August 32-in-32 : St. Louis Blues

Gordon Munro

2022-08-25

After last year’s first round sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, the Blues made some pretty major changes. Letting forwards Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman walk in free agency and defenceman Vince Dunn being selected by Seattle, they faced pretty significant losses. However, with key additions like Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad, as well as the deadline acquisition of Nick Leddy, they became a much better team. Not to mention the internal developments of Ville Husso, Jordan Kyrou, and Robert Thomas going a long way as well. They were able to not only advance to the second round this year but push the eventual Stanley Cup champions to six games.

This offseason, the Blues did not have as many holes to fill. Armstrong quickly re-signed deadline acquisition Nick Leddy and signed Thomas Greiss to fill the hole left by Ville Husso. The Blues also added Noel Acciari to take over a bottom-six role on the team. They also added Josh Leivo to bolster their depth. Other than those moves, the Blues have been pretty quiet when it comes to free agency and trades.

The Draft

Throughout Doug Armstrong’s tenure, the Blues have been a relatively effective team at the draft table. Despite not having a pick higher than 14th overall and being in the same conference as teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Vancouver Canucks during their heydays, they were consistently one of the better teams in the NHL. They have remained this way for most of the past decade as well. Obviously, every team requires a combination of things to build their team up but the Blues longevity is in large part due to Armstrong and his staff’s drafting ability.

As I said earlier, they have never had a pick above 14th overall yet have been able to draft many key players and re-stock the cupboards. While Armstrong has occupied the GM seat, they have drafted; Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Joel Edmundson, Jordan Binnington, Colton Parayko, Ivan Barbashev, Jordan Kyrou, and Robert Thomas. On top of these names, they have been able to parlay other drafted prospects into key roster players. Dominik Bokk/Joel Edmundson into Justin Faulk, Sammy Blais into Pavel Buchnevich, and Tage Thompson into captain Ryan O’Reilly.

This draft, they have appeared to help stock their cupboards again. Drafting Jimmy Snuggerud on day one was a good choice and he fits the organization well from a stylistic standpoint. On day two, Armstrong and Co. took a few swings on some higher upside players which is always good to do. Players like Aleksanteri Kaskimaki and Arseni Koromyslov need major improvements but if they can put it all together, they could be potential steals relative to their draft positions. Another player of note was Michael Buchinger, he has a good combination of high upside while also possessing skills that make him an easily projectable player in the NHL.

Round One, 23rd overall — Jimmy Snuggerud, RW

With their first pick in the 2022 draft, the St. Louis Blues picked a talented two-way winger in Snuggerud. He shows both a great nose for the net and good facilitating abilities with the puck. His most dangerous weapon is his shot, which he can get off anywhere, showing great versatility with the puck on his stick. On top of his offensive skillset, Snuggerud combines his powerful motor and positional awareness to be an effective player in the defensive zone. He also has a good transition and puck retrieval game.

At worst, Snuggerud’s game should make him a well-rounded middle-six contributor with the potential to be much more. He’ll get his chance playing for the University of Minnesota next year, where he’ll be playing alongside many talented prospects like; Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley, and Brock Faber to name a few. It will be a great opportunity for him to develop with multiple high-end players and try to win a Championship his freshman year.

Round Three, 73rd overall, Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, C

The Blues’ picked the offensively talented Kaskimaki with their second pick of the draft. The Finnish centre spent the majority of this season in the U-20 SM-Sarja where he was the most productive player by points-per game (of players who played more than 15 games). In the O-zone Kaskimaki shines above most, using his great speed, pace, and puck skills to maneuver his way around the ice. This also makes him an effective player in transition, consistently advancing play up the ice for his team.

Besides the normal seasoning that players need to improve their game, the biggest flaw for him is in the defensive end. Unless he can drastically improve this part of his game, it likely means that Kaskimaki plays on the wing at the next level and would limit his true upside. However, if he can put it all together, he could be a very effective player for the Blues going forward.

Round Three, 88th overall, Michael Buchinger, LD

Later in the third round, the Blues drafted Buchinger from the Guelph Storm of the OHL. He has the toolkit to be an effective modern NHL blueliner, he is a left-shot defenceman with decent size (6-0, 185lbs) and good skating. Adding to this, he has good vision with and without the puck, knowing when to join the rush and help support teammates with his puck moving ability. Do not think that’s where it stops however, he has just as much utility in his own zone. Using his skating and mobility to keep up with attackers, closing gaps and solid positioning to neutralize the opposing offence.

If Buchinger continues to progress well, he could be a useful two-way defender on the middle pairing some day. Even if he does not reach that ceiling, with his skillset he is an easily projectable in a bottom pair or depth role. It is hard to see a future where Buchinger does not at least play some NHL games and as a late third rounder, you can’t ask for more than that.

Round Four, 120th overall, Arseny Koromsylov, LD

Koromyslov is the definition of a “project” prospect. He possesses many raw skills which can be moulded into a solid NHL player one day but it is much too early to tell. He has great size (6-3, 181 lbs) and good skating ability, which already puts him above many late round flyers of his archetype. He is also good with the puck, which in combination with the aforementioned skills, makes him good in transition.

However, both his offensive and defensive game leave much to be desired which really hurts his upside. In addition to this, the “Russian factor” makes him a tough player to project long-term. If he can round out his game on both sides of the ice, he would definitely be worth bringing over to North America.

Round Five, 153rd overall, Marc-Andre Gaudet, LD

In the fifth round, the Blues opted to take a chance on another big framed defenceman in Gaudet. He played this past season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL but over the summer was traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens for next season. The 6-3 defenceman does everything well, but not great. He uses his long range to be effective in the defensive zone. In the offensive zone, he wields a strong shot which is a useful tool to have when you’re manning the blueline.

The only real weakness holding back Gaudet’s game is his skating ability. He lacks a strong stride and his mobility is not well tuned either. If he can work on his skating and continue to round out his game, there is a chance Gaudet could become an effective bottom-pairing blueliner one day.

Round Six, 184th overall, Landon Sim, RW

With their final pick at the 2022 draft, the Blues picked London Knights forward, Landon Sim. He’s another intriguing prospect who has skill that, if developed properly, could pay-off down the road. Sim has great puck skills and creativity which could see him drastically improve on his 21 points in 64 games this past season. Despite not having a large stature (5-11, 174 lbs) Sim is able to use his defensive awareness to cut-off opposing players and steal pucks.

As most sixth rounders go, he’s a project player who will likely take a few years to develop. His toolkit in both the offensive and defensive zones, makes him an interesting prospect to watch this upcoming season and beyond for any Blues fan.

 

Incoming

Thomas Greiss, G

Greiss signed a one year deal which isn’t a large commitment for the 36-year old netminder and thus presents a pretty low risk. His performance took a pretty steep decline behind a Red Wings team that was admittedly awful defensively last season. However, in the previous three seasons he boasted a save percentage above .910% and even held a .927% over 43 games with the Islanders in 2018-19.

Greiss’ one year deal comes with a $1.25 million caphit, although not a large sum, it is above the burial limit. This means that Blues management likely thinks he will take over as backup in place of Ville Husso. This would leave prospects such as; Joel Hofer, Colten Ellis, Vadim Zherenko, and Will Cranley to battle it out for AHL playing time. Hofer will likely be the first call-up in case of injury in the crease, unless another move is made. Beyond this season, the one-year commitment could mean there will be a vacancy for one of their prospects to fill.

Noel Acciari, F

The Blues signed NHL veteran Noel Acciari to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million. He brings experience and depth to bolster their bottom-six. It makes sense for a team with aspirations for a deep playoff run to try and fill-out the lineup with proven talent, especially at a cheap price. It remains to be seen if his injury struggles last year could be an ongoing issue but with the Blues organizational depth, it shouldn’t be a problem to fill his spot if it is.

Josh Leivo, F

The Blues signed journeyman Josh Leivo to a one-year deal worth $750K. If Leivo plays a game for the Blues this upcoming season it will be his fifth NHL team in as many years. Despite playing the majority of last season with Carolina’s AHL affiliate, Leivo has proven to be an effective player in the NHL. He has good defensive impacts and his offensive skills allow him to be a useful depth scorer. It will remain to be seen come training camp but Leivo likely makes the team in a bottom-six role, if he doesn’t he’s likely one of the first call-ups.

Outgoing:

David Perron, F

Perron’s time as a Blue has likely, finally, come to an end after signing with the Detroit Red Wings in free agency. This concludes Perron’s third stint in St. Louis, one that saw him win a cup as well. In 673 regular season games with the Blues, Perron scored 196 goals and 269 assists for 465 points. He likely doesn’t see his number sent up to the rafters at the Enterprise Center but he will remain in Blues fans hearts for many years to come.

The impact of losing Perron will be tough for Blues fans but will likely open a permanent spot for a prospect in the system this upcoming season. There are many players who could take the opportunity and run with it but a few that come to mind are: Klim Kostin, Alexey Toropchenko, and Jake Neighbours. Neighbours likely goes to Springfield this upcoming season but with his development the last two seasons, if he can impress at training camp again, he has an outside shot of making it. At the very least, I’d expect him to make an appearance with the Blues at some point during the 82-game schedule.

Ville Husso, G

Rather than let him walk to free agency, Armstrong dealt Husso at the draft to the Detroit Red Wings for an extra third round pick. They used it to select Finnish centre, Aleksanteri Kaskimaki. Although Husso seemed to take the reigns as the starter, he struggled down the stretch and lost the job to Binnington in the playoffs. The Blues were able to replace him in free agency with veteran netminder Thomas Greiss.

At the end of the day, the financial commitment to Binnington left the Blues no choice but to let Husso go. This is especially true seeing the price tag that would have come with extending him. Whenever you’re able to get an asset for a player about to walk, it’s always an added bonus.

 

Other Moves:

Re-Signing: Robert Thomas (eight-year, $8.125M), Nick Leddy (four-year, $4M) Niko Mikkola (one-year, $1.9M), Klim Kostin (one-year, $750K),  Nathan Todd (one-year, $750K), Will Bitten (two-year, $762,500), Nathan Walker (one-year, $775K), Scott Perunovich (one-year, $750K)

Depth Signings: Martin Frk (one-year, $750K), Anthony Angello (one-year, $750K), Matthew Highmore (one-year, $750K), Dylan McLaughlin (one-year, $750K),

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Maxime Lajoie 4.5 8.0
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