The St. Louis Blues have begun restocking their prospect cupboard after the decision to sell ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. The decision has resulted in multiple new prospects being brought into the fold, along with two additional first-round draft picks the team can use in a plethora of ways to right the ship and bring the club back to the playoffs. In the meantime, their young prospects continue to marinate and grow in their respective junior and professional leagues in hopes of making it to the NHL. Here’s a look at a few updates regarding some of the franchise’s prospects.
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The Blues announced Wednesday that they had signed Michael Buchinger to a three-year entry-level contract. The 18-year-old defenseman was drafted 88th overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He has played in 51 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Guelph Storm, ranking second on the team and fourth amongst league defensemen overall with 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists). In 2021-22, his first in the OHL, the 6-foot, 185-pound defenseman collected 44 points (five goals, 39 assists) in 63 regular-season games for the Storm, earning a selection to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team.
This season, Buchinger has continued to see consistent time with Cam Allen on the Storm’s top pairing. The Blues prospect is known for his ability to be a complementary defenseman. He is the type of player that is able to play well away from the puck and has a keen eye for when to play a conservative game and when to be aggressive and attack. His next challenge will be working his way to the pro level. He still has plenty of growing and maturing to do before being considered for a spot in the NHL. Any decision regarding his future in hockey’s highest level will still be a few years away due to the CHL-AHL Transfer Agreement. As Buchinger will have not turned 20 by the start of next season or have completed four full junior hockey seasons, he is destined for another year in the juniors.
The 22-year-old, Joel Hofer, made a name for himself in the AHL last season ending his first American Hockey League (AHL) playoff run with a .934 save percentage (SV%), six wins, a shutout, and a 2.56 goals-against average (GAA). After a stellar 2021-22 campaign with fellow goaltender Charlie Lindgren, Hofer has now not only became the number one goaltending prospect for the Blues but the undisputed starter for the Springfield Thunderbirds as well. The Blues rewarded his play and endorsed their prospect by signing him to a two-year, one-way contract, all but confirming his status as Jordan Binnington’s backup next season. Of his new contract, Hofer said:
“I know what it (the new contract) entails and that people are going to be talking about it, but I’m trying to focus on the things I can control. I’ll still have to go to camp and prove that I deserve to be there, and I plan to do that. I’m going to give it everything I can to prove that I earned the chance. It’s nice to know they have that belief in me. Now that I have more games under my belt, I am getting more confidence with each and every game. I’ve learned a lot in my own game over the past two years in terms of what I need to do to be successful. Every game is a learning point, and I’m trying to carry that over game-to-game, and hopefully, that will translate to the next level.”
Hofer made his NHL debut during the 2021-22 season appearing in two games with the Blues. The 6-foot-5 goaltender managed a 1-1-0 record with a .880 SV%, and 3.07 GAA. To date, he has a 41-34-12 record, .908 SV%, and 2.91 GAA in the AHL.
The number one prospect in the Blues organization and one of the top prospect defensemen in the NHL, Scott Perunovich, was activated from the injured reserved list on Feb. 20, 2023, and promptly re-loaned to the Thunderbirds. Days prior, he was loaned to the team for a conditioning assignment where he recorded one assist in two games.
Despite missing significant time over the past three seasons due to multiple injuries, Perunovich is a highly regarded talent that excels offensively. He came into training camp with expectations surrounding him to make the squad and provide an additional offensive weapon on the power play before fracturing his left shoulder in a preseason game. The injury required surgery and an anticipated six-month recovery. There is no telling yet what the Blues will decide to do with Perunovich for the rest of the 2022-23 season. With a current overload of veteran NHL defenders available each night, the Blues have opted to keep him in the AHL for the time being, logging heavy minutes with the Thunderbirds and getting reacclimated to game speed and training. St. Louis could decide to keep him in Springfield for the remainder of the season, anticipating a heavy battle for a starting role in the NHL next year.
One of two players acquired in the Blues trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent team captain Ryan O’Reilly north of the border, Mikhail Abramov utilizes his creativity to be an effective playmaking forward. After a successful junior career with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) where he produced 160 points (63 goals, 97 assists) in 150 games over three seasons, Abramov has made his way to the AHL playing with the Toronto Marlies. In his first season with the Marlies, he accumulated 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) over 66 games. Before being traded, he saw a small uptick in his point production scoring six goals and 16 points through 34 games. To date, he has registered one assist in two games with the Thunderbirds and is on pace for 26 points over 56 games this season.
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Abramov captained Victoriaville to a QMJHL championship in the 2020-21 season. He scored 24 points in 19 games, second in playoff scoring, including three game-winning goals. The Blues have an interesting prospect on their hands that could turn into an intriguing complementary piece on the second or third line in the NHL.
The Blues acquired 20-year-old forward Zach Dean from the Vegas Golden Knights in a one-for-one trade sending forward Ivan Barbashev the other way. Drafted 30th overall by the Golden Knights, Dean has a complete game package that fans in St. Louis should fall in love with. His hands, skating, and ability to stay with the pace of play are all key components to his game. However, he is also one that can play with a chip on his shoulder, playing aggressively and making himself tough to play against defensively.
Dean is a player that has a constant hunger for the puck and wears his heart on his sleeve each game. However, that desire and drive has also led to injuries over the past few seasons, even preventing him from participating in Canada’s World Junior Championship camp this past summer. Should he continue his development and do his best to limit injuries, he could eventually become a valuable middle-six contributor for the Blues moving forward.
Dean is playing in his fourth season in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques dressing in 39 games and scoring 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists). Over his junior career, he has accumulated 169 points (73 goals, 96 points) over 166 games.
The Blues are beginning to go through their transition period after selling off multiple veteran pieces before the NHL trade deadline. The decision to part ways with multiple players has helped in the process of adding quality players with NHL upside. However, these prospects still have plenty of work to do over the coming years to develop their skills and abilities before they can compete for a spot in the NHL.