After a one-year hiatus due to the latest NHL work stoppage, the Traverse City Prospect Tournament is back and the Blues will be sending a potent squad to northern Michigan in a couple of weeks.
LINK to story at Blues dot com, which includes the team's schedule for the tournament (vs. Dallas on Sep. 5, vs. Minnesota on Sep. 6, and vs. Detroit on Sep. 8).
A detailed Blues' roster for Traverse City can be found HERE. The players whose names are highlighted in light blue are those who have been drafted by the Blues, while those whose names are highlighted in light grey are the non-contract invitees. Players whose dates of birth and age are highlighted in green are those who still have major junior eligibility remaining.
Thus, a player who's name is highlighted in light blue, and who's DOB and age are highlighted in green -- William Carrier, Zach Pochiro, Francois Tremblay and Nicholas Walters -- is a drafted prospect who will in all likelihood be returning to junior either immediately after Traverse City, or sometime during training camp.
Here is a quick look at the roster by position, and some speculation as to lines, etc. that the team might be using in the tournament.
Both goalies going to Traverse City with the Blues are drafted players; one is already under contract, and one has a year of major junior eligibility remaining.
2011 draftee (88th overall) Jordan Binnington was named OHL Goaltender of the Year for 2012-13 after posting a 2.17 GAA, 93.2% saves rate, a 32-12-6 record and seven shutouts in 50 games for the Owen Sound Attack. Binnington will be starting his pro career this fall; where he starts it is the question, as the AHL affiliate in Chicago already has their own goaltender (Matt Climie) as well as Blues' Goalie Of The Future © Jake Allen. Evansville of the ECHL is no longer affiliated with the Blues, so there is a possibility that the Blues may assign Binnington to Alaska, which has seen a number of Blues' prospects pass through in recent years.
Binnington will be backed up in Traverse City by QMJHL'er Francois Tremblay (2012, 146th overall), who has been on a steady development and improvement path with the Val-d'Or Foreurs for the last three seasons. Tremblay's goals-against average has gone from 3.91 in 2010-11 to 3.79 in his draft year, and was a respectable 3.42 in 2012-13. In the same time frame, his save percentage has improved from 86.9% to 88.2%, and was 89.4% last year.
Several of the Blues' top prospects on defense -- 2012 first-rounder Jordan Schmaltz, 2012 third-rounder (86th overall) Colton Parayko, and 2013 first pick (47th overall) Tommy Vanelli -- are college players and thus cannot participate in this tournament without losing their NCAA eligibility. Two others, Finns Petteri Lindbohm (2012, 176th overall) and Santeri Saari (2013, 173rd overall), are in training camps in Finland preparing for the upcoming SM-Liiga season. Fortunately for the Blues, however, there are still a few top defense prospects that can and will skate in this tournament.
Foremost among those is big Finnish blueliner Jani Hakanpää (pictured at left, apparently letting a teammate know that, "no, YOU Da Man!"). The native of Kirkkonummi, Finland (a little southwest of downtown Helsinki) is the biggest player on the Blues' Traverse City roster at 6' 5, 220 pounds, and has the most pro experience -- 75 games in the SM-Liiga, 14 games with Peoria -- of any defenseman going to the tournament with the Blues. Hakanpää (2010, 104th overall) is primarily a physical stay-at-home blueliner, but also has a little offensive upside; in his SM-Liiga career, Hakanpää has a 7-10-17 scoring line (plus-8, 64 PM).
A pair of rough-and-tumble prospect defensemen out of the Western League, Joel Edmundson (2011, 46th overall) and Nicholas Walters (2012, 106th overall) will also be skating for the Blues in Traverse City. Edmundson is under contract and will be turning pro this fall, while Walters has another year of major junior eligibility left. Walters did appear in a handful of games at the tail end of the 2012-13 season with Peoria on an ATO contract.
Hakanpää is the only right-hand shot among all the defensemen going to the tournament, prospects and non-contract players alike. QMJHL veteran and free agent Martin Lefebvre will be making the trek to Traverse City for the second time as a member of the Blues' entry, having also attended as a Blue in 2011, and his hands and puck skills make him a likely candidate to play on the right point despite a left-handed shot. A strong showing at Traverse City could very well lead to a contract for Lefebvre, who would bring an offensive element that is currently lacking to the Blues' "D"-prospect stable.
Also getting a look-see from the Blues is Western League veteran Reid Gow, who had a breakout season (64 GP, 7-44-51, plus-29, 80 PM) for the Spokane Chiefs last year. The Manitoba native has one more season of major junior eligibility left, and appears to be a candidate to follow Mark Cundari's path to the NHL by being offered a Blues' contract after Traverse City and being returned for his last year of junior before turning pro.
A pair of players with another year of major junior eligibility remaining, Brenden Miller of the OHL's North Bay Battalion, and QMJHL'er Matt Murphy of the Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads, round out the Blues' defense for the tournament.
An area of organizational strength for the Blues, every RW on the Traverse City roster is a drafted prospect, and all will be skating for the Chicago Wolves this fall.
Jaskin (2011, 41st overall) is a prototypical European power winger who can do it all, while Ty Rattie (2011, 32nd overall) may well possess the most raw talent and skill of any prospect currently in the Blues' organization. Sebastian Wännström, (2010, 44th overall) has the size, skill, and defensive awareness to be a top-notch third line winger, and Cody Beach (2010, 134th overall) can also fill that role and bring a physical dimension that few of his fellow prospects can match.
With 3-1/2 years in the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) and a half-season split between Peoria and Evansville last year, Wännström has the most pro experience of any player going to Traverse City with the Blues this year. Beach made his pro debut last year, also splitting the season between Peoria and Evansville.
The Blues' entry in this year's Prospect Tournament features a number of LW's with NHL size and potential from the QMJHL, as well as a St. Louis native who is eager to make an impression on his hometown team.
Three drafted prospects -- Yannick Veilleux (2011, 102nd overall), William Carrier (2013, 57th overall), and Zach Pochiro (2013, 112th overall) -- will be patrolling the port side for the Blues in Traverse City. Veilleux (pictured at right skating for the Moncton Wildcats last season) has made a career out of scoring on the power play while in the QMJHL, tallying 42 times on the power play in the last three seasons while scoring a total of 80 goals in that time frame.
The Blues traded up in the 2013 Draft in order to select Carrier, and recently signed him to a three-year entry-level contract. Pochiro, born in St. Louis and raised in Las Vegas, was also drafted by the Blues a few weeks ago and has been a Blues' fan since childhood.
The non-contracted LW's going to Traverse City with the Blues are big (6' 4, 196 pounds) Samuel Henley, a teammate of Tremblay at Val-d'Or of the QMJHL, and a pair of OHL players who each have another year of draft eligibility remaining, Dane Fox of the Erie Otters (who has also played center), and Maryland-born Greg Betzold of the Peterborough Petes.
The only contracted center that the Blues are sending to Traverse City is feisty Ryan Tesink (2011, 162nd overall). Non-contract "tryout" players include the ironically-named Gabriel Slight (6' 02, 209) from Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, and a pair of teammates with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, high-scoring Curtis Valk and bottom six pivot Jacob Doty.
Despite his small stature (5' 08, 162), Valk put up big numbers in the 'Dub last season; he led the Tigers in scoring with a 46-45-91 scoring line in 71 games, and also led the team in power-play goals (16) and game winners (8). He will probably get a good long look from the Blues' player development staff, and could end up being signed to an AHL contract.
Center is a weak link position in the Blues' organizational chain, as the departure of Philip McRae and Evgeny Grachev for Europe leaves the team with only Tesink, the twice-concussed Tyrel Seaman (Brandon, WHL) and the resurgent Max Gardiner (Penn State) as center prospects. That organizational shortcoming gives all of the non-contract invitees at the center position a better-than-average chance of being offered at least an AHL contract if they make a good showing at Traverse City.
The Blues will likely have a pair of well-balanced and offensively potent lines to throw at opponents in Traverse City. The "1A" line will likely be made up of QMJHL'ers Jaskin and Carrier on the wings, with Tesink in the middle. The "1B" line will likely be Veilleux on the left, with WHL grads Rattie at RW and Valk at center.
Wännström should anchor the third line on the right side, with Slight the likely candidate for center and Fox waiting in the wings if Slight falters. The non-contratcted LW's -- Fox, Betzold and Henley -- will likely all get a turn on the left side of this line.
The fourth line is likely to be a real Hell-raising group, with WHL'ers Beach and Pochiro on the wings and Doty in the middle. Those three players combined for 347 minutes in penalty time last year (with Beach accumulating 152 of those by himself), but also contributed offensively with 30 goals between them in three different leagues.
The top defense pair should be Hakanpää and Edmundson, with the "audition" pairing of Lefebvre and Gow likely to be the second pairing, and Walters leading the rotation on the third pairing with the two non-contracted invitees Miller and Murphy.
Binnington will be the number one goalie, but Tremblay may get the start vs. Minnesota on Sep. 6 since that will be the team's second game in as many days.
The power play should be potent, with the first unit likely to be Rattie, Veilleux and Valk up front, with the big man Jaskin on the right point and Lefebvre on the left. Those five players combined for 68 goals last season in man-advantage situations.
Tesink, Veilleux, Edmundson and Hakanpää figure to be the top penalty-killing unit. In addition to solid defensive play, those four players combined for six shorthanded goals last year as well. Valk, meanwhile, tallied three times shorthanded, but his lack of size and a minus-6 at even strength does not speak well for his defensive game.