December 31-in-31: St.Louis Blues

Lou Farah

2020-12-25

The Blues had a successful regular season in 2019-2020, finishing first in the Western Conference with 94 points. Their post-season, however, didn’t go as well as they saw their playoff run end early by the Vancouver Canucks. With that behind them, the Blues had quite an eventful off-season, heading into the draft with seven picks and selecting three forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. In addition, they made some key moves via free agency and trades that are guaranteed to shake up the Roster for the 2020-2021 season. Below is a breakdown of the Blues’ draft and off-season moves, along with an organizational depth chart and fantasy rankings. 

2020 Draft Recap

Round 1 – Pick #26: Jake Neighbours

Position: LW 

Drafted from: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

There are many reasons to like this pick for the St. Louis Blues. Neighbours is a tremendous skater with impressive acceleration and edgework. He utilizes his skating in all three zones, making him an effective 200-foot player who is very responsible defensively. In addition, his quick stick and ability to read the play pose serious problems for the opposition when he is on the forecheck. 

Offensively, Neighbours’ game has come a long way over the past year. He finished his rookie season in 2017-2018 with four points in 11 games, and his sophomore season in 2018-2019 with 24 points in 47 games. Last year, however, he managed to tally 70 points (23G, 47A) in 64 games. This production has not only come from his impressive release, but also from his willingness to battle in front of the net and get some “ugly” goals. 

We will likely not be seeing Neighbours at the NHL level for another year or two at a minimum. In the meantime, he will look to continue developing in the WHL as his potential is promising. 

Round 3 – Pick #86: Dylan Peterson

Position: C 

Drafted from: US. National Under-18 Team (USDP)

Standing at 6-4, 192 lbs, Peterson brings an impressive physical presence on the ice and the potential to be a power forward at the next level. He has great playmaking skills, allowing him to find teammates in tight spaces and set them up for high danger chances. Some argue, though, that he relies on his playmaking skillset too much, as his natural instincts often lead him to pass instead of shoot, when he shouldn’t. This, in combination with his questionable deployment by the coaches, has caused his offensive production to take a hit, as he finished the USDP season averaging 0.55 points per game. 

Peterson will be headed to Boston University next year, which will perhaps put him in a better position to work on his offensive game compared to the opportunities he was given with the development team. That all remains to be seen; however, in the meantime, expect to not see Peterson in the NHL for another three years or so. 

Round 3 – Pick #88, Leo Löö

Position: D

Drafted from: Färjestad BKSuperElit (SHL)

Lööf is a strong defenseman with solid skating and good decision-making abilities. However, his biggest asset is his physicality, as he loves to play the body any chance he gets. 

His offensive ceiling is quite low. Don’t look for Lööf to be an offensive weapon any time in the future, because he is a defensive defenseman in every sense of the word. He finished his season with the Under-20 SuperElit with 15 points in 43 games but managed to amass 93 penalty minutes in that timeframe. With that said, his ability to shut down the opposition – whether by hitting or stick checking – is a great addition to the Blues system, and makes him one of the most reliable defensemen in the organization. It is difficult to project when, if at all, he would transition to the NHL, but expect to see him be a contender if a bottom pairing position opens up in the future. 

Round 4 – Pick #119, Tanner Dickinson

Position: C

Drafted from: Soo Greyhounds (OHL)

If there is one word to describe Dickinson, it would be “speed”. He possesses elite explosive skating and has the ability to blow by defenders. As a result, he is able to generate scoring chances off the rush. He finished his 2019-2020 OHL campaign with 40 points in 64 games, 18 of which came on the powerplay. Keep in mind that Sault Ste Marie is an offensively gifted team, which definitely helped boost his numbers to where they are. 

The knock on him, however, is that he is almost exclusively offensively minded. Despite his speed, his smaller frame makes it challenging for him to compete in the defensive zone. He will certainly need to work on adding size and strength to improve his chances at making the NHL.

Round 5, Pick #150, Matt Kessel 

Position: D

Drafted from: University of Massachusetts (NCAA)

The Blues went for size with their 150th pick, choosing a 6-3 203 lbs collegiate defenseman. Kessel’s size and consistent work ethic make him reliable on the blue line and quite solid defensively. Offensively, however, there is not much to be expected in the future, as Kessel does not put up impressive numbers on the scoresheet. He finished his last season in college with four goals and seven assists, in 34 games. The reasons for his lack of offensive production are probably two-fold: 1- He does not utilize his point shot enough, despite it being solid. 2- His skating is relatively weak, and his lack of mobility makes it harder for him to put himself in good positions to make plays. 

Kessel’s skating will be among the major determining factors of whether he will be able to transition to the NHL. If he does, expect to see him in a defensive role with limited offensive upside. 

Round 6, Pick #164 – Will Cranley

Position: G

Drafted from: Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

With their sixth-round pick, the Blues went for a very low-risk selection in Will Cranley, who could potentially provide a medium reward if he develops well within the system. Cranley is a big goaltender at 6-4, which is slightly taller than the average NHL goalie. In addition to his size, he is quite nimble and displays very impressive athleticism in net. 

Cranley won 18 of his 21 contests last season and posted a 2.81 GAA. Although, despite flashes of brilliance, such as in the clip shown above, he put up a sub .900 save percentage last year as a backup for Ottawa. This was technically his rookie season, so he will look to continue developing over the next few years. 

Round 7, Pick #194 – Noah Beck

Position: D

Drafted from: Fargo Force (USHL)

Beck is an intelligent defenseman with good size, standing at 6-3 and 191 lbs. He is generally good in all zones, and particularly effective in the offensive zone. In fact, he leads the Fargo Force in scoring by defensemen with 25 points in 42 games, earning him the team’s rookie of the year award. 

Beck had committed to the Clarkson Golden Knights of the NCAA for 2020-2021, where he has one point in three games thus far. Playing in college will offer Beck an opportunity to further develop all facets of his game, and prove his offensive potential against higher levels of competition. 

Off-season moves

In: Torey Krug, Kyle Clifford, Curtis McKenzie, Sam Anas, Steven Santini, John Gillies.

Out: Alex Piertrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Jake Allen, Troy Brouwer, Jordan Nolan, Derrick Pouliot, Andreas Borgman, Joey LaLeggia, Nick Lappin, Jake Dotchin, 

Signed/Resigned: Jake Walman, Mitch Reinke, Jake Neighbours, Austin Poganski.  

Retired: Alex Steen.

The Blues have witnessed quite the personnel turnover on defense, starting with losing their captain – Alex Pietrangelo – in free agency, which was undoubtedly the biggest loss the team suffered this off-season. The 30-year-old defenseman signed a seven-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knight, worth $8.8 million AAV.

Although Pietrangelo’s presence and contribution cannot be replaced by one player, the Blues are certainly hoping to address this gap he left by committee. In particular, by relying on the help of the newcomer, Torey Krug, whom the Blues signed to a seven-year contract worth $6.5 million AAV. Offensively speaking, Krug likely has what it takes to fill Pietrangelo’s shoes, as he has put up slightly better numbers throughout his career (0.64 PPG) than Pietrangelo (0.59 PPG). Keep in mind, though, that he has benefitted from the Bruins’ unstoppable offense over the years. From a defensive standpoint, however, Pietrangelo is a better well-rounded defenseman, and that is exactly where the Blues will feel his absence on the blueline.  

Another defenseman that will be missed on the Blues’ backend is Jay Bouwmeester, who became an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Although no official retirement announcement has been made, it is very unlikely that Bouwmeester will return to the NHL next season, given the cardiac arrest episode he suffered in February of 2020 in a game against Anaheim. Doug Armstrong has been quite outspoken about his desire to hire Bouwmeester in a scouting role if, and when, he decides to hang them up. 

As for goaltending, the Blues decided to move on from Jake Allen this off-season, who has served as a backup for Binnington last year. Allen’s role will be filled by the 25-year-old Finnish netminder Ville Husso, who has yet to make his NHL debut. This move was necessary, as the Blues needed to free up some cap space for their other off-season moves. However, it was certainly a risky one, as Binnington showed some decline last season in his performance, and he will be heading into the 2020-2021 campaign wit