For a mid-market team like the St. Louis Blues to be consistently competitive year-in and year-out, the ability to draft and develop is critical to the whole operation. Since Doug Armstrong was named general manager ahead of the 2008-09 season, that has been the strength of this hockey team and that is the main reason the team has been a playoff regular for the past decade, largely due to the Blues prospect pool.
Armstrong’s first draft selection as Blues GM was the no. 4 overall pick, which he used to select defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who of course went on to captain the team’s first championship in 2018-19. The 2010 draft featured Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko in the first round, two wingers who went on to define an era in St. Louis. Late-round picks that turn into NHL players are what separates the elite drafting teams from the rest, and 2011 5th round pick Jordan Binnington, 2012 3rd round pick Colton Parayko, and 2014 6th round pick Sammy Blais have turned out to be drafting masterclasses by Armstrong and the Blues staff.
With the club consistently in the playoffs, it has been a long time since they have had one of the top picks in the draft. Annually picking in the back half of the first round, it’s tougher to hit a home run every year. But one quick look at the some of the successes by St. Louis Blues prospects this summer and Blues fans should be excited about the future of this team.
Springfield in Calder Cup Final
The Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, have won the AHL’s Eastern Conference and currently battling the Chicago Wolves, coincidentally the Blues’ former affiliate, in the Calder Cup Final. It is the first time that a top affiliate of the Blues will compete for a championship since the 1990-91 Peoria Rivermen, who were coached by the late great Bob Plager and featured notorious Blues tough guys Tony Twist and Kelly Chase.
Some of the top picks in recent years for the Blues are leading this Springfield club, including Klim Kostin and Nikita Alexandrov. Goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who was brought in as a free agent and actually started and won five games for the Blues this season, has been lights out in the Calder Cup Playoffs and is making a strong case to be the no. 2 goaltender for the St. Louis Blues next season.
Neighbours wins WHL Title
2020 1st round pick Jake Neighbours began his season as a Blues prospect on what was essentially a nine game tryout before burning a year on his entry-level deal. After a decent showing in his brief NHL debut, Neighbours was caught in a numbers game in one of the deepest forward groups in hockey and was re-assigned to his junior club, the Edmonton Oil Kings, for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.
All Neighbours did with that was be named captain of the Oil Kings and go on to lead them to a Western Hockey League championship with a chance to win the Memorial Cup. Neighbours tallied 45 points in 30 regular-season games on top of 17 points in 15 playoff games for Edmonton. With not much left to prove at the junior level, I expect Neighbours to once again crack the Blues roster out of training camp in September and look for him to be a major piece in the team’s bottom six in 2022-23.
Learning what it takes to win before reaching the NHL level has proven be beneficial for St. Louis Blues prospects. Before winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie season, Robert Thomas won the Memorial Cup in 2016 and alongside Jordan Kyrou, also won the 2018 World Junior Championship with Canada. The experience that Neighbours and the rest of the Blues prospects are gaining from these early successes could prove to be fruitful in the years to come for the St. Louis Blues.
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