Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: St. Louis Blues Prospects
After a trip to the 2016 Western Conference Final, the St. Louis Blues were looking for more in 2017. Early season struggles, especially in goal, meant the Blues were in danger of missing the playoffs when they fired Ken Hitchcock and replaced him with Mike Yeo. The change had immediate effects. Jake Allen went from the worst starting goalie in the NHL, to one of the best, seemingly overnight. The Blues took third place in the Central Division, and quickly disposed of the Minnesota Wild. The Blues would go no farther though. They lost a hard-fought second round series against the Nashville Predators.
This has led to an off-season of change in St. Louis. They traded two first round picks and Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brayden Schenn. They recouped one of those first rounders and added Oskar Sundqvist when they sent Ryan Reaves and a second rounder to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In smaller moves the Blues added Nate Prosser, and Beau Bennett in free agency.
Top Prospect: Vince Dunn
Defense — shoots Left
Born October 29th, 1996 — Lindsay, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, #56 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Dunn put up big numbers in his first AHL season. He scored 13 goals and 45 points in 72 regular season games, and added six points in 10 playoff games.
Dunn is an outstanding skater. He has good speed in both directions, excellent agility, and very good pivots. This mobility defines his game in all areas. He is able to join the rush, and pinch at the blue line but still get back defensively. This is something Dunn takes full advantage of as he pinches in a lot, either to keep pucks in along the boards, or to sneak into an opening in the slot to get a high quality scoring chance.
His speed and quickness make him tough to beat to the outside if properly positioned. Dunn has added strength, but could still use a bit more. He gets pushed around a bit in board battles and in fighting for loose pucks, as well as in front of the net. Some added strength on his skates and balance should come as he matures though.
Dunn is a very good puck-moving defenceman as he combines that skating ability with the puck handling skills to skate the puck out of dangerous areas, and led the rush. Dunn has the ability to stick handle while still moving at top speed that is rare among defencemen, especially at his age. He also has very good vision and passing skills, making strong breakout passes, and quarterbacking the play on the power play. Dunn has a very good wrist shot, with a lightning quick release. His slap shot and one-timer are powerful and accurate. Dunn is everything you could want in an offensive defenceman.
Dunn is willing to use his body to defensively, throwing hits and blocking shots. He could stand to work on his gap control, as he sometimes gives forwards too much room on the rush, when he has the skating ability to really close down and take away their time and space a lot better. As he has matured, he has learned when to take chances and when to cover defensively. He gets caught from time-to-time, but this area of his game is much improved. He’s also reduced the frequency of dangerous passes in his own end. They also have not fully gone away, but he is much better at managing risk.
Dunn is very close to NHL ready. Given his age he will need to earn a top six spot, or head back to the AHL for one more season. The Blues will not want a 21-year-old sitting in the pressbox. The training camp battle for that spot appears to be between Dunn, Prosser, Robert Bortuzzo, Jordan Schmaltz, and Jake Walman.
#2 Prospect: Ivan Barbashev
Center — shoots Left
Born December 14th, 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’0″ — Weight 178 lbs [183 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, #33 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Barbashev put together excellent production in the AHL, with 37 points in 46 games. It earned him a long look with the Blues, where he put up five goals and 12 points in 30 games. Injuries may have provided the opportunity, but Barbashev seized it and proved he belonged in the NHL.
Barbashev has always had good top-end speed, but has really improved his first step quickness and acceleration since being drafted. This adds a new dimension to his game. Barbashev has very good agility and combines this with his great stick handling to elude defenders. His strength on the puck and balance have also really improved this year, and it seems that he has added a lot of core strength which makes him harder to knock off the puck.
Barbashev is a pure sniper, he has a great arsenal of shots with a terrific wrist shot, slap shot, snap shot, backhand and one-timer. These shots also feature an excellent release which can fool a goalkeepers and the puck will be in the back of the net before he knows it. Barbashev also has good stick handling skills, and the creativity and vision to make passes which surprise opponents and set up teammates for easy goals. When he doesn’t have the puck, he does a good job in finding open areas, and easy passing lanes for a teammate to get him the puck. He reads the play well and has a high hockey IQ.
Defensively, Barbashev back checks hard and has good positioning. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes. The consistency in which he is doing this has also improved. There are less games where his effort level is questioned. He must continue to work on his face-off skills if he wants to be a centre in the NHL, or could find himself moved to the wing, where he was sometimes used in junior. Barbashev won 40.1% of his NHL face-offs last year.
Barbashev comes to camp looking to solidify his spot as a full-time NHLer. While nothing is guaranteed, he is likely to earn his place. Barbashev may start out with limited minutes, but his long-term upside is as a potential top six player.
#3 Prospect: Ville Husso
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born February 6th, 1995 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 4th round, #94 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Husso came to North America last season, and quickly adjusted to the different size ice and angles. In 22 AHL games, he put up a 2.37 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He won a battle with Jordan Binnington for the starting job, and got the nod in the playoffs. Unfortunately his playoff numbers don’t look quite as good, but such is the nature of a small sample size and a couple of rough outings.
Listed at 6’3″ Husso may not be huge, but he still has good size for an NHL goalie. He plays a strong butterfly technique and shows strong positioning. Husso comes out to challenge shooters, which makes him appear even bigger in the net. He is a good skater which allows him to challenge, while still recovering in his net on deke attempts. Husso has a very good leg push. This helps him get from side-to-side quickly. He tracks the puck extremely well, taking away one-timer attempts and cross ice passes. His glove hand is especially strong.
Husso has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. He swallows up pucks, and those he can’t he kicks to the corners. His legs are quick and the reflexes good which takes away the bottom of the net. Husso’s puck handling is a weakness though, as he is not the type of goalie to pass the puck up to his defencemen or aid in starting the transition game. He tends to stay in his net though because of this.
Husso is cool and calm in the net. He does not seem to panic no matter how much pressure he is under or how big the game. Husso does not let bad goals get to him, and bounces back quickly. He shows maturity beyond his years. Husso has been a leader in his age group during international tournaments.
Husso is expected to play another season in the AHL. He needs to continue his development, further refining his rebound control, working on his puck handling, and working on consistency. Goaltenders take time, and Husso is not yet NHL ready, but the potential is high.
#4 Prospect: Jake Walman
Defense — shoots Left
Born February 20th, 1996 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 193 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 3rd round, #82 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Walman finished up his junior season with Providence, putting up seven goals and 25 points in 39 games. While the numbers were a downturn from his incredible sophomore season when he had 13 goals and 28 points in only 27 games, part of that is due to the fact that Providence lost a lot of forward talent at the end of the 2016 season. Walman got more attention from opponents on the power play. Some of the plays he created were also not converted at the same rate as they had been in the previous year.
Following his junior campaign, Walman signed an entry-level contract with the Blues. He played in 15 games with the Chicago Wolves (combined regular season and playoffs) putting up four goals and six points.
Walman is an absolute elite skater, and may have been the best skater in the NCAA last year. He has elite speed in both directions. His first step is quick and a smooth, almost effortless stride leads to outstanding acceleration. His edge work, pivots, cross-overs, and agility are all extremely good. He has the type of lateral agility that allows him to quickly walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. In his own zone he rolls off checks and opens up space to clear the puck. Couple this with good balance, and his mobility is off the charts.
This skating ability makes him extremely difficult to beat one-on-one, and able to join, or lead the rush while still recovering defensively and hardly ever getting caught with the level of opposition he faced in college. Obviously, at the NHL level, opponents are even faster, and his skating advantage is reduced. He will need to pick his spots.
Offensively, Walman is poised with the puck. He nearly always makes the right decision on the breakout, whether it is a crisp pass, or skating it out himself and rarely turns the puck over. He has excellent vision and can quarterback the play from the blue line. His point shot has improved over his college career. It is good, but not elite.
Defensively Walman is physical despite being undersized. He loves to throw big hits and battle along the boards. He also battles hard in the corners and in front of his net. As stated, Walman is extremely difficult to beat one-on-one due to his superb skating ability. He is a little raw in his defensive positioning, and will need some coaching on properly reading the play in the defensive zone. This may improve with more experience on the blue line. He also needs to add a bit of muscle mass, but has gotten larger through his college career.
There is a spot open on the Blues blue line. Walman could take it, with an outstanding camp. However, this seems unlikely, as he is starting out behind Schmaltz and Dunn due to his lack of professional experience. Expect Walman to get some experience in the AHL before being ready for full-time NHL duty.
#5 Prospect: Klim Kostin
The Blues drafted Kostin with the 31st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kostin. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#6 Prospect: Robert Thomas
The Blues drafted Thomas with the 20th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Thomas. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Jordan Kyrou
Right Wing/Center — shoots Right
Born May 5th, 1998 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 177 lbs [183 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, #35 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Kyrou had a breakout season with the Sarnia Sting. He scored 13 more goals and 43 more points than he did in his draft year, all in just one additional game. His huge season has him on the radar for Team Canada in the World Juniors, and he was also a standout player in the summer showcase.
Kyrou is a great skater, featuring excellent speed and top-notch acceleration. Once Kyrou gets a step on a defender, he can really turn on the jets and pull away, allowing him to cut wide and still get to the net. He has excellent edge work, and agility. Kyrou can change directions on a dime and makes a wide variety of moves with the puck, allowing him to elude defenders, and find his way through offensive zone traffic. Kyrou has good power in his stride, and excellent lower-body strength that makes him difficult to knock off the puck.
Kyrou is an excellent play maker. He has good vision and the ability to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open before feathering them a tape to tape pass. He reads the play well, and makes good decisions on when to make that pass to an open teammate. Kyrou’s speed makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, however he also controls the puck well in the cycle game and works hard down low. He used his writs shot more this year. He also showed off increased power and a quicker release. Kyrou must add some muscle and weight though. He needs to add additional upper-body strength in order to win more battles along the boards and establish position in front of the net.
Kyrou has already started to develop a strong defensive game. His quickness is extremely valuable for breaking up plays, and transitioning to offense. Kyrou has been a valuable penalty killer on the Sting, cutting down shooting and passing lanes, blocking shots, and working for loose pucks along the boards. He competes hard, but this is another area where some added upper body strength would be very useful in helping to round out Kyrou’s game.
Kyrou will be back in the OHL, and another dominant season is expected. He has a very good chance of making Team Canada for the World Juniors as well. If Sarnia is not competitive in a tough division, he could find himself traded at the OHL trade deadline. Kyrou is likely a few years away from the NHL.
#8 Prospect: Jordan Schmaltz
Defense — shoots Right
Born Oct 8 1993 — Verona, WI
Height 6’2″ — Weight 192 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round, #25 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Schmaltz faced some challenges in his second pro season. He missed the start of the year recovering from an upper body injury. When he returned to the line-up, he scored three goals and 25 points in 42 games for the Chicago Wolves. Schmaltz got a late season call-up in St. Louis, putting up two assists in nine games.
Schmaltz’s skating has continually improved over the years. His stride is long and he generates decent top end speed and his acceleration is now a strength. He is also agile and changes direction well, and makes good pivots. Schmaltz could work on his balance, and strength; though these have improved as he’s added some core body strength. He was 175 pounds when drafted and is 192 pounds now, so some work has been done here.
Schmaltz is yet another offensively talented defence prospect. His passing is superb, especially in the offensive zone. He makes crisp, hard tape-to-tape spaces, and is able to thread the needle through some tight passing lanes. Schmaltz really excels setting up his teammates on the power play. His shot is not the hardest, however Schmaltz is really good at is keeping it low, accurate and on net even with heavy traffic. This can lead to tip-ins and rebound goals for his teammates.
Schmaltz shows good positional play in his own end. His high hockey IQ is evident. Schmaltz understands the defensive aspect of the game. He has a quick stick and is good at poke checking the puck off of a defender. Adding bulk has helped Schmaltz be more effective in board battles and defending the cycle, however there is still a bit more room on his 6’2″ frame for some added muscle.
Schmaltz will be 24 in early October. He may not have the upside of Dunn and Walman, but he is the closest to NHL ready of the three. Expect him to make a strong push towards a spot in St. Louis training camp.
#9 Prospect: Tage Thompson
Center — shoots Right
Born October 30th, 1997 — Orange, Connecticut
Height 6’5″ — Weight 200 lbs [196 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round, #26 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Thompson scored 19 goals and 32 points in 34 games with the University of Connecticut last season. He also added five points in seven games at the World Juniors, helping Team USA to the gold medal. Thompson signed his entry level contract after Connecticut’s season ended. He went to the AHL, playing 16 regular season games and 10 playoff games, but struggled to produce offense in the faster paced league.
Thompson’s skating is a bit of a work in progress, but isn’t that bad given his size. His speed is decent, but the first step and acceleration could use a little work. He could stand to clean up some choppiness in his stride. Thompson could also stand to add core strength as he could improve his balance and be stronger on the puck.
At 6’5″ tall Thompson has the size, and uses it to his full advantage in playing a power forward’s game. He is often the first one in on the fore check, pressuring defenders into mistakes. He works very well down low, below the hash marks, cycling the puck and getting to the front of the net. Once there he can tip in pucks, pounce on rebounds, or fire in a pass from a teammate. Thompson also has an excellent one-timer, and a strong wrist shot with a good release, allowing him to score from further out.
While his stickhandling is good, and Thompson protects the puck well using his body on the cycle, he is a straight ahead kind of player, going directly from point a to point b, and not one to try overly creative plays. His assists mainly come from hard work in the corners, digging out loose pucks and making smart, safe passes to teammates.
Thompson’s defensive game is excellent. He understands defensive positioning, and uses his long stick and big body to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He is fundamentally solid and very well-developed in his own end, no doubt as a result of being a coach’s son. Thompson has even been used as a defenceman on the penalty kill at Connecticut as his frame is particularly effective down low in his own end. Thompson plays a physical game, but he does so with clean hits; as he doesn’t take a lot of penalties. He could stand to gain muscle and strength in all areas, he has grown quite a bit since we first saw him with the US NTDP, and has not quite filled out his frame. That should come with time.
Thompson heads back to the AHL this year. Sometimes it takes bigger players a little bit more time to adjust to the speed of a faster league when they move up a level. The Blues hope that adjustment occured in the 26 games last year, and Thompson is ready to hit the ground running this season.
Sleeper Prospect: Samuel Blais
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 17th, 1996 — Montmagny, Quebec
Height 6’1″ — Weight 181 lbs [185 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 6th round, #176 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Blais had a strong rookie season in the AHL. He scored 26 goals and 43 points in 75 games. He also took his game up a notch, scoring three goals and eight points in 10 games.
Blais is a good skater. He has very good speed and acceleration. His stride is smooth, giving him that speed, as well as the power to fight through checks. He could use some work on his agility and edge work though. Blais could also improve his balance and his strength on the puck. This comes with more lower body strength.
Blais is a talented offensive player. He has good vision and passing skills, and is to thread the needle to hit a teammate with a pass. He also has a good wrist shot and release. Blais is not afraid to get to the front of the net. When he is there, he scores goals on rebounds, tip-ins and one-timing passes into the back of the net.
Blais’ defensive game is a work in progress. He needs to work on his positioning and defensive zone coverage. Blais sometimes loses his man when he becomes overly focused on chasing the puck, or when he stops moving his feet. He also needs to avoid flying the zone early and looking for a long pass.
Blais should be back in the AHL this year. He could get some NHL time if injuries hit up front, and really push for a spot in 2018-19 if he can improve his defensive game.
Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford are two forward prospects added to the pool via trade during the last six months. They join Adam Musil, Alexei Toropchenko, Tanner Kaspick, Austin Poganski and Nolan Stevens in the forward pipeline. Sanford spent most of his time, following the trade from Washington, in the NHL. Sundqvist is also very close to NHL ready. At minimum he is an injury fill-in, but could do more in camp.
Niko Mikkola, Petteri Lindbohm, and Tommy Vannelli join Dunn, Walman and Schmaltz amongst the defence. The upside here might be a little limited though. The Blues have a deep, and relatively young defence at the NHL level, and their three top defence prospects all look like good bets to make an NHL impact, so it isn’t too much of a concern today. Look for the Blues to stock the defensive pipeline in future drafts.
In goal, the Blues depth consists of Husso, Evan Fitzpatrick, Luke Opilka and Jordan Binnington. Its an outstanding group of goalies, one of the tops in the NHL. Overall the Blues have done a tremendous job of drafting for a club that always seems to pick late in the first round. The system remains strong.
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