Saturday, June 25, 2016

Blues go center-heavy in final day of draft

Team selects former first-rounder Bleackley in 
fifth round; Shattenkirk remains a Blue for time being

ST. LOUIS -- All the hubbub about potential big-name trades at the 2016 NHL Draft came and went without a lot of fanfare.

The Blues did trade goalie Brian Elliott to Calgary on Friday but have yet to make a move -- if they even intend to -- with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who has received much attention as a player potentially on the move.

That may happen yet but it didn't at the draft.
(Red Deer Rebels photo)
Former first-round pick Conner Bleackley re-entered the draft this weekend
and was chosen by the Blues in the fifth round.

So the Blues concluded the draft Saturday at First Niagara Center in Buffalo with six picks, including one acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks of all teams, getting one of the Hawks' fifth round picks (No. 144) for their fifth-rounder in 2017. 

The Blues used that pick to select former first-rounder Conner Bleackley, who played the past five seasons with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.

Bleackley is an intriguing proposition considering he was Colorado's first-round pick (No. 23 overall) in 2014 but was part of a trade last season that sent the 6-foot, 197-pound center to Arizona. But since the Coyotes didn't sign Bleackley to an entry-level contract by June 1, he was allowed to re-enter the draft and the Blues took a flyer on Bleackley, who will turn 20 on July 2. The Coyotes received a supplemental second-round pick.

Bleackley missed the 2016 WHL playoffs after a freak injury the final regular season game in which he had tendons severed in his wrist by an accidental cut by a skate blade; he missed six weeks earlier in the season with a broken left kneecap and finished with 13 goals and 33 assists in 55 games after 56 goals and 71 assists the previous two seasons with the Rebels.

"We tried to get Bleackley, who's almost like a first-round pick in the fifth when we didn't have anything," Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong said. "We've got some background and we've got some belief in him. He's been through a lot. This kid can play."

The Blues are expected to sign Bleackley to an entry-level contract and immediately insert him to the American Hockey League and the Chicago Wolves.

The Blues, who selected center Tage Thompson with their first-round pick on Friday (26th overall after trading up from No. 28 with Washington), selected six centers in all of their eight picks, including five on Saturday.

They grabbed 6-0, 175-pound center Jordan Kyrou with their second-round pick (No. 35). 

Kyrou, 18, played with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League last season (where Steven Stamkos played his junior hockey) and finished with 17 goals and 51 points in 65 regular season games. Kyrou was part of Canada’s gold medal team at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, where he had two goals and an assist in five games. He also represented Canada at the 2016 Under-18 World Championship and had five goals and three assists in seven games, and skated for Canada (White) at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. 

"Sitting there waiting for your name to be called, it's unbelievable," Kyrou told reporters. "... To be picked by such a great organization, I'm really excited. 

"... Just sitting there not really knowing what to expect, then you hear your name get called, it's a great feeling." 

In the third round, the Blues took their first and only goalie, going with 6-3, 206-pound Evan Fitzpatrick, who won 18 games with Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.

In 54 games, the 18-year-old Fitzpatrick had a 3.42 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

The Blues' fourth round pick produced another center. This time, it was 6-0, 200-pound Tanner Kaspick, who had 13 goals and 31 points in 53 games with Brandon of the WHL.

Kaspick, 18, was also part of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament with Kyrou; he had a goal and an assist in five games.

With the first of their two fifth-round picks, the Blues took center Nolan Stevens, who skated with Northeastern University last year. It was a pick acquired when the Blues traded defenseman Jordan Leopold to Columbus in 2015.

Stevens, who turns 20 July 22, is the son of Los Angeles Kings associate coach John Stevens; he had 20 goals and 22 assists in 41 games last season.

The Blues had no sixth-round picks, but had two in the seven round, including two of the final three picks of the draft.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues moved up to the 26th pick to take Connecticut's Tage Thompson
with their first round pick on Friday at the 2016 NHL Draft.

With pick No. 209, the Blues went center again with Danish-born Nikolaj Krag Christensen, who is 6-3 and 201 pounds. Christensen, 17, finished last season with Rodovre of Denmark first league.

And with a pick acquired two seasons ago along with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo that yielded Ian Cole, the Blues grabbed 18-year-old left wing Filip Helt, who is 6-1, 176-pounds.

Helt played seven games with Litvinov Jr. of the Czech Republic junior league last season and had three assists.

"I think we tried to squeeze the most out of the draft," Armstrong said. "Every draft's different. This one was a little thin in some areas. ... We were working as hard as we could at every moment."

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