Tarasenko continues reign as top prospect in St. Louis

By HF Staff
Photo: Ty Rattie joins a diverse and talented group of forwards in St. Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Strength at forward is what defines the current crop of prospects for the St. Louis Blues. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz continue to lead the Blues prospect pool though new additions Ty Rattie, Dmitri Jaskin, and Evgeny Grachev bring some additional depth.

1. (1) Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, 8.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 16th overall, 2010

The St. Louis Blues were hopeful this would be the year super-prospect Vladimir Tarasenko exits the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia and makes the jump to North America. That day has been put on hold with Tarasenko electing to return to play for his Father and Sibir Novosibirsk for at least one more season. The belief inside the organization is Tarasenko will come over in 2012 but it is not a guarantee.

Tarasenko plays a North American style game with his willingness to engage physically. From the top of the circles down he skates through contact and has no trouble controlling the puck in traffic. He’s extremely gifted offensively and can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. Tarasenko has limited weaknesses in his game, bringing a world class shot, explosiveness, and hockey sense to the ice. He’s been playing against men for several years now including the World Championships this past spring. He’s been more productive than most players his age who have come through the KHL including Alexander Ovechkin. Scouts love his ability to play big in big games. He captained Russia’s Gold-Medal winning World Junior team last January recording 11 points in the tournament.

2. (2) Jaden Schwartz, C/W, 8.0B
Drafted 1st Round, 14th overall, 2010

Schwartz came as advertised recording 47 points in his freshman season with Colorado College. He was limited to just 30 games played due to a broken ankle he suffered representing Canada in the World Junior Championship.

The Wilcox, Saskatchewan native is projected as top six forward once he reaches the next level. His versatility allows him to play center or wing. He can also play the point on the power play, something he did in the WJC without ever having played there before. How well he handled playing the point on the big stage against world class competition impressed several people inside the organization.

Schwartz’s high level of hockey sense and superb vision are what separates him from the pack. He has terrific hands and elite level playmaking ability. His ability to make others around him better and raise the overall sense of his teammates has the Blues excited down the road.

He still needs to get stronger, playing NCAA hockey where he’ll spend more time in the weight room should help him put on some added muscle. There is no rush to get him to the next level although many believe he could leave college after his sophomore season.

3.(3) Jake Allen, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd Round, 34th overall, 2008

Allen is coming off an exceptional rookie season straight out of junior where he racked up 25 wins as well as an invitation to the AHL All-Star game. He’ll look to improve off an already impressive 2.53 goals against average and .917 save percentage not to mention six shutouts. There is no rush when it comes to goaltenders and Allen is no exception. Spending at least one more season will allow the organization to further evaluate him and definitely won’t hurt his development.

He’ll go into the season as the number one goaltender in Peoria and will have the opportunity to play two out of every three games on the 76 game schedule. The Blues firmly believe he has potential to one day develop into a number one NHL goaltender.

4. (4) Ian Cole, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st Round, 18th overall, 2007

Ian Cole is on path to eventually earn a spot as a top four NHL defenseman. He split time between St. Louis and Peoria in 2010-11 playing 26 NHL games.

Cole has the strength and body to step right into the NHL but will likely spend one more season bouncing up and down between the AHL and the NHL. He’s a quality first-pass defenseman who can kill penalties and even contribute on the second unit power play if needed. He has also shown the willingness to step up and eliminate opposing puck carriers.

5. (5) Philip McRae, C, 7C
Drafted 2nd Round, 33rd overall, 2008

Philip McRae is a highly skilled offensive player who projects to be a fulltime NHL player in the near future. Like Cole, McRae is a product of the U.S. National Development Program. He was able to get his feet wet in 2010-11 as the Blues were hit hard with injury, and managed three points in 15 NHL games. At times he looked overmatched as his strength isn’t near where it will be once he’s fully developed. Many in the organization feel he’ll play at 220-225 pounds once he filled out. Combine that with his 6’2 frame and he will be more than big enough to handle the grind that comes with playing in the NHL.

McCrae also understands the game at a far more mature level than his peers. Being the son of former NHL player Basil McRae certainly will help his eventual transition to the NHL. He’ll battle for a spot in training camp but will likely spend most of the season in Peoria.

6. (9) Brett Ponich, D, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2009

Ponich is a left-shooting defenseman entering his first year of professional hockey. He packs imposing size at 6’7 to go along with a powerful punch that earned him the reputation as one of the tougher players in the Western Hockey League.

Coming off a serious left knee injury that required surgery, Ponich was limited to just 45 games played last season. He’s a rangy kid that will need to improve his skating but scouts love his ability to move the puck under pressure. He’s no different than a lot of highly touted prospects as he needs time to develop both on and off the ice. His combination of size, toughness, and hockey sense has the Blues organization excited about his future.

7. (8) Jori Lehtera, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 65th overall, 2008

Jori Lehtera will enter his second season in the KHL teaming up with Blues super prospect Vladimir Tarasenko in Sibir. After putting up 37 points in 53 KHL games last season with Lokomotiv, Lehtera is inching closer to making the jump to North America and joining the St. Louis Blues. The organization still thinks highly of him and projects him as a third line NHL center. Some sources believe he compares well to Ville Leino, another Finnish player who has transitioned nicely to the NHL. Prior to joining the KHL, Lehtera led the Finnish Elite League in scoring with 69 points in 57 games during the 2009-2010 season. He joined Peoria for a handful of regular season and playoff games in 2009. Lehtera signed an entry level contract with the Blues in 2010.

8. (7) Jonas Junland, D, 7C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2006

Junland enters his first season with Barys in the KHL after playing last season with Farjestads in Sweden. Junland remains a tough one to figure out after turning down one-way NHL money in 2010 to return to his native country. Sources indicate Junland was frustrated with the lack of commitment shown by the Blues during the 2009-2010 season in which he saw only three NHL games. He does have some upside with his ability to move and shoot the puck and is fairly mobile. Junland remains property of the Blues until he becomes eligible for free agency when he turns 27.

9. (NR) Ty Rattie, RW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2011

Ty Rattie returns to the Portland Winterhawks after a productive summer that saw him add 11 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame. He played on a line with 2011 first overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) and Blues prospect Jaden Schwartz during Canada’s recent World Junior evaluation camp where he managed Rattie three points in two games.

Rattie a kid the Blues feel needs to be surrounded by high-end players to reach his full potential. He has a good feel for the game and can beat people one-on-one along with his ability to move the puck. The Blues know he needs time to develop but believe he has very strong top six NHL potential down the road.

10. (NR) Dmitri Jaskin, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2011

Entering his second season in the Czech Elite League, Dmitri Jaskin is coached by former NHL forward Vladimir Ruzicka. The forward likes to play a physical North American brand of hockey which was on display when he posted five points in six games representing the Czech Republic in the 2011 World Junior Championship. He plays a high energy game and doesn’t pass up an opportunity to run an opponent. At 6’1 and close to 200 pounds Jaskin is a big body who likes to bang, drive the net, and protects the puck well.

The Blues project him as a top nine forward down the line.

11. (NR) Evgeny Grachev, LW, 7C
Acquired via trade with New York Rangers, June 25th, 2011

Grachev is an interesting prospect who remains very young with a lot of offensive upside. Many believe he would have better transitioned to the pro game had he stayed one more season in the Ontario Hockey League.

He has terrific hands and a quality NHL shot that can beat goaltenders from the outside. At 6’2, 224 pounds with six percent body fat, Grachev has the physical tools to play in the NHL. He will be expected to compete for a role on the NHL roster in training camp but will more likely start the 2011-12 season in the AHL.

12. (10) Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 6B
Acquired via trade with Washington, July 28th 2010

Della Rovere plays a style that fits exactly where the game is headed. He's an energy guy who skates well enough to have an expanded role once he's ready to become a fulltime NHL player. He’s a strong young man who knows how to play the agitator role but can also kill penalties. Della Rovere will likely start the season in Peoria where he’ll try and improve on his eight goal season in 2010-11. He’ll likely to see some call-up duty as he did in seven NHL games with the Blues last year. The Blues are anxious to see how he performs in training camp.

13. (16) Cody Beach, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 134 overall, 2010

Scouts will quickly point out Cody Beach is more than just a tough guy looking to run you through the boards. With that being said he did rack up 395 career penalty minutes in 111 Western Hockey League games. At 6’5 and nearing 200 pounds Beach is a physical force who can also make a high-end play. He has good enough hockey sense to make wise puck decisions. He’s consistently shown the ability to find the back door or find the trailer.

Beach brings a level of intensity to the ice unmatched by many. His biggest challenge as he turns pro will be to find ways to be effective every shift. Beach has one more year of junior eligibility and will play in the WHL for the 2011-12 season.

14. (11) Sebastian Wannstrom, RW, 6C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2010

Sebastian Wannstrom has dealt with some nagging injuries which have slightly held him back. He didn’t see a ton of ice with Brynas once he was called up to the Swedish Elite League, but needs to play at the highest level as he has nothing left to show at the junior level.

It could be argued his game still isn’t quite ready to be an impact player at the elite level either. He obviously needs to work hard and get stronger but the Blues are high on him as evident by him signing this past summer. The organization believes he has good hockey sense who can be an effective third line player down the road.

15. (17) Cade Fairchild, D, 7D
Drafted 4th, round 96th, overall, 2007

Cade Fairchild is another draft pick entering his first year of professional hockey. The Blues believe he could one day develop into a top four defenseman. At 5’11 Fairchild isn’t the physical specimen of former prospects Erik Johnson or Alex Pietrangelo but he has an all around game that gives him value. He’s a left shot defenseman who can kill penalties, play the power play, and is an overall good puck mover who up 93 points in 149 career games at the University of Minnesota. The Blues will show some patience with Fairchild who definitely is a prospect.

16. (NR) Jani Hakanpaa, D, 7D
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010

At 6’5 many people believe Finnish defenseman Jani Hakanpaa is still growing. Huge compete level and determination are often words attached to Hakanpaa. He may be one step behind but he finds a way to get himself back into the play and finish off an opponent. Scouts fully understand he isn’t close to being a finished product yet they rave about the physical presence he brings to the ice. He plays with an edge and won’t hesitate to take a run at an opposing player. His skating will have to improve and is probably the most glaring weakness in his game.

The Blues believe he’s solid number five with good enough hockey sense to where he could max out as a number four. He recently captained the Finnish national team who came over to play Team USA at the World Junior selection camp. He’ll play in the Finnish Elite League this season.

17. (NR) Joel Edmundson, D, 6C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2011

Joel Edmundson enjoyed a nice transition going directly from Midget AAA to Moose Jaw in the WHL. At 6’5 the 18-year-old is more than capable of taking care of himself and his teammates. He put up 95 penalty minutes in his first WHL season en route to becoming the 46th overall NHL selection. Edmundson has earned a reputation of being able to take and deliver a punch. In addition to his toughness, the blueliner has a cannon of a shot that routinely hits 98 miles per hour. He can also see the ice and competently distribute the puck.

He remains a raw prospect but some scouts believe he’ll meet their expectations four years from now. He could max out as a third-pair defenseman and with his heavy shot could also be used as second unit power play point man.

18. (12) Mark Cundari, D, 6C
Signed as a free agent, September 24th, 2008

Mark Cundari signed as a free agent after winning two consecutive Memorial Cups with Windsor in the OHL. He’s a small body who can move the puck. Cudari is a guy who flat out competes and finds success no matter what role he’s put in. Many inside the Blues organization believe he is a legit prospect who will play in the NHL. He is a strong body who can skate, fight, and should develop as a shutdown defenseman. His coaches are constantly finding ways to use him whether it’s on special teams or on the wing where he was used at times last season. In 69 games with Peoria Cundari recorded 30 points and 106 penalty minutes.

19. (NR) David Shields, D, 6C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2009

David Shields is a quality prospect entering his first year of professional hockey. The Blues signed the hard shooting defenseman in 2011 and believe his game has plenty of room to grow. At 6’3 and closing in on 220 pounds, Shields has plenty of strength to handle his end of the ice. He sees the ice well and makes a strong first pass with the ability to find the second guy. He’s a guy who got better each year in the OHL and could surprise some people down the road.

20. (NR) Jordan Binnington, G, 7D
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2011

The Blues grabbed Owen Sound goaltender Jordan Binnington in the third round of the 2011 entry draft. Last season he stole the number one job as a 1993 birth year which isn’t all that common for a goaltender. He was named top goaltender at the 2011 Memorial Cup even though he posted a 1-2 record. The Blues like his ability to elevate his play in big games. Binnington has a lot of developing to do but the organization sees some upside in the former Vaughn King.

Article was written by Andy Strickland.