"Game Time" Prospect Sunday: THE '14 FILE, Jan. 26, 2014

Your GTPD has spent most of his free time in the last two weeks breaking down the NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings. Here's a look at some of the conclusions reached in that time...

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In order to make better and more informed speculation on the potential of the 2014 Draft for the Blues, let’s first try to project what components will make up the organizational roster this summer.

Per the “capgeek.com” website, the Blues currently have 49 players under contract, out of a maximum of 50. One player currently under contract (Niklas Lundström) is playing in Europe on loan, and three others (William Carrier, Jake Doty and Ryan Tesink) are playing major junior. The Blues are "burining" the first year of the ELC's for Tesink and Doty by returning them to junior; Carrier is the only player of the three who's contract "slides" to become effective next season.

On the NHL roster, the following six players are pending UFA’s after this season: Carlo Colaiacovo, Adam Cracknell, Brian Elliott, Jaroslav Halak, Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy. One of the goaltenders, wither Elliott or Halak, will almost certainly not be re-signed for next year, and his spot on the NHL roster will be taken by Jake Allen. Two of the four skaters will probably also not be brought back, with Colaiacovo and either Cracknell or Morrow being the most likely to get the axe.

The three pending RFA’s on the NHL roster -- Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka -- will likely all be re-signed for next season. That leaves 46 players under contract for now.

There are an additional six pending UFA’s on the Chicago Wolves’ roster -- Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Bolduc, Patrick Cannone, Taylor Chorney, Christian Hanson and Mark Mancari -- and it’s probably a safe bet that at least half of those players will not be re-signed.

Additionally, the Wolves have six pending RFA’s -- Sergey Andronov, Cade Fairchild, Brett Ponich, Tyler Shattock, David Shields and Sebastian Wännström -- and it’s likely that three of those players will also be moving on after this season.

This will send the Blues into the summer with 40 players under contract, and a maximum of ten open contract slots to fill. The three unsigned major junior players who will reach their 20th birthday in this calendar year -- Zach Pochiro, Francois Tremblay and Nick Walters -- are likely to be signed during the off-season, leaving the Blues with potentially as many as seven contract slots to fill.

If Finnish defense prospects Petteri Lindbohm and Santeri Saari sign on the dotted line this summer, the Blues could still have as many as five contract slots available to bring new blood into the organization. There are six collegiate prospects in the system who will all have reached their 20th birthday by the end of this calendar year; senior Max Tardy (Minnesota-Duluth) has not developed as a scorer in four years with the Bulldogs and will likely not be offered a contract.

The other college prospects -- Max Gardiner (Penn State), Sam Kurker (Boston University), Mackenzie Maceachern (Michigan State), Colton Parayko (Alaska-Fairbanks) and Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) are all underclassmen, and there have been no indications that any of them are even thinking about leaving college early to try their hand in the pro ranks.

(NOTE: Kurker has since left BU to skate for the Indiana Ice in the USHL for the balance of the 29013-14 season. Kurker will reach his 20th birthday in April, and his having left college indicates that he may be at least thinking about turning pro next season... if that meshes with the Blues' plans for him.)

The bottom line is that the Blues will have no prospects in major junior next year other than those they draft this year, and only three forward prospects not signed to pro contracts. So while the Blues are particularly shorthanded at the center position, the pipeline is beginning to dry up on the wings as well.

Handicapping The Draft For The Blues

As things stand currently, the Blues have nine picks in the 2014 Entry Draft, one selection in each of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th rounds, and two selections in each of the 2nd and 6th rounds. Barring any trades, then, the Blues could be looking at a draft based on these proportions:

• Two centers

• Two or three wingers

• Two offensive, puck-moving defensemen

• One physical, stay-at-home defenseman

• One or two goaltenders

Let’s now take a look at players likely to be available in the spots where the Blues will be drafting this June.

First Round, 25th to 30th overall: The Blues will probably use this first pick on the player they consider the best player available here, regardless of position. That player is not likely to be a goaltender, as there are plenty of opportunities later in the draft to refill the pipeline at that position, and the last time the Blues spent a first-round pick on a goalie (Marek Schwarz in 2004), it did not work out so well...

The player the Blues draft here will probably not be a center either, as this range of the draft is sort of a “donut hole” in center talent. There are several centers bunched at the top of the North American Midterm rankings, where four of the top five ranked players are centers, and the second-ranked European is a center as well. Further down the charts, five more players ranked between 11th and 19th are pivots, and on the European side, the first player listed as a “natural” center -- that is, not listed as a C/LW or C/RW -- is Czech Pavel Jenys at 19th overall.

That said, there are a few listed centers that project to be available in the Blues’ range:

• 23rd overall, Eric Cornel, Peterborough (OHL), 6’ 2, 186 pounds.

• 25th overall, Robert Fabbri, Guelph (OHL), 5’ 10, 166 pounds.

• 26th overall, Chase DeLeo, Portland (WHL), 5’ 9, 177 pounds.

Cornel in particular is an intriguing prospect. Like the Blues’ last two first picks, Jordan Schmaltz in 2012 and Tommy Vannelli in 2013, Cornel has a big frame that he still needs to grow into. If he continues to hit the weight room, and can pack on 25-30 pounds of muscle without losing a step, he projects to play at about 6’ 3 and 210 pounds or so as a pro in two years.

Fabbri (34 GP, 28-22-50, plus-28) and De Leo (46 GP, 26-24-50, plus-17) are more accomplished scorers at the junior level than Cornel (43 GP, 15-20-35, minus-3), but their size -- or rather, lack of it -- will work against them at the center position in the Blues’ game plan.

Second Round, 31st to 35th overall: This pick came to the Blues along with Magnus Pääjärvi from Edmonton in exchange for David Perron, and the Blues have a lot of options for this particular pick.

It could be packaged along with the Blues’ own first-rounder in an attempt to trade up if there is a player that the Armstrongs really like who is still available after the top dozen or so picks have been made. Or the Blues could use this pick to bolster the prospect stable in pretty much any of the areas listed above.

The Blues could use the pick to take one of either Cornel, Fabbri or De Leo, if they are still around... or could use it on some of the locally-produced talent that will be available in this draft, like Belleville native Connor Chatham (32 P, 5-8-13 minus-17), ranked 30th in North America, or St. Louis-born Ryan Macinnis (44 GP, 11-15-26, minus-14), ranked 33rd in North America.

If thee Armstrongs should decide to spend the pick on some blueline help instead, there are three solid American-born defense prospects ranked just ahead of Chatham, two members of the US National Team Development Program and a Michigan native skating for an Ontario League club:

• 27th overall, Jack Glover, USNTDP (USHL), 6’ 3, 190 pounds.

• 28th overall, Aaron Haydon, Niagara (OHL), 6’ 3, 197 pounds.

• 29th overall, Jack Dougherty, USNTDP (USHL), 6’ 1, 186 pounds.

All three players are of similar size, and all play a similar type of game... defense first, with a physical component, and some offensive upside to go along with it. Per the “Future Considerations website, Glover is “an impressive two-way defenseman who has good overall mobility. He's always aware in all three zones and defends with a physical edge, using his frame to separate pucks and size to clear the crease. He moves the puck well and has a good outlet pass.”

Haydon, meanwhile, “is a big strong physical defenseman who skates very well for such a big guy and has some still developing offensive abilities coming along,” also per the “FC” site. “He plays a gritty and tough game in his own zone and moves the puck quickly to his forwards.”

The good folks at “Future Considerations” also have a profile of Dougherty, calling him “an intelligent defenseman who tries to blend strong positioning while trying to inflict a physical dimension on his opponent. He isn't the fleetest of foot, but does get where he needs to go. He also makes a strong first pass and has solid offensive instincts.”

Finally, if the Blues wish to spend this pick on more offensively-gifted defensemen, there is a pair of teammates with the Skellefteå AIK U-20 squad in Sweden who fill that bill. The ninth-ranked skater in Europe is defenseman Sebastian Aho, who is small at just 5’ 9, 165 pounds, but is a gifted offensive player who plays bigger than his size. In 13 games with the U-20 squad in Skellefteå, Aho has four goals and 12 points, and is a plus-8 with just six minutes in the penalty box. He has also seen considerable time with the senior club in the elite league, the SHL, where he has a 1-3-4 scoring line and an even plus-minus in 19 games played.

Ranked tenth in Europe, Markus Pettersson is much taller than Aho at 6’ 4, but also tops the scales at 165 pounds. In 29 games with the U-20 squad, Pettersson has a 3-13-16 scoring line with a minus-2 mark and 34 minutes of penalty time.

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