The Blues are not too far removed from their Stanley Cup Championship, and with several key players still in place, they are still a Cup contending team.
Veterans Ryan O’Reilly, Braden Schenn, Torey Krug, and Vladimir Tarasenko lead the way. The Blues also have under 25-year-old players contributing with Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin.
Drafting and developing has helped provide the Blues with roster players, but they have used draft capital to acquire assets to help keep them competitive. And that bill will come due as the Blues prospect pool is not too deep.
One big question facing the Blues heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs is the state of their goaltending. Stanley Cup winning Jordan Binnington has had some struggles this season to be sure, but there may be some help on the way coming down the pipe.
1. Scott Perunovich, D – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 45th overall by St. Louis Blues
Perunovich is a highly decorated prospect from the NCAA where he captured two NCAA Championships and a Hobey Baker as the NCAA Top Player in his term with Minnesota-Duluth to go along with his Bronze WJC Medal. The undersized defender lacks elite-level speed but makes up for it with his exceptional vision and skill level.
His pro debut was delayed a year due to injury costing him the entire 2020-21 season. Perunovich made his pro debut this year in the AHL and after 12 games he posted 20 points. That earned him a recall to the Blues where he scored six points in 19 games before an injury knocked him out. He was reassigned to the AHL but after only five games he sustained another injury that will require wrist surgery.
Injuries are becoming a serious concern regarding Perunovich reaching his full potential. That being an offensive powerhouse and top-pairing minute munching player. When talking about top offensive defenseman prospects, Perunovich should be considered in elite company with the likes of Jamie Drysdale and Bowen Byram.
2. Jake Neighbours, LW – Edmonton Oil Kings, (WHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 26th overall by St. Louis Blues
After making the opening night roster and playing in his first nine NHL games to start the season with two points, Neighbours was ultimately returned to the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings and named as team Captain. The Oil Kings are going to chase a Championship and will be a Memorial Cup contender. Neighbours is expectantly having a terrific season with 41 points through 26 games and was named to Team Canada for the WJC.
Neighbours is a versatile player that can play in a variety of roles as he is an offensive driver. He has a motor that drives his compete and despite being average size, he plays a very physical game. Defensively he pursues pucks and is not shy to try to separate the man from the puck. Neighbours will do whatever he can to make an impact and help his team win. His skating needs some improvement to become NHL average and he is prone to some questionable puck management decisions, but his upside is a top-six NHL winger, and his floor is still an NHL winger.
Neighbours may have a long playoff season with the Oil Kings, followed by the August rescheduled World Juniors before he makes his full-time move to pro hockey in the 2022-23 season. Some AHL development time would be advised, but his tenure in the AHL may be short.
3. Joel Hofer, G – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round four, 107th overall by St. Louis Blues
The Blues fourth-round selection from 2018 had a breakout performance when he was named to Team Canada for the first time in his career for the 2020 WJC. Hofer was not the starter for the beginning of the tournament, but when Canada turned to him, he took the ball and ran all the way to a 5-0 record and the Gold Medal.
Hofer began his pro career during the 2020-21 COVID season in the AHL with the Utica Comets in a split affiliation scenario with Vancouver Canucks prospects and sharing the goal with five other goalies. It was a challenging situation and limited Hofer to just ten games, the most starts of all the goalies.
Now in a more conventional system in Springfield with a dedicated affiliation to the Blues, Hofer is sharing the starts with Charlie Lindgren and getting good development with 29 games played to date. With Ville Husso set to hit the unrestricted free agent market in the summer, the door could quickly open for Hofer to play his way onto a roster spot with the Blues as the backup.
4. Zachary Bolduc, C – Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 17th overall by St. Louis Blues
The Blues 2021 first-round draft choice fits the boom or bust label. Bolduc skates well, plays physically and has good offensive skills. He has quick hands and can handle the puck to evade checkers and maneuver to open ice and open shooting or passing lanes.
His draft year was reduced to 27 games due to COVID, but he posted 29 points with Rimouski. His D+1 season finds him in Quebec where he is well over a point per game and on pace for a 91-point season.
So where does the “bust” concern enter the equation? Bolduc can be prone to ill-advised passes and there is some concern with his decision-making. He has shown tendencies of missing passing opportunities or making passes that lead to turnovers. If Bolduc can work out some of those errors and simplify his game, the skill should take over. Bolduc has another season of junior eligibility remaining and will likely see a year or two of development in the AHL when he turns pro. The wait may be longer on this player but the potential for a top-six NHL player is there.
5. Nikita Alexandrov, C – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round two 62nd overall by St. Louis Blues
The Russian forward played his minor hockey in Germany where he was born. Drafted in the first round of the CHL Import Draft, Alexandrov was a high-scoring player for the Charlottetown Islanders. With 61 points in 64 games in his draft season, the Blues selected him in the second round.
His D+1 season saw his point production exceed the point per game pace and he was a standout for Russia at the 2020 WJC with eight points in seven games helping Russia win the Silver Medal. Alexandrov began his pro career on loan in Finland in the Liiga waiting for games to begin in North America. He produced a decent nine points in 28 games with KooKoo before returning to North America and playing in seven games in the AHL with Utica and scoring five points. The Blues now have a dedicated AHL affiliate in Springfield and Alexandrov is on pace for a 27-point season. His stat line is underwhelming but 21-years-old having a development and adjustment season in the AHL is not too concerning.
Alexandrov lacks speed but compensates with his hockey smarts and has a high skill level as seen in his junior days. Another season or part of a season next year may be in order for Alexandrov to be comfortable in pro hockey. If he makes the adjustment and finds his offensive game, he has middle-six offensive upside at the NHL level.
6. Simon Robertson, RW – Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
Drafted: 2021 round three 71st overall by St. Louis Blues
The 19-year-old has been a prolific scorer at the J20 level, but his offensive game has not materialized in the SHL yet with only five points in 42 games in his D+1 season. The SHL is not a high-scoring league, or a developmental league, and teenagers seldom are given good offensive minutes. This is definitely the case with Robertson this season.
Robertson has shown his offensive chops in the junior levels, he is an above-average skater with one of the best shots in his draft class. His hockey awareness or smarts are also above average and skating, shot and smarts are three very translatable skills for success at the NHL level. Widely ranked as a first-round talent, the Blues may have found great value with the 71st overall selection. Robertson will play a few more years developing in Sweden before cutting his teeth in North America in the AHL.
7. Tyler Tucker, D – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round seven 200th overall by St. Louis Blues
The Blues have not had a lot of success with late-round draft picks, and they don’t get much later than 200th overall. Tucker had a breakout D+1 season in the OHL with Barrie posting 14 goals, 59 points and 105 penalty minutes in 68 games. That performance earned him an AHL cup of coffee to end the season. Tucker had another season of development in his final OHL season split between Barrie and Flint with 56 points in 55 games. Tucker made the jump to pro hockey last year with Utica and while the offensive game was underwhelming with only one goal and seven points in 27 games, he played a sound defensive and physical game.
His shot is heavy, but he needs to let it go quicker, and be more selective when he shoots and hit more net and fewer shin pads. Tucker keeps developing and is trending towards getting some NHL looks. His offensive game may never translate in the NHL, but it looks like the Blues have found a player in Tucker.
8. Keean Washkurak, C – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round five 155th overall by St. Louis Blues
Another late-round pick that has some NHL upside is Washkurak. At 5-10, he is short, but he is a very aggressive player, strong and feisty. Washkurak brings a ton of energy, is a tenacious forechecker, quick and dangerous offensively. Washkurak had his OHL career limited to three seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads where he compiled 44 goals 114 points and 152 penalty minutes in 176 career games.
With the OHL season canceled for his final year of eligibility, he found a home in Slovakia and was a force with 19 points in 21 games and 110 penalty minutes. Washkurak is in his rookie season in the AHL and is on pace for a 15-goal season.
It may take another season or two for Washkurak to break into the NHL, but the Blues may be looking at a future bottom-six player that is an energy player with some offensive upside that can be a versatile player.
9. Dylan Peterson, C – Boston University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2020 round three 86th overall by St. Louis Blues
The big pivot is a product of the US National Team Development Program. His D+1 season in the NCAA with the Terriers was underwhelming with six points in 16 games. Peterson had some challenges adjusting to the speed of NCAA hockey but made strides in his sophomore season. His point totals jumped to ten goals and 16 points highlighted by the Beanpot Championship winning goal and tournament MVP.
Peterson needs to play to his size and be more of a physical factor. His skating development needs to focus on his acceleration and first step. He has a good top gear, but he lacks a pop or explosive first step. Offensively he has shown flashes but lacks the upside of a top-six forward. Peterson can be an impactful player as he is a reliable penalty killer, blocks shots, has good size and speed and has some offensive upside.
10. Hugh McGing, C – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round five 138th overall by St. Louis Blues
McGing played out his NCAA career at the University of Western Michigan with 117 points in 147 career games played. The Blues managed to sign him to his ELC before he became an unrestricted free agent and last year he played his rookie pro season in the AHL with the Utica Comets. It was an adjustment season and he managed only eight points in 23 games.
At 5-9 and 174 pounds, he seemed physically overmatched at times and needs to add more strength and bulk. Now in his sophomore season, he is far more comfortable, perhaps because he is in Springfield and the team is a dedicated development system for the Blues.
McGing is on pace for a 40 point season and is a relevant prospect with NHL upside. His ceiling will never be in a top-six role, but with his speed and tenacity, he could be an effective bottom-six and penalty killer.