Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects. As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.
Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.
For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2014-15 followed an all too familiar path for the St. Louis Blues. They were a strong regular season team, but did not go near as far as they hoped in the playoffs, losing out in a first round upset to the Minnesota Wild. Last year’s big free agent signee, Paul Stastny, had just one point in the Blues six playoff games. Some of the other Blues most trusted vets, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, just two points each. Goaltender Jake Allen, given the starting assignment for the playoffs, was not at his best for the series with Minnesota. Despite a tremendous performance from Vladimir Tarasenko with six goals and seven points in the series, and Kevin Shattenkirk’s eight assists, the Blues just didn’t have enough to get by Minnesota.
This off-season the Blues have made a number of changes, even cutting into the core, as T.J. Oshie was sent to Washington for Troy Brouwer, a prospect and a draft pick. Barrett Jackman was allowed to leave via free agency. Zybanek Michalek, Marcel Goc, and Olli Jokinen were in-season rentals who are now gone. In a move signifying the real change that is occuring in St. Louis, Tarasenko was given an eight-year $60 million mega-contract and he is now the face of the franchise. Some minor additions were made in Kyle Brodziak, Andre Benoit, and Jordan Caron. Overall though, the Blues seemed to lose more than they gained, and so any improvement must come internally via the improvement of youngsters like Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz (amongst others) or through the prospect ranks.
St. Louis Blues Prospects
Top Prospect: Robby Fabbri, Centre/Right Wing
Born Jan 22 1996 — Mississauga, ONT
Height 5.10 — Weight 178 [178 cm/81 kg] – Shoots Right
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 1, 21st overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Robby Fabbri nearly made the Blues out of training camp last year as an 18-year-old. When he went back to junior, he was a star when on the ice, but had trouble staying healthy. At the World Juniors, he had 6 points in 5 games and was playing a major role for the Canadian Team that would win the gold medal, when an ankle injury knocked him out of the tournament. This would also force him to miss some OHL time. Other various injuries held Fabbri to just 30 games, but he put up 25 goals and 51 points in that shortened season. Fabbri would also get a three game stint in the AHL, putting up four points for the Chicago Wolves.
Fabbri is the classic non-stop worker. He never seems to stop moving his feet and is always right in the middle of the play. Don’t let his lack of size fool you, Fabbri is an aggressive and physical player, who just loves to hit on the forecheck. He’s an absolute buzz-saw constantly pressuring defencemen and causing a ton of turnovers. Fabbri is also not afraid to go to the net and battle with bigger and stronger defencemen for possession. When he gets the puck, Fabbri has very good hands, and outstanding vision and passing ability. He can be a real playmaker either off the rush, or in the cycle game where he protects the puck by keeping his feet moving at all times. He isn’t just a one dimensional playmaker though, Fabbri can also score with soft hands in tight, and a good snap shot and quick release from further out. Obviously Fabbri needs to add muscle to his frame going forward and will need to bulk up to play this style at higher levels, but this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Fabbri’s skating is very good, with strong top end speed, but it is his quickness that is really off the charts. Has a great first few steps and outstanding acceleration. This helps him to be first on that forecheck, as well as to chase down loose pucks all over the ice. He always has his feet moving and never glides out there, and that work ethic and compete level is key to his game. Fabbri is also good on his edges, with good agility and can make very sharp cuts to avoid defenders. He has decent balance, especially for his size, as he skates with a low centre of gravity.
The gritty, buzz-saw, non-stop mentality also applies to Fabbri’s defensive game. He never takes a shift off out there, applying very good back pressure and supporting his defencemen. His energy is contagious and makes him a natural on-ice leader.
Due to the lack of games last season, a full year in junior would probably be the best bet for Fabbri. He is too young to start the season in the AHL, so its either Guelph or St. Louis. As impressive as he was last year in camp, it will again be really tough for this teenager to crack the blues lineup.
Prospect #2: Ivan Barbashev, Centre/Left Wing
Born Dec 14 1995 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6.01 — Weight 194 [185 cm/88 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by St. Louis Blues in round 2, 33rd overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Inexplicably, Ivan Barbashev slipped out of the first round in the 2014 NHL draft, and the Blues were ecstatic to see him available at 33rd overall. The Russian centre put up another big year in the QMJHL, with 95 points in 57 games, and a further 24 points in 16 playoff games. He also played for Russia at the World Juniors, picking up six points in seven games, and a silver medal.
Ivan Barbashev is a pure sniper, he has a great arsenal of shots with a terrific wrister, slapshot, snapshot, backhand and one-timer. These shots also feature an excellent release which can fool goalkeepers and the puck will be in the back of the net before he knows it. Barbashev also has good stickhandling skills, and the creativity and vision to make passes which surprise opponents and set up teammates for easy goals. When he doesn’t have the puck, he does a good job in finding open areas, and easy passing lanes for a teammate to get him the puck. He reads the play well and has a high hockey IQ.
Barbashev’s skating continues to improve. He has always had good top-end speed, but has really improved his first step quickness and acceleration, adding a new dimension to his game. Barbashev has very good agility and combines this with his great stickhandling to elude defenders. His strength on the puck and balance are very good at the junior level, and it seems that he has added a lot of core strength which makes him harder to knock off the puck.
Defensively Barbashev has become a top two way player. He back checks hard and has really improved in his positioning and at cutting down passing and shooting lanes. The consistency in which he is doing this has also improved as there are less and less games where his effort level is questioned. While he could continue to work on his face-offs, he showed improvement going from 46% on the dot in 2013-14 to 51% this year.
Barbashev is plessed with a late birhday (a 1995) and as such he can leave the QMJHL and move on to the AHL this year. Expecte to see him get his feet wet in the pro game before he is brought to the NHL full-rime.
Prospect #3: Jordan Schmaltz, Defence
Born Oct 8 1993 — Verona, WI
Height 6.02 — Weight 194 [188 cm/88 kg] – Shoots Right
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 1, 25th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Schmaltz had a solid third season with the University of North Dakota, putting up 28 points in 42 games. He earned his second straight NCHC all-star team selection. This summer, he elected to leave school and go pro, as the 2012 first rounder signed his first pro contract with the Blues.
Schmaltz is yet another offensively talented defence prospect. His passing is superb, especially in the offensive zone. He makes crisp, hard tape to tape spaces, and is able to thread the needle through some tight passing lanes. Schmaltz really excels setting up his teammates on the PP. His shot is not the hardest out there, however what Schmaltz is really good at is keeping his shot low and accurate and getting it on net and through traffic. This can lead to tip ins and rebound goals for his teammates.
Schmaltz’s skating has improved since his draft year. His stride is long and he generates decent top end speed and his acceleration has really improved. He is also agile and changes direction well, and makes good pivots. He could still stand to work on his balance, and strength though these have improved as he’s added some core body strength. He was 175 pounds when drafted and is 194 pounds now, so some work has been done here, though at 6’2, a little bit more muscle could still be added.
In the defensive end of the rink Schmaltz is good positionally. You can definitely see that he has a high hockey IQ and understands the defensive aspect of the game. He has a quick stick and is good at poke checking the puck off of a defender. Adding bulk has helped Schmaltz be more effective in board battles and defending the cycle, however there is still a bit more room on his 6’2″ frame for some added muscle.
St. Louis has an outstanding defence at the NHL level and there is no need to rush Schmaltz. As a result, expect to see him spend at least a year in the AHL and to continue to work in the weight room.
Super Sleeper: Petteri Lindbohm, Defence
Born Sep 23 1993 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6.03 — Weight 209 [191 cm/95 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by St. Louis Blues in round 6, 176th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Playing in his first season in North America, Lindbohm put up 6 goals and 18 points with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He also got in 23 games with the Blues, adding two goals and an assist.
He is a big defenceman who plays a strong physical game. Lindbohm loves to hit, and can make those attacking his side of the ice take notice. He clears the crease, and battles hard in the corners. He uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes, and is in good position to block shots. His skating can use work though, as he is a bit below average in terms of speed, edgework and agility. This can cause him to be beat to the outside by smaller, quicker defenders.
Lindbohm has a hard point shot. He can provide offense by getting open and getting it on net. He also is a pretty good passer, both in the zone and on the breakout. With his lack of speed, Lindholm is careful about joining the rush or pinching in from the point, but when the Blues are set up in the zone, he can provide some offence.
With Barrett Jackman gone, there is a spot on the blue line open in St. Louis, and it may just be one that Petteri Lindbohm is ready to seize.
The Blues continue to crank out the prospects, even with a low draft pick year in and year out, and even trading some picks as they have done the last couple of years. Vince Dunn, Adam Musil, and Glenn Gawdin add some nice depth to the group. In goal, the Blues are working to develop Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso, two worthwhile projects and have now added Pheonix Coppley to the mix. The defence has some nice depth with Dunn, Schmaltz, Lindbohm, Tommy Vanelli, Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, and Konrad Abeltshauser. The forward group features Fabbri, Barbashev, Musil, and Gawdin with the ability to play centre. Ty Rattie is a scorer on the wing. The Blues also signed former Habs and Rangers prospect Danny Kristo and will try to get something out of the former North Dakota star.
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – DECEMBER 26: Robby Fabbri #29 of Team Canada scores on Denis Godla #30 of Team Slovakia during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game at the Bell Centre on December 26, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)