The St. Louis Blues have several European defensemen in the pipeline and a few are making a name for themselves in Europe. Finnish goaltender Ville Husso is certainly the biggest name in terms of talent in Europe but the Blues have never shied away from drafting international players. The team has had great success scouting various European leagues over its history, including 1978’s selection of Risto Siltanen, and 1995’s picks of Michal Handzus and Jochen Hecht. Not all their European picks have ended up playing for the Blues, but those that have recently (Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Vladimir Tarasenko to name a few) are impact players in the NHL.
The Blues have had a similarly strong tradition of scouting the NCAA, going back as far as the team’s selection of Curt Bennett out of Brown University in the 1968 Draft. Nowadays, the Blues have Jordan Schmaltz and Colton Parayko making a splash at the pro level with others well on their way. Similar to European prospects, drafting from the college ranks allows the Blues to fight for a championship while also maintaining a strong prospect group. Notably 2012 third-rounder Mackenzie MacEachern is already on his way to the pros after a three-year career at Michigan State.
Ville Husso, G, HIFK Helsinki (Liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 94th overall, 2014
Climbing the ranks among fellow Blues prospects, Husso has become a recognizable name in terms of young goalies and has been impressive throughout his European career. He had a 0.927 save percentage and 1.91 goals against average in 39 games for HIFK Helsinki and has been their go-to netminder since the 2013-14 season. It was rumored that Husso could be interested in making his way to North America as early as next year. However, given the number of goaltending prospects, it will be difficult to guarantee him a similar role outside of Europe.
Husso is now leading his top-seeded team in the Liiga playoffs and has been absolutely lights out in the postseason. His strong numbers suggest he is poised for the important games and his experience throughout the playoffs will be important for his development.
Husso is a good sized goaltender but maintains a strong athletic presence. After playing at the professional level as a teenager, his experience with a top European club has certainly primed him for a strong debut in North America. While he has proven to hold his own against his age group and European talent, it will be interesting to see how well he can adapt to the professional level in North America.
Niko Mikkola, D, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2015
Making an appearance for the first time on the spring Blues Top 20, Mikkola is a big defenseman but has a lot to learn. His overall game needs improvement and his lack of compete level against his own age group at the World Junior Championships gives cause for concern. He was unable to keep up with fellow u-20 prospects and his below average skating ability was an obvious issue. To be better prepared for the next level, Mikkola needs to become a better skater and a more consistent defensive presence at the European level. On the bright side, his nine points this season compared favorably with other juniors playing in Finland’s top league.
Santeri Saari, D, HPK Hameenlinna (Liiga)
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2013
In what has been a long process of development, Saari is still a raw talent who is missing a sound and reliable defensive game. In this his first full season in the Liiga, Saari had three goals and six assists, both career highs at any level of hockey. However, his minus-9 rating is the worst of his career, reflecting a team that struggled to keep the puck out of its net. Similar to many of the Blues European prospects, Saari has plenty of work do to in preparation for the North American game.
Jani Hakanpaa, D, Karpat (Liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010
With his rights still technically belonging to the Blues, Hakanpaa is coming off an impressive season in Europe and was able to take on a much larger workload this season. Playing behind plenty of talent in the AHL, Hakanpaa made his way to Europe garner more playing time. He finished the season with a goal, 11 assists and a +15 rating in 60 games. He is a strong physical presence and has good skating ability for his size. His much-improved two-way ability will certainly be welcomed but it remains to be seen if he will stay in the Blues organization.
Konrad Abeltshauser, D, Munich EHC (DEL)
Drafted 6th overall, 163rd overall, 2010
In a similar situation as Hakanpaa, Abeltshauser could not maintain a consistent role with the Chicago Wolves and departed to Europe for a larger role. The Blues placed him on unconditional waivers and subsequently terminated his contract.
Sam Kurker, RW, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2012
Kurker struggled with the college game over a season and a half with Boston University and ended up in the USHL due to transfer restrictions. He now finds himself playing for Northeastern University. He is in his third year of college hockey and had a respectable six goals and 12 assists in 41 games as a depth player for the Hockey East champions. Kurker has slipped significantly behind other Blues prospects and seems a long shot to become an NHL regular. A player who turns 22 later this week, Kurker still has an opportunity to improve and earn an entry-level deal after next season.
Mackenzie MacEachern, LW, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2012
MacEachern completed his NCAA career with Michigan State University as an offensive size threat but has plenty of work to do as a defensive player. His -19 rating was his worst at the college level and it could take some time for him to get acclimated to the pros. His offensive skills and skating ability are his best assets but he will need to develop a better overall game. He showed consistent improvement at the college level and, unless he has a very strong training camp, should spend time with the Wolves next season.
Jake Walman, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2014
One of the most exciting defensive prospects in the Blues camp, Walman is a dynamic skater with impressive offensive abilities. While his defensive game needs improvement, his ability to man the power play and create offensive opportunities will be a welcome addition when the time comes. In his second season, Walman scored 13 goals and 15 assists in just 27 games before going down with an injury. He required season-ending surgery which cut his sophomore season short.
Most of the Blues defensive prospects are big, physical players and Walman adds speed and finesse to the group. He has another season of college hockey left and should be ready for the pro level when his NCAA career comes to a close.
Austin Poganski, RW, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2014
After Walman, by far the most impressive Blues prospect at the college level has been Poganski, who improved drastically over the course of the season. He has helped his team qualify for the NCAA Frozen Four and will take on Denver in the first game. He is a strong two-way player and has improved his overall offensive awareness during his time in college. Turning only 20 years old in February, Poganski had nine goals and 15 assists in 42 games and should be an intriguing prospect to follow heading into next season.
Dwyer Tschantz, RW, Cornell University (ECAC)
Drafted 7th overall, 202nd overall, 2014
As a sophomore, Tschantz saw very similar offensive production as his freshman year. His two goals and three assists in 20 games are identical to last season and his -4 rating is much of the same. Praised primarily for his size, Tschantz impressed the training staff during this year’s training camp but has a lot to prove as an overall player. At 6’5” and 220 pounds, Tschantz could be a force but needs to develop his raw abilities into consistent production. With very little improvement from last season, Tschantz will need to make major improvements as a junior next season.
Justin Selman, C, Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Signed as free agent, March 2016
The newest Blues prospect finished up an excellent senior season with a Michigan team that was heavy on the offense. For his part, Selman had a career-best 31 points in 38 games, anchoring a team that spent a lot of time watching a superlative top line work its magic. He added two shorthanded goals this season to a respectable total of 67 points in 113 collegiate games. As he grew into a responsible role, he became a steady scorer, but Selman’s calling card will be his defensive ability. He brings a well-rounded game with faceoff and penalty-kill ability and should prove to be a smart, low-cost addition to the prospect group, joining a long list of Wolverines who have translated their college experience into pro results. Selman has already joined the Wolves for the remainder of this season on an amateur try-out.
Prospect of the Month
After having an impressive stint with the Blues, Ty Rattie had a rather slow February with just one goal in 10 games. However, Rattie turned things around in March and was certainly the best Blues prospect during that time. He scored three goals and eight assists in 13 games which was his best month of production all season. Criticized for his size for most of his young career, Rattie has proven to be a solid offensive producer and a good playmaker for the Wolves and could start the season with the Blues next season.