Forward talent leads the way in St. Louis Blues mid-season Top 20

By Suraj Sukumar

Jaden Schwartz - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Rookie winger Jaden Schwartz played a prominent role in Peoria during the NHL lockout, but since the start of the Blues season, he has skated in a bottom-six role in St. Louis (courtesy of Steven King/Icon SMI)

The St. Louis Blues have found a way to be successful at the NHL level and still maintain a very deep prospect pool. With draft selections primarily out of the top ten picks, the Blues have drafted extremely well to maintain a talented group of players at all positions.

Judging by the Top 20, the Blues’ primary weakness lies at the center position. While there are a few college players in the pipeline, the Blues will need to use the upcoming draft to increase the talent level of their center prospects.

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

Tarasenko enjoyed a very productive KHL campaign before making his way over to North America for the shortened NHL season. He scored five points, three goals and two assists, in his first two games and was looking like an early favorite to win the Calder Trophy. However, after sustaining an injury in late-February, Tarasenko has yet to find the same groove he had earlier in the year.

The Blues will hope that Tarasenko does not become injury prone at such a young age, while also trying to consistently develop his skills and understanding of the North American style of hockey. In any case, there is no question that Tarasenko is currently the best prospect in the Blues’ system, and it is only a matter of time before he gets his groove going once again.

2. (2) Jaden Schwartz, LW, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 14th overall, 2010

Schwartz is a former college prospect for the Blues and has proven his skill at several levels of hockey. Starting the 2012-13 campaign with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL, Schwartz was able to score nine goals and 10 assists in 33 games. After the lockout, Schwartz became a part of the Blues right out of camp.

On any other team, this could have been the year for Schwartz to demonstrate his skills at the NHL level. However, due to the incredible depth at the wing position, most of Schwartz’s time with the Blues has been in a bottom-six role. While his skills have been on display sporadically, his leadership skills and two-way ability will become a great asset for the Blues in the future.

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

During the NHL lockout, Allen was getting plenty of experience at the AHL level with the Rivermen. In 38 AHL games played, Allen is currently 13-19-2 with the Rivermen, posting a 2.89 goals against average and .904 save percentage. After unexpected problems at the NHL level, including injuries and poor play, Allen was given the chance to play in the NHL this season.

He has appeared in 15 games and is 9-4-0 with a 2.46 goals against average and .905 save percentage. Clearly, Allen is considered the goalie of the future in St. Louis. If things do not shape up sooner for the Blues, Allen could find himself starting in the NHL a lot more than he expected this early in his professional career. So far, he has been seizing the opportunity.

4. (3) Ty Rattie, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2011

Rattie has been nothing short of dominant throughout his WHL career. Playing with the Portland Winterhawks, Rattie has been an integral part of the team’s success over the course of his junior career. In 2012-13, Rattie had 48 goals and 62 assists throughout the regular season and is currently playing a major role for the Winterhawks throughout the WHL playoffs. Playing in the Memorial Cup and the World Junior Championships, Rattie has accomplished as much as he can as a junior player, and he will be making the jump to the pros in the very near future. The major concern for Rattie will be how long it takes him to transition his skills to the pro level, but time is on his side.

5.  (10) Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2011

Jaskin could be the best surprise of the 2012-13 campaign.  After starting his professional career in the Czech Republic, Jaskin’s first season in the QMJHL was phenomenal. In 51 games, Jaskin amassed 46 goals and 53 assists, while also scoring one goal and three points in five playoff games.

After his stellar showing, the Blues signed Jaskin to an entry-level contract and have already called him up to the NHL. Jaskin has yet to score in two games with the Blues, but his showing in his only junior season has given him a chance to skate with the big club down the stretch. There could be no better opportunity for him to prove his skill is ready for the pro level.

6. (11) Jordan Binnington, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2011

Binnington is becoming quite the goalie prospect as the 2012-13 season comes to a close. Along with making the Canadian World Junior team, Binnington has become the cornerstone of the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL. He started 50 games during the regular season and posted a record of 32-12-6, to go along with a 2.17 goals against average and .932 save percentage.  So far in the playoffs, Binnington has managed a 6-5-1 record with a 2.81 goals against average and .916 save percentage.

His domination at the junior level proves his readiness to move up to the pro game, but like many goaltending prospects, his NHL future will depend on how quickly he can make the jump. The skills are there, and now he needs to be tested against better talent. The Blues have several goaltenders to choose from on the roster, so Binnington will have plenty of time to get his game together at the AHL level.

7. (15) Teemu Eronen, D, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2011

Eronen has been developing his skills in the SM-liiga and has become a major part of Jokerit Helsinki. During the lockout, he had the privilege of playing with one of the NHL's best defenseman in Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, which could have only have a positive influence on his game.

His performance with the Finnish club has steadily gotten better, and with his contract up in the coming season, it will be interesting to see what the Blues decide in terms of his future. While his points held steady from 2011-12, his defensive game got significantly better. If he chooses to make the switch to North America, Eronen could use some time in the AHL to become comfortable with the North American rink and style of play.

8. (7) Jordan Schmaltz, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2012

Schmaltz is another college level prospect that the Blues have selected through the entry draft. Starting in the USHL, Schmaltz is currently playing in his first season at the University Of North Dakota of the WCHA. In his freshman year, he has amassed three goals and nine assists in 42 games.

While he remains a high level prospect in the Blues` system, Schmaltz will have plenty of time to hone his skills at the college level before making his jump to the pros. At only 19 years old, Schmaltz is very young and will only get better with time.

9. (9) Jani Hakanpaa, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 104th overall, 2010

Even though Hakanpaa spent most of his season with the Espoo Blues in the SM-liiga, he has made his way over to the Peoria Rivermen to finish out his 2012-13 campaign. In 14 AHL games played, Hakanpaa currently has a goal and three assists. While his offensive output was not substantial in the SM-liiga, his current production in the AHL is definitely a good sign. If he can finish the season strong, he could get a chance at the NHL level in the coming season. Nevertheless, at just the age of 21, Hakanpaa`s professional career has just begun and he will have ample opportunities to improve his game.

10. (6) Cade Fairchild, D, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2007

Drafted out of the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2007, Fairchild had four solid years at the University of Minnesota before making the jump to the pros in 2011-12. During a solid rookie campaign with the Rivermen, Fairchild got a five game stint with the Blues, where he managed just one assist. He finished the season with the Rivermen, posting eight goals and 34 points in 68 games.  This season, Fairchild has played in 43 games and amassed just eight assists. It was reported that leg injuries troubled him all season, and after having knee surgery, he has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

As his rating deduction would indicate, Fairchild has seen a tremendous decline in performance since his college days and AHL rookie season. If he can return to the same level of play he displayed a year ago, Fairchild may still have a chance at an NHL career. However, at 24 years old, he needs to start improving at the AHL level to have a full-time chance with the big club.

11. (12) Joel Edmundson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2011

Edmundson has seen his stock rise quite nicely as his WHL career comes to a close. After being traded to the Kamloops Blazers to compete for a championship, Edmundson has been very productive. After scoring just two goals and six assists in the first 29 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Edmundson scored seven goals and ten assists in the next 34 games with the Blazers. He has played in 12 playoff games so far this year and has two goals and five assists, proving why it was a good idea for the Blazers to trade for him.

His abilities are undeniable, and after gaining the experience of a deep playoff run this season with the Blazers, Edmundson will have enough experience to try his luck at the professional level. The Rivermen could really use a boost in offense from the blue line, and Edmundson could provide just the two-way ability they need next season.

12. (8) Philip McRae, C, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2008

The first center on the list, Phil McRae has had some trouble getting used to the pro level of hockey. After managing a very respectable OHL career, McRae has spent the last three seasons with the Rivermen. In his rookie year, McRae impressed with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 46 games, but has seen a drop in production ever since. The Blues gave him a chance during his professional rookie campaign, but he managed just a goal and two assists in 15 games.

In 2012-13, McRae has just seven goals and 11 assists in 45 games with the Rivermen. He has yet to post a plus-rating in any of his AHL seasons, and his overall production has just not been same since his OHL career. Even though he is just 23 years old, McRae has a lot to improve on if he wishes to get back to the NHL.

13. (19) Yannick Veilleux, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2011

At just 20 years old, Veilleux could quite possibly be another steal in the draft. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft, Veilleux has steadily improved in the QMJHL. In 2012-13, Veilleux scored 34 goals and 39 assists in 65 games. He posted a solid plus-15 rating to go along with 102 penalty minutes.

After his impressive performance with the Moncton Wildcats this year, Veilleux has been given the opportunity to demonstrate his talents at the professional level. In 2012-13, Veilleux has played in eight games with the Rivermen, scoring two goals and adding an assist. So far, Veilleux is making a smooth transition to the pros. If he can continue his current pace and finish with a strong AHL performance, Veilleux will be looked at very closely at the start of the 2013-14 NHL season.

14. (18) Ryan Tesink, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 162nd overall, 2011

Tesink is another player that could prove to be a great pick, especially for the sixth round. Throughout his junior career in the QMJHL, Tesink was lucky enough to play with some of the best talent in the league, including highly touted prospect Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA). Not including his rookie campaign, where he scored 35 points in 59 games, Tesink has been a point-per-game player ever since. He was traded to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the middle of the 2012-13 season, and has amassed one goal and three assists in six games, limited for much of the season by a knee injury. While Tesink has shown tremendous improvement at the junior level, he will need to make a successful transition to the next level if he hopes to have the same impact at the professional level.

15. (13) Sam Kurker, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 56th overall, 2012

Kurker is one of the youngest prospects in the Blues` organization. Born in 1994, the 19 year old is playing his first year of college hockey at Boston University. In 35 games, he has just three goals and two assists. While these numbers are nothing special, Kurker is still very raw and will have plenty of time to find his game as a college player. He was given increased responsibility with BU over the course of the season, including powerplay time, which will only help him grow as a hockey player. While Kurker is a ways away from joining the Blues, his future is looking quite bright as he continues to get better.

16. (16) MacKenzie MacEachern, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 67th overall, 2012

If there is any example of raw talent within the Blues’ organization, it is MacEachern. After making the jump straight out of high school, MacEachern has spent his first season of hockey with the Chicago Steel in the USHL. In his first 50 games with the Steel, MacEachern has scored eight goals and 13 assists, which is very impressive for a kid right out of high school.

Like Kurker, MacEachern has demonstrated great skill as he continues to improve his game, and he will have ample time to continue working towards a pro career. MacEachern, who is committed to Michigan State, is still far from being considered for either professional levels of hockey in North America.

17. (NR) Colton Parayko, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2012

Parayko is a  defenseman who played in his rookie campaign with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks this season. In 33 CCHA games played, Parayko amassed four goals and 13 assists. Even though he is just 19 years old, Parayko has demonstrated solid skill in his rookie campaign with the Nanooks. Like many of the other college prospects in the Blues` organization, there will be plenty of time for Parayko to improve his game and become a reliable professional player down the line.

18. (NR) Niklas Lundstrom, G, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2011

With such depth at the goaltending position, it is very difficult for any prospect to get recognition in net. Lundstrom is currently ranked behind both Allen and Binnington. He has been trying his luck with AIK of the Swedish Elite League but has yet to find very much success as a pro.

In 2012-13, Lundstrom has started just 14 games while posting a .901 save percentage and 3.10 goals against average. With the stellar performances of his fellow netminders in the Blues` organization, Lundstrom will more than likely stay in Sweden for the near future.

19. (NR) Max Gardiner, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2010

While the center position remains the weakest, Gardiner rounds out the list of college prospects within the Blues` organization. After starting out with the University of Minnesota, then playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, Gardiner performed significantly well with Pennsylvania State University of the NCAA. In 27 games played, Gardiner scored three goals and 19 assists, good signs of a playmaking center.

Gardiner will have the opportunity to play a tougher schedule in 2013-14 as Penn State transitions to the new Big Ten Conference. If he does perform to the same level as his 2012-13 campaign, Gardiner could get his chance at the pro level. Nevertheless, he will have to hone his skills at the college level before making the jump to the pros.

20. (NR) Sergei Andronov, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2009

Andronov`s success as a professional hockey player is questionable at best. He spent several seasons in Russia, primarily with Tolyatti Lada and CSKA Moscow of the KHL. His statistical output, limited in part due to his small role, in Russia was extremely poor, but he seems to have found a bit more success in North America.

Andronov has played the 2012-13 campaign with the Rivermen, and in 59 games played, he has already tied his career high in goals (8), and set a new career high in assists (11), earning an NHL contract in the process. He is already 23 years old and will need to drastically improve his performance if he wishes to play at the NHL level down the line. For now, he seems to be making the right strides to improve his game in the AHL, and will likely continue to do so for the near future.