The St. Louis Blues prospect pool is among the best in the league. Players such as Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin and Ville Husso have big expectations as they slowly become regulars in the NHL. With that said, the first half of the 2018-19 season has been fairly eye-opening when it comes to evaluating these prospects. Today, we’ll look at the good, the bad and the ugly starts to the 2018-19 season and see how they affect their respective prospect’s prominence in the team’s system.
A Fresh Look at the St. Louis Blues Prospects
San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
20 Games Played: 1 Goal, 11 Assists
Mitch Reinke has easily been the biggest surprise when it comes to Blues prospects. He was signed as an undrafted free agent after his sophomore year at Michigan Tech, last season. Despite not playing in a single AHL game, Reinke made his NHL debut on March 31st. In a turn of events, Reinke actually seemed very comfortable with NHL play in his 13 minutes of ice time. Many fans wished Reinke would stay in the NHL, hoping he’d be a bright spot in a struggling Blues defence.
He didn’t play any other professional games last year, though, and expectedly started this year in the AHL. This was a great decision, as he’s been a dominant player in the AHL. Through the San Antonio Rampage’s first 20 games, Reinke has led the team in points. While the Rampage are immensely underperforming, this stat is still impressive. Reinke is an AHL rookie defenseman with more points than Brendan Guhle and Jake Bean, two very highly ranked prospects. He currently ranks 18th amongst AHL defence scoring.
His defense could use some work, but Reinke has been the best playmaker on a team with both Kyrou and Kostin on it. With all the downside that San Antonio has had this season, Reinke has done a great job of establishing himself as a high-calibre prospect. This surprising start to the season has vastly moved him up the list in the Blues defensive depth charts. The top defensive prospect will still be Jake Walman until Reinke can become more consistent in his own zone, but the race between them has become much closer.
University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
12 Games Played: 2 Goals, 14 Assists
Scott Perunovich is another defenseman in the Blues system that has been impressive so far this year. He’s currently playing in his second year at the University of Minnesota, after tallying 36 points in 42 games last season. This was enough to earn him a first-team bid at the end of the season as one of the league’s best defensemen, becoming only the second player in Minnesota history to do so in his freshman year.
Perunovich is following up this huge honor with an even better 2018-19 season. Through 12 games, he’s scored 16 points. Similar to Reinke, this has been enough to lead his team in scoring. Unlike Reinke, though, Perunovich has also been a great player to have in the defensive zone this year. To put it simply, Perunovich has been the best player on the team that ranked second on both USA Today and USCHO’s rankings from last week. Only St. Cloud State ranks higher than Minnesota.
Perunovich was a second-round pick by the Blues in last year’s NHL Draft and there wasn’t very much hype around him. That all needs to change, and fast. If Perunovich is able to sustain this hot start to the 2018-19 season, he very easily becomes a much better prospect than the struggling Walman and Niko Mikkola; the team’s top two defensive prospects.
All of this exciting talk has one downside that could keep Perunovich behind the pack: his size. He’s only 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds. This would make him one of the smallest defence in the NHL if he makes it. Still, his play this season has gone far above his small stature and he deserves to be talked about a lot more.
San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
11 Games Played: 3.52 goals-against-average, 0.886 save percentage
Where should we start with the disappointing starts? It seems that every highly-touted Blues prospect has struggled to kick off their 2018-19 season. This is most prevalent with the Rampage’s starting goalie. Husso has gone from being the team’s clear-cut starter to Jordan Binnington‘s backup in only 20 games. Husso was a third-round pick in 2015 but has been one of the best Blues prospects for a few years now.
He was expected to become an elite NHL goalie very soon, as long as this season went well. So far, it has not. He’s set a record of 2-9-1 in his 10 games played so far this year. This is enough to make him the worst goalie in the AHL, judging by record, with only Charlie Lindgren being close to having as many losses as Husso. Lindgren has played in six more games than Husso, though, and has four more wins.
Husso has dropped considerably in the Blues depth chart. He went from being, arguably, the best prospect the team had, to ranking third amongst four goalies this year. Binnington and Evan Fitzpatrick have both had considerably better starts to the year, following up great 2017-18 seasons, and are clearly much more appealing than Husso at the moment.
San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
10 Games Played: 1 Goal, 2 Assists
It seems that Kyrou has been hit by the Rampage’s rough patch the hardest. Kyrou played in his first nine NHL games with the Blues, after making the team’s opening night roster. In those, he only managed one assist. As a result, the team sent him to the AHL, hoping he’d recreate the production he saw in the OHL last season.
He hasn’t. After an MVP-winning season in the OHL, that saw him scoring 109 points in 56 games last year, Kyrou has been especially unproductive this year. Through his first nine AHL games, he only has three points. Surprisingly, the Rampage still have three players who have both played at least nine games and scored less than three points. The only forward among these three is Samuel Blais, who is currently playing fairly well in the NHL. That puts Kyrou at the bottom of the totem pole, a far cry from where fans thought he would be to start this year.
It was best worded by a former colleague, after attending a Rampage game. He was very blunt in saying that, “Kyrou was totally invisible out there.” It seems like his analysis of this game has been perfectly reflective of Kyrou’s season to date. He’s been invisible in the Rampage’s lineup, not one of the team’s best players, like he should be. This isn’t enough to consider Kyrou a wasted prospect, but it certainly isn’t a good sign. If he wants to stay as one of the Blues best prospects, he needs to start performing much better, quickly.
Luke Opilka, unfortunately, retired from professional hockey in early November. This was a very surprising announcement, but in hindsight, likely inevitable. Opilka was picked in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft, after a mediocre season with the U.S. National Development Team. After being drafted, he had another two years of good, but not great, play in the OHL. Still, he was yet another notable goalie prospect in the Blues system. Nobody considered him better than Fitzpatrick or Husso but most thought he’d reach the NHL level after a few years of minor-league play.
Opilka wasn’t able to play his third, and final, season in the OHL, though, after being diagnosed with hip dysplasia. This condition led to two hip surgeries for Opilka, on each hip. He missed the entire 2017-18 season as a result of the first surgery and was slotted to get his second just a few days before the Blues training camp started. He announced his retirement a month later.
Opilka wasn’t on pace to be the next Sergei Bobrovsky, but he was a hard-working and young goalie who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. It’s obviously hard to see a 21-year-old player retiring from professional hockey, solely because of chronic injury brought on by a severe condition. Especially when that retirement comes only three years after being drafted.
The season is still young, but there already have been a number of developments amongst the Blues prospects this season. Their play has adjusted expectations for the prospects. As more games are played there will be even more changes. We’ll be sure to keep you up to date on the latest.
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