Saturday, July 19, 2014

Vannelli calls move to WHL beneficial

Highly-touted Blues' 2012 second-round pick 
raised eyebrows with Medicine Hat, eyes move to AHL

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues selected Tommy Vannelli with their second round pick (47th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, the defenseman was a fast-riser on many draft boards.

Vannelli had already committed to Don Lucia's University of Minnesota hockey program and was enlisted in school after being highly-sought after from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School and the U.S. National Developmental Team Program U-18 squad after helping lead the team to a silver medal in the World Championships in Sochi, Russia.

Being part of the Gophers hockey program wouldn't have been a poor route towards ascending to one day becoming a pro.
Tommy Vannelli

But Vannelli never dressed in a game for the Gophers, instead choosing that academics and hockey were not in his best interests at the time. He would move on to the Western Hockey League and Medicine Hat. But he initially didn't commit to the Tigers. Vannelli considered playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League before settling on Medicine Hat.

The move proved to be highly beneficial. It made the decision to leave easier, since Vannelli had a tough time initially parting ways.

"When I left (Minnesota), I think it benefited in the long run with my development," the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Vannelli, who recently took part in the Blues' prospects camp, said. "I had a pretty good year."

Vannelli, a 19-year-old Minnetonka native, produced 14 goals and 41 points in 60 games for the Tigers as a rookie. Add in two goals and eight points in eight playoff games and it was a strong campaign.

"I didn't know what to expect going into Medicine Hat," Vannelli admitted. "I was happy, but I think there was definitely more to what I contributed. I kind of tailed off at the end of the year. I think that was the amount of games I wasn't used to, stuff like that. I think now I know the games, what the competition's like ... I think I can get better."

Touted as an offensive defenseman who adds in a line of puck-moving blue liners the Blues are stocking up on in their minor league system and amateur prospects, Vannelli fits the bill as the game is gearing more towards defensemen able to transition the puck quickly.

"I'm an offensive defenseman," Vannelli said. "I like to move the puck. I think my skating's my biggest attribute. Just get it up to the forwards and follow the play close.

"This camp has been good.  It was nice to meet all the guys and get used to the personnel around here. It was a good week. First time being here is definitely an eye-opener. And the Blues were happy with last year. They're happy with the weight I've put on so far this summer. Obviously I still have a little bit to go, but they're happy with how I've developed so far. I've definitely never hit the weight room like I have this summer. Nutrition is big also. Those two things have helped me out a lot."

Blues director of player development Tim Taylor called Vannelli one of the more noticeable players at camp.

"He can skate ... he flies," Taylor said. "He glides on the ice, he can shoot the puck. It just flies off his stick. He has a great one-timer. He's a guy that can move the puck, he's got good agility, he closes gaps quickly. He's going to learn as a pro, he doesn't have to be overly physical. He just has to get in the way, take time and space away.
(WHL file photo)
Blues prospect Tommy Vannelli impressed in his first season with the
Medicine Hat Tigers (14 goals, 27 assists) in 60 games.

"Last year when he decided not to go to school and instead went up to Medicine Hat, he had a fantastic year. It was a huge stepping-stone for his career. He's taken big strides. He's gained eight pounds, he's lost two percent body fat, so on a 200-pound body, that's 10-11 pounds of muscle he's gained for the year. He's a guy now going to try out for Team USA in August. We want him to go there this year and show them they really made a mistake last year and he deserves to be there. He's a guy that's taken some good strides this past year and junior hockey in Canada's really helped with that."

Vannelli is reaching high as far as his future endeavors. In a perfect world, he'll be playing in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, but a return to Medicine Hat is also a possibility.

"I think there's a chance I can play in the 'A' next year, also go back to Medicine Hat," Vannelli said. "It's really up in the air. It's what the Blues want for me.

"I definitely know I need to get stronger; they know that, too. But they've been patient. They've been good to me. They've given me all the tools to reach my goal, get bigger."

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