Tuesday, May 19, 2020

How Blues prospects, minor league skaters fared in abbreviated 2019-20 season cut short by COVID-19

Detailed capsules with some making push to move up, some 
needing to establish value in organization moving forward for 2020-21

ST. LOUIS -- With the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) cutting short the respective seasons for Blues prospects/those playing in the minors for the 2019-20 season, let's take a look at how they fared and offer up an analysis of what the next step for each player can be for 2020-21.

However, keep in mind pending on what the NHL does with the rest of its season, some of these players can be called into action as call-ups or as Black Aces:

Nikita Alexandrov, C, 6-0, 183: The 19-year-old drafted by the Blues in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft completed his third season with the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and had himself a nice abbreviated season. Alexandrov, who attended his first Blues prospects camp last summer and was part of the team that attended the Traverse City, Mich. prospects tournament in mid-September (one goal, one assist in four games), was able to rack up 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists), 42 penalty minutes and a minus-7 rating in 42 games. He also had eight points (two goals, six assists) representing silver medal-winning Russia at the World Junior Championships.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL): Alexandrov has played three years in the Q and his numbers have improved each year, or he was poised to break the 64 points he totaled in 64 games in 2018-19. He's added mass to his frame, something he said he was focusing on when in St. Louis last summer, and feel he's ready to make the jump to the Blues' new AHL home next season in Massachusetts. Alexandrov signed a three-year entry-level contract Aug. 1, 2019 at an average annual value of $925,000 ($861,667 cap hit) but is a slide candidate.

Viktor Alexandrov, RW, 5-11, 183: The 34-year-old, drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2004 draft hasn't played since the 2017-18 season with Admiral Vladivostok of the Kontinental Hockey League. A lifer in the KHL, the Aqtobe, Kazakhstan native has spent his entire career playing in Russia, including 10 seasons in the KHL.
Destination for 2020-21 -- out of hockey: Well, considering he hasn't played in three years, unless he discovers the fountain of youth, probably safe to say this draft pick's hockey playing days are over.

Erik Foley, LW, 6-0, 185: A 22-year-old acquired by the Blues from the Winnipeg Jets in 2018 that sent Paul Stastny to the Jets, who selected him in the third round in 2015, Foley not played since his junior season at Providence College in 2017-18 because of concussion issues, most recently sustaining one with Blues prospects at Traverse City in 2018. Foley has one year remaining on his entry-level contract signed March 29, 2018 with a $925,000 cap hit but it's unknown if and when he will suit up and play hockey again. Foley was expected to grow into a power forward type player and perhaps fit into a bottom six role with the Blues after putting up 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 38 games his final season in the NCAA.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield (if he is able to play): Foley failed his physical last September and the Blues shut him down for the season to see if his symptoms subside or are alleviated in some fashion to the point where he can resume a playing career. It's hard to say at this point where Foley's health is at at this point, but this is one to keep an eye on moving forward. It would be a shame if his career was cut short at 22.

Filip Helt, FW, 6-1, 176: The 22-year-old was selected by the Blues in the seventh round of the 2016 draft and spent this past season with HC Stadion Litomerice of the Czech 2 League before being loaned to HC Litvinov of the Czech 1 League. The Litvinov, Czech Republic native had seven points (five goals, two assists) in 13 games with Litomerice before collecting five points (two goals, three assists) in 37 games with his hometown Litvinov. Helt has spent the past four seasons in Blues prospects camp and also attended training camp in 2016 prior to playing in Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. 
Destination for 2020-21 -- HC Litvinov: It's unlikely Helt has done enough to warrant the Blues bringing him to North America to play, and at 22, he may be destined to a career in Europe despite making the effort to work with the Blues in an effort to crack the NHL. 

Dakota Joshua, C, 6-2, 199: Joshua, 24, was acquired by the Blues from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, on July 12, 2019 for future considerations. After spending his four-year college career at Ohio State, Joshua split last season between the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL (three goals, four assists in 30 games) and Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL (three goals, eight assists in 20 games). Considered a project with ability to play with power and physicality, Joshua is projected to be a bottom six forward the Blues will be monitoring closely in his second year in the organization. He had two assists at Traverse City in four games last year with Blues prospects.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: The Dearborn, Mich. native will likely get the chance to play in the AHL the entire season and will need to show the organization he's taking necessary steps forward to be considered in the future. It's tough to see him playing in the NHL next season but a strong year in the AHL could pave the way for a considerable look for 2021-22 when he's due for a new contract.

Tanner Kaspick, C, 6-0, 200: The 22-year-old Kaspick, a fourth round pick in 2016, had himself an OK season this past year, his second with the Rampage, in which he he had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 59 games. Kaspick won't be mistaken for a high-point center but is one with some size who isn't hesitant to throw his weight around (33 penalty minutes last season); he once had 75 penalty minutes in 49 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Kaspick played in just one game at Traverse City last year. Kaspick has either been a regular at the main training camp or Traverse City roster since he was drafted.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: The Brandon, Manitoba native isn't likely to crack the NHL roster soon, with the Blues set at the center ice position with the likes of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist on longer-term contracts and Tyler Bozak with one more year. Kaspick will need to elevate his game at the AHL level this season to earn himself a better contract when he becomes a restricted free agent after next season.

Klim Kostin, LW, 6-3, 212: Here is who everyone has been waiting for, who draws all sorts of attention from Blues fans since they selected him with the last pick of the 2017 draft, a pick they acquired from Pittsburgh when they sent Ryan Reaves to the Penguins, a trade that also brought back Sundqvist. The Blues have been, rightfully so, extremely patient with the 21-year-old Penza, Russia native, who just completed his third season at San Antonio and improved his point total last season (30, 13 goals, 17 assists) and a plus-1 rating with just 59 penalty minutes in 48 games after 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 66 games in 2018-19 and a staggering minus-28 and 102 penalty minutes; he had two goals and an assist in four games at Traverse City last year. Kostin's play improved enough last season at San Antonio that he earned his first taste with the Blues and scored his first NHL goal, a beauty I might add, in his fourth game on Nov. 23 against Nashville. Kostin is still considered a raw project, one the Blues hope develops into a menacing power forward with deceptive hands and a deft touch. 
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield to start, St. Louis to finish: Yes, it's a bit of a cop-out prediction, but unless the Blues jettison off a forward or two via trade, it's going to be hard to see Kostin crack the lineup on a regular basis -- to start the season. The Blues have 13 forwards under contract, including Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou on entry-level deals, but neither of them are going anywhere any time soon. For a maturing young man, Kostin has displayed very good patience in allowing his development to grow at the AHL level, something Russian players have been reluctant to do in the past, and albeit a fourth straight year to start in the AHL could be tough to swallow at first, I believe the Blues will give Kostin the reassurances that if he continues to stick with what they have in mind for him, they will give him the necessary confidence to understand he's knocking on the door. Keep in mind he's only 21 and it feels like he's been in North America for 10 years! There's still tons of blossoming left in this already large young man. I think there's top nine, bordering top six potential here. Kostin's ELC runs through 2021-22, so he'll be plenty motivated enough to build up his resume.

Nikolaj Krag Christensen, C, 6-3, 201: First off, let's just call Krag Christensen NKC, because the name on first reference is long enough. A Rodovre, Denmark native, NKC was picked in the seventh round of the 2016 draft and spent this past season with the Frederikshavn White Hawks of the top Danish league, called Metal Ligaen. NKC finished with decent numbers, 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 47 games.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Frederikshavn: It's unclear what NKC's intentions are at this point, but the 21-year-old is still considered a project and he's been willing to attend prospect camp in each of the last three years, so giving up on playing in North America doesn't seem to be in the cards just yet. There's nice size there for a center iceman, and I can remember some flashes of good speed watching NKC dash around the ice at prospect camp, but there just hasn't been enough of a body of work there to get a really good feel as to what the Blues' intentions are with him.

Mathias Laferriere, RW, 6-1, 175: The 19-year-old Montreal native has had himself a nice run in the QMJHL with the Cape Breton Eagles, where he's totaled 174 points in three-plus seasons, including 48 (20 goals, 28 assists) in just 40 games this past season where he missed a chunk of time at the start of the season because of a shoulder injury that probably cost him a spot on Canada's world junior team. Laferriere, who had a goal and an assist at Traverse City last season, has an uncanny quickness in his skating, a smooth stride who is leaner now than when he was at the start of camp (182). He was a strong setup player as well as a proven goal scorer in the Q and will need to transfer that ability to the next level.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Tulsa: A gradual step up for Laferriere will be sufficient for his progress. I'm not sure he's ready to move from the Q to the A just yet. I've had a number of people tell me that the AHL is a man's game, something the astute and former Blue Jamie Rivers has pointed out to me often, and a 19-year-old can be overwhelmed playing against men -- ask Kostin -- who are looking to survive in the game. The Blues have been good at patiently developing prospects, and this 2018 sixth round pick can turn into a nice little gem if he continues to develop. And who knows, perhaps he could elevate himself to Springfield by season's end, or even 2021-22, but a gradual step up is the way to go with this kid. I like his game. Keep him on your radar down the road. Laferriere signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Oct. 17, 2019 ($810,000 AAV, $796,667 cap hit) but is also a slide candidate.

Nick Lappin, RW, 6-1, 175: Lappin has NHL experience, having played parts of three seasons (2016-18) with the New Jersey Devils; the 27-year-old signed an AHL contract to play in San Antonio last season and had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 42 games. A native of Geneva, Ill., Lappin was brought in for depth and veteran experience to a younger group in San Antonio who never got a call-up by the Blues this season.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield or elsewhere: Lappin was playing on a one-year, two-way contract this season ($700,000/$350,000) and could stay in the organization and play in the AHL again, but is likely to look for work elsewhere since the Blues will be affiliated with Springfield now instead of San Antonio, which was closer to home for Lappin.

Hugh McGing, 5-8, 167: The diminutive forward wrapped up his four-year career playing for former Blues coach Andy Murray's Western Michigan Broncos with 117 points (46 goals, 71 assists) in 147 games, including 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 35 games this past season. The Chicago native, who the Blues selected in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, is a dart. The speed is definitely there, but how his physical stature translates as he moves up the totem pole will be key here. Smaller players have been known to perform well in the NHL, but McGing, who signed a two-year entry-level contract ($925,000 AAV) will find out quickly that playing at the pro level will be an adjustment. 
Destination for 2020-21 -- Tulsa: Let McGing get his feet wet at the ECHL, see how he reacts to playing there for a season, or even half a season if he shines, and then evaluate whether he's ready to move up to Springfield. There are tools there to work with. It's just a case of development for a 21-year-old, and coming from an Andy Murray syatem, discipline won't be an issue.

Jeremy Michel, LW, 6-0, 165: Michel is a 19-year-old drafted by the Blues in the seventh round of the 2019 draft who completed his third season with the Val-d'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 63 games; he has 107 points (40 goals, 67 assists) in 192 games with the Foreurs, but in a defensively-challenged league, the plus-minus numbers leave something to be desired. Michel is a combined minus-84 in three seasons. The book on Michel, who attended prospects camp, training camp and played in two games at Traverse City last year, is he's a shooter and he's already added some weight to his draft size frame (150 pounds), which will be needed to make the necessary steps up the ladder.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Val-d'Or: It's safe to say that the Levis, Quebec native will get a fourth year in the Q but will need to put up bigger, more offensive numbers to be thrust onto the radar of Blues management. In a league like the Q, offense is the way to go, and for Michel advance in the organization, he'll need a huge uptick in numbers.

Jordan Nolan, RW, 6-3, 219: What can you say about a two-time Stanley Cup champion who was also on the ice at the end of the Blues' title run as a Black Ace last season? Nolan is a nine-year NHL veteran of the Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres and Blues organization, who he's spent the past two years with, including 14 games (two assists) in St. Louis in 2018-19. He's spent the past two seasons with San Antonio, including serve as the Rampage captain this past season. Nolan is all about the grit, the physicality and the grind. Just the kind of player the Blues were looking for as added roster depth that fits into the fabric of their identity.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: It's tough for a 30-year-old to pick up and move again to another AHL city, but Nolan is a good depth player in this organization. He's an unrestricted free agent who can look for another opportunity elsewhere, but I believe he likes what the Blues offer for him at this point in his career and would make a strong leader of a new group for a new city. The Blues have liked what Nolan offers and is a reliable call-up if warranted. He was making $700,000/$300,000 on a two-way contract and could get something similar or get a modest raise in a new contract.

Austin Poganski, RW, 6-1, 198: Poganski, a fourth-round pick in 2014, got his first taste of the NHL when he suited up for the Blues in Buffalo on Dec. 10. A reliable, strong wing has spent the past two full seasons in San Antonio and got a sniff with the Rampage in 2017-18. He had 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 56 games this past season as an assistant captain. He had a goal and an assist at Traverse City last year.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Poganski will get a longer look at training camp this year, but projected as a fourth-line winger with potential to see some third line duty, another year growing his game in the AHL would greatly benefit the St. Cloud, Minn. native. Poganski didn't register a point in his NHL debut, but for the Blues to reward him with a call-up for a game gets one's attention that there's something to like there. Alexander Steen has one more year left on his contract and will be 37 next season, so there may be a chance for the 24-year-old Poganski to have a year with the Thunderbirds and make the roster on a full-time basis in 2021-22.

Evan Polei, LW, 6-2, 227: An undrafted free agent who spent three years with the Bakerfield Condors of the AHL, the Blues signed Polei to two-year entry-level contract on July 1, 2019 ($750,000 AAV). He spent the season with the Rampage and played in just 21 games, totaling four points (one goal, three assists). A 24-yera-old from Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Polei has some offensive capabilities of a body that is more of a net-front presence that can cycle pucks in the offensive zone. 
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Polei is slated to head to play for the Thunderbirds and keep gaining experience and exposure at the AHL level. His 37 minutes in 21 games last season lend to believe he's more of the enforcer type and not projected to offer much more offensive punch than the 20 points in 53 games he had with the Condors in 2018-19.

Evgeny Skachkov, LW, 6-0, 194: Drafted by the Blues in the seventh round in 2003, Skachkov has been a European lifer when it comes to the hockey career of the 35-year-old. He spent last season with CSM Dunărea Galați of the Romanian Hockey League and had 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) in 13 games. Skachkov played 10 seasons in the KHL (2008-2018) for seven different clubs before going to the Supreme Hockey League in Russia and Belarus. He then went to Romania last year.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Dunărea Galați: That's the guess, since Skachkov put up solid numbers there last season. He's Blues property, but at this point in his career, a 35-year-old is in the twilight of his playing days and will remain in Europe.

Nolan Stevens, C, 6-3, 183: The son of an NHL coach (John Stevens), the Blues used a fifth-round pick in 2016 to take the Northeastern University product who's spent the past two seasons in San Antonio. Stevens, 23, went from 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) in 59 games with the Rampage in 2018-19 to 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 50 games there this past season. The Brantford, Ontario native made improvements to his game while playing in a top six role last season.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Stevens will be a restricted free agent and have arbitration rights, but this will be an important year for him in terms of if the Blues will continue with their development of him moving forward. He's only 23 and made improvements last year but will need to stay on that path if he feels he can get a crack at the parent club. At this point, I'd say those chances are 60/40 at best unless there's a real big climb in offensive production. A 24-goal season his final year at Northeastern caught the Blues' eye and in two years at the AHL level, Stevens has yet to break into double digits. That will have to change moving forward. He'll need to be more of a goal-scoring threat.

Alexei Toropchenko, RW, 6-3, 187: Tall and lean, the 2017 fourth-round pick by the Blues had a challenging season, his first in the AHL, with San Antonio last year with just nine points (five goals, four assists) in 59 games after being an effective player the previous two seasons with the Guelph Storm of the OHL when Toropchenko scored 17 goals each season. It was his first year as a pro and the Moscow native has the tools to learn and grow, but seems destined to be a third-line winger on the high end, more likely as a mucking and grinding fourth-line winger. As a 20-year-old, the Blues, as has been mentioned a number of occasions already, will be patient because there are good qualities to like.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: The learning curve will continue in Year 2 as a pro. Toropchenko, who scored two goals in four games at Traverse City last year, has displayed good hand-eye coordination around the net, but needs to build on last year's modest numbers with the Thunderbirds in 2020-21. Having played in Traverse City the past two seasons and taking part in the main club's training camp has showed a positive willingness to do the necessary things to climb the depth chart. 

Mike Vecchione, RW, 5-10, 194: Vecchione, 27, came to the Blues as a veteran depth signing when he inked a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000/$250,000) to play for San Antonio last season after spending the previous three years in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, including two with their AHL club, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Vecchione was a nice depth signing for the Rampage and had 36 points, including a career-high 21 goals, in 61 games.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Vecchione's numbers warrant a return to the club should the Blues bring him back at the AHL level. They can bring him back on another two-way contract, but there's always the possibility that the UFA-to-be will look elsewhere to advance his career. I've got to believe that the situation was a good fit for the Saugus, Massachussetts native, and now that the Blues' AHL affiliate is just 100 miles from home, one's got to believe that if the two sides come together, a contract will be agreed upon.

Nathan Walker, LW, 5-9, 186: The 26-year-old was a 2014 third-round pick of the Washington Capitals, who cut ties with the Aussie forward before the Blues jumped in with a two-year, two-way contract ($700,000 AAV) last season and he fit in nicely with San Antonio, posting 32 points that included a career-high 19 goals serving a role as assistant captain. Walker's play with the Rampage earned him a call-up with the Blues and he posted a goal and an assist in five games. The Cardiff, Wales native has played in 17 NHL games (two goals, two assists), including 10 with the Capitals and two with the Edmonton Oilers.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Walker made the smooth transition to the Blues' organization and provided good, veteran experience at the AHL level and was rewarded with his call-up earlier this season in the NHL. He'll continue to be on that same radar again. The Blues know what they're getting, a spark plug who works hard and doesn't give up on pucks who has a knack for the net and isn't afraid to sacrifice his smaller frame.

Keean Washkurak, C, 5-10, 184: The Blues selected the Waterloo, Ontario native in the fifth round of the 2019 draft and considered to be a bit of a fiery type of a player with quality speed and finishing capabilities to go with strong puck possession, Washkurak has steadily improved his numbers in each of his three seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. In three seasons with the Steelheads, including last year's 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists, all career-highs) in 49 games cut short after missing five weeks from Dec. 16-Jan 23 due to a hand injury, Washkurak has 114 points (44 goals, 70 assists) in 176 games. He debuted for the Blues at Traverse City last year and had a goal and an assist in four games.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Mississauga: Washkurak is still raw and only 18 years old. That body still has to develop and a fourth season in the OHL will enhance his chances when the time comes to signing that first pro contract. The direction Washkurak has taken shows an initial good promise within the organization and this is another prospect to keep a close eye on in the future.

Anton Andersson, D, 6-3, 216: The Lulea, Sweden native last played for his hometown, Luleå HF J20 of the SuperElit League in Sweden, but hasn't played since the 2018-19 season when he had 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 39 games. The Blues picked Andersson, 21, in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, and he attended prospects camp in 2018 but hasn't been seen or heard from since the lefty's last season with Lulea.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Unknown: Until more information is available on this one, the best is to not say much. All that is known is he is still Blues property but is unsigned at the moment. Stay tuned.

Andreas Borgman, D, 6-0, 199: The Blues acquired the left-handed shooting Stockholm, Sweden native in a swap with the Maple Leafs for former first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz on July 25, 2019. Borgman, who played 48 NHL games for the Leafs in 2017-18 (three goals, eight assists), spent last season as a depth product with the Rampage and had 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 53 games. Only 24, Borgman provided a veteran presence in San Antonio and was a plus-8 with 42 penalty minutes.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Playing elsewhere: Borgman becomes a Group 6 UFA at the conclusion of the season and despite being a steadying presence, with the emergence of younger, left-handed shooting prospects, it's likely the Swede moves on to another organization to prolong his still young career.

Jake Dotchin, D, 6-3, 210: The 26-year-old came to the Blues on a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000/$425,000) after spending the 2018-19 season with the Anaheim Ducks (one assist in 20 games); he was drafted in the sixth round in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning and played 83 games in two seasons (three goals, 19 assists). The Blues picked him up as veteran depth for San Antonio, and he posted a goal and seven assists in eight games with the Rampage this past season.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: This one is a tough call even though the Cambridge, Ontario native is a restricted free agent and the Blues retain his rights. Injuries limited him to six games in the final two-plus months. The times Dotchin played, he was very serviceable and served as an assistant captain and can be retained for a similar leadership role, but with the depth the Blues have on defense, as a right-handed shot, it would be hard-pressed to see even a call-up at this point. So perhaps Dotchin would prefer to move on for a better chance at cracking another NHL lineup.

Joey LaLeggia, D, 5-10, 185: After being picked in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by Edmonton and spending three-plus seasons in the Oilers organization, the Blues signed LaLeggia as a free agent on July 1, 2018; he's played the past two seasons in San Antonio and a defenseman and forward. The 27-year-old Burnaby, British Columbia native, a left-handed d-man, had 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 50 games with the Rampage this past season after 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 71 games in 2018-19.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Another organization: LaLeggia is an unrestricted free agent and unless he resigns as a depth defenseman in the AHL, he'll likely be looking for work elsewhere. The Blues have some young guys that will begin occupying roles in Springfield and it likely pushes LaLeggia to another organization.

Niko Mikkola, D, 6-4, 185: Right now, the left-handed 2015 fifth-round pick of Kiiminki, Finland has the most upside and most likely to be the next to crack a lineup in St. Louis. Mikkola, 24, who played 48 games in his second season at San Antonio last season as an assistant captain (two goals, 12 assists), was recalled and was fantastic in the five games he played with the Blues. At 6-4, his size and skating ability, coupled with his positioning and ability to engage physically gave Blues coach Craig Berube reason to believe the Blues have a promising up-and-comer in the not-too-distant-future. Mikkola had an assist in his second NHL game against Buffalo and averaged 14:40 in his five games, including a career-high 17:30 on Jan. 11 against the New York Rangers.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: I'm calling for the Thunderbirds to start the season, but that's only because of the uncertainty of the rest of this season and what general manager Doug Armstrong may or may not do in the offseason. Right now, the Blues have Vince Dunn, Marco Scandella and Carl Gunnarsson as their top three left-handed d-men, and it's likely we've seen the last of Jay Bouwmeester, who will be a UFA, after that cardiac episode scare in Anaheim on Feb. 11. Dunn is a RFA, Scandella just signed a four-year contract, and Gunnarsson has one year left before he becomes a UFA. But barring a complete collapse, if Mikkola doesn't at some point become a regular on the blue line next season, he'll he in the top six in 2021-22 without a doubt. However, if the Blues move a defenseman from the left side, look for Mikkola to crack next season's lineup immediately.

Scott Perunovich, D, 5-9, 172: The Hibbing, Minn. native and second round pick in the 2018 draft was named in April as the 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey's top player, and what a career it was for Perunovich, 21, at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where Perunovich won two NCAA titles (2018 and 2019) but had a chance at a three-peat cut short because of COVID-19. Perunovich, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract for $925,000 AAV on March 27, had 40 points (six goals, 34 assists) with the Bulldogs this past season and finished his career with 105 points (20 goals, 85 assists) in three seasons. The left-handed shooting D attended prospect camp in St. Louis the past two seasons.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: I don't think there's any question Perunovich goes right to Springfield and competes at the AHL level. He's earned the trust of Blues brass and they believe he's right there with Mikkola as players who are on the NHL roster's horizon. But with the Blues' penchant for patience, watching Perunovich compete at the AHL level as a pro would be wise and give them a proper evaluation as to how close or how far he is to cracking the roster in St. Louis.

Andrei Pervyshin, D, 5-8, 165: The Blues selected the 35-year-old of Arkhangelsk, Russia in the eighth round of the 2003 draft, and he's spent his entire career playing in Europe, mostly in the KHL, where the left-hander spent nine seasons playing for eight different clubs, most recently Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in 2016-17. Pervyshin last played in 2018-19 for Saryarka Karaganda of Russia's second-tiered division (SHL) and Chamonix HC of France but played in just a combined four games.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Retirement: Since Pervyshin hasn't seen the ice this season, one assumes his playing days are over at 35. 

Derrick Pouliot, D, 6-0, 196: It's been an interesting career to say the least thus far for the 26-year-old Estevan, Saskatchewan native, a first round pick (eighth overall) of the Penguins in 2012. Pouliot signed a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000/$425,000) with the Blues on July 1, 2019 to provide depth at the AHL level in San Antonio and insurance for their depth defense at the NHL level if needed. In fact, Pouliot was recalled and played in two games with the Blues (Nov. 29-30); he's played in 202 NHL games with the Penguins (three seasons), Blues and Vancouver Canucks (two seasons) and has 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists). Last season with the Rampage, Pouliot registered 39 points (seven goals, 32 assists) in 58 games but was a minus-21 for the season; he represented the Rampage in the AHL All-Star Game.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Pouliot gave the Blues what they needed at the AHL level, but it'll be tough to see him move up to St. Louis. He is a RFA with arbitration rights and could ask his rights to be traded elsewhere for a fresh start, but if the two sides come to terms on a contract in the organization here, I believe the Blues would welcome him back to play and be a leader with the Thunderbirds.

Mitch Reinke, D, 5-11, 181: When the Blues signed the 24-year-old out of Stillwater, Minn. as a free agent on March 25, 2018 out of Michigan Tech, there was traction being made that Reinke would be on the rise among right-handed d-men in the organization. And after a promising rookie season in 2018-19 with San Antonio that netted Reinke 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) in 76 games, the stock was on the rise. But a but of a disappointing season this past season (five goals, 17 assists in an injury-marred 46 games) leaves Reinke behind some others on the depth chart moving ahead.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Reinke is also a RFA with arbitration rights that needs a new contract but won't have a lot of leverage should be take it that far. I think the Blues get a new contract for him moving forward but next season will be a big one for Reinke. At 24, he needs to show something quickly that there's a career for him with the Blues. An offensive-minded defenseman needs to produce, especially offensively, if he's going to get the attention of the organization again, but an upper-body injury early last season took the rails right off what Reinke had hoped would be a momentum-building season.

Tyler Tucker, D, 6-1, 203: This seventh-round pick in 2018 could be one of those diamond in the rough players for an organization. The 20-year-old Thunder Bay, Ontario native had a slow start to his career with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, with just four goals and 37 points in 121 games over two seasons. But then in 2018-19, Tucker burst onto the scene with 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 68 games and following that up with 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 55 games split between Barrie and the Flint Firebirds, who acquired Tucker on Jan. 7. Tucker is a big, rangy kid who's been questioned for his commitment to staying in shape by some but has proven his detractors wrong with 114 points the past two seasons for the offensive-minded left-handed d-man. Tucker spent the past two seasons at prospect camp and played in four games last year at Traverse City.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Tulsa: Tucker, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract ($803,333 AAV) on March 1, which was his 20th birthday, can start off at the ECHL level and see where his progression goes from there. The Thunderbirds may be crowded on the left-handed side and perhaps it would be best for him to get some big minutes with the Oilers to see how his pro career starts. If he progresses to the point of being ready that quickly for the next step, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in Springfield at some point next season, but if not, he should be more than ready to join them by 2021-22.

Jake Walman, D, 6-1, 170: When Walman, 24, was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Providence College, there were some lofty credentials that came along with the Toronto native. But his pro career has been a whirlwind of ups and downs. Walman, who finally made his NHL debut with the Blues on Jan. 4 at Vegas, has spent four seasons with AHL squads. He began with the Chicago Wolves in 2017, then again in the 2017-18 season before being loaned to New Jersey's affiliate, the Binghamton Devils for 19 games, then it was off to San Antonio in 2018-19 (13 points in 66 games and a minus-31 rating). But Walman rebounded for his best season yet this past year with the Rampage, collecting 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 57 games. 
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Walman started gaining the attention of Blues brass with his play last season, but it's going to be awfully hard for him to crack a lineup in St. Louis and now with the likes of Mikkola and Perunovich champing at the bit from the left side among prospects, he has some stiff competition to deal with. Walman, also a left-hander, will be a RFA with arbitration rights will be looking to get a good deal, but the Blues won't open the checkbook too largely after finally breaking through with a decent one decent year.

Colten Ellis, G, 6-0, 189: The Blues went pretty high on the Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia native, taking the 19-year-old in the third round of the 2019 draft. He spent his third season with Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL and was 18-7-3 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 29 games. Ellis missed roughly two-plus months with a nagging undisclosed injury that required surgery. He was 0-2 with a 4.93 GAA and .806 save percentage in three games last year at Traverse City after attending prospect camp.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Rimouski Océanic: Ellis will continue to develop at a steady pace and get time, games and minutes in the Q. He's behind a handful of goalies in the organization but has a chance to jump up with a really good next season.

Evan Fitzpatrick, G, 6-3, 206: The St. Johns, Newfoundland native was another high pick by the Blues, who took the 22-year-old in the second round of the 2016 draft. Fitzpatrick had quite a career in the QMJHL that culminated with a Memorial Cup title in 2017-18 when he was 17-3-0 with a 2.24 GAA and .915 save percentage during the regular season and 3-1-0 with a 2.96 GAA and .906 save percentage in the Memorial Cup. Fitzpatrick played in eight games at San Antonio in 2018-19 (2-3-0 with a 2.66 GAA and .901 save percentage) before finishing with Tulsa, where he played 25 games (12-10-2, 3.30 GAA and .874 save percentage). Last season, he played in just 12 games in the ECHL between Tulsa and the Brampton Beast and was 3-5-3 in 12 games.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: This is still debatable and depends on what the Thunderbirds do for a second goalie but playing two years in the ECHL may be enough for the Blues to give Fitzpatrick the move up to the AHL on a full-time basis for the foreseeable future. But the lack of games played last season could have the organization thinking if another load of games in Tulsa would be the way to go.

Joel Hofer, G, 6-3, 160: Last year was quite the year for the fourth round pick in 2018. Not only did Hofer, 19, thrive with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL by going 34-8-5 with a 2.49 GAA and .915 save percentage, but the Winnipeg native backstopped Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship by posting a 1.30 GAA and .946 save percentage in six games. Last season was his third in the WHL. Hofer was 1-1-0 with a 5.15 GAA and .789 save percentage in two games at Traverse City last year.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Portland: Hofer is still a raw project and needs to keep playing games. Last season was a huge shot of confidence for Hofer, but in order to take the step up to the pro level, experience playing games would be beneficial. Hofer signed his three-year entry-level contract March 19, 2019 but is an entry level slide candidate.

Ville Husso, G, 6-3, 205: Husso has been knocking on St. Louis' door the past couple years after they drafted the Helsinki, Finland native in the fourth round of 2014. And it seems to be coming to that time where the Blues need to decide if Husso, 25, is a long-term solution or a project they cut loose from in the near future. He completed his fourth year in the AHL (third in San Antonio) by playing in a career-high 42 games and posting a 16-17-8 record with a 2.56 GAA and .909 save percentage. Husso has been passed up on the depth chart by Stanley Cup-winning goalie Jordan Binnington, but with Jake Allen entering the final year of a four-year contract, Husso could be in line to make the push to be the backup in St. Louis in the near future.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Springfield: Husso played in just 42 games last season because of an ankle injury that forced him to miss roughly two months. He was supposed to get that big workload for the first time, but the 42 games was a career-high for him. The Blues, barring any kind of a move for next season, are banking on a 55-60 game season for Husso to see how he handles high workloads, and they'd like to see him get back to that .922 save percentage he posted in 38 games at San Antonio in 2017-18. Husso signed a new two-year, $1.5 million ($750,000 AAV) one-way contract on Jan. 30 and will be eager to prove the Blues' faith in him.

Vadim Zherenko, G, 6-2, 176: The Blues selected the Russian native in the seventh round of the 2019 draft for depth at the position. He's still raw at 19 who put up a a 1.62 GAA and .936 save percentage for MHK Dynamo Moskva of the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga. He had a 1.30 GAA and .952 save percentage in four playoff games for Dynamo, then had a 2.28 GAA and .915 save percentage in 16 games for Dynamo Tver of Russian's VHL second level hockey.
Destination for 2020-21 -- Dynamo Tver: Zherenko is just getting his feet wet at 19 and is likely to remain in Russia and play more games. More games equals more experience and it's unclear if Zherenko is looking to get to North America at some point to kickstart his career. The size is there, but at 19, can stand to fill into his frame some more.


  1. Thanks, Louie...good stuff for those who follow the amateurs/rookies...