Monday, July 20, 2015

Vannelli joins list of promising defensemen in system

2013 second round pick played for Medicine 
Hat past two seasons, destined for AHL Chicago

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Being a Minnetonka, Minn. native, it's every Minnesota kid's dream to play collegiate hockey for the Gophers.

Defenseman Tommy Vannelli had that chance in 2013 when he had a full scholarship to play for one of the most storied and consistent programs in the country year in and year out.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tommy Vannelli joins a groups of promising  defensemen in the Blues' 
system looking to work his way up the ladder.

But when Vannelli, the Blues' second round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft (a pick they acquired when they traded goalie Ben Bishop to Ottawa), gave up his scholarship before even playing a game for the Gophers so he can further his development with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, it was a decision that tugged not only at his heart but his mind.

But the 20-year-old, who ascended up the draft board at the time, knew if he was going to give professional hockey his undivided attention, going this route was the best way for him. And going to Medicine Hat was the best course of action.

And Vannelli, a 6-foot-2, 179-pounder who loves to get involved offensively, has rewarded the Blues with two solid seasons with the Tigers.

After a 14-goal, 47-point 2013-14 season in 60 games, Vannelli followed that up with 12 goals and 35 points in only 44 games after sustaining a broken finger.

"It was really good. I learned a lot there," Vannelli said of his time with Medicine Hat. "The scheduling is a lot like pro. That's why I went there and I think it helped me a lot."

Vannelli, who recently attended Blues Prospect Camp, is geared to make a move to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League this season. It's all part of his plan after bypassing college for a quicker transition to the NHL.

"I think last year I was trying to learn quite a bit (at camp)," Vannelli said. "I'll always be learning when I come to these and main camp, too. I think the comfort level is different knowing the people you're working with here are different. They help you more and more every day so you know it helps."

Tommy Vannelli
Vannelli, who has put on (according to him) 20-25 pounds since his first camp two years ago, feels his game at Medicine Hat geared him towards this run at turning pro.

"I think defensively is probably my biggest difference from the last two years," Vannelli said. "I also think confidence has been built in the last two years.

"Obviously my strong suit is when I have the puck on my stick. I like to get it up to my forwards. Offensively, I think it comes a little more natural, and on defense, you have to keep working at it."

Vannelli, who returned to Minnesota to train for the next couple weeks, said his tentative plan is to return to St. Louis in August in preparation for training camp in mid-September. He joins a glutton of good, young defensemen trying to make their way through the system. He'll join Colton Parayko (third round, 2012) and Jordan Schmaltz (first round, 2012) in the Wolves system. 

"You want to work hard and every chance you get, you want to make a good impression," Vannelli said. "Even though it's July, you still want to come in here and make a good impression.

"Just get prepared for a good camp. ... I'd like to play pro this year. I think that's definitely a possibility for me, so that's my goal."

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