The St. Louis Blues quietly started their offseason, signing Keean Washkurak to a three-year entry-level contract on June 1.
That doesn’t guarantee anything to the 19-year-old native of Kitchener, Ontario but it is a rather significant jump for a player drafted in the fifth round (155th overall) in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Like so many others, Washkurak has taken a slightly different path over the last season but it hasn’t affected in any way his value to the Blues’ brass.
After being selected, Washkurak appeared in the annual Prospects Tournament in Traverse City and he was also invited to the Blues’ training camp before returning to play a second season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads.
With the OHL sidelined for the entire 2020-21 campaign, Washkurak made a unique commitment, crossing the ocean to play Tier II pro hockey with HK Levice in Slovakia. In 21 games there, Washkurak picked up 9 goals and 19 points before returning to play three games with the Utica Comets, the shared AHL affiliate of both the Blues and Vancouver Canucks.
With the signing, the speedy and tough Washkurak will keep the eyes of the Blues’ scouts and decision-makers on him, but given his age, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 19-year-old back in Mississauga this fall.
Washkurak made his presence felt with the Mississauga Steelheads – he was voted the hardest worker in the Eastern Conference in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Scouting reports praise the young center for his speed and toughness, and he is not shy about playing in the dirty areas in front of the net. In 49 games with the Steelheads in 2019-20, Washkurak totaled 22 goals and 52 points. He led the team in shorthanded goals with three and added another eight on the power play. Two of his goals stood up as game-winners. His 62 penalty minutes were a testament to his abrasive style of play, particularly in and around the opposition’s goal.
To say he is a long shot to make the Blues this fall even seems overly optimistic, but the fact that a player drafted so late has already made an impression bodes well for his future with the Blues.
Odds Against Fifth Rounders
That Washkurak has attracted the attention he has so far is a testament to both the player’s intestinal fortitude and the Blues’ ability to find a diamond in the rough.
An interesting online report from Jokke Nevalainen assesses the possibility of players from each draft round making it to the NHL. According to his report, while first-rounders have a 37.3% shot at making the grade, the numbers drop steeply beginning in the second round (17.2%), and by the time a fifth-rounder is selected, the number has fallen to 7.5%.
Ironically, the fifth round had a lower percentage chance than the sixth round at 7.9%, but it’s a long shot any way one looks at it.
Here’s a look at some of the team’s previous fifth round selections:
2018 – Hugh McGing
Taken 138th overall a season before Washkurak, Hugh McGing, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound center from Chicago also got a brief look in Utica this season, playing 23 games with the Comets after wrapping up a fourth and final season with the Western Michigan Broncos.
McGing collected 13 goals and 35 points in 35 games with the Broncos, wearing the captain’s ‘C’. In 23 games to wrap up the season in Utica, McGing scored his first professional goal and added three assists.
2017 – David Noel
A 6-foot-1, 194-pound defenseman, David Noel returned to Val-d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after being selected 130th overall by the Blues. He played two more seasons in Val-d’Or, both as the team’s captain before moving on to the University of Quebec/Trois Rivieres this past season. He did make his pro debut in 2018, playing one game with the San Antonio Rampage.
2016 – Nolan Stevens/Connor Bleackley
With two picks in the fifth round, the Blues selected Nolan Stevens at 125th overall and added Conner Bleackley at No. 144.
Bleackley, a six-foot, 192-pound forward, was actually selected in the first round (23rd overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2014, but went unsigned and was available two years later. Since being signed by the Blues, Bleackley has bounced between the AHL and ECHL, wearing 10 different jerseys.
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Stevens was a member of Northeastern University Huskies and he finished out a four-season run there, the final season as the team’s captain.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound winger moved on to play two seasons with the San Antonio Rampage, and played this past season with the Comets. In 136 AHL games, Stevens has collected 24 goals and 67 points but has yet to suit up for the Blues.
2015 – Niko Mikkola/Luke Opilka
The Blues also had two selections in the fifth round of the 2015 Entry Draft, picking up defenseman Niko Makkela at pick 127, and Luke Opilka, a goaltender at No. 146.
Makkela made his way to the Blues’ defense corps, appearing in 30 games this past season after honing his craft in the Finnish Liiga and in the AHL in 2018-19. He played a total of 118 AHL contests and made his NHL debut with a five-game stretch in St. Louis in 2019-20. In 30 games this past season, Makkela collected a goal and two assists, finished the season with a minus-11 rating, and played an average of about 14:30 per game.
Opilka, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound goaltender was a member of the US National Development Team when he was selected by the Blues. He played a couple of seasons with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League before abruptly retiring as a player, moving to an assistant/goaltending coach role for the Maryville University (St. Louis) ACHA team for the past three seasons.
On the Right Track But Long Way to Go
Washkurak appears to be on a bit of a fast track, and the combination of his speed and physicality, despite a smaller frame, has certainly turned some heads, but he still is not assured of anything. In fact, it seems likely he will spend at least one more season learning the ropes in Mississauga.
Another thing working against Washkurak, at least at this point, is the depth of the Blues, in particular at the center position. The top two center spots are locked down by two of the team’s top players, captain Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. This depth chart lists six centers battling for two spots including Zach Sanford and free agent Tyler Bozak, along with Oskar Sundqvist, who is hoping to return from his knee injury in time for training camp in September.
Trades and offseason additions and subtractions could change the depth of the club, and with the role Washkurak is used to playing, he is not locked into being a center. In fact, he might be more effective as a hard-checking winger. Another prospect tournament and training camp could give Washkurak a couple more opportunities to impress the decision-makers, and, so far, it seems he has been up to every challenge.
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.