Looking forward: Blues draft nine with focus on offense, trade Polak for Gunnarsson

The trade -- in which St. Louis sent defenseman and fan favorite Roman Polak to Toronto in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth-round draft pick -- was the only maneuver Saturday that figures to pay early dividends for the Note.

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ST. LOUIS — The Blues were busy at the NHL Draft on Saturday in Philadelphia, picking nine players in the final six rounds and trading a fan favorite to Toronto for a top-four defenseman.

"There’s a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot of development," Bill Armstrong, the Blues’ director of amateur scouting, told StLouisBlues.com. "None of the kids that we drafted are close to playing in the National Hockey League. But it’s an exciting time because of the fact that you get that many players in one shot and watch those guys grow and get better as the years go along. It’s a big step for the Blues and hopefully we’ve cemented some players that we’re going to use to help us win a championship."

The trade — in which St. Louis sent defenseman Roman Polak to Toronto in exchange for Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth-round draft pick — was the only maneuver Saturday that figures to pay early dividends for the Note and it was an interesting one.

A left-handed defenseman the Blues could pair with righty Kevin Shattenkirk, Gunnarsson, 27, has two years remaining on his contract with a $3.15 million cap hit for each season.

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Gunnarsson, a 6-foot-2, 196-pounder, recorded 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) and a plus-minus rating of plus-12 in 80 games last season. He averaged 19:25 minutes of ice time, but his career average is 20:14 minutes of ice time.

Polak, 28, averaged 17:20 of ice time per game last season, his eighth with the Blues. He accounted for 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and was plus-3 in 72 games.

It’s possible that this trade — if Gunnarsson is indeed paired with Shattenkirk, who averaged 20:34 minutes of ice time last season — lessens the demands on the Blues’ No. 1 defensive pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, who led St. Louis in ice time last season.

Gunnarsson wasn’t a factor in the Maple Leaf’s power-play unit, logging just 17:38 minutes all season on the advantage, but he was second on the team in ice time during short-handed situations, which makes his team-high plus-12 rating even more impressive.

Toronto ranked 28th in the NHL in penalty kill percentage (78.3 percent). The Blues were second at 85.7 percent.

After selecting center Robby Fabbri with their first-round pick Friday night, the Blues loaded up on forwards Saturday with seven prospects who play up front, compared with one just defenseman and one goalie.

"We’ve drafted a lot of D-men in the past with (Tommy) Vannelli and Scmaltzy (Jordan Schmaltz) and (Colton) Parayko and those type of players, but in true essence this was not a strong draft for D-men, so we leaned towards the forwards," Armstrong said. "It worked out for us. We got some really good centerman." 

Here’s a quick pick-by-pick look at who St. Louis selected:

— Ivan Barbashev, LW, Moncton, QMJHL. The 6-0, 181-pound Russian — the Blues first secound-round selection (No. 33 overall) — was a linemate of Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin two seasons ago. In 2013-14, the left-handed shooting winger led Moncton of the QMJHL in assists (43) and was second on the team in points (68) in 48 games. He was rated as the 18th-best draft prospect among North American skaters.

"You’re going to notice him as a fan because I tink that he competes in so many different areas with his body and he plays so hard but yet he has skill," Armstrong said. "He’s almost like (Vladimir) Sobotka for us. He’s a little bit like Sobie in the sense that he can go from the third line to the second line and jump in. He’s got the strength and the grit and the determination. … He’s also best friends with Jaskin. They’re close friends and it will be interesting. They kind of inspire each other along the way. It will be fun to watch those two."

Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, told NHL.com: "Ivan is a strong skater. He reaches top speed quickly and is a very good playmaker with quick hands. He’s not afraid to mix it up, competes one-on-one and battles for pucks. He can be a gamebreaker."

— Maxim Letunov, C, Youngstown, USHL. Another Russian, the 6-2, 155-pounder was the Blues second selection in the second round (No. 52 overall). In 60 games for Youngstown this past season, he had 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points. He also had 42 penalty minutes.

— Jake Walman, D, Toronto JC, OJHL. A Canadian who has committed to attend Providence College this fall, Walman was the Blues’ third-round pick (No. 82 overall). He stands 6 feet and weighs 170 pounds and was ranked 47th among North American skaters going into the draft. He accounted for 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists) and 87 penalty minutes in 43 games this past season.

"He’s a really crafty player and he’s got a lot of ability," Armstrong said. "He’s going to be an interesting player to watch. We did cartwheels when we saw that we were going to get him there. … It was really an exciting moment for us."

Marr told NHL.com: "Jake Walman is a dynamic two-way defenseman who is quite effective at skating and moving the puck. He is a strong skater who plays with a presence both with and without the puck, has a good understanding of positioning and can play the game with authority. A player that is utilized in all situations, his development in the OJHL has prepared him for his upcoming move to Providence College."

— Ville Husso, G, HIFK, Finland. With the draft pick (fourth round, No. 94 overall) acquired from Toronto in the Polak-Gunnarsson trade, the Blues took Husso, a native of Finland ranked as the No. 1 European goalie prospect in the draft. Husso had a 1.99 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this past season playing in Finland’s top professional league.

"This (2013-14) is his breakthrough season," Goran Stubb, the NHL’s director of European scouting, told NHL.com. "He started as (HIFK’s) third goalie but took over as starter in October and has helped his team overcome a tough start. He’s big and calm and uses his size to his advantage. He’s showed a lot of desire and determination."

— Austin Poganski, RW, Tri-City, USHL. A 6-foot, 194-pounder from Minnesota, the right-handed shooting Poganski was the Blues’ second selection in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) and was rated as the 100th-best prospect among North American skaters. He had 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) and 57 penalty minutes in 55 games for Tri-City during the 2013-14 season.

— Jaedon Descheneau, RW, Kootenay, WHL. The Blues’ fifth-round pick (No. 124 overall) is a small (5-8, 172 pounds) but extremely productive scorer. The right-handed shooting Canadian, who was ranked 95th among North American skaters, scored 98 points (44 goals, 54 assists) in 70 games this past season after scoring 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists) in 69 games during the 2012-13 season with Kootenay.

— Chandler Yakimowicz, RW, London, OHL. A Kingston, Pennsylvania, native, the 6-2, 210-pounder was the Blues’ sixth-round pick (No. 172 overall) and was rated No. 153 among North American skaters going into the draft. He accounted for just seven points (three goals, four assists) and 45 penalty minutes in 33 games for London this past season.

— Samuel Blais, LW, Victoriaville, QMJHL. The Blues’ sixth-round pick (No. 176 overall) is a 5-10, 164-pound left-handed shooter who accounted for 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 25 games for Victoriaville last season.

— Dwyer Tschantz, RW, Indiana Ice, USHL. A 6-6, 201-pounder from Delaware, Tschantz was the Blues’ final pick of the day, a seventh-rounder chosen No. 202 overall. The righty shooter accounted for 54 points (27 goals, 27 assists) and 60 penalty minutes in 47 games playing for Team Comcast in the USMAAAE during the 2011-12 season and then 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 52 games for the Indiana Ice this past season. Tschantz has committed to play his college hockey at Cornell University.

Bill Armstrong talks Blues draft:

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