Over the last few weeks, the St. Louis Blues have done well adding to their current prospect pool by officially signing defenseman Matt Kessel, re-signing Matthew Peca, and acquiring Brady Lyle. While these players may not be superstars in the making, the organization continues to reinforce depth options to complement their current star players in the NHL.
The 28-year-old prospect signed a two-year, two-way contract extension with the Blues on March 24, 2022. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 7th round as the 201st player selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Peca has yet to find solid footing in the NHL. Now playing for his fourth organization, the forward has established himself as a talented American Hockey League (AHL) player, but yet a consistent player with the big club. This season, Peca is taking his scoring abilities to new heights producing 20 goals and 52 points in 55 games with the Springfield Thunderbirds. If he continues at his current pace, he could be looking at a 24 goal and 62 point season at the end of this year. The contract extension indicates the Blues’ front office likes what they see from him in the AHL and hoping he is a late bloomer that can thrive as a depth option moving forward like Nathan Walker, who is of similar size and talent.
At 5-feet-9-inches, Peca is known for his offensive talent and clever playmaking abilities. In the NCAA, he played for the Quinnipiac Bobcats where he was named to the 2011-12 ECAC Hockey All-Rookie Team, and the 2014-15 ECAC Hockey First Team where he served as co-captain. In 157 career games in the NCAA, Peca scored 42 goals and 143 total points. If he can continue to progress in his all-around development, he could see time as a viable call-up option for the Blues.
Briefly seen in the video clip above, the Blues acquired defenseman Brady Lyle from the Boston Bruins at the AHL trade deadline in exchange for future considerations. After scoring seven goals and 14 points with a plus-eight rating in 25 games during the 2020-21 season, the Bruins were likely looking for a step forward in the 6-foot-3-inch, right-shot defenseman’s development rather than the regression he experienced. To date, Lyle has appeared in 48 AHL games this season scoring two goals and nine points with a minus-seven rating.
After being undrafted, the Bruins were able to sign Lyle to a two-year entry-level contract that carries an average annual value of $800,000. The blueliner played five seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the North Bay Battalion and Owen Sound Attack where he scored 49 goals and 175 points over 295 games. Before signing with Boston, Lyle admitted he was convinced to sign a contract with the Bruins given their history of developing undrafted defensemen with players such as Kevan Miller and Torey Krug.
“When I was going through the process, (John) Ferg(uson Jr.) kind of really reiterated that to me and showed me that there was a path. And if I took advantage of it and made the most of my opportunities, I could follow that same path that other guys have before me. So that was kind of the big appeal and made my decision pretty easy.”
‘Why Brady Lyle might be Bruins’ most intriguing prospect entering training camp,’ Boston Sports Journal, Aug 4, 2021
While the Bruins may have a history of developing defensive prospects, their patience with Lyle’s production and defensive abilities may have quickly run out. The Blues may see something in Lyle that they believe can be inserted into his development and unlock a potential NHL scoring threat. Perhaps the team can utilize defenseman Torey Krug during the off-season or training camp to speak into his game on a player-to-player level.
On March 27, the Blues announced the signing of their 2020 5th-round pick to a two-year, entry-level contract that will begin in 2022-23. The 6-foot-3-inch, right-shot defenseman spent three seasons playing for UMass Amherst of the NCAA where he scored 23 goals and 51 points in 100 career games and won the NCAA championship during the 2020-21 season.
Kessel will forgo his senior year with UMass and will report to the Springfield Thunderbirds on a professional tryout contract for the remainder of the season. In an interview with Amherst head coach Greg Carvel, he stated: “We are very excited and proud of Matt as he moves on to his professional career with the St. Louis Blues. During his time at UMass, Matt went from a low-key defensive player to one of the best and toughest two-way defensemen in college hockey. He far exceeded our expectations as a player and became an offensive threat from the blue line while also serving as a tough physical player in his own zone. Matt’s development as a player has been impressive.”
The Blues are doing well to reinforce a prospect pool that has seen better days. The organization currently lacks a high profile, genuine all-star in the making, but could surprise the competition with its ability to roll with four lines in all situations with the current prospects currently in development.
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Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.