NHL Draft: Blues' biggest needs, top prospects
Any team who wins a Stanley Cup is going to have a development lag in regards to high-end prospects.
The St. Louis Blues have shown extreme patience with their top picks, not rushing anyone who isn’t 100% ready for the NHL. With that, the Blues have a few players who have already made seamless transitions, including Rob Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.
There is, however, organizational need, particularly on the blueline, where outside of NHL-ready Scott Perunovich, St. Louis has an absence of defensive difference-makers in the pipeline. The Blues forward group is veteran laden, albeit with time to develop the next wave.
Jake Neighbours - The St. Louis Blues appear to have a strong prospect in Jake Neighbours who surprised everyone at training camp last season by making the Blues’ opening night roster. Neighbours doesn’t play very neighbourly, in fact, he’s a hard-nosed forward who competes every shift. He undoubtedly could have stuck with the Blues, but the team chose to return him to the WHL where he scored 45 points in 30 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He could see time in the AHL next season, but the 26th overall pick from 2020 will turn pro, and will soon be a welcomed addition to St. Louis’ forward group which already includes a number of young talents.
Zach Bolduc - Scoring 55 goals for the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts this season, Bolduc will look to leave junior hockey behind and stick with St. Louis next year. His quickness aids in finding space and creating separation for scoring opportunities. Also, when pucks jump loose, Bolduc is always ready to pounce. Couple his fast feet with fast hands, and the 17th overall pick in 2020 is difficult to defend. He has little to prove in the QMJHL, and it looks as though his time to turn pro is now.
Joel Hofer - St. Louis is not desperate for an NHL-ready goaltender with Jordan Binnington in the picture, but Ville Husso has likely earned himself a raise the Blues can’t afford as an unrestricted free agent this summer. With that, Joel Hofer could be looked upon as St. Louis’ backup. He struggled in two NHL starts this season, but the netminder is only 21. His 6’5” frame makes it hard for shooters to find holes as long as he remains calm and square as he did for Team Canada at the 2020 World Juniors, winning gold. In the AHL playoffs with Springfield, Hofer showed he’s big-game ready collecting a 1.36 goals against average and .965 save percentage in five undefeated games to open his playoffs. If St. Louis wants to give Hofer another year, they could opt for his Springfield counterpart Charlie Lindberg to start as backup, and let Hofer push from the minors.
One to watch
One of the biggest rising prospects across the league this year, Tanner Dickinson looks like he could become a steal after being the 119th pick overall in 2020. He was having a breakthrough season… until a literal break ended it. Dickinson broke his femur in January after starting his OHL campaign with the Soo Greyhounds with 47 points in his first 35 games. It was his performance this past summer at the World Junior Summer Showcase, however, that truly launched his name into the discussion of a prospect to watch. How he rebounds from a significant injury will determine his NHL timeline.
Ready to step in
Moving the puck swiftly up ice, whether it be from their own zone or in transition, is about to get easier for the St. Louis Blues as Scott Perunovich looks poised to step into the lineup. An elite passer, he won the 2019-20 Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s best player and is ready for the next step after a successful season. In the AHL with Springfield, he was dominant, and Perunovich didn’t look out of place in an extended stint with the Blues, either. His main challenge, which has cost the budding defender in recent years, is his ability to stay healthy. Jake Neighbours is also ready to make the jump, and Alexei Toropchenko, who plays a physical style, made the move from the KHL to North America last season and will compete for a bottom six role this year as well.
Needs at the draft
St. Louis needs to look for blueline help at the draft. The first round has many defenders with upside in the later picks including Calle Odelius, Tomas Hamara, Mattias Havelid, Seamus Casey, and Lian Bichsel. When St. Louis picks again in the third round, and twice in the fourth, looking for skill up front will be next in line, or if they go with a forward in the first, the Blues could use a pair of their mid-round picks on the blueline. One scenario the Blues could look at is drafting an overage player to fasttrack the help they need. Players including Lucas Edmonds or Tucker Robertson up front, or Zach Bookman on the blueline could fit the bill.
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