Jake Walman Finally Gets a Chance to Shine

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PROVIDENCE, RI - DECEMBER 30: Jake Walman #19 of the Providence College Friars skates against the Denver Pioneers during NCAA hockey at the Schneider Arena on December 30, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

In the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the St. Louis Blues picked Jake Walman. He was a strong all-around defenseman, who just finished an impressive year in Canada’s OJHL. Three years later, in March of 2017, Walman decided to forgo his senior year with Providence College and sign with the Blues. He signed a three-year deal and reported to the Chicago Wolves for the rest of 2017.

Walman was always noted as a very skilled player. SB Nation ranked him as the tenth best NHL prospect playing college hockey this past season. He’s got an impressive skillset for a 21-year-old, and has always had potential to be a top six guy. Through all this, though, fans still overlooked him. They favored other star defensive prospects like Vince Dunn or Jordan Schmaltz instead. While both players do have very high potential, Walman is in the same ballpark. In fact, Walman could make his NHL debut before the highly touted Dunn does.

With the recent announcement that Jay Bouwmeester will miss the beginning of the year, it seems like it’s finally Walman’s time to prove he’s the top prospect in St. Louis.

Jake Walman Finally Gets A Chance to Shine

Vince Dunn has had an exciting past few years. He had an impressive 45 points in his first AHL season. He’s seemingly shaping up to be exactly what the Blues could’ve hoped. Walman has looked much more NHL ready, though. At the team’s recent prospect camp, Walman was one of the highly talked about names. After day one, Blues blog ‘Respect the Note’ said of Walman, “[He showed off] great stick handling and great skating. He was very aggressive on the puck. It is intriguing to have that option from the left side.” Walman kept up these traits throughout camp.

Walman’s Shining Camp

When it came time to play games in Traverse City, he was easily one of the most noticeable Blues. He tallied seven points in only four games, and coming from the blue line. This was the highest of any Blues defensemen, and only three less than Chicago‘s Alex Debrincat who led the tourney. Amongst those seven points, Walman netted two goals. Both shots were very strong slap shots from the point.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Retired Blues defenseman and freshly minted development coach Barret Jackman spoke highly of Walman too. He said Walman is close to being NHL ready. “He’s got the tools. He’s got a big shot, and he’s smart with the puck. His speed and his skating are top notch, and he makes pretty good decisions out there.” He went on to say, that Walman needs to improve, but so does everyone.

Jackman did a good job of noting Walman’s strengths though. He’s a medium sized lefty with a gift for the offensive side of the game. For a defenseman, Walman is an elite skater with great puck handling abilities. Jackman noted that Walman could become stronger defensively, but he’s still a reliable two-way player. As he faces AHL or NHL play, his defensive side of the game will come. Overall, he’s got the building blocks to be an elite defenseman in the league and he proved it at camp.

Parayko’s Identical Scenario

The situation Walman is in isn’t too foreign for the Blues. Walman came into training camp as an underlooked prospect, and blew the Blues away. The last player to do that was Colton Parayko in 2015. The two share almost identical scenarios. Parayko was the 86th overall pick in 2012. Walman was the 82nd overall pick in 2014. Parayko, like Walman, opted out of his senior year at the University of Alaska to sign his entry level contract. He signed a three-year deal, and blew the other players out of the water in the following 2015 camp. He was one of the standouts at the 2015 Traverse City Camp, even being noted by NHL.com as one of the top 11 players. His performance in Traverse City was enough for him to break the NHL lineup.

Parayko’s playing style has always been different from Walman’s, because Parayko is four inches taller and much stronger, but the basis for comparison is still there. The most noteworthy difference is the fact that Walman tallied five more points during his time in Traverse City. Not to say Walman one-upped Parayko, but he’s definitely played on the same level.

Doug Armstrong noted the similarities as well. When talking about how Parayko broke into the NHL lineup out of camp, the general manager said, “I’m not saying I’m expecting that from any of the guys, but that’s how I see a guy like Walman coming in and defining himself more in Traverse City.”

Opportunity Opening Up

Jay Bouwmeester fractured his ankle and will likely not be available for the start of the year. This leaves a gap on the left side, and gives Walman a perfect hole to fill. He would only see second or third pairing minutes, but he’d still likely get five to ten games under his belt. If he played well in the time he got, he could even be the team’s go-to when it comes to filling injuries.

In an extreme case, Walman might become a regular this year. If he performs well enough, he might take over Robert Bortuzzo or Carl Gunnarsson‘s spot. Both players have struggled and will really have to earn their spot this year. It’s really unlikely Walman is able to become a regular, but not completely out of the question. Whether he plays a few games then returns to the AHL, or is able to last all season, it’s finally Walman’s time to shine. In the end, he might end up being just another star defenseman to join the Blues straight out of college.

 

Main Photo: PROVIDENCE, RI – DECEMBER 30: Jake Walman #19 of the Providence College Friars skates against the Denver Pioneers during NCAA hockey at the Schneider Arena on December 30, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

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