In the first two editions of "The '14 File," we began examining some trends and outliers in the Blues’ drafting patterns over the last eight Entry Drafts, from the 2006 draft through the 2013 draft, and we've taken a look at the effect that those trends may have had on recent draft decisions. Tonight, we'll start taking a closer look at some of the players who might be discussed at the Blues' draft table come next June.
As noted previously, based on the draft trends we've identified, the Blues’ first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is most likely to come from either Europe or the United States Hockey league (which includes the USNTDP U-18 program). The Blues have made only three selections in the first round during Doug Armstrong's tenure as general manager. Two of those selections have been USHL players (Jaden Schwartz in 2010 and Jordan Schmaltz in 2012), while one was a European (Russian Vladimir Tarasenko in 2010).
In this edition of "The '14 File," then, we will look at a handful of potential first-round picks, focusing on players from Europe and the USHL. The Blues will, in all likelihood, be drafting somewhere between 20th and 30th overall in the first round, so we have concentrated on players that have been projected in that range by multiple scouting sources.
"Brother, Where You Bound?"
The Blues have had several sets of brothers, as well as fathers and sons, wear the ‘Note during their almost half-century of existence. The rough-and-tumble Plager brothers helped establish the Blues as an NHL franchise from their very earliest days, and more recently, Rich and Ron Sutter were teammates for a brief while in St. Louis.
One thing the Blues have never done, however, is to draft a set of brothers in the same draft, or in drafts separated by a couple of seasons. In the 70's, the Blues drafted Bob Gassoff and Bernie Federko from the Western League, and later signed as free agents their younger brothers Brad Gassoff and Ken Federko. The younger brothers never made quite the impact on the franchise that their older siblings did, but a very different story could be written at the 2014 Draft.
Center Nick Schmaltz of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers is the younger brother of 2012 first-round selection Jordan Schmaltz, and is projected to be a late first-round pick, which puts him right in the range where the Blues will be drafting. International Scouting Services ranks him 25th overall for the upcoming draft, while the “Future Considerations” website has him at 28th overall.
Like his brother, Schmaltz was born and raised in Verona, Wisconsin... but the similarities end with the last name and the home town. Where Jordan Schmaltz is a 6’ 2, 190 pound puck-moving defenseman, Nick Schmaltz is a 5’ 11, 170 pound scoring forward. The "Future Considerations" scouting report on the younger Schmaltz notes that he "possesses good vision, shows good quickness and a strong ability to read the play in the offensive end. While he can also play in his own zone, Schmaltz's quick hands and ability to move in tight make him an attractive package."
"The Scouting Report" website, another source for information on draft prospects, ranks Schmaltz at 17th overall for the 2014 draft, still close to the range in which the Blues are expected to pick. "TSR's" scouting report on Schmaltz reads as follows: "The bloodlines continue as Schmaltz hopes to replicate the success of his older brother, Jordan, who was a first round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The younger Schmaltz is coming off a productive rookie season and is pegged to be one of the top players in the USHL in Year 2. Schmaltz has no shortage of offensive flair which is supported by his quickness with the puck and high-end offensive vision and puck distribution. Schmaltz, a North Dakota commit, doesn't have as much size as his older brother but his powerful skating and fluidity makes him very difficult for defenders to contain."
As a 16-year-old in 2011-12, Schmaltz played 11 games with Green Bay and gave a strong hint of things to come by posting a 1-3-4 scoring line with a plus-7 and two minutes in penalty time in those games. Last year, Schmaltz skated in each of Green Bay’s 64 games, striking for 18 goals (seven power play tallies and five game winners) and adding 34 assists while racking up a plus-2 mark and just 15 minutes in penalty time.
Schmaltz' scoring output has picked up this season; after 10 games with the Gamblers, he has a 5-7-12 scoring line (plus-2, 2 PPG, 1 GWG, no penalties), which projects to about 30 goals and 70 points over the full season. Schmaltz will not equal last season’s accomplishment of playing every game, however, as he has already missed some time with the Gamblers in order to skate for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in Nova Scotia. The time missed was well-spent by Schmaltz, however, as he led the tournament in scoring with a 4-8-12 line in four games and led the Americans to a gold medal.
None of the goals scored by Schmaltz at the WJAC were game-winners; he did, however, assist on a goal with 14 seconds remaining in the second period of the gold medal game vs. Russia on Nov. 10. That goal put the US ahead to stay and proved to be the eventual game-winner in a 4-1 victory for the Americans.
Dylan Larkin of the USNTDP U18 squad is another American/USHL player who has first-round potential for the Blues. "Future Considerations" ranks him 23rd overall for 2014, while ISS has him at 29th. "The Scouting Report" does not list Larkin in their top 30, but does consider him a player who could "make some noise as a possible top 60 pick in June."
"Future Considerations" notes that the 6’ 1, 200-pound Detroit native "has shown he can be an elite-level power forward in addition to showing a high level of offensive ability. His ability to take the puck hard to the net allows for unique scoring chances most players would not be able to get." In 17 games for Team USA, which includes games played in the USHL, Larkin has 11 goals and 16 points, and is a plus-8 with 28 penalty minutes.
Swedes On The Radar For The Blues
The Blues have not drafted a Swedish forward in the first round since Patrik Berglund in 2006 (Lars Eller in 2007 was a Dane playing in Sweden), but that could change this year as a couple of Swedish forwards are making their presence felt.
The primary target for the Blues would appear to be center Adrian Kempe of MODO Hockey in Peter Forsberg's home town of Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. The 6’ 2, 187-pound pivot is ranked by both International Scouting Services and "The Scouting Report" website at 20th overall, while the "Future Considerations" website ranks him 18th. With a Sept. 13, 1996 birthdate, Kempe is one of the youngest players eligible for the 2014 Draft.
"The Scouting Report" website notes about Kempe that "(his) game drew rave reviews in the Superelit where he served as an alternate captain of MoDo's J20 team, so much so that he's now seen action with the organization's SHL entry. Kempe is an intriguing forward who has good size and an all-around skill-set that projects well moving forward. The Kramfors native plays with intensity and rarely takes shifts off which will go a long way for teams looking for a player that they can afford to be patient with in the second part of the first round."
"Future Considerations" says that "Kempe is a strong, bullish forward that has size, strength and a work ethic to match. He can be tenacious on the forecheck and never misses finishing a check. He has a heavy shot and isn't shy to drive towards the net."
As noted, Kempe has split time between MoDo's U20 and Elite League entries this season. In 10 games at the junior level, he has a 2-8-10 scoring line with a plus-7 and 10 minutes in the sin bin, while at the pro level he has a goal and an assist in 12 games, with a minus-1 and four minutes in penalty time.
Another European with definite first-round potential for the Blues is winger Oskar Lindblom of the Brynäs Gävle U20 squad. There’s a real divergence of opinion on Lindblom at this point, however, with ISS ranking him 7th overall and "The Scouting Report" at 25th overall, while "Future Considerations" does not have him ranked at all.
The "TSR" report on Lindblom notes that he "is a bit of a work in progress but there's definitely some things to like about the 6-foot-2, 190 pound winger. Currently playing with Brynäs' U20 team, Lindblom was exceptional in last year's Under 17's where he led the Swedish team with eight goals and 13 points in only six games. He parlayed that into a strong showing with the U18 team in the spring and is starting to scratch the surface of some intriguing offensive potential which bodes well when you factor in his size and what he could become in four or five years."
In 16 games for Brynäs this season, Lindblom has posted a 4-8-12 scoring line, with a plus-1 and 14 minutes in penalties. He has a pair of power-play tallies to his credit, and one game winning goal.
Finnish Blueliners A Frequent Target
In the Armstrong Era, the Blues have tended to concentrate on Finland as a source for European players. Under the guidance of Doug and Bill Armstrong as General Manager and Director of Amateur Scouting, respectively, the Blues have drafted a total of eight players from Europe; four of those players, all defensemen (Teemu Eronen, Jani Hakanpää, Petteri Lindbohm and Santeri Saari), have been from Finland.
The most likely scenario, then, is that the Blues will draft a Finnish defenseman with a pick somewhere between the third and seventh rounds. Two players leap off of the list of NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings as likely candidates to hear their name called by the Blues in Philadelphia next summer: Atte Mäkinen, who is currently skating for Tappara Tampere in the Liiga, and Eetu Sopanen, currently with the Pelicans Lahti U20 club in the A-Nuorten junior league.
Both Mäkinen and Sopanen have the kind of size that NHL teams look for in their defensemen; Mäkinen stands 6’ 3 and tips the scales at 206 pounds, while Sopanen is even bigger at 6’ 5, 222. Due to issues with the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation’s web server, there are no current statistics available for the junior league, but in his four games with Tappara in the Liiga, Mäkinen has an assists, a plus-5, and two minutes in the sin bin.
Mäkinen is in his second year of eligibility for the draft, as he has a May 1995 birthdate. Last year in the A-Nuorten junior league, he posted a 5-9-14 scoring line in 40 games, with a plus-7 mark and 71 minutes in penalties. Mäkinen did not score any “money” goals (power play, shorthanded or game-winners), but six of his nine assists were on power-play tallies for the Tappara juniors. He also skated for Finland’s U18 World Junior squad, picking up an assist, plus-3 and eight minutes in penalties for the Bronze medal winners.
The Tampere native was ranked 89th in Europe by NHL Central Scouting for last year’s draft, and 141st overall by International Scouting Services. The ISS scouting report on Mäkinen gives him a "Very Good" ranking in Size/Strength and Hockey Sense, and notes that he is a "big, physical defender with strong defensive instincts."
Sopanen played in 16 games last season for the Pelicans’ U20 squad, scoring one goal and adding six assists while posting a minus-1 and 12 minutes in the sin bin. Four of Sopanen’s six assists during the 2012-13 season were accumulated while on the power play. "Hockey’s Future" describes him as "(a) big, rangy defenseman who's strong defensively, (makes) mostly good decisions and has some ability to move the puck." The report goes on to mention that Sopanen still needs to work on his skating and agility, and notes that "improvement in these areas is essential" for the big blueliner to reach his full potential.