The Blues are not that far removed from a Stanley Cup Championship but were clear sellers at this year’s trade deadline, parting with Ryan O’Reilly, Ivan Barbashev, and Vladimir Tarasenko in exchange for picks, prospects and cap space.
That does not preclude the Blues are entering a full on rebuild despite having three first round selections in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. St. Louis will likely aim to build around a new core of under 25-year-old players such as Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and several of their prospect which are poised to crack the roster.
The plan could be to use all the draft picks and do a slower build, but it could also be to flip the picks to acquire players on the same timeline as Thomas and Kyrou and capitalize on their cap space.
2022-23 Top 10 St. Louis Blues Prospects
1. Scott Perunovich, LD – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 45th overall by St. Louis Blues
Perunovich may be the most underrated prospect in hockey. His career and development have been devastated by injuries since turning pro. His NCAA career was outstanding posting 105 points in 115 career games, picking up several accolades along the way including Top Rookie, NCAA Championship, Best Offensive Defenseman, and the Hobey Baker as Top NCAA Player of the Year.
Since he signed his ELC for the start of the 2020-21 season, injuries have limited him to only 54 games in three seasons. Perunovich has been dominant in the AHL with 36 points in 35 games. In his small NHL sample size of 19 games, he has posted six assists. His offensive upside is elite, in the same stratosphere as Quinn Hughes, Adam Fox or Rasmus Dahlin…if he can stay healthy.
2. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW – University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Drafted: 2022 round one, 23rd overall by St. Louis Blues
Playing on one of the more dominant lines in the NCAA with Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies with the Golden Gophers, Snuggerud has posted 50 points in 38 games as a freshman. It has seen his stock value skyrocket since his draft year, but his production is not unprecedented. While he only finished sixth overall is team scoring in his draft year with the US National team, he did produce over a point per game on a deep team.
What makes him even more attractive besides his offensive ability is his size and ability to play any game. He is solid defensively, can skate with anyone, and play a physical and aggressive game. This style of player is a reoccurring theme with Blues prospects as you will see. He projects very well to the NHL in a top-six role for any coach.
3. Jake Neighbours, LW – St. Louis Blues (NHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 26th overall by St. Louis Blues
Neighbours is on the cusp of cracking the Blues as a full time player after splitting his rookie season between the AHL and NHL. Neighbours is a rugged, playmaking winger that uses his size and vision to create plays. He can throw big hits, is strong on the boards and wins a lot of puck battles. He is good in the crease providing screens and has good hand-eye for tips and rebounds. His vision and passing ability is better than average for a power forward and his shot is heavy and accurate.
Neighbours is on track to be a full time member of the Blues for the 2023-24 season, the real question will be if he is a top-six offensive power forward, or a middle-six energy role?
4. Zachary Bolduc, C – Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 17th overall by St. Louis Blues
In his final year of junior, Bolduc has continued to show signs of development. While it is difficult to improve on a 55 goal, 99 point campaign as a junior, he has done just that. Repeating as a 50 goal scorer and pushing the point total needle to 110 points is great, but what has really evolved in his game is his playmaking ability.
His assist totals jumped from 44 to 60 making him more of a dual threat offensively, which bodes well for his professional upside in the coming season. Bolduc is also a reliable contributor defensively as well and will look to make a deep playoff run with Quebec before embarking on his professional career. Bolduc is a big part of the Blues future.
5. Zach Dean, C – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 30th overall by Vegas Golden Knights.
Acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the Ivan Barbashev trade, Dean is a typical Blues player. He has size, skates well, has offensive upside and can play defensively and physically.
His final season in Gatineau saw his point totals improve to a 33 goal and 70 points. While his offensive production demands attention, it his pace, physicality and defensive versatility that won him a role on Team Canada for the 2023 WJC where he won Gold while posting three points and 33 PIM’s in seven games.
Dean came at a high cost in a young and established NHL player, but the Blues believe he is the prototypical Blues player and will be a key member of their near future, possibly as soon as one to two years.
6. Joel Hofer, G – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round four 107th overall by St. Louis Blues.
Credit to the Blues scouting staff for identifying Hofer well before his breakout performance during the 2019-20 season in Portland of the WHL. He became a household name after playing his way into the starting role for Canada at the 2020 WJC winning the Gold with a sparkling 5-0 record and a 1.30 GAA and .946 SV%.
He carried that momentum into his pro career where he has played in 92 AHL games over three seasons with a 46-35-12 record and a 2.81 GAA which is very good for a young goalie. His play has also earned him seven NHL starts and he has shown he can play in the big leagues.
With Thomas Greiss on an expiring contract the door is open for Hofer to step into a full time NHL job next season. If Jordan Binnington continues to struggle, the opportunity for Hofer to step into the starting role may come sooner than later as well. He has NHL starting goalie potential standing at 6-5!
7. Nikita Alexandrov, C – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round two, 62nd overall by St. Louis Blues
The Russian/German center has had a rough development cycle since being the last selection in the second round of the 2019 Draft. After a solid junior career in the CHL with the Charlottetown Islanders, the pandemic forced him to find a home in Europe where he played in 28 Liiga games scoring nine points.
He returned to finish the year in the AHL with an impressive five points in seven games in Utica. His full rookie season was good, but 30 points in a full 67 game campaign raised questions about his projectability to the NHL. He had a breakout sophomore season and put any concerns to bed scoring 29 points in 34 AHL games and was recalled for 28 games with the Blues where he played admirably scoring seven points. Alexandrov will look to carry that momentum into a full time NHL role next year and likely fit in a middle-six role.
8. Michael Buchinger, LD – Guelph Storm (OHL)
Drafted: 2022 round three, 88th overall by St. Louis Blues
Due to the pandemic, his rookie year and his draft year were one and the same. That is a difficult hand to be dealt as the 17-year-old got familiar with the league and pace of play and had the distraction of his draft year to complicate things. As a result, his play was inconsistent showing signs of high end skill and lapses in decision making and flat out bad plays.
As his comfort in the league grows and his sill and coaching continue to develop he has improved his play and consistency. His point production went from 44 points to 67 and he eclipsed the point per game point pace. For a mid-round pick he was a bit of a gamble, but one that is trending towards a nice payoff. He recently signed his ELC with the Blues.
9. Simon Robertson, RW – Vasteras IK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Drafted: 2021 round three, 71st overall by St. Louis Blues
The Blues have shown patience with the development of the Swedish sniper allowing him to play through different leagues and levels in Sweden. The results have been ho-hum as he has bounced between the J20, HockeyAllsvenskan, SHL and international play as well.
He remains an unsigned prospect with the Blues and the clock is ticking. It would be in his best interests for his NHL future to sign and begin playing in the AHL for the 2023-24 season.
10. Vadim Zherenko, G – Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round seven, 208th overall by St. Louis Blues
The second goalie drafted in the 2019 draft by the Blues may have the brighter future. The 6-4 Russian has seen development time in the VHL and MHL in Russia, the Liiga in Finland, and was the AHL backup this year in Springfield.
Assuming Hofer graduates to the NHL, that will allow Zherenko to challenge for the AHL starting role and continue to get coaching from the Blues goalie coach. He could be a draft gem that the Blues will continue to polish for two or three more seasons.