Monday, July 10, 2017

Walman could be on Blues' horizon sooner than later

Defenseman, third-round pick in 2014, got to work at prospects camp, 
will get first full season in AHL to show why he'll be looked at in near future

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jake Walman's second tour at a Blues prospect camp should have been a formality, a sort of been-there, done-that mentality.

But for Walman, who the Blues picked in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, it was his first time on the ice, and there was a look that the 6-foot-1, 200-205 pound defenseman was looking forward to actually be able to physically take part in the camp after being a helpless spectator in 2016.

"Good to be healthy, yeah," Walman said during camp, which started June 28 and ended July 1. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After sitting out with a shoulder injury last summer, Blues prospect Jake
Walman (pictured) skated in his first prospects camp recently.

Walman was coming off a year in 2015-16 in which a shoulder injury cut short his season at Providence College that required season-ending surgery, a year after helping the Friars to a Frozen Four title.

That's a big reason why Walman returned for a third season with the Friars in 2016-17, and although he finished with just seven goals and 18 assists in 39 games, Walman was able to get a read on what being a pro was about, take it back to college before signing his entry-level contract in March before joining the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

"It was a little bit of a relief being able to go into each game and be healthy," Walman said. "Come in here, it gives me a little more confidence to show my stuff. Last year, I was just watching from the side. It was tough. There might be a little expectation to show my stuff. It's more welcoming now than I'm healthy.

"... Just because I didn't have as many points as I had the year before (13 goals, 15 assists in 27 games), I think my game still improved. I became more defensive-aware. I thought that my third year of college turned me into more of a complete player and the fact that I was healthy and I felt strong, it all kind of gave me confidence to take the next step. I thought I was ready to go."

Walman's a left-handed shot, and he'll likely get a full season in the AHL after playing seven games in the regular-season with the Wolves; he had two goals and an assist before also adding two goals and an assist in eight Calder Cup playoff games.

"It (was) a huge help," Walman said of his stint with the Wolves. "I think getting my feet wet was really important. That being said, the coaches in Chicago coming over here (Craig Berube, Darryl Sydor and Daniel Tkazcuk) kind of helps me out a little bit in the fact that I know them and they know what I can do. I think I gained a little bit of experience at the pro level. It's definitely a lot different from college so translating that to the NHL level is something that I've got to work on now.

"The biggest thing is just seeing the players that I idolized growing up and not necessarily the best NHL players but guys that have been there and experienced the NHL for years and playing against them, it's eye-opening at the beginning and then you get settled in and you enjoy the moment. You're playing the game you love just like they still are. Another thing that I kind of realized was those guys that have been there for years, they're still working hard and they're still doing the same things that I'm trying to do. No matter how old you are or how long you've been there, it's the same work process."

Walman, 21, being a left-handed shot, is in a position were his ascension to the NHL could come quicker than others. The Blues' depth chart on the left side has 33-year-old Jay Bouwmeester (two years remaining on his contract), Joel Edmundson, a staple with fellow 24-year-old Colton Parayko and 30-year-old Carl Gunnarsson, who also has two years remaining on his contract. So this is an opportunity for Walman, who will be at training camp in St. Louis in September, be ready to make inroads with Blues brass.

"His game is based on quickness and based on his head, his ability to move the puck and what he can do offensively on the power play," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Walman. "... I think Traverse City is going to be a really good test for him on taking what he learned last year at the American Hockey League at the end. I saw a huge improvement from Colton from the summer to where he ended to what he did in Traverse City (in 2014). He was a man at Traverse City a few years ago and we didn't have him on our team that year. We thought half a year in the minors and all of the sudden, he never went back. 

"I'm not saying I'm expecting that from any of the guys going there, but that's sort of how I see a guy like Walman coming in and defining himself more at Traverse City because his skill set is going to transfer really good to what you're going to see out there (at prospects camp). There's not a lot of pushback right now."

Walman, who signed a $2.775 million contract, will now play for keeps. No more being one of the top cogs at Providence, where he was heavily counted upon to lead the Friars. 

"It's a job now. It's still fun for me, it's the game I love, but it's a job and everyone's trying to make a living for themselves," Walman said. "I'm still taking courses, so I'm still getting a little bit of schooling done and I'm going to finish my degree, but yeah, at the same time, I'm playing the game that I love. It's good to kind of have a job that you enjoy coming to every day and working hard.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Walman (front) lifts weights during Blues prospects camp completed
recently. Walman said he's up to 200-205 pounds from 193 last season.

"I can do anything I put my mind to. I love what I do and I work hard every time I get an opportunity, so I'm excited."

But it's why Walman will not take anything for granted. Wherever he lands, he'll continue to push to get to the NHL level and give Armstrong and those in charge a reason to keep Walman's name entrenched in their heads.

"I have no timeline on anything," Walman said. "I just take it day-by-day and it's my first kind of real opportunity coming out of college. Every day I'm going to put my foot to the pedal and kind of grind as hard as I can. I know there's a chance for anything so I'm going to work hard every day. You'll see that both on and off the ice."

It's what Blues fans are counting on.

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