John Davidson and his staff made bold moves to improve the St. Louis Blues this offseason. While they traded away top prospects, David Rundblad and Lars Eller, their organizational depth has not suffered. With a young and talented group of NHLers, the Blues are looking to their shrewd drafting and development to keep building towards Stanley Cup contention.
The left wing is the weakest area for the Blues as their left wing prospects are lacking in upside and depth.
The Blues traded tough-guy DJ King for Stefan Della Rovere, who has a reputation for playing on the edge. Despite that reputation, John Davidson may have found a bargain. Della Rovere is a veteran of two World Junior Championship teams and was the captain of last year’s Barrie Colts. While he won’t score a lot of goals, he is a workhorse who will help establish a forecheck and he is willing to drop the gloves. In 13 games for the Rivermen, he has five points and 26 penalty minutes.
Stephen MacAulay is a sixth round pick from 2010 who looks, at this point in his career, to be little more than a player who can bring energy and size to the ice.
Matthew McCollem is another energy forward who is currently in his senior year at Harvard.
Despite trading away Lars Eller in the Jaroslav Halak trade, the Blues still boast a deep stable of centers. Their most talented is 2010 first round selection, Jaden Schwartz. The 18-year-old is an effective scorer and playmaker who has already posted some impressive achievements. As a 15-year-old, he set a single season record for points while at Notre Dame Prep in Saskatchewan, surpassing the mark set by Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. Last year, in the USHL, Schwartz posted 83 points, which is the most by any player since Thomas Vanek racked up 91 points in the 2001-02 season.
While he is not the swiftest skater, Schwartz has a nose for the puck, his teammates, and the back of the net. He may be a few years off, but Blues fans should be very excited about his prospects. Through ten games, Jaden has scored eight goals with six assists and 20 penalty minutes for Colorado College, playing alongside his brother, Rylan.
In his first year in the AHL, Philip McRae has handled the move from the OHL seamlessly. Through 12 games, McRae has posted nine points and has played an important role for the Rivermen as they have surged to eight wins in their first 13 games. He has shown improvement in his footwork, while continuing to show off the puck skills that made him a top prospect.
Brett Sonne, a third round pick from the 2007 draft, has endured a tough start to the 2010-11 season. Through 13 games he has not posted any points, and that production is a disappointment after he finished last season strongly.
Veteran Riverman center Nicholas Drazenovic has gotten off to a torrid start this season. Through 12 games, he has racked up nine points. The sixth round pick continues to produce for the organization and should get a call if there are any injuries with the Blues this season. He is a victim of a very deep and very young NHL team.
2010 third round draft pick Max Gardiner is a project, but may develop into a power forward in the NHL. It is likely he will be a depth forward, but he has intriguing size and a good compete level, so it is possible he continues to progress. He is currently playing for the University of Minnesota and should get ample opportunity over the next four years to showcase his skills.
Anthony Nigro is playing his first season of professional hockey this year with the Peoria Rivermen. Although he has gotten off to a slow start, his last two seasons with the Ottawa 67’s show that he has offensive potential. He has had a tough time adjusting to the speed of the AHL game.
The Blues do not have many promising prospects on the wings, but John Davidson took a huge step towards eliminating that problem at this year’s draft by trading highly-regarded prospect David Rundblad for a chance to draft Vladimir Tarasenko. The 18-year-old Russian was rated by many as a top-10 talent in the 2010 draft, but there are questions about whether he will play in the NHL, which is why he fell to the Blues.
If Tarasenko does make his way across the pond, the Blues have drafted a dominant forward who can battle in the corners and in front of the net. He has a nose for the net and the skills to play top-six in the NHL.
With their second round pick, the Blues drafted Sebastian Wannstrom from Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. Wannstrom has shown the skills to play an offensive role, and the defensive commitment to play a shut down game. His development and the Blues’ needs may go a long way in determining what kind of player he will grow into.
Tyler Shattock has played 11 games and recorded three points thus far for the Rivermen. His slow start is not an indication of future results. Tyler is a two-time 30 goal scorer in the WHL who will adjust to the professional game. Tyler projects as a power forward in the NHL, who seems to shine brightest under the lights of the playoffs. Playing for the Calgary Hitmen last season, Shattock posted 17 points in 21 postseason games. He raised his level of play, and impressed many, as the Hitmen won the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Sergei Andronov is another skilled Russian winger in the Blues system. He plays the game with speed and skill, and he also has some size. He is currently playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL.
The Blues are blessed with young, top-end talent on the blue line. Alex Pietrangelo leads the list of Blues defensive prospects for another year, although he should graduate after this season. Last year, Pietrangelo had another outstanding season in the OHL, this time with the Barrie Colts. In only 25 games, he racked up 29 points.
In addition to a great Junior season, Pietrangelo also lead the Canadian Junior Team to a silver medal at the World Junior Championships. Although the silver may have been a disappointment for the Canadians, Pietrangelo was named best defenseman in the tournament.
The 20-year-old defenseman is the total package. His size, speed and skills will keep him in the NHL for a long time to come. He has begun this season with six points in his first 12 games.
Ian Cole challenged Pietrangelo for a spot with this year’s Blues all the way through training camp, but came up a bit short. The 21-year-old Cole has gotten off to a slow start with the Rivermen, showing that the front office made a good decision by sending him to the AHL to adapt to the professional game. The young defenseman has of late picked it up however and was recently recalled to the NHL, where he’s skated in two games.
After scoring 44 points for the Peoria Rivermen, Jonas Junland decided to return to his native Sweden to play in the Elite League. Junland has said that it is his intention to return to the Blues. He provides a lot of offense from the blue line, but he must improve his defensive tenacity and physicality.
Cade Fairchild enters his senior season at the University of Minnesota hoping to improve on last year’s numbers. Fairchild struggled along with the rest of the Gophers last year, recording only 21 points after scoring 33 in his sophomore season. Fairchild isn’t a big defenseman, but he is a capable puck-mover. If the Blues decide to sign him to a contract, he could make his debut with Peoria as soon as his collegiate season is over.
Portland Winterhawks defenseman Brett Ponich may be the definition of a late-bloomer. The 6’7, 225 pound Ponich has improved leaps and bounds and may get the chance to use his size in the NHL down the road. Although some of his improvement can be attributed to an improvement in team talent, Ponich has increased his point production in each year of junior play. He has five points and 22 penalty minutes through 16 games this season.
Mark Cundari enters his first season of professional hockey after a stellar final campaign with the Windsor Spitfires. Cundari was a big part of the Spitfires Windsor Cup run with 18 points and 42 penalty minutes in 19 playoff games. Through 11 games for the Peoria Rivermen, Cundari has scored two goals and added six assists while making a strong transition from junior to the professional ranks. If he continues to progress, Cundari should be a solid two-way defenseman in the NHL.
The Blues have a lot of talent in the crease. Jake Allen and Ben Bishop make up what may be the best 1-2 goaltending tandem in the AHL. Bishop has a 5-4-1 record in his10 starts, but what may be more impressive is his .933 save percentage and his 2.19 goals against average. The 6’7 goaltender is an intriguing prospect and could make his mark in the NHL as early as next year.
Not to be outdone by Bishop, Jake Allen has been even more impressive this season, albeit in a smaller sampling. In his three starts, Allen has posted a .970 save percentage and has only allowed three goals. Allen has written an impressive resume through his stellar play. The CHL goaltender of the year, led team Canada to a silver medal at last year’s World Junior Championships.
Article was written by Tim Freitag.