St. Louis Blues 2013 draft preview

By Suraj Sukumar

Jaden Schwartz - St. Louis Blues

Photo: Jaden Schwartz, selected 14th overall in 2010, skated in 45 regular season and six playoff games for the St. Louis Blues in 2012-13 (courtesy of Keith Gillett/Icon SMI)

Prior to the trade deadline, the St. Louis Blues tried to acquire enough talent to make a push for the Stanley Cup. While the additions of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold helped solidify the depth and experience of their blue line, they were unsuccessful in making a run for a championship and lost both young talent and draft picks in the process. In the Bouwmeester deal, the Blues gave up Mark Cundari, Reto Berra, and a conditional first round draft pick, which would be exercised if the Blues made the playoffs. The Blues did make the playoffs and were forced to give up their 2013 first round draft pick to the Calgary Flames.

Even though the Blues traded their first round draft pick, they have had ample success in finding quality talent later in the draft. Furthermore, the Blues have already stacked their closets with several coveted prospects including Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Ty Rattie. Their AHL affiliate team last season, the Peoria Rivermen, had a significant amount of Blues’ draftees trying to find their footing at the professional level. Though the Rivermen missed the playoffs, their 39-33-2-2 record is a good sign for the future and the Blues’ younger talent. All in all, the Blues are stacked in some areas, and require attention in others, but whether the 2013 NHL Draft is the answer remains to be seen.  

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW
2. Jaden Schwartz, LW
3. Jake Allen, G
4. Ty Rattie, RW
5. Dmitrij Jaskin, RW
6. Jordan Binnington, G
7. Jordan Schmaltz, D
8. Jani Hakanpaa, D
9. Cade Fairchild, D
10. Joel Edmundson, D

Team Needs

The two most important positions for the Blues to address are center and defense. While the wingers and goaltenders in the system are quite strong, there is a clear lack of quality players down the middle and on the blue line. Furthermore, the Blues gave away two draft picks for Leopold, who will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this off-season. With a lack of quality defensemen, the Blues will need some of their defensive prospects to step up and fill the void if Leopold remains unsigned. At center, the Blues are lacking high-end prospects and have key players becoming free agents. Alexander Steen becomes a UFA next season and Patrik Berglund is currently a restricted free agent. It will be essential for the Blues to re-sign both Steen and Berglund or suffer from a distinct lack of talent at center with very few options at their disposal.

The Blues have a significant amount of contract and roster issues to address, with 16 restricted free agents and six unrestricted free agents. Of the free agents listed, the most notable players are Alex Pietrangelo (RFA), Kevin Shattenkirk (RFA), Chris Stewart (RFA), Patrik Berglund (RFA), Jake Allen (RFA), Jamie Langenbrunner (UFA), and Jordan Leopold (UFA). Many of these players are not only key players for the Blues, but will come with a hefty price tag. The Blues have almost $24 million in cap space and will most likely use that money to sign their elite RFAs like Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. Furthermore, the talent of the Blues’ best players seem essential pieces of the franchise, providing a safety net for the Blues to develop their young talent elsewhere. As a result, training camp will be the best indication of the current prospect pool’s NHL-readiness.  

Organizational Strengths

While the goaltending prospects remain strong in the Blues’ organization, primarily due to Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington, the right wing position boasts incredible talent. In general, the Blues have some of their most talented prospects on the wings. While the depth at left wing is bleak, Jaden Schwartz leads the pack and could stand out as one of the best left wing prospects in the NHL. As a result, the Blues have above average talent at both left wing and goaltending and will continue to develop their players in the system before giving them a chance at the pro level.  

At right wing, the three-headed dragon of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ty Rattie, and Dmitrij Jaskin gives the Blues one of the best groups of right wing prospects. Tarasenko started his NHL career on a tear before getting injured and suffering from concussion like symptoms. He ended his rookie campaign with 38 games played, eight goals, and 11 assists. He appeared in only one of the Blues' playoff games. Ty Rattie had another immaculate showing in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks, scoring 110 points (48 goals, 62 assists) in 62 games. He was also a staggering plus-56. In 21 playoff games, he scored 20 goals and 36 points. He has put in his time at the junior level and will see a great deal of playing time at the pro level, as he should be joining the Blues' new AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, this coming season. However, if he has a solid training camp, he could start the season with the Blues. Lastly, Dmitrij Jaskin started slow in the Czech Republic but had a ridiculous season with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL this past year. He did well enough to earn himself a two game stint at the NHL level. Regardless of where he starts next year, he seems to be coming into his own in North America. If these three prospects remain with the Blues, they will each be a major part of the club’s future.

Organizational Weaknesses

As mentioned earlier, the Blues are in need of higher-end prospects at both center and defense. Several of the Blues’ prospects at center and defense are depth players, and will need to improve their skills to be considered potential top-six forwards or top-four defensemen in the future. Evgeny Grachev is the most productive center at the pro level and he is set to become a restricted free agent. However, his 26 points in 76 games shows the lack of high-end talent at center in the Blues’ organization. Currently, Max Gardiner is one of the more promising prospects at center for the Blues. The 21-year-old had a solid rookie season in the NCAA with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Gardiner scored three goals and 19 assists in 27 games, proving his playmaking abilities at the collegiate level. Nevertheless, the quality of skilled prospects at center is limited, and most of the prospects have been unable to stand out in the AHL.

On the blue line, the Blues were able to trade one of their more productive defensive prospects in Mark Cundari for Jay Bouwmeester. The trades involving both Bouwmeester and Leopold are evidence of the Blues’ lack of experienced and talented defensemen ready for the NHL. Several of the defensive prospects in the Blues’ system have spent time in the ECHL, primarily due to lackluster production at the AHL level. With some of these players reaching their prime age in the near future, the lack of offensively gifted and reliable two-way defensemen is quite evident. On the other hand, Jordan Schmaltz, Jani Hakanpaa, Joel Edmundson, and Cade Fairchild are the few defensemen that provide a hopeful future for the Blues’ blue line. These players are still young and have consistently demonstrated improvements in their game. There are currently five defensemen signed with the NHL club, and the Blues still have a few key players to resign. Judging by the current state of the defensive corps at the NHL level, the Blues should be willing to give their younger prospects a chance next season.  

Draft Tendencies

Without having a first round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Blues need to find talent in the later rounds to replenish their prospect pool. In the past five years, the Blues have really capitalized on their first round picks. In 2008 they drafted Pietrangelo, David Rundblad in 2009 (traded for 16th overall pick in 2010), both Schwartz and Tarasenko in 2010, and Jordan Schmaltz in 2012. It will be difficult to find this level of talent in the later rounds of the draft, but the Blues do have six picks throughout the draft to find the necessary pieces for their organization.

Interestingly enough, the Blues have had tremendous success in the later rounds of the draft. In 2011, the Blues had three second round picks to go along with their original picks from rounds three to seven. Even without a first round pick, the Blues were able to come away with Ty Rattie, Dmitrij Jaskin, Joel Edmundson, Jordan Binnington, Yannick Veilleux, Niklas Lundstrom, and Ryan Tesink. In addition, the Blues were able to draft their current captain David Backes in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, while Max Gardiner was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft. They also drafted Ben Bishop in the third round in 2005, which earned them Ottawa’s second round pick this year. Needless to say, the Blues have proven success drafting in the later rounds, and will need the same success in this year’s draft.

The Blues have drafted heavily from North America in the last three years, particularly from the WHL, QMJHL, and U.S. junior and high school leagues. They have selected prospects from overseas with consistency in the past three years, favoring Sweden and Finland, but only one pick in 2012 was used on a player developing overseas.

The Blues will go into the 2013 NHL Entry Draft with six total picks, including the 47th (acquired from Ottawa in exchange for Ben Bishop), 83rd, 94th  (acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for B.J. Crombeen), 113th, 173rd, and 203rd picks. The Blues traded their own first round pick in 2013 to Calgary in the Jay Bouwmeester deal and their own second round pick to Buffalo in the Jordan Leopold deal.