Saturday, June 27, 2015

Local goalie part of Blues' six draft picks on second day

Team leaves South Florida without making any hockey trades despite heavy 
dose of action throughout weekend; Armstrong said team won't "force something" 

The second day of the NHL Draft came and went without the fanfare fans were expecting from the Blues.

The Blues, who were quiet Friday with a lack of a first round pick that was traded in 2014 that brought a package that included goalie Ryan Miller from Buffalo, had six picks in Rounds 2-7 that included a variety of players, including a goalie that has been right in their back yard.

The Blues' second round pick was used on defenseman Vince Dunn, who played the past two seasons for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
Vince Dunn

Dunn, 18, saw his draft stock soar throughout the year. He went from 53rd on the Central Scouting Rankings as a midterm ranking all the way up to 32nd. He's 6-foot, 187 pounds and is a left-handed shot.

Dunn, a Lindsay, Ontario native who wears No. 4 in honor of hockey idol Bobby Orr, tied for fourth on the team and was sixth among OHL defensemen with 56 points (18 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games last season. He grew up a Los Angeles Kings fan and his favorite player is Drew Doughty.

Dunn was hoping for a first round selection, but was glad to have his name called nonetheless.

"It was butterflies all day; I was just waiting for my name to be called," Dunn said. "It's such an honor to be picked by St. Louis. 

"... I bring a lot of offense; I consider myself an offensive defenseman. I like to join the rush and I'm not afraid to jump up in the play."

"We were excited to get him because the way he played at times this year, he was a first-round pick," said Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong, who felt Dunn was best player available. "With the depth of the draft, he just got pushed down. We were excited to get him because he is almost like a (Brent) Seabrook. ... Maybe he's more similar to a guy like Duncan Keith. He's got some traits where his skating and his compete, his ability to move the puck and he can play the power play. We're really excited."

The Blues didn't have a pick in the third round, which was used in a trade that sent David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 that brought Magnus Paajarvi, a 2014 third-round pick and a 2015 fourth-round pick. 

So with the pick they acquired in the fourth round from Edmonton (No. 94), the Blues used it on center Adam Musil, son of former NHL player Frantisek Musil who played for Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.

Musil, 18, whose uncle is two-time Stanley Cup champion Bobby Holik (New Jersey Devils), is listed at 6-3, 202 pounds who scored 15 goals and added 24 assists in 66 games for Red Deer along with 71 penalty minutes that plays a big, physical game.

The right-handed Musil is an Ottawa, Ontario native.

"You've got a big 6-foot-3 guy that can skate," Armstrong said of Musil. "He's still got pounds to pack on. He's a good player that can go up and down and can crash and bang and get to the heavy areas of the ice. He's got some good skill. ... He's a big man that can skate and that's what we needed."

Musil's brother David was a 2011 second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers.

With the 116th pick in the fourth round, the Blues went center again and selected Glenn Gawdin, who played for Swift Current of the WHL last season.

Gawdin, 18, is 6-0 and weighs 191 pounds who had 15 goals, 39 assists and 59 penalty minutes in 72 games for the Broncos last season.

"Glenn Gawdin's a two-way player," Armstrong said. "He makes great plays off the rush in zone. He's a responsible player. He's one of those kids that coaches love because he's always in the right position. He's certainly got something to add to us. He's a smart, savvy player." 

The fifth round also had the Blues selecting twice, including No. 127 with defenseman Niko Mikkola from Kalpa Jr. of the Finland-JR league last season.

Mikkola, 19, is large (6-4) and lanky (185 pounds) who had nine goals, 23 points and 80 penalty minutes in just 37 games last season for Kalpa Jr.

"He's a super sleeper," Armstrong said of Mikkola. "Our guys saw him and they just fell in love with him. He's almost like a (Colton) Parayko in a sense of how much he's grown in the last few years. I think he was 5-11 a year and a half ago. How he's close to 6-foot-4, which is just one of those freak things." 

The feel-good story enters for the Blues at pick 146, where goalie Luke Opilka was chosen.

Opilka is a native of Effingham, Ill. who was developed with the St. Louis AAA Blues program. He moved to St. Louis in the sixth grade and attended Lindbergh High School and grew up a huge Blues fan, hoping to be selected by his childhood team. He played for former Blue Keith Tkachuk, whose opinions of Opilka helped sway the Blues' decision to use the pick on him.

"He's a guy I've known for the last five or six years; I've coached him and he played with my son," Tkachuk said after the draft. "I know what he brings. He's a tall (6-1, 192 pounds), athletic goalie who does a good job of finding the puck. He's a great kid and shows great character. He had a great couple last years at the US program. We're really happy. ... He deserves this." 

Opilka's younger days consisted of playing at the Affton Ice Rink and the U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights, which is no longer operating.

"It's an unbelievable feeling being drafted by the home team," said Opilka, whose favorite player is Montreal's Carey Price. "They were my favorite team growing up. It's definitely unbelievable.

"... I'm still kind of in the moment. It feels really good. I wasn't sure I could get the jersey over my head I was shaking so much. ... My mom was pretty into it. She had the best reaction out of all of us."

Opilka, 18, who played for the USA's U-18 squad and had a 2.70 goals-against average in 33 games, is not only living out his dream of one day playing for the Blues but he nearly quit playing hockey altogether.

He began as a skater before switching over to goalie, and the change paid huge dividends.

Opilka is now the No. 1 goalie in the United States Team Developmental Program.

Opilka will follow in the footsteps of current Blues goalie Brian Elliott and play at the University of Wisconsin in 2015-16.

"We think he's underrated," Armstrong said of Opilka. "... He's a kid that competes. He's a very focused kid with good size and good athletic ability. (Keith Tkachuk) is a huge part of our (scouting) group."

With their final selection of the day (in the sixth round, pick No. 176), the Blues chose left wing Liam Dunda out of Owen Sound of the OHL.

Dunda, 17, who split time with Owen Sound and Plymouth of the OHL last season, is big and powerful at 6-4, 212 pounds.

"Our scouts were at the end of the table pounding, wanting us to take this guy," Armstrong said of Dunda. "They feel he's really raw. He's another big guy that can skate. ... He can fight and he's got the ability to get there for the hits."

It was a draft the Blues were pleased with, despite no No. 1 pick and no immediate trades.

"To sit there and walk out of those earlier rounds with Dunn and Musil, that's exciting," Armstrong said. "They're two guys that can skate, that can add something and all the late picks that we added, they're exciting players. 
Luke Opilka

"You always want to pick early. That's where the (Connor) McDavids and the (Jack) Eichels and the Austin Crouses are, but you've got to work the draft and it is what it is. You try and squeeze as much out of that draft as you can no matter where you are in it."

As for the trade front, more players were moved on the second day but none involved the Blues, something general manager Doug Armstrong said was a possibility when discussing the lack of pulling the trigger on a trade Friday night.

"I have a real good comfort level for who's available and what's available," Doug Armstrong said. "Now we just sit back and wait to see what everyone wants to do. 

"I think what you'll find is you have now and then free agency's a time where if people's needs aren't met in unrestricted free agency, then the trade calls start again. You'll get to the middle of July and it'll go extremely quiet until training camp. We're more than prepared to come back with the group that we have now. It's a long time before the next trade deadline and we're not going to force something."

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