Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
St. Louis Blues Prospects
The St. Louis Blues were one of the best teams at the start of the 2017-18 season. They were the best team in the league in December. However, it would not last. Injuries, goaltending issues, a faltering power play, and a lack of secondary scoring all conspired to see the Blues tumble down the standings. When the season ended, they fell one point short of the playoffs, losing out to the Colorado Avalanche in their final game of the season.
The disappointing end to the season led to a summer of change. The Blues went into the free agent market signing David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, and Chad Johnson. They also made a huge trade to acquire Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres.
Top Prospect: Robert Thomas
Centre — shoots Right
Born July 2nd, 1999 — Aurora, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 188 lbs [183 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round, #20 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
The 20th overall pick in last year’s draft, Robert Thomas has quickly shown that he might have been one of the most astute picks of 2017. He split last season between the London Knights and the Hamilton Bulldogs, putting up 24 goals and 51 assists for 75 points in 49 OHL games. He also added 12 goals and 32 points in 21 playoff games, helping the Bulldogs to their first-ever OHL title. Thomas added three points in four games in the Memorial Cup, but the Bulldogs fell in the semi-final. Thomas was also part of Team Canada at the World Juniors, putting up six points in seven games and winning a gold medal.
Thomas is a good but not great skater. He has good agility and edgework, making him elusive with and without the puck. He also has a quick first step and good acceleration helping Thomas to get to loose pucks, and win short races. However, he is not a burner. His top-end speed is merely a slight bit above average. It is an area he can improve by cleaning up a bit of a choppy stride, and by adding power to his lower body. He has good balance, and is strong on the puck, helping Thomas to be strong in the cycle game. He is also good in battles along the boards and is relentless in his pursuit of the puck in all three zones.
Thomas is an extremely smart player, making the right plays both with and without the puck. Offensively, he has soft hands and good stickhandling ability. He can control the puck off the rush and in working down low, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. Thomas uses his good lateral agility to make quick moves and open up a passing or shooting lane. He also has the vision to find teammates with smart passes, and to set-up plays.
Thomas is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has good accuracy on his shot but could stand to improve his power. He has improved his release over the last year. Most of his goals come in tight to the net, where he can utilize his quick and soft hands. While Thomas is good on the rush, he tends to like to dump and chase the puck. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and creates havoc in the corners and pressures defencemen into making mistakes. While he will need to get stronger going forward, he is more than willing to battle with bigger defencemen.
A strong two-way centre, Thomas even plays shorthanded minutes the last two years. He is a hard worker, who is good in applying back pressure and supports the defence down low in the cycle game. Thomas is relentless in his puck pursuit in all three zones and battles hard along the boards. He is also very good positionally, anticipating plays and creating turnovers before transitioning to offence. Thomas is extremely good in the face-off circle as well.
There is plenty of talk that Thomas could make the Blues out of training camp. He is really close to being NHL ready, but the Blues must consider that he is only 19-years-old and there is still room to grow. With the Blues newfound centre depth with Brayden Schenn, Bozak and O’Reilly, it needs to be considered how many minutes Thomas will get at the NHL level. If he earns a spot in the top nine, then he should play in the NHL. However, if Thomas is a fourth liner, then another season playing 20+ minutes per game in the OHL might be better for his long-term future.
#2 Prospect: Jordan Kyrou
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 5th, 1998 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 177 lbs [183 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, #35 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Kyrou had a huge season in the OHL. He put up 39 goals and 109 points in 56 games for the Sarnia Sting. Amongst the various individual honours, this won him the Red Tilson Trophy as OHL’s most outstanding player. He was also part of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning squad at the World Juniors with 10 points in seven games. Kyrou did not see the same success in the OHL playoffs with just three goals and four points in 12 games.
Kyrou is a great skater, featuring excellent speed and top-notch acceleration. Once Kyrou gets a step on a defender, he can really turn on the jets and pull away, allowing him to cut wide and still get to the net. He has excellent edgework and agility. Kyrou can change directions on a dime and makes a wide variety of moves with the puck, allowing him to elude defenders, and find his way through offensive zone traffic. Kyrou has good power in his stride and excellent lower-body strength that makes him difficult to knock off the puck.
Kyrou is an excellent playmaker. He has good vision and the ability to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open before feathering them a tape to tape pass. He reads the play well and makes good decisions on when to make that pass to an open teammate. Kyrou’s speed makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, however, he also controls the puck well in the cycle game and works hard down low. He improved his wrist shot over his junior career. He has increased power and his release was quicker. Kyrou must add some muscle and weight though. He needs to add additional upper-body strength in order to win more battles along the boards and establish his position in front of the net. He was strong enough to do these things in junior but will face a bigger challenge moving to the pros.
Kyrou has already started to develop a strong defensive game. His quickness is extremely valuable for breaking up plays and transitioning to offence. Kyrou has been a valuable penalty killer on the Sting, cutting down shooting and passing lanes, blocking shots, and working for loose pucks along the boards. He competes hard, but this is another area where some added upper body strength would be very useful in helping to round out Kyrou’s game at the next level.
Kyrou’s junior career is now complete. He will fight for a spot out of training camp. At just 20-years-old and with high-end potential, the Blues must consider his future. If he earns a top-nine role, he should be on the team but if he is a fourth liner, then it might make more sense to spend time in the AHL. Even if he is sent down, expect Kyrou to receive call-ups through the year when the Blues need injury replacements. He is very close to NHL ready.
#3 Prospect: Ville Husso
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born February 6th, 1995 — Helsinki, Finland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 205 lbs [191 cm/93 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 4th round, #94 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
Husso put up a 2.42 goals against average and 0.922 save percentage in 38 games for the San Antonio Rampage last season. He also played for Finland at the World Championships playing in three games.
Listed at 6-foot-3, Husso may not be huge, but he still has good size for an NHL goalie. He plays a strong butterfly technique and shows strong positioning. Husso comes out to challenge shooters, which makes him appear even bigger in the net. He is a good skater which allows him to challenge, while still recovering in his net on deke attempts. Husso has a very good leg push. This helps him get from side-to-side quickly. He tracks the puck extremely well, taking away one-timer attempts and cross-ice passes. His glove hand is especially strong.
Husso has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. He swallows up pucks, and those he can’t he kicks to the corners. His legs are quick and the reflexes good which takes away the bottom of the net. Husso’s puck handling is a weakness though, as he is not the type of goalie to pass the puck up to his defencemen or aid in starting the transition game. He tends to stay in his net though because of this.
Husso is cool and calm in the net. He does not seem to panic no matter how much pressure he is under or how big the game. Husso does not let bad goals get to him and bounces back quickly. He shows maturity beyond his years. Husso has been a leader in his age group during international tournaments.
Now 23 years old, Husso is very close to NHL ready. His presence in the Blues system allowed the Blues to allow Carter Hutton to leave as a free agent, signing Chad Johnson as a low-cost, short-term backup goalie. Husso will soon pass Johnson on the depth chart and will be challenging Jake Allen for the top goalie job.`
#4 Prospect: Klim Kostin
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Left
Born May 5th, 1999 — Penza, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 212 lbs [191 cm / 96 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1st round, #31 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Kostin impressed many at Blues training camp after being drafted. However, the team opted to send him to the AHL for further development. He scored six goals and 22 points in 67 games as one of the youngest players in the league. He also played for Russia at the World Juniors, putting up five goals and eight points in five games.
Kostin is an excellent skater. He has excellent speed and acceleration. Kostin has the ability to beat defenders to the outside and then cut to the net. He also has very good lateral agility and edgework which also gives him the ability to cut inside on a defender if they are not in the proper position. Add to this a strong lower body, and the balance and power to create issues in the offensive zone, and Kostin can beat opponents in a variety of ways.
Kostin has the strength and size to play a powerful game, as he is strong on the puck; effective in maintaining possession down low; and difficult to contain when he drives the net. He is also highly skilled, with soft hands and excellent stickhandling ability and a fantastic wrist shot and release. Kostin has the moves to shed defenders to create a scoring opportunity; along with snipers shot to bury the puck once he gets that open.
Kostin also has good vision and passing skills. He can make creative plays with the puck, feathering a pass to a teammate through very tight openings. Kostin also plays a gritty game, as he is not afraid to get to the front of the net, or battle for loose pucks at both ends of the ice. He could stand to be a little more selfish, and shoot the puck more as he often looks to make a pass. His biggest issue is consistency. There are games where Kostin is absolutely dominant and looks like the best player on the ice, and one of the best players in this draft. There are also games where he seems to disappear for long stretches of time.
Inconsistent effort levels also plague Kostin at the defensive end of the ice. There are times where he looks like an intense back-checker and solid contributor in his own end. There are also times where all hope seems lost for Kostin. Fixing this issue will be a key part of Kostin’s development.
#5 Prospect: Dominik Bokk
The Blues drafted Bokk with the 25th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bokk. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#6 Prospect: Jake Walman
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 20th, 1996 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 201 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 3rd Round, #82 overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft
With the Blues not having their own AHL affiliate last season, Walman saw his AHL time split between the Chicago Wolves and Binghamton Devils. In his first full AHL campaign, Walman scored four goals and 20 points in 59 games.
Walman is an absolute elite skater and may have been the best skater in the AHL last year. He has elite speed in both directions. His first step is quick and a smooth, almost effortless stride leads to outstanding acceleration. His edgework, pivots, cross-overs, and agility are all extremely good. He has the type of lateral agility that allows him to quickly walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. In his own zone, he rolls off checks and opens up space to clear the puck. Couple this with good balance and his mobility is off the charts.
This skating ability makes him extremely difficult to beat one-on-one, and able to join, or lead the rush while still recovering defensively and hardly ever getting caught with the level of opposition he faced in college. Obviously, at the NHL level, opponents are even faster, and his skating advantage is reduced. He will need to pick his spots.
Offensively, Walman is poised with the puck. He nearly always makes the right decision on the breakout, whether it is a crisp pass, or skating it out himself and rarely turns the puck over. He has excellent vision and can quarterback the play from the blue line. His point shot improved since he was drafted. It is good, but not elite.
Defensively, Walman is physical despite being undersized. He loves to throw big hits and battle along the boards. He also battles hard in the corners and in front of his net. As stated, Walman is extremely difficult to beat one-on-one due to his superb skating ability. He is a little raw in his defensive positioning and will need some coaching on properly reading the play in the defensive zone. This may improve with more experience on the blue line.
Walman is getting close to NHL ready but it may not be the start of this season. Expect Walman to start the year in the AHL and work on translating his skills into a bit more scoring. He could be called up if playing well and injuries hit the Blues blueline. Walman might become an NHL regular in 2019.
#7 Prospect: Samuel Blais
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 17th, 1996 — Montmagny, Quebec
Height 6’2″ — Weight 205 lbs [188 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 6th round, #176 overall, at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Blais put up 17 goals and 40 points in 42 games for the San Antonio Rampage last season. His strong play in the AHL earned him time in the NHL. He got in 11 games for the Blues, putting up a goal and three points.
Blais is a good skater with very good speed and acceleration. His stride is smooth, giving him that speed, as well as the power to fight through checks. He could use some work on his agility and edgework though. Blais could also improve his balance and his strength on the puck. This comes with more lower body strength.
Blais is a talented offensive player. He has good vision and passing skills and is able to thread the needle to hit a teammate with a pass. Blais can put a difficult saucer pass on his linemates’ tape. He also has a good wrist shot and release which can fool goaltenders from further out. Blais is not afraid to get to the front of the net. When he is there, he scores goals on rebounds, tip-ins and one-timing passes into the back of the net.
Blais’ defensive game is a work in progress. He needs to work on his positioning and defensive zone coverage. Blais sometimes loses his man when he becomes overly focused on chasing the puck, or when he stops moving his feet. He also needs to avoid flying the zone early and looking for a long pass.
Blais should be back in the AHL this year. He could get some NHL time if injuries hit up front, and really push for a full-time spot in 2019-20 if he can improve his defensive game and some issues in his skating.
#8 Prospect: Scott Perunovich
The Blues drafted Perunovich with the 45th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Perunovich. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#9 Prospect: Jordan Schmaltz
Defence — shoots Right
Born October 8th, 1993 — Madison, Wisconsin
Height 6’2″ — Weight 190 [188 cm/86 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues, in the 1st round, #25 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Schmaltz scored five goals and 23 points in 31 games with the Rampage last season. He also got in 13 games at the NHL level, picking up one assist with the Blues.
Schmaltz’s skating has continually improved over the years. His stride is long and he generates decent top end speed and his acceleration is now a strength. He is also agile and changes direction well, and makes good pivots. Schmaltz could work on his balance, and strength; though these have improved as he’s added some core body strength. He was 175 pounds when drafted and is 190 pounds now, so some work has been done here.
Schmaltz is yet another offensively talented defence prospect. His passing is superb, especially in the offensive zone. He makes crisp, hard tape-to-tape spaces, and is able to thread the needle through some tight passing lanes. Schmaltz really excels setting up his teammates on the power play. His shot is not the hardest, however, Schmaltz is really good at is keeping it low, accurate and on the net even with heavy traffic. This can lead to tip-ins and rebound goals for his teammates.
Schmaltz shows good positional play in his own end. His high hockey IQ is evident. Schmaltz understands the defensive aspect of the game. He has a quick stick and is good at poke checking the puck off of a defender. Adding bulk has helped Schmaltz be more effective in board battles and defending the cycle.
Schmaltz will be 25 in early October. He goes to training camp looking to make a strong push for a spot on the roster. It’s now or never for Schmaltz to earn his place in St. Louis.
#10 Prospect: Evan Fitzpatrick
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born January 28th, 1998 — St.John’s, Newfoundland
Height 6’3″ — Weight 202 lbs [191 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, #59 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Fitzpatrick struggled to start the season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix. Things changed though at the QMJHL trade deadline as he was traded Acadie Bathurst. In 21 games with the Titan, he put up a 2.24 goals-against average and 0.915 save percentage. He was even better in the playoffs, putting up a 2.10 goals-against average and 0.925 save percentage. Fitzpatrick helped lead the Titan to the QMJHL title and the Memorial Cup.
Fitzpatrick is a hybrid style netminder. With his excellent size, he covers a lot of net. He takes advantage of this by coming out to challenge shooters, and by having an excellent sense on his angles. He’s also very technically sound for a young netminder, with rebound control not often seen in someone his age. Fitzpatrick understands how to kick low shots into the corners and to swallow up those that come in high. He keeps himself square to the puck at almost all times, even when making saves on second-chance opportunities.
Fitzpatrick takes away the bottom of the net with his quick legs. He gets down into the butterfly quickly and pops right back up. He also has an excellent glove hand, taking away the top of the net. Fitzpatrick tracks the puck well and his lateral movement is excellent. He has an excellent push with his legs, giving him strong lateral movement. His strong legs and good skating allow him to play the aggressive style and challenge shooters.
Fitzpatrick has extremely good athleticism. Even if out of position, Fitzpatrick never gives up on a play, and makes some highlight reel saves as a result. In addition to good technique, he has extremely fast reflexes and the competitiveness to never give up on a play.
Fitzpatrick shows a good demeanour. He stays calm in his net, and his coolness in the face of heavy pressure shows good leadership and is something his teammates lean on. If he does give up a bad goal, he has the ability to quickly forget about it and be ready to make the next big save. He could use some work on playing the puck in his own end, developing the ability to make a strong outlet pass to his defenders could help his game.
Fitzpatrick ends his junior career on a high, winning the highest prize that the CHL has to offer. Now he moves on to the next challenge, professional hockey. Fitzpatrick should head to the AHL this year, continuing his development. He is likely at least two or three years away from the NHL.
Sleeper Prospect: Niko Mikkola
Defence — shoots Left
Born April 27th, 1996 — Kiiminki, Finland
Height 6’5″ — Weight 198 lbs [196 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 5th round, #127 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
After a season in which he scored two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 50 games with Tappara in the Finnish SM-Liiga, Mikkola signed an entry-level contract with the Blues. He also played for the Finnish National Team in the European Hockey Tour but did not make the World Championship Team.
Mikkola is a very good skater for someone with his height. He has good speed in both directions. More importantly, he has very good edgework and agility. This helps him to keep attackers in front of him, maintain good gap control, and makes him difficult to beat one-on-one. Mikkola has good strength and wins battles along the boards and clears the front of the net.
What you see is what you get with Mikkola in the offensive zone. He can make a good first pass out of the defensive zone and start the transition game. However, he is not one to join the rush or take offensive chances. Mikkola is not that creative in the offensive zone. He lacks the poise and patience to create offensive chances, instead, moving the puck quickly around the perimeter. His slap shot is decent, but he doesn’t always get it through to the net when faced with traffic.
Mikkola is at his best in his own end. He is a solid defensive player, who forces attackers to the outside and keeps his body between his man and the net. While he is not a huge hitter, Mikkola plays a physical game, fighting for pucks in the corners and working to clear the front of the net. He also uses his big frame and long stick to block shots and cut down passing lanes.
Mikkola is headed to North America this summer. He will likely start the season with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. Mikkola needs to adjust to North American ice and to continue to develop his game. He is likely a year or two away from being NHL ready.
The Blues are deep on the blue line. There are a number of high-quality prospects profiled in this article. They also have David Noel, Mitch Reinke, Dmitri Sergeev, and Trenton Bourque in the system. Along with Husso and Fitzpatrick, the Blues also have David Opilka and Jordan Binnington as goalies under contract.
Upfront the Blues have elite prospects in Thomas and Kyrou. They also have solid prospects in Kostin, Blais, and Bokk. Further down the system, the team has Erik Foley, Zach Sanford, Alexey Toropchenko, Adam Musil, Hugh McGing, and Tanner Kaspick.
The Blues have a very deep group of prospects, despite not picking particularly high in the draft in a long time. Their scouting department has done an excellent job.
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