In the summer of 2019, the St. Louis Blues selected just five players in the seven rounds of the NHL Entry Draft, but so far it appears it might have been a draft of quality instead of quantity. It’s still early but some of those players selected have already started carving out a path to St. Louis. Most notable might be the picks surrendered.
The Blues traded away picks in the first, fourth and sixth rounds, but nobody will question those moves. While the rest of the league was preparing for the NHL Entry Draft the Blues were likely hungover from celebrating the first Stanley Cup in team history.
Perhaps the biggest move for the Blues putting them over the top on its quest for the Cup was the acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres. The Blues gave up five three players (Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson) along with the first-round pick in 2019.
The Sabres used that pick to add defenseman Ryan Johnson from Irvine, CA. Then a member of the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Sioux Falls Stampede, Johnson has moved on to the University of Minnesota where he has played the past two seasons.
The trade will officially wrap up in a few weeks when the Los Angeles Kings use the Blues’ second-round pick, 49th overall. That pick is a story in itself. The Sabres acquired it from the Blues and it has changed hands two more times — going to the Vegas Golden Knights in a trade for Colin Miller to the Sabres, then moving on to the Kings in February of 2020 in a trade that sent Alec Martinez to the Golden Knights.
Meanwhile, O’Reilly has gone from being a great addition to a leader, captain and now, on his way to legendary status and the best thing in St. Louis next to the arch. Following is a closer look at the five guys that did don a blue note jersey at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and how things have worked out for them since.
Second Round (62nd Overall) — Nikita Alexandrov
The Blues’ scouts and brass watched the opening round and almost all of the second round before finally stepping to the microphone for the final pick of the second round to name Nikita Alexandrov, then an 18-year-old center, born in Germany, but a dual German/Russian citizen.
Alexandrov completed his second year of play with Charlottetown in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) before the entry draft and returned for one more in 2019-20, wrapping up a 172-game run with the same team with 63 goals and 146 points, capping his final junior season with two goals and eight points at the World Juniors.
This past season Alexandrov made his pro debut in in Finland, playing 28 games with the KooKoo in the Finnish Liiga before wrapping up the season with seven games with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL). He collected three goals and five points with the Comets and has shown he can find the net at every level so far. The Blues signed Alexandrov to a three-year contract in August 2019.
What’s Next for Alexandrov?
Watch for Alexandrov to be one of the youngsters that could make the Springfield Thunderbirds an exciting team to watch in its rebirth and first year of affiliation with the Blues. The young center will get a good look at the Traverse City Prospects tournament (assuming it does return this September) and probably a brief look at the Blues’ training camp.
He is likely at least a season or two away from cracking the lineup in St. Louis, hampered in some part by an already deep core of centers on the Blues. There are always injuries and/or suspensions that could open the door for some kind of audition in the next season, but that is a longshot.
Third Round (93rd Overall) — Colten Ellis
The Blues selected another player from the QMJHL in the next round, taking Colten Ellis, a goaltender from Nova Scotia. He had two full seasons of junior play following a three-game debut as a 16-year-old in 2017 and he has played two more since, wrapping it up in Charlottetown this past season with a 23-1-0 regular season record. Along the way he tied the league record for shutouts.
He has aged out and has learned all he can at the junior level and is now prepared for the tests ahead.
What’s Next for Ellis?
Like Alexandrov, Ellis will have interested eyes watching him at the Prospects Camp and briefly at the Blues’ training camp and he will likely get his first pro tests in Springfield. He and Joel Hofer should form a promising tandem in Springfield, learning on the fly and forming a promising young tandem that could be reminiscent of Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg who helped lead Cleveland to a Calder Cup in 2016.
Don’t be surprised if it takes some time. The jump from junior to pro is big, especially for goaltenders. Nobody expects Ellis to make the leap seamlessly and there are no lofty expectations out of the gate.
Fifth Round (155th Overall) — Keean Washkurak
The Blues had no fourth-round selection, completing a 2018 trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nikita Soshnikov. Injuries and inconsistency restricted his time with the Blues and he ultimately opted to return to his Russian homeland to play pro hockey in the KHL.
In the fifth round, the Blues selected a 5-foot-10, 185-pound center from Kitchener, Keean Washkurak. The young center was coming off a 16-goal, 47-point second season with the Mississauga Steelheads and he returned to the same team in the fall of 2019, collecting 22 goals and 52 points in a shortened season that saw him play just 49 games.
Desperate for a place to play in the pandemic, Washkurak traveled to Slovakia to play with HK Levice, scoring nine goals and collecting 19 points in just 21 games, before wrapping it up with three games with the Comets and, on June 1, his first pro contract — a three-year deal with the Blues.
The late draft pick has been noticed by his peers and the coaches of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) along the way, voted as the league’s hardest working player in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
What’s Next for Washkurak?
Time will tell how far he will get, but the awards he received at the junior level show the Blues this guy is not going to fail from lack of effort. Getting a taste of the pro level this past season, Washkurak will be another of the young and hungry Thunderbirds that should make this an exciting season in Springfield.
He has shown the ability to put the puck in the net, but his work ethic and willingness to play in the dirty areas will be what gets this guy to the big time quicker.
Seventh Round (208th/217th Overall) — Vadim Zherenko/Jeremy Michel
Another player that played a part in helping the Blues hoist the Cup — Michael Del Zotto came to St. Louis in a deal that ultimately saw the team send its sixth-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks. They used the pick to select Matthew Hill, a defenseman wrapping up his second year with Barrie in the OHL. He played one more in 2019-20 and, with the restrictions in place last season, he was limited to three games of junior in Denmark.
The Blues wrapped up the draft with a pair of picks in the final round, beginning with Vadim Zherenko with the 208th-overall pick, wrapping up a swap of picks with the Maple Leafs, sending a seventh-round selection from 2020 to the Leafs.
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Zherenko was the second goaltender selected by the Blues. A 6-foot-4, 196-pound native of Moscow, Russia, he was playing in Russia putting up impressive numbers in the MHL, a Russian junior league, and the VHL, a second-tier pro league, and a feeder for the KHL. In 43 games in the MHL, he posted a 1.89 goals against average (GAA) and a .936 save percentage (SV%) — while in the VHL, he played 41 games with a .920 SV% and a 2.56 GAA. Zherenko has already committed to play in the Finnish Liiga with Ilves in 2021-22. He has yet to sign a contract with the Blues.
After missing the early picks, the Blues did get the honor of making Jeremy Michel the final selection of the 2019 Draft. A third selection from the QMJHL, Michel was wrapping up his second season with the Val-d’Or Foreurs with 16 goals and 42 points. He has gone on to play two more seasons with the same team, wrapping up a four-season, 228-game run with 49 goals and 132 points. A 6-foot-1 winger and native of Levis, QC, Michel has not been signed by the Blues and his plans for the 2021-22 season have not yet been announced.
What’s Next for Zherenko and Michel?
If these players are not signed by the Blues before the 2021 NHL Entry Draft (July 23 and 24) they will become eligible to be selected by another team. Seventh-round picks are generally longshots. The Blues have a couple other free agent goaltenders that have not yet been signed, but they went out of their way to get get Zherenko and they could still be interested. Michel has options if he doesn’t sign with the Blues including any level of pro in North America or Europe.
Without a first-round pick, it’s not surprising none of these players have advanced to the Blues as of yet. Anyone who is a fan of a team that has never hoisted the Cup would gladly trade away a slew of picks to get a chance to see their heroes hoist the mug, so nobody complained when the Blues used the plum pick of this draft to get their hands on their first.
Two seasons later, three of these five selections appear ready to take a first huge step toward being the next generation of bringing Blues some great memories. Let’s check back again in a couple more years to see how this story ends.
Closing in on 60, Jim has been a fan of hockey, since the age of five and he has finally capped it as a THW Writer on the St. Louis Blues beat. Growing up in small town Ontario, he never got far as a player, but has spent most of the past 40 years writing about the game from the youth hockey to junior hockey and now, pro levels. A move to the Midwest (Wisconsin) in 2000 shifted the focus a bit. Working at small newspapers, Jim relished a chance to focus on hockey alone and has dabbled in that with a pair of websites, midwesthockey.info and saukhockey.info.