Strickland: Breaking down the Blues’ 2014 draft class
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues tied for the most picks in the 2014 NHL Draft with 10. They restocked the organization with eight forwards, one defenseman, and one goaltender. This draft wasn’t considered the deepest in recent years, but both Doug and Bill Armstrong (no relation) have a track record of landing teenage prospects that develop into impact NHL players. There’s a decent chance this draft winds up being the most impressive in the Bill Armstrong era since taking over for Jarmo Kekalainen in 2011.
Let’s go inside the 2014 draft class…
C Robby Fabbri: 1st Round/21st Overall Guelph-OHL
Five other players in the draft put up more points than Fabbri, who finished the year with 45 goals and 87 points. Tack on another 28 in 16 playoff games where he was named the OHL playoff MVP.
Playing with Guelph meant scouts saw him play often. The Storm played numorous Sunday games and enjoyed a long playoff run that earned them a trip to the Memorial Cup.
Fabbri is a risk/reward player. He’s a highlight machine who is probably a better playmaker than former 2nd rounder Ty Rattie. The risk is he’s a smaller player at 5’10, but when you’re drafting at 21 you’re not getting a perfect player. Scouts love his combination of hockey sense and exposure to elite competition. He can be a little greasy and may have to learn to turn it down a notch when it comes to controlling his emotions. He’s been compared to David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko when it comes to the confidence he has in his own ability.
The bottom line is he can score and make plays offensively, and is almost a sure bet to play on the Blues’ top two lines two to three years from now. Like current Blue Jaden Schwartz, Fabbri is a worker who plays fast in small areas. International Scouting Services compares him to former Blues center Doug Gilmour.
C Ivan Barbeshev: 2nd round/33rd overall Moncton-QMJHL
Another Russian-born prospect who would’ve likely gone in the 1st round if he was from North America. A late 1995 birthday prevented him from playing in the U-18 World Championships after the season. That also possibly contributed to him falling to the Blues at #33. Nonetheless the Blues don’t appear to be shocked he was there. A guy like Travis Samheim made a huge impression in the U-18 worlds which helped elevate himself into a 1st round pick.
Barbeshev projects out as a 3rd line center although much like current Blue Vladimir Sobotka, he can probably slide up with proper chemistry. Scouts love his physicality and say he’s good for six to eight hits a game and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves if necessary.
The Russian native already boasts a North American game with the ability to play in all three zones. Scouts are impressed with his hi-end hockey sense, good vision, and ability to play one on one. He’s a good 6’1 right now and the Blues expect him to put on 20 pounds by the time he’s ready to be a NHL contributor.
There’s always a risk when drafting Russians that they won’t come over. The Blues had a gut feeling with both Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin and were right on both occasions. They don’t anticipate being wrong this time. He’s already playing in North America where he and Jaskin were teammates a year ago. He also attended hockey school nearly every summer as a kid in Boston.
ISS comparison: Flyers forward Brayden Schenn.
C Maxim Letunov: 2nd round/52nd overall, round Youngstown-USHL
Letunov is described as a poor man’s Patrik Berglund. He’s considered a smart player who can play a 200 foot game. At 6’2, 155 pounds there’s obviously plenty of room to eat and grow. He’s almost a point-per-game player in a good USHL. He’s been over in the United States since the age of 14 when he followed a childhood friend to Dallas where he played his midget AAA hockey. He knows how to get around and the Blues were impressed by the fact he drove himself and his family to the draft from Ohio. St. Louis saw him early in the year in a USHL showcase and followed him the rest of the season. He’s headed to Boston University and is expected to fill out to about 190 pounds. The Blues got out in front and may have found a steal in a player not everyone knows a ton about.
LD Jake Walman: 3rd Round/82nd overall, Toronto-OJHL
The Only defenseman selected by the Blues in this draft Walman enjoyed his own coming out party this past season where he collected numerous individual awards including OJHL top prospect, CJHL and OJHL Rookie of the Year. He’s still very raw and while scouts say his hockey sense offensively is good, not great, there is plenty to be excited about here. He’s got explosive feet with the ability to shake opposing players in the open ice. Scouts rave about his compete level specifically on the defensive side. Some believe he could turn out to be better than Julius Honka who went 14th overall to Dallas. He’s headed to Providence College in the fall.
G Ville Husso: 4th round/94th overall, HIFK-Finland
The Blues couldn’t be more excited to see this kid fall into their lap at 94. St. Louis picked up the extra pick from Toronto in the Roman Polak trade that has Carl Gunnarsson coming to St. Louis. Husso went undrafted in 2013 before turning heads this past season in the top professional league in Finland. Only 19 years-old, Husso was the #1 goaltender for one of the top clubs in the league posting outstanding individual numbers with a 1.99 goals against along with a .923 save%. At 6’3 and over 200 pounds, going undrafted the previous year may have been the wakeup call he needed as he came into this season in much better shape. If he continues developing down his current path he should find his way to the NHL. He should be the #1 goalie when Finland looks to repeat as World Junior champions in 2015.
F Austin Poganski: 4th round/110th overall, Tri-City-USHL
Described as an up and down power forward Poganski put up a respectable 31 points and 57 penalty minutes last season. Teammates in Tri-City say he plays a prototypical power game who wins battles and can chip in with offense. He’s off to the University of North Dakota in the fall.
F Jaedon Descheneau: 5th round/124th overall, Kootenay-WHL
Descheneau played on the same line as Sam Reinhart who went second overall to Buffalo. There’s a chance, years from now, we’re calling this selection an absolute steal. Scouts say he compares well to Schwartz minus the tenacity. His hockey sense is off the charts and at times scouts left the rink wondering which player was Reinhart and which one was Descheneau? At the end of the day this kid scored 44 goals and 98 points. He added another 10 goals in the playoffs. At 5’8 and 175 pounds obviously he is undersized but at this stage of the draft it’s more than worth rolling the dice.
F Chandler Yakimowicz: 6th round/172nd overall, London-OHL
Yakimowicz has a simple gameplan: skate, chip, hit, fight change. Yes that simple. He compares to a Ryan Reaves but probably isn’t considered a true heavyweight. Can deal with the light heavies but it might be wise to stay away from the Colton Orr’s of the world. He can do some damage though and once knocked a kid out with a pure body shot. Some scouts have him labeled as an animal who is good for five to six hits a night.
F Samuel Blais: Sixth Round/176 overall Victoriaville-QMJHL
Considered a super sleeper in the draft, Blais was a superstar as a minor player growing up. He was 5’9 when drafted into the Quebec league and now stands a respectable 6’1. He has the skills to become a major surprise if all goes as planned. Saw more playing time and opportunity after coaching change was made during the season.
F Dwyer Tschantz: 7th Round/202 overall Indiana-USHL
Tschantz is a big kid at 6’5 and 212 pounds. He won a USHL title last season with former Blue Jeff Brown behind the bench. The Blues spoke to Brown from the draft table. His size and 24 goals were enough for the Blues to take a shot. He’s off to Cornell University next season.
Five years ago you had an idea both Ryan Macinnis and Connor Chatham would find their way with an NHL organization. Both kids grew up playing with the St. Louis Triple-A Blues before leaving for the US National Development Team for one year. Both now play in the OHL where they continue to develop into promising prospects.
Macinnis, a 6’3 center, went in the 2nd round 43rd overall to Arizona. A perfect landing spot when you consider the centers the Coyotes have in the system. If all goes well, he should find himself in the NHL before too long.
Chatham, considered a man-child as a youth hockey player growing up, could be the strongest player in the draft. He went 71st overall to New Jersey. There’s a decent chance the Blues take him if he was still on the board in the 4th round.
Both of these kids are great people off the ice and are major pieces of the emerging youth hockey excellence in St. Louis. Macinnis will return to Kitchener and Chatham to Plymouth in the OHL.