It’s the final week in May, which means it’s obviously a great time to talk St. Louis Blues hockey.
Next month the Vegas Golden Knights get to select a player from St. Louis in the NHL Expansion Draft. Expect the Blues to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie, rather than the 4-4 strategy.
St. Louis is in an interesting position heading into next month’s draft. Two years ago they were in the Western Conference Final. This season they weathered the firing of Ken Hitchcock, the trade of Kevin Shattenkirk, and the injury of Robby Fabbri to reach the second round of the playoffs and take Nashville to a sixth game.
Expectations were heightened after the Blues’ 2016 playoff run. That, coupled with plenty of uncertainty regarding which direction to go this offseason, means that St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong may have a tougher job than Vegas GM George McPhee when comes to the Blues’ pick. Enjoy, Golden Knights fans. Here are four Blues Vegas fans should know.
Nail Yakupov is a high risk, high reward option for the Golden Knights. For much of the year it was rumored that he was interested in returning to Russia at the conclusion of the season. More recently, Yakupov has stated his intention to remain in the NHL for the foreseeable future.
Joining the Golden Knights makes a lot of sense for Yakupov. He plateaued sooner than many thought in Edmonton. To this point, he’s not really gained much traction in St. Louis. A reboot in Vegas alongside countryman Vadim Shipachyov could mean Yakupov reaches the potential many saw in him when he was drafted first overall in 2012.
On the other hand, plenty have already dismissed the 23-year-old as a bust. McPhee will have plenty of detractors to ignore if he’s to make this addition to his inaugural roster, even before we get to his season-ending knee surgery this year. If it works out though, it could give VGK some star power sooner rather than later. He’d move plenty of jerseys as well.
If in fact, Vegas thinks there’s no hope for Yakupov, Ty Rattie may be the safer selection.
Rattie would be a depth pick for Vegas, one that’s probably not going to get fans excited, and a player that St. Louis is unlikely to miss. 2016-17 was a whirlwind of a season for Rattie. It began in St. Louis, then he was later claimed off waivers by Carolina before he was again acquired by the Blues. He was with the Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of St. Louis at the time, for their final 22 games. This month Chicago signed a five-year affiliation deal with the Golden Knights.
That familiarity with the Chicago club certainly isn’t a bad thing if Vegas elects to make Rattie the pick. Beyond that, he’s a smart player, and he comes cheap. With many of the Vegas picks it will be the financial damage that separates one option from the next. Rattie checks a lot of boxes for an expansion franchise.
More expensive but more proven than Rattie, Dmitrij Jaskin is big, versatile, and a former number-one overall pick.
In the KHL I mean. I should clarify that. By the time his name was called at the NHL Draft, he was a second-round pick of St. Louis in 2011. The Blues organization is all he’s known. Jaskin’s a player who shows glimpses of how great he could be but ultimately is unable to translate that onto the ice on a consistent basis.
I suspect that Doug Armstrong has grown weary of waiting for Jaskin to turn into the player he thought he was getting six years ago. It’s a familiar theme with the Blues. Like several of the other names that will be called next month in Las Vegas, McPhee is betting on a career rejuvenation of sorts. For $1 million, there are worse places to start than with Jaskin.
Compared to his 2015-16 campaign, Magnus Paajarvi took a step forward, if only a minor one, this season. It likely was not enough to earn a spot on the St. Louis protected list, though.
I’m running out of ways to say the same thing. Paajarvi too has failed to impress or even live up to his expectations while in St. Louis. He’s big. His 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame is likely his best attribute. Through seven NHL seasons, his most productive year was his rookie year with Edmonton. As a 19-year-old he tallied 15 goals and 19 assists.
I’d bet against Paajarvi constructing a statistical season like his rookie year again in his career. Perhaps Vegas feels differently. He’s a little bit older than some his peers that will fail to make the St. Louis protected list. That may be the attribute that attracts McPhee when making his Blues pick. Otherwise, there’s not a particularly convincing argument why Paajarvi would make a better addition to the Golden Knights than other players exposed to the expansion draft.
Las Vegas local covering Golden Knights hockey since 2016.
Ball State University ’05
Credentialed NBA writer covering the Phoenix Suns,
Credentialed NCAA football writer covering the UNLV Rebels