Every September, eight teams of NHL prospects descend on the shores of Lake Michigan in Traverse City. For many years, the St. Louis Blues have been among those teams, and 2019 is no exception.
The Blues are bringing a roster of 24 to Michigan to meet squads representing other NHL teams, including division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars, and the Minnesota Wild. Today, they announced their squad. Let’s take a look at who is on the team.
The Blues selected Klim Kostin at the end of the first round in 2017. He will be traveling with the team to Traverse City for the third time. Kostin enters the 2019-20 season hungry to prove himself and make the NHL roster for the first time. He is one of the Blues’ top three prospects, along with Jordan Kyrou and Dominik Bokk.
Highly-touted coming out of Russia, Kostin has struggled to establish himself in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage. He began to play in the 2017-18 season at just 18 in a league full of men aged 20 and older. But his second campaign wasn’t much better, as he recorded just 24 points in 66 games and became the center of controversy at the World Junior Championship.
The Russian will travel to Traverse City as the leader on the team in both experience and skill. The tournament should be his first opportunity to build momentum for the upcoming season. He’s unlikely to make the Blues’ roster out of camp but should fight for a call-up at some point during the season.
18-year-old Nikita Alexandrov is the product of Russian and German upbringing and was the first selection the Blues made in the 2019 Draft. They used the 62nd overall pick on him, having surrendered their own first-round selection in the trade that brought in Selke and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly.
Alexandrov came over to North America prior to the 2017-18 season, where he began to play with the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL. There, he’s put up 92 points in two seasons, and it is there he is likely to return for the upcoming season. But Traverse City will be Blues’ fans first opportunity to see their top pick in live game action, and he will hope to impress his new team in the process.
Alexei Toropchenko is one of the Blues’ most intriguing prospects. Also a product of the 2017 Draft, he is another potential deep-round steal like Sammy Blais or Colton Parayko before him. Last year, he broke out with the Guelph Storm of the OHL, especially in the playoffs, where he scored 13 goals and 6 assists for 19 points in 24 games. He will likely join Kostin in San Antonio this season.
Keean Washkurak was the last pick of the fifth round of the 2019 Draft. He was a standout with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, gathering 47 points in 66 games. He is also lauded for his work ethic and was named the Western Conference’s hardest working player in a poll of OHL coaches.
Washkurak is undersized at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds and was just 17 when the Blues drafted him. But St. Louis fans love a hardworking, gritty player, so he should be able to endear himself quickly. Like with Alexandrov, this will be their first opportunity to see him in action.
When the Blues selected Mathias LaFerrière in the 2018 Draft, it was seen as an all-or-nothing move. The French-Canadian had shown flashes of brilliance with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, but there was no consistency to his game.
Fortunately for the Blues, the 2018-19 season was a massive leap forward for LaFerrière, who collected 74 points in 68 regular-season games, adding another 10 in 11 postseason contests. Points are notoriously easy to come by in the QMJHL, but point-per-game players are not an afterthought anywhere. He should be one of the top offensive threats in Traverse City, but going forward, he’ll need to show more polish to his all-around game to generate more NHL buzz.
The Blues acquired Dakota Joshua, an Ohio State product, in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this summer. The Maple Leafs feared they couldn’t sign the prospect, so they passed him along to the Blues for future considerations. “Dakota has had an outstanding college career and we are excited to be adding him to our team,” general manager Doug Armstrong said at the time.
Joshua has size: he stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 198 pounds. He will also be one of the Blues’ older and more experienced players at the tournament, as a four-year college product. Like several of the upcoming players on this list, he hopes that college experience will make him stand out in the AHL, where he will likely start the season.
Nolan Stevens also spent four years in the NCAA, where he finished as the captain of the Northeastern University Huskies. He also has an NHL pedigree as the son of former Los Angeles Kings head coach John Stevens. Nolan made the jump to the AHL last season but did not make much of a splash with just 18 points in 59 games. He will need to improve his skating to become more of a threat at the professional level.
Tanner Kaspick is a former captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. He finished the 2017-18 season with 64 points in 60 games between Brandon and the Victoria Royals. The Blues drafted him 119th in the 2016 Draft. His NHL future is uncertain after a lackluster debut season between the AHL and the ECHL, but he has the potential to be a hardworking leader in a bottom-six role.
Austin Poganski is a longtime veteran of the Blues’ organization, as the team drafted him in 2014. He is a four year veteran of the University of North Dakota, where he finished as captain in the 2017-18 season.
Last year was a promising start in the AHL for Poganski. He gathered 31 points in 59 games, good for sixth on the team. His size and versatility (he stands 6-foot-2 and killed penalties last season) make him an interesting prospect who could pan out to be an NHL-level power forward. But he’ll need to keep developing to get there.
Jeremy Michel bears the title “Mr. Irrelevant,” as the last pick in the 2019 Draft. Not much is yet known about the 18-year-old product of the Val-d’Or Foreurs, but he did have 42 points in 64 games last season. It’s a long road to the NHL for late-seventh round picks, but Michel wouldn’t be the first to walk it if he ever makes it.
In addition to these drafted forwards, the Blues will invite five other forwards to round out the roster. They are Mitchell Balmas, Kevin Hancock, Kyrstof Habik, Austen Keating, and Robby Jackson, who played briefly with the Rampage on a tryout last season.
Among these, Balmas and Keating are interesting names. Balmas won a Memorial Cup with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2018, and scored 82 points in 64 games there last season. Keating scored 89 points in 68 games with the Ottawa 67’s last season. Neither was drafted this year.
Some of these players will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Bobby MacIntyre. He played with the Blues’ squad in Traverse City last season and turned enough heads to earn a contract with the Rampage. It’s not exactly the same as being an NHL prospect, but it’s one step closer to living the dream.
Mitch Reinke rose from nowhere to become one of the Blues’ top two prospects on defense last season (the other, Scott Perunovich, is unable to play in Traverse City because he committed to return to college for another season). He was second on the Rampage in points, breaking a rookie defender scoring record previously set by Keith Yandle.
Reinke also holds the distinction of being one of the few right-handed defensemen in the Blues’ system, a position where they could be thin, particularly if any of Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, or Robert Bortuzzo get injured.
Reinke is also the only player in this squad with any NHL experience, as he played one game in the top league after the Blues signed him as a college free agent late in the 2017-18 season. Of these players, he is probably the most certain to join the Blues again this season, as he proved to be league-ready last season and plays in a depth-thin position.
Tyler Tucker was largely an afterthought in the Blues’ organization last summer, selected with the 200th pick of the 2018 Draft. But after a terrific season with the Barrie Colts, he has soared up in the eyes of evaluators. At just 19, Tucker will return to Barrie for the 2019-20 season, but Blues fans will want to keep an eye on this one.
On defense, the Blues will invite Jake Christiansen, Walter Flower, Nathan LaRose, Justin MacPherson, and River Rymsha. Christiansen stands out among them, as the 19-year-old lefty collected 44 points as a plus-20 in 67 games with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL last season.
Joel Hofer may have passed Ville Husso as the Blues’ best goaltending prospect last season, although, as Jordan Binnington proved, you should never write off a goalie too soon. He started the season with a brutally awful Swift Current Broncos squad that finished last in the league before a midseason trade to the Portland Winterhawks turned his fortunes around.
At 6-foot-4, Hofer has great size, and he’s shown the ability to make athletic saves on top of that. He’s a little inconsistent, though that’s to be expected of a 19-year-old goalie. He’s also shown flashes of brilliance. He’ll probably draw a bulk of the starts in Traverse City, so Blues fans should get a better sense of what he’s capable of.
With their second pick in the 2019 Draft, the Blues selected Colten Ellis, whose 100 games in the QMJHL made him a highly-experienced goalie for an 18-year-old entering the draft. At 6-foot-1 or just under, his size worries some scouts. But he’s been a stalwart with the Rimouski Oceanic for two seasons and was critical to their deep playoff run in 2019. Ellis is a long way from the NHL, but Blues fans will get the first taste of their 2019 third-round pick in Traverse City.
Among the Stars
The Blues’ prospects will join a crowded group of star prospects from recent drafts. The headliner will be Kaapo Kaako, the second overall pick in the draft. He’ll be joined by fellow top-10 picks Kirby Dach and Moritz Seider. Top-10 picks from last season Filip Zadina, Adam Boqvist, and Vitali Kravtsov will join them.
Traverse City is one of a handful of similar tournaments around the country, but it is widely considered one of the best. It’s the first chance to see many of these stars in action. Games start on Friday, Sept. 6, and St. Louis fans who can’t make the trip can watch the games on the Fox Sports App or FoxSportsGo.com.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.