30 in 30 St. Louis Blues

Brad Phillips

2016-07-26

courtesy: blues.nhl.com

The winds of change are blowing in the gateway to the west. Head coach Ken Hitchcock signed a one-year extension and announced that he would leave the team after the 2016-17 season, his sixth with the team. Mike Yeo will serve as Hitchcock’s assistant coach for this year before taking over the reins in 2017-18. Long time captain David Backes left via free agency and the two headed goalie monster has finally been slayed with Brian Elliott getting shipped off to Calgary. At the draft The Blues went forward heavy using six of their seven picks on forwards, all of them but one capable of playing centre.

 

Tage Thompson - photo courtesy: nhl.com

Tage Thompson, 26th overall

The Blues traded up two spots with the Capitals and used their first pick in the draft to select 6-05 sniper Tage Thompson from the University of Connecticut (go Huskies). He fit the mold of your classic St. Louis player: big and skilled. Playing a lot with former Blues prospect Max Letunov, Thompson was an offensive force for UConn playing significant minutes in all situations, seeing lots of time on the PP, PK and late in games protecting a lead. He was an absolute force on the powerplay scoring 13 of his 14 goals which led the NCAA. You’d expect a player of his size to be a work in progress in terms of his skating but Thompson’s is very good. His shot is lethal and loves dropping down to one knee to fire one timers from the dot. He’s still raw at this point and is a few years away from challenging for an NHL spot, but you can clearly see the tools are there to be a goal score at the next level.

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Jordan Kyrou - photo courtesy: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Jordan Kyrou, 35th overall

With the first of their two second rounders St. Louis snapped up Jordan Kyrou out of the Sarnia Sting. Kyrou was among the biggest draft risers in the second half of the season thanks in large part to an impressive showing at the CHL Top Prospects Game and the U18’s. He finished third on the Sting in scoring behind 2015 first rounders Pavel Zacha and Travis Konecny with 51 points in 65 games and managed seven points in as many playoff games. Versatile in that he is capable of playing both centre and wing, Kyrou is a skilled, creative playmaker and owns a quick shot release. He’s one of the fastest skaters in the draft and uses that blazing speed to find open spaces. He should be in line for a bigger role in 2016-17 with a strong possibility of Zacha and Konecny graduating to the NHL.

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Evan Fitzpatrick - photo courtesy: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Evan Fitzpatrick, 59th overall

One of the top rated goalies in the draft, Fitzpatrick was the second tender off the board going late in the second round. Playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix he shared the crease in his rookie year before assuming full time duty this season. Evan posted an 18-26-8 record with a 3.42 GAA and 0.896 SVS. At 6-03 and 206 lbs he has the size all NHL teams' wants in their goaltenders. Fitzpatrick packs a potent pedigree having been drafted fourth overall pick in the 2014 QMJHL draft, earning 2014-15 QMJHL All-Rookie Team honours, and has drawn comparisons to Roberto Luongo in the past. He’s a hybrid style goaltender with excellent quickness. But the biggest thing he needs to work on is his consistency as he can look brilliant one night and brutal the next. However the physical gifts are there for Fitzpatrick to become a top flight goalies.

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Tanner Kaspick, 119th overall

The Blues took their third centre of the draft picking Tanner Kaspick of the WHL Champion Brandon Wheat Kings and recipient of the 2016 WHL Scholastic Player of the Year. He’s never going to be a player that wows you with his goal scoring prowess. Kaspick scored just one goal in his 2014-15 rookie campaign and tallied 13 this previous season. He wasn’t afforded prime ice time as he had the misfortune of playing behind Jayce Hawryluck, Nolan Patrick and John Quenneville so that had a large effect on his numbers. A hard-working, strong skating player, he’s not afraid to get to battle in the corners or go the greasy areas on the ice and get his nose dirty. If he makes it to the NHL it will be in a bottom-six role.

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Nolan Stevens, 125th overall

Dipping their toes back in the college pool, St. Louis picked Northeastern Huskies centre Nolan Stevens, son of L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens. In his third year of draft eligibility Stevens broke out big time by posting 20 goals and 22 assists in 41 games playing on a line with his older brother John. Never a big point producer at any level, it hard to know if this is a one off or simply a case of someone putting it all together later in their hockey life. The Blues figured it was worth on fifth rounder to bet on the latter. A good puck protector and battler in front of the net, Stevens come by his goals honestly through his strong work ethic. Given that he’s a coach’s son you’d expect his to be strong on the defensive side and he is, playing sound 200 foot game.

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Conner Bleackley, 144th overall

In the fifth, the Blues selected draft re-entry Conner Bleackley of the Red Deer Rebels. Two years removed from being a first round pick of Colorado, he went unsigned partly over concerns about his fitness level and his rights was eventually traded to Arizona at the trade deadline. Since being initially drafted in 2014, Bleackley has failed to take the next step offensively having averaged 0.96 ppg in 2013-14. He plateaued the subsequent year with 0.96 ppg and saw his numbers drop to the tune of 0.84 ppg in 2015-16. Regardless of this, the Blues liked the talent level in Bleackley and rolled the dice at the expense of a later round pick. Less than two weeks after the draft St. Louis signed Bleackley to an entry-level deal and will begin his professional career with Chicago Wolves in the fall.

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Nikolaj Krag Christensen, 209th overall

With their first seventh rounder, St. Louis selected one of the youngest draft eligible players, 17 year-old Nikolaj Krag Christensen. Christensen was one of three players from Denmark drafted, a record for the country. He played mostly for the Rødovre Mighty Bulls in the Metal Ligaen, the premier league in Denmark and held his own. The youngest player on the team, the 6-03 Christensen played in 30 games scoring two goals and assisting on two other. He suffered a broken arm towards the end of the season that cost him the playoffs. Suffered a broken arm towards the end of the season that cost him the playoffs. A prolific scorer throughout his career  in the lower leagues in Denmark, he’ll make the move to Sweden as a member of the Rogle J20 program which should provide him with a better opportunity to develop his skills.

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Filip Helt, 211th overall

The title of Mr. Irrelevant 2016 went to Czech left winger Filip Helt. Not listed on any pre-draft rankings, Helt was as surprised as anyone at being drafted. But in the later rounds anything can happen. He was the only player selected by the Blues (aside from Fitzpatrick) who is not listed as a centre. Typically playing a level above his age group throughout his junior career, Helt has put up big numbers to date playing for the HC Litvinov program. In 2015-16 with the U18 team, he scored 20 goals and 26 assists in 42 games while also playing seven games with the U20 squad and chipped in three helpers. There’s not a whole lot of info out there on Helt which isn’t surprising given that he wasn’t on anyone’s radar but what is out there is that he’s got some speed and can put the puck in the net. Was selected 47th overall by the Sarnia Sting in the CHL import draft. It’s unclear what the Blues’ plans for Helt are this coming fall, but you have to wonder if the presence of Kyrou in Sarnia will influence their decision.

 

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Development Camp

The Blues development camp was earlier this month July 5-8. All of the team’s 2016 pick were in attendance as were a number of other notable names.

 

By all accounts the three best players at the event were goaltender Ville Husso, Kyrou and Thompson. Expectantly, the latter two were both names prospect camp All-Stars

 

{source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/stlblues?src=hash">#stlblues</a> prospect camp 1st team All-Stars. Forwards…Thompson, Kyrou, Musil. Defense…Mikkola, Dunn <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MVP?src=hash">#MVP</a> Thompson <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/strickyawards?src=hash">#strickyawards</a></p>&mdash; Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) <a href="https://twitter.com/andystrickland/status/751520448840474624">July 8, 2016</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>{/source}

 

Ville Husso really turned some heads. With Brian Elliott being traded, that’s one less goalie he needs to compete with for an NHL job. Where he’ll play this season is anyone’s guess however. He’s eager to leave Finland and come to North America but with the recent re-signings of both Pheonix Copley and Jordan Binnington there may not be enough playing time to go around for all three in the AHL.

 

The feedback on Conner Bleackley was decidedly mixed but the most important thing was that he showed up in shape, something he did not do with Colorado. He’s the most advanced prospect the Blues picked in this past draft and has the best chance to reach the NHL quickly.

 

After missing most of 2015-16 with a concussion Tommy Vannelli appears to have put that behind him with a strong camp. He had some jump in his step and showed off his booming shot throughout camp.

 

Among the later round picks this year, Nolan Stevens really stood out. He showed off his non-stop motor and scored arguably the goal of the camp with this beauty.

 

{source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">2016 fifth-round pick <a href="https://twitter.com/nstevens18">@nstevens18</a> made no mistake on this breakaway. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/stlblues?src=hash">#stlblues</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProspectCamp?src=hash">#ProspectCamp</a> <a href="https://t.co/wf26Zydf4R">https://t.co/wf26Zydf4R</a></p>&mdash; St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) <a href="https://twitter.com/StLouisBlues/status/751156536983126018">July 7, 2016</a></blockquote>

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To close this off here is an updated Top 10 for your reading pleasure. Thank for reading fellow hockey fans! Should you feel so inclined give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips

 

 

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