Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: St. Louis Blues Prospects
The Blues had a strong season, and exorcised a number of playoff demons, but fell short of the ultimate goal. Ken Hitchcock’s Blues finally defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. They also beat the Dallas Stars in a hard-fought second round series. Unfortunately the Western Conference final saw the end of the playoff run, as they fell to the San Jose Sharks.
The off-season was filled with change. The Blues traded goaltender Brian Elliott to Calgary. Free agent Troy Brouwer followed him. Long-time captain David Backes left for Boston. Veteran Steve Ott signed in Detroit. David Perron and Landon Ferraro were brought in. For the Blues to improve though, the improvements must come internally. That includes the continued growth of Jake Allen, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko Robby Fabbri, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and the rest of the young Blues core. They also have some prospects on the way.
Blues Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Ville Husso
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born Feb 6 1995 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’2″ — Weight 182 lbs [188 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 4, #94 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Husso had another strong season playing for HIFK in the SM-Liiga, Finland‘s top league. He put up a .927 save percentage in the regular season, and a .935 in the playoffs. Named a league all-star, Husso had the best goaltending numbers in the playoffs. He helped HIFK made it to the league final. Husso also won the award for the top goaltender in the SM-Liiga. When he was done, he signed his entry level contract with St. Louis.
At 6’2″ Husso may not be huge, but he still has good size for an NHL goalie. He plays a strong butterfly technique and shows strong positioning and comes out to challenge shooters, which makes him appear even bigger in the net. He is a good skater which allows him to challenge, while still recovering in his net on deke attempts. Husso has a very good leg push and this helps him get from side to side quickly and he tracks the puck extremely well, taking away one-timer attempts and cross ice passes. His glove hand is especially strong.
Husso has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. He swallows up pucks, and those he can’t he kicks to the corners. His legs are quick and the reflexes good which takes away the bottom of the net. Husso’s puckhandling is a weakness though, as he isn’t the type of goalie to pass the puck up to his defencemen or aid in starting the transition game. He tends to stay in his net though because of this.
Husso is cool and calm in the net. He does not seem to panic no matter how much pressure he is under or how big the game. Husso does not let bad goals get to him, and bounces back quickly. He shows maturity beyond his years. Husso has been a leader in his age group during international tournaments.
Husso is expected to play for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. He needs to continue his development, and adapt to the changing angles in the smaller North American rink. Goaltenders take time, and he is not yet NHL ready, but the potential is high.
#2 Prospect: Vince Dunn
Defense — shoots Left
Born Oct 29 1996 — Lindsay, ONT
Height 6’0″ — Weight 185 lbs [183 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by St. Louis Blues in round 2, #56 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Vince Dunn had a strong season with the Niagara Ice Dogs, taking the role of top defenceman on a team that made a surprising run to the OHL final. He scored 12 goals and 43 points in 52 games. He added 12 points in 12 playoff games. While injury kept Dunn out of five games during their playoff run, he came back strong.
Dunn is an outstanding skater. He has good speed in both directions, excellent agility, and very good pivots. This mobility defines his game in all areas. He is able to join the rush, and pinch at the blue line but still get back defensively. This is something Dunn takes full advantage of as he pinches in a lot, either to keep pucks in along the boards, or to sneak into an opening in the slot to get a high quality scoring chance.
His speed and quickness make him tough to beat to the outside if properly positioned. Dunn could more lower body strength though. He gets pushed around a bit in board battles and in fighting for loose pucks, as well as in front of the net. Some added strength on his skates and balance should come as he matures though.
Dunn is a very good puck-moving defenceman as he combines that skating ability with the puckhandling skills to skate the puck out of dangerous areas, and led the rush. Dunn has the ability to stickhandle while still moving at top speed that is rare amongst defencemen, especially at his age. He also has very good vision and passing skills, making strong breakout passes, and quarterbacking the play on the power play. Dunn has a very good wrist shot, with a lightning quick release. His slap shot and one-timer are powerful and accurate. Dunn is everything you could want in an offensive defenceman.
Dunn is willing to use his body to defensively, throwing hits and blocking shots. He could stand to work on his gap control, as he sometimes gives forwards too much room on the rush, when he has the skating ability to really close down and take away their time and space a lot better. Overall though, his biggest issues defensively come from taking too many risks in the offensive zone. His speed allows him to get back defensively in junior hockey, but he won’t have the same luxury in the AHL or NHL. He’s also willing to throw too many passes in dangerous areas in his own end. If Dunn can fix these issues as he matures, he can be a major steal.
Dunn completed his junior career, and should move up to the pro ranks. He needs some time in the AHL before he is ready to join the Blues.
#3 Prospect: Jordan Schmaltz
Defense — shoots Right
Born Oct 8 1993 — Verona, WI
Height 6’2″ — Weight 192 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 1, #25 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Schmaltz had an excellent career at the University of North Dakota. After three seasons, he signed his entry level contract with the Blues. Schmaltz had a strong rookie season with the Wolves, scoring six goals and 36 points.
Schmaltz’s skating has continually improved over the years. His stride is long and he generates decent top end speed and his acceleration is now a strength. He is also agile and changes direction well, and makes good pivots. Schmaltz could 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 192 pounds now, so some work has been done here; though at 6’2, a little bit more muscle could still be added.
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 power play. His shot is not the hardest, however Schmaltz is really good at is keeping it low, accurate and on net even with heavy traffic. This can lead to tip-ins and rebound goals for his teammates.
Schmaltz shows good positional play in his own end. His high hockey IQ is evident. Schmaltz 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.
Schmaltz will be 23 before the NHL season begins. He will push for a spot in training camp. However, it might benefit him to start the year in Chicago and be the first call-up should an injury occur.
#4 Prospect: Jake Walman
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 20 1996 — Toronto, ONT
Height 6’1″ — Weight 193 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 3, #82 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Jake Walman was the NCAA leading scorer amongst defencemen. He had 19 points in 14 games before leaving for World Junior tryout camp. Walman planned to play for Team USA, but a IIHF ruling forced him into Team Canada camp. Just before he was set to attend camp, he suffered a shoulder injury which took him out past the tournament, and hampered him the rest of the season. Eventually Walman could not continue and he underwent surgery. He finished with 28 points in 27 games.
Walman is an absolute elite skater, and may be the best skating defenceman in the NCAA. He has elite speed in both directions. His first step is quick and a smooth, almost effortless stride leads to outstanding acceleration. His edge work, pivots, cross-overs, and agility are all extremely good. He has the type of lateral agility that allows him to quickly walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. In his own zone he rolls off checks and opens up space to clear the puck. Couple this with good balance, and his mobility is off the charts.
This skating ability makes him extremely difficult to beat one-on-one, and able to join, or lead the rush while still recovering defensively and hardly ever getting caught with the level of opposition he faces.
Offensively, Walman is poised with the puck. He nearly always makes the right decision on the breakout, whether it is a crisp pass, or skating it out himself and rarely turns the puck over. He has excellent vision and can quarterback the play from the blue line. His point shot is decent, but not a howitzer. He could improve it with added muscle mass.
Defensively Walman is physical despite being undersized. He loves to throw big hits and battle along the boards. He also battles hard in the corners and in front of his net despite needing to add muscle. As stated, Walman is extremely difficult to beat one-on-one due to his superb skating ability. He is a little raw in his defensive positioning, and will need some coaching on properly reading the play in the defensive zone. This may improve with more experience on the blue line.
Walman will be back with the Friars next season. He’ll be looking to pick up where he left off, and lead the team back to the Frozen Four (a tournament they won his freshman season). Once their season ends, the Blues will try to get him under contract.
#5 Prospect: Tage Thompson
The Blues drafted Thompson with the 28th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Thompson, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Petteri Lindbohm
Defence – Shoots Left
Born Sep 23 1993 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6.03 — Weight 209 [191 cm/95 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in round 6, 176th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Playing in his second season in North America, Lindbohm put up 3 goals and 11 points with the Chicago Wolves. He also got in 10 games with the Blues.
Lindbohm’s skating can use a little work. He is a bit below average in terms of speed. He can also use work on his edge work 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. He also is not one to handle the puck efficiently which really limits offense.
Lindbohm 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.
Lindbohm will look to make the Blues this season and will be fighting with Schmaltz for a spot. He may not have huge upside but could provide some minutes on the bottom pair; or as the seventh defender.
The Blues are especially strong at the back end. In addition to Husso, they have Jordan Binnington, and Pheonix Copley. They also drafted Evan Fitzpatrick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Along the blue line, they recently graduated Edmundson and Parayko, and have excellent prospects in Dunn, Schmaltz and Walman. They also have Petteri Lindbohm, Tommy Vannelli, and Dmitrii Sergeev in the system. The weaknesses come up front. The Blues have a number of young forwards on their main roster. In trying to build the next wave to join them, the Blues added Thompson and Jordan Kyrou in the draft. They also have Ivan Barbashev in the system, though his first year in the AHL was a little below expectations. Ty Rattie and Dany Kristo need to make an impact soon, as their time is running out.