This season, the St. Louis Blues prospects report will be a prominent feature for The Hockey Writers, outlining and showcasing their seasons as the year progresses. The franchise boasts a number of well-rounded prospects that may not be the flashy ones that many fans covet, but reliable players that can play in all situations for the team.
Drafted 62nd overall by the Blues in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Nikita Alexandrov has begun earning his attention and has worked his way up the depth chart over the past three years. He appeared in only seven games in his first season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Utica Comets where he scored three goals and five points, a 51-point-pace over 72 games. Appearing in only 67 games in the 2021-22 season, he experienced growing pains scoring only 12 goals and 30 points. Despite his point production, he has shown progression in his development as he matures into a versatile, competitive forward. Playing on a veteran-filled AHL squad for the Springfield Thunderbirds this past season, he finished fifth in scoring and was among the team’s best players contending for the Calder Cup.
Over the preseason, Alexandrov appeared in three games for the Blues scoring two goals on six shots in three games, including one of two goals scored in 23 seconds against the Chicago Blackhawks. This season, he is taking on a top-six role where he has already produced one goal and four points over his first five games. He could be among the first players recalled by the Blues in the event of an injury as he continues to develop into his projected middle-six role in the NHL.
The Blues wasted no time signing their first-round draft choice from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft to a three-year entry-level contract on Aug. 23, 2021. The forward prospect was drafted 17th overall from the Rimouski Océanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). After scoring 30 goals and 22 assists in 55 games for Rimouski in 2019-20, Zachary Bolduc added 10 goals and 19 assists over 27 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign. This past season he broke out, scoring a whopping 55 goals and 99 points in 65 games. This season, he has totaled five goals and 13 points over eight games, scoring most recently in a 7-1 victory over the Charlottetown Islanders.
Bolduc earned an opportunity with the club through the preseason, but was ultimately re-assigned to the QMJHL on Oct. 4. Regarding his performance, Blues head coach Craig Berube said:
“He’s a kid. He’s not ready yet for this level. He’s gotta go down and play with more pace. I think he has ability with his feet to do a lot more than he does with the puck. He’s gotta skate more, make more plays and not just be a shooter. He’s capable of doing more with his ability. And defensively, he’s gotta improve. He’s gotta be more responsible defensively. He has to understand the responsibilities of playing good ‘D’ and checking” (from ‘Blues notebook: Blues return high-scoring Bolduc to his junior squad,’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, Oct. 4, 2022).
After missing the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Michael Buchinger had to do everything he could to stand out during his draft season. The 5-foot-11 defenseman was one-half of one of the top defensive pairings in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this past year alongside Cam Allen. Buchinger was often seen playing a conservative style of play, allowing Allen to play aggressively to complete and complement one another throughout the season. His calm demeanor during each game is one element of his personality that sticks out, as he never appears to be overwhelmed.
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Buchinger finished with 44 points (5G, 39A) in 63 games, which was 17th in points and 12th in assists by a defenseman and also second in points by a rookie defenseman. While he is likely still a few years away from a chance in the NHL, his effective work along the boards and puck-moving abilities could earn him a shot at the pro level sooner than later. He will have several defensemen to contend with as the club currently has players like Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Niko Mikkola, and Scott Perunovich all slated to be with the club for the foreseeable future. The Blues also have prospects Tyler Tucker, Matt Kessel, Brady Lyle, and Dmitri Samorukov pushing for spots in the NHL as well.
The Blues are a team in a conflicting state of their franchise. While the NHL squad is pushing for a second Stanley Cup in what could be a final ride for some of the key players of the organization like Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, their prospect pool is also one of the shallower ones around the league. The front office will need to ensure any future transactions helps to bolster it to continue the Blues’ high level of competition each year.