With the 146th pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the St. Louis Blues select goaltender LUKE OPILKA of the US National Team Development Program.
Born about 100 miles east of the Arch in Effingham, Illinois, the 6' 1, 192-pound Opilka played all of his minor hockey in the St. Louis area, culminating in a solid 2012-13 season (22 GP, 1.55 GAA, 92.7%) with the U16 AAA Junior Blues before moving up to the USNTDP. Former Blues great and special assignment scout Keith Tkachuk was one of Opilka's coaches in minor hockey, and has praised Opilka's character and dedication to the game.
The Hockey Prospect.com "Black Book" scouting report on Opilka is not extensive, bur reads as follows:
"(Opilka) actually looks smaller between the pipes than he really is although he has decent listed NHL goalie size standing above 6-feet. He is a very athletic goalie that has explosive leg strength, which allows him to get square on pucks quick. He plays position well and makes shots look easy at times. You like the composure he shows. He must continue to have a bigger presence in net although the natural abilities and reads are very good. You like the tools in the tool box for the future in this tender."
|Catches||Left||Hockey Prospect Black Book||206 Overall|
|Height||6' 01.00"||NCAA Commit||Wisconsin 2015|
|Weight||192 lbs||CSS Preliminary||N America "A"|
|Born||Feb. 27, 1997||CSS Midterm||5 N Amer Goal|
|Where||Effingham, Illinois||CSS Final||12 N Amer Goal|
|2014-15||USNTDP U18 (USHL)||15||823||34||343||2.48||11-1-2||.901||1|
|Tournaments and Exhibitions||19||1071||53||421||2.97||13-5-0||.874||2|
|United States (U18 WJC)||2||119||6||33||3.01||1-1-0||.818||0|
"He's focused and very driven to be the best he can be," USNTDP U-18 coach Don Granato said. "He challenges himself every day at practice. After practice he grabs goalie gloves and a stick and goes upstairs to shoot pucks."
A native of Effingham, Ill., Opilka began opening some eyes in midget minors with the St. Louis Blues program in 2012-13, going 18-2-1 with a 1.55 GAA and .927 save percentage.
Opilka has good size and moves well in his crease, two areas that excite NHL scouts.
"I play more of a hybrid and play more to my positioning, quick feet and try to get into the space before the shot comes," Opilka said. "I try and stay away from reactionary saves and try to be in the right position at all times."
Opilka was the highest-rated goalie invited to participate in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo on Sept. 25. In his 29:48 of ice time he allowed one goal on 23 shots to help Team Mike Grier to a 6-3 victory against Team Eddie Olczyk.
"He's aggressive and is a quick-style goalie, challenging shooters very well," (Central Scouting's goaltending expert Al) Jensen said. "He reads the plays well and is quick to react, has a good glove hand and is an overall strong goalie. He's got great lateral movement and competes very hard."
"When he struggles it's because he's too intense," Granato said. "He'll put pressure on himself and is over-focused in that regard. But he's matured a lot. He studies the position and knows it well. He's learned it, taught himself and learned a lot from our goalie coach (Kevin Reiter)."
. (Mike Morreale, "Shift to goalie paying off for USNTDP's Opilka," 12-04-14, http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=742201)