The clock is beginning to wind down on junior leagues across hockey. Let’s take a moment to check in on some of the St. Louis Blues‘ top prospects across the various levels and see how they’ve performed and developed over the last month.
Zachary Bolduc – (QMJHL)
The St. Louis Blues 2021 first-round draft choice has gone on a scoring bender over the last few weeks. In his last 10 games, Zachary Bolduc has scored 10 goals and 16 points, bringing his season totals to 29 goals and 59 points over 43 games. Over the last month, he has jumped 10 spaces to the number 11 spot in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) scoring race. He is currently one point out of the top 10 and only nine points from a spot within the top three in the league.
The forwards’ shot continues to improve throughout the season as his shooting percentage has risen to 18.7, up 3.1 points over the last month. Appearing in 43 of the Quebec Remparts’ 46 games this season, he is on pace to surpass 40 goals should he appear in only 60 games. Bolduc has played in 125 QMJHL games, scoring 69 goals and 140 points.
Will Cranley (OHL)
On March 2, 2022, the Blues and their 2020 sixth-round draft choice came to an agreement when Cranley inked an entry-level contract that will start in 2022-23. The goaltending prospect will remain part of the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the remainder of the season.
Cranley made his American Hockey League (AHL) debut during the 2020-21 season for the Utica Comets when COVID-19 restrictions shut down the OHL. The 6-foot-4 goaltender held his own during the loss with a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%) in that game. While his career 3.44 GAA and .878 SV% OHL numbers do not jump off the page, the Blues organization must feel that they have something in the towering prospect.
Klim Kostin (AHL)
The Blues organization has decided to shake up their fourth line after dropping three games in a row to the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and the New Jersey Devils. One of the casualties in this roster shuffle was the club’s 2017 first-round draft choice, Klim Kostin, who was reassigned to the AHL.
At 22 years old, Kostin has yet to play a full season in the NHL or find a secure spot in the Blues’ lineup. The coaching staff has the belief and confidence that he can still be an impactful player in the NHL and is oftentimes having conversations regarding the type of player they want him to be. “Definitely a power forward,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said. “He can be a power forward all day long, with his speed, his shot. And it’s coming. I think he’s going in the right direction, I really do. We’ll get him there” (from ‘Blues notebook: Kostin searching for his game,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 2, 2022).
While he may have the ability and potential to be an impactful power forward for the Blues, his inability to perform at the highest level has drawn concerns of a former first-round pick. Kostin still has time to develop his game to the North American style of play, but the inconsistent play and demotion have left many wondering if he could be a potential trade chip rather than a key piece to the organization moving forward.
Jake Neighbours (WHL)
Jake Neighbours has experienced his fair share of success this season as the captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Unfortunately, the St Louis Blues’ 2020 first-round draft pick has seen limited action and has played in only 26 of the team’s 55 games to date. It appears that the organization may play it safe with him with only 13 games left remaining on their schedule, as they sit comfortably atop the Western Hockey League (WHL) standings with a 41-11-2-1 record.
Neighbours turned plenty of heads early this season in his nine-game stint with the Blues, leaving many wondering if he would be offered a permanent spot in the lineup. Ultimately, the front office decided to send him back to the WHL for a heavier workload and an opportunity to continue his development.
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Despite playing in half of his team’s games, Neighbours sits firmly in sixth on the roster with 41 points over 26 games this season. When asked about the recovery of his team captain, Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer said, “I’m going to say he’s week-to-week right now. We’re just playing it on the safe side because we’re hoping for a long run in the playoffs, and we want to make sure we get as healthy as possible. He’s come along well, and he’ll probably resume skating here shortly and should be back to 100 percent in the next couple of weeks” (from ‘Edmonton Oil Kings ready for the stretch drive heading to WHL playoffs,’ Edmonton Sun, 3/7/22). Upon his return to the lineup, expect Neighbours to be a key contributor to the scoresheet as the Oil Kings push toward a championship season.
Alexei Toropchenko (AHL)
As one of the players headed to the NHL as a corresponding move to Kostin’s reassignment, the 22-year-old Toropchenko has appeared in six games with the Blues this season and is still in search of his first point. As a mainstay in the Springfield Thunderbirds’ lineup this year, he has scored 10 goals and 20 points over 42 games. The 6-foot-3 Russian forward was selected 113th overall by the Blues during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Related: Blues Prospect Report: Perunovich, Hofer, Bolduc & More
Toropchenko recently signed a contract extension with the organization in a one-year, two-way deal worth $750,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL. Should he rightly continue his progression, the team could have another viable bottom-six forward option when he is ready. Much like Kostin, he has the tools to consistently drive pucks to the net along with a wrist shot that can beat goaltenders. Though, the transition to the North American game may require more patience from the front office with this prospect.
The club continues to pour resources into its development and draft viable options to insert into the lineup for years to come. However, the prospects that currently fill the organization’s depth chart do not jump off the pages compared to that of other clubs around the NHL. The team has proven that they can win and must keep that winning mentality and culture as these new players continue to come up over the next few years.