With the St. Louis Blues sputtering in the Central Division, there are three critical prospects for the club that are having a great month of December at the minor league level and on the national stage at the World Junior Championships in Canada.
Jake Neighbours, Zach Bolduc, and Jimmy Snuggerud are showing Blues fans why the farm system may be stronger than most people think. Neighbours has not played a game in the NHL since Dec. 1 against Carolina, and his start to his NHL career has been less than ideal.
Meanwhile, Bolduc and Snuggerud have posted great efforts at the minor league and NCAA levels. Snuggerud is taking a break from the Minnesota Golden Gophers to help Team USA in the World Junior Championship, while Bolduc continues to have success with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
With Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou’s graduation from the prospect distinction, the new crop of young players will be watched heavily throughout the rest of the season and into training camp next year. Neighbours has had his taste of the NHL, having played 22 games with St. Louis. Snuggerud is the furthest away of the trio of prospects, but Bolduc will fight for a roster spot next fall.
Neighbours Tearing It up With Springfield
Neighbours has had a cup of coffee at the NHL level but has yet to find any groove on offense or on the defensive side of the puck. He has just three points in 22 games in his career with the Blues, and he is a minus-12. He has 22 hits at the NHL level, but his physical style of play has not been able to mask the offensive inefficiencies.
The young forward did not make it past his nine-game trial period in his first season in 2020-21 and was sent back to juniors to the Edmonton Oil Kings because he was not old enough for the American Hockey League. In 30 games with Edmonton last year, he scored 17 goals and added 28 assists.
His 45 points with the Oil Kings were the most in his career since the 2019-20 season when he posted a 70-point season after scoring 20 goals and assisting on 47. The 20-goal potential from Neighbours is what has the Blues and their fans so excited for the 20-year-old.
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The combination of offensive talent with his 6-0, 183-pound frame could be a unique combination on the Blues’ roster. Ivan Barbashev recorded his first 20-goal career last season, and the two forwards play a similar style of game. Neighbours, however, has been unable to replicate his juniors production in the NHL.
But he is having a great season with the Blues AHL affiliate in Springfield. Through 17 games with the Thunderbirds, he has 11 points, including six goals and five assists. On his current pace, he projects to have his first professional 20-goal season.
Snuggerud Turning Heads at WJC
Snuggerud, meanwhile, has been one of the World Junior Championship’s best players. The 18-year-old right winger was the Blues’ first-round pick in last season’s draft and is currently playing at the NCAA level at the University of Minnesota when he isn’t playing for Team USA (from ‘At world juniors, three Blues prospects can show their stuff,’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12/26/22).
With the Gophers this season, Snuggerud has 27 points in 20 games. He has scored 12 times and has added 15 assists for the third-ranked Minnesota team. His 27-point season is coming on the heels of a 63-point season in the United States Development League.
These impressive numbers have elevated him to the first line on the American national team. He is playing with some of the NHL’s top prospects and, through three games at the tournament, is outplaying them. He had just one goal through his first two games but recorded two in one game against Team Switzerland in USA’s third game.
Snuggerud figures to still be a ways away from making an impact at the NHL level, and he still has three more years of eligibility left at the NCAA level. However, watch for the young winger to come in at training camp next season and push for a trial, similar to what Neighbours received last season.
Bolduc Still Thriving With Remparts
Bolduc was given the opportunity to get his feet wet with the Blues in training camp this fall but did not do enough to make the opening-night roster. He was subsequently sent back down to juniors to play for the Quebec Remparts, where he has been for the last two years.
The 19-year-old was one point shy of a 100-point season last year after scoring 55 goals and 44 assists for the Remparts. If you add his eight goals and four assists in the playoffs last year, Bolduc’s season becomes even more impressive.
Fast forward to 2022-23, and he is on pace to shatter those numbers. Through just 27 games this season, Bolduc has already eclipsed 20 goals and has 52 points. He projects to finish the season with 46 goals, 73 assists, and 119 points, which would be a career-high.
These types of offensive numbers should get Blues fans extremely excited for the future. St. Louis has not had an elite scorer like Bolduc is doing since Vladimir Tarasenko was healthy and in his prime. He would be an incredible pairing with Kyrou or Thomas.
He will be the highlight of training camp in 2023 for St. Louis if he continues at this pace. Should he finish the year healthy, Bolduc will get every opportunity to earn a spot on the opening night roster, and he will have nine games to prove to general manager Doug Armstrong that he belongs in the NHL.