level.
Highly-touted prospects Ivan Barbashev, Robby Fabbri and Tommy Vannelli are all maintaining their strong seasons and should finish the year as top players in the CHL. Both Barbashev and Fabbri represented their countries well at the World Junior Championships, taking home silver and gold, respectively. Fabbri sustained a high ankle sprain during the tournament that will cause him to miss a month or more. Nonetheless, the experience should make them both better players for the second half of the season.
Another player at the CHL level, Zach Pochiro, has been enjoying another strong season with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. He started the season with the Aces, but was sent back down to the junior level for more seasoning. In 19 games, Pochiro has scored nine goals, nine assists and has been a much more disciplined player so far this year. Given the lack of talent on the Cougars, it is highly likely that Pochiro will miss the postseason once again, but hopefully he can finish with a strong individual season. Samuel Blais rounds out the most notable junior improvements since November and has been a very surprising player in the QMJHL. Blais has scored four goals and 10 assists in 25 games on the season. In just his second year, the 18 year old will have plenty of time to become a more versatile player and improve his defensive game.
At the NCAA level, Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko remain productive blueliners. They both are averaging close to a point-per-game, and maintain major roles for their respective teams. With one more year of college eligibility, and a strong lineup at the NHL level, it seems almost certain that both defensemen will finish their college careers before making the jump to the pros. Nevertheless, both players possess strong skill sets and another year of college hockey will help them improve their game for the next level.
In terms of European prospects, Ville Husso has continued his strong play in net for the HIFK Helsinki squad of the Liiga. He made his second appearance at the World Junior Championships for Finland and was a major part of their tournament. Starting in their first game, Husso lost in overtime but let in just one goal on 37 shots. His counterpart Juuse Saros, a draftee of the Nashville Predators, started the second game but lost to Slovakia. Husso ended up edging Saros out and finished with a .923 save percentage in three games.
St. Louis Blues Prospect of the Month
With a few notable improvements since last month’s article, Petteri Lindbohm stands as the most impressive prospect over the last month. Lindbohm’s success as an offensive player since making his North American debut has been tremendous. After just 23 games, Lindbohm was called up by the Blues and he has maintained a role with the parent club ever since.
Playing in nine NHL games so far, Lindbohm has just one assist but has been trying to improve his overall game. As long as he can prove to be a reliable defenseman at the NHL level, Lindbohm should have the opportunity to demonstrate his offensive skills in the near future. If he does get sent back to the AHL, expect Lindbohm to be one of the most dominant players on the Wolves’ roster.
Follow Suraj Sukumar on Twitter at @Sukumar_S87