The St. Louis Blues won a Stanley Cup in 2019, thanks in no small part to the steady work general manager Doug Armstrong did building the team through the draft.
Along with assistant general manager Bill Armstrong (no relation), the Blues’ front office has built a reputation of being strong drafters. In this series, we have looked back at Armstrong’s drafts and evaluated how well he has done. Here are the other articles in the series:
- 2010: Two stars arrive
- 2011: Second round success
- 2012: A diamond in the rough
- 2013: A year to forget
- 2014: Success after success
- 2015: Dunn and done
- 2016: A lot of promise
- 2017: Stanley Cup foundation
Though many of the picks from the 2017 Draft are still relative unknowns, the explosive first round was one of Armstrong’s busiest and laid the foundation for a Stanley Cup championship just two years later.
Robert Thomas, C (London Knights, OHL), #20
The Blues entered the first round with two selections, their own at 20, and the 27th pick, which the Washington Capitals sent them in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk. Zach Sanford also came back in that trade, himself a significant part of the 2018-19 Stanley Cup team, scoring the final goal of the playoffs.
With their 20th pick, the Blues selected Robert Thomas, a Memorial Cup-winning center from the London Knights of the OHL. Though he was just a youngster on the 2016 championship team, Thomas really came into his own in his draft year, scoring 66 points in 66 games and helping the Knights return to the playoffs.
The Blues were enamored with their new youngster’s hockey-IQ and leadership abilities. At the time, then director of amateur scouting BillArmstrong called Thomas “a coach’s dream.” He had all the tools necessary to become a top-level playmaking center in the NHL.
Thomas’ last season in junior hockey was his best. The Knights traded him to the Hamilton Bulldogs midseason. There, he won another OHL Championship, but this time he was such a difference-maker that he won the Wayne Gretzky 99 Trophy as the MVP of the OHL Playoffs.
Thomas debuted in the NHL the following season. In his freshman year, he recorded 33 points in 70 games. After a rocky start, he built momentum and found great chemistry with teammates Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon. It was that trio on the ice when the Blues scored their most momentous playoff goal, the life-or-death game-winner in double OT in Game 7 of the second round. It was Thomas who made the critical play, registering the primary assist. Without this draft pick, no one knows how that situation would have played out, or whether the Blues would have won the Stanley Cup in 2019.
Pick 27: Brayden Schenn Trade
Before the Blues’ next pick at 27, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped to the podium. He announced a trade. The Blues traded this pick, along with Jori Lehtera and their first-round pick the following year, to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brayden Schenn.
This trade worked out very well for both sides. The Flyers drafted two of their now top prospects, taking Morgan Frost here and Joel Farabee at number 14 the following season (presumably, the Blues expected to be surrendering a lower pick than that).
Schenn, for his part, had a career season in his first year with the Blues and has scored 124 points in 154 games across two seasons. In 2018-19, he helped the Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Schenn is a pending free agent after the 2019-20 season, and it remains to be seen whether his future is in St. Louis. But the price they paid for him was well worth the Stanley Cup he helped the Blues win.
Klim Kostin, LW (Dynamo Moscow, KHL), #31
Thanks to the expansion into Las Vegas, the 2017 Draft’s first-round featured a 31st pick for the very first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who won the Cup the prior season, had the pick, but Bettman once again stepped up to the podium and announced a trade. The Penguins traded this pick and Oskar Sundqvist, a little known depth player, to the Blues for Ryan Reaves and the Blues’ second-round pick (51st overall).
The Blues used the pick on Klim Kostin. Many believed the Russian forward had the skill to be a top-10 pick, but he had suffered a major injury in his final season and missed significant playing time. Bill Armstrong spoke at length about his hope for Kostin’s future.
He’s got a long way to go to be an NHL player, but the potential that he has and his size, and what he can do on the ice, he plays a North American style game… we’re really excited… there’s a lot to work with there.Bill Armstrong, Blues Director of Scouting
Kostin has yet to arrive in the NHL but remains a top prospect and could make the jump at some point in the 2019-20 season. Little did Blues fans know that the real treasure in the return would be Sundqvist, who in the 2018-19 season became the Blues’ top penalty-killing utility forward. He was an indispensable part of the Championship squad.
Middle Rounds (2-4)
Alexei Toropchenko, F (HK MVD Balashikha, MHL), #113
The Blues surrendered their second-round pick to the Penguins in the Reaves trade. They had previously sent their third-round pick to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Nail Yakupov, who never caught on in St. Louis.
They kept their fourth-round pick and selected another Russian, Alexei Torepchenko, a six-foot-three forward from the second-tier Russian league. His size, along with the 31 points he scored in 45 games, made him a promising diamond in the rough, and many analysts thought the Blues had stolen a potential star.
In two seasons since then, Toropchenko has excelled with the Guelph Storm of the OHL. He put up 82 points in 128 regular-season games, and in the 2019 playoffs, the Storm made a deep run thanks in no small part to his 19 points in 24 games.
In the 2019-20 season, Toropchenko should arrive permanently in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. He has the potential to be a dynamic power forward in the middle six for years to come with the Blues.
Late Rounds (5-7)
David Noël, D (Val d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL), #130
The Blues added the 130th pick when they traded goalkeeper Anders Nilsson to the Buffalo Sabres, and they used it to select David Noël, a Quebecois defenseman from the QMJHL. After a midseason trade, Noël put up 18 points in 29 games, which tempted Armstrong and the Blues to draft him.
“He was kind of a super sleeper, floating around the Quebec league,” Bill Armstrong said. “He’d been traded to Val d’Or, and when that happened, the offense kind of exploded. [The] coach put him in a really good situation to shoot the puck, and he has a bomb of a shot… he’s a little bit of a sleeper, but he has a tremendous work ethic.”
That offensive success continued the following two seasons, as the young defenseman collected 46 points in 68 games in season one and then notched another 27 in just 37 games, adding a point per game in seven playoff games. Now that he is AHL ready, Noël will need to distinguish himself from a deep pipeline of left-handed defensemen in the Blues’ system.
Trenton Bourque, D (Owen Sound Attack, OHL), #175
Speaking of left-handed defenseman, the Blues used their next pick to select Trenton Bourque of the Owen Sound Attack. They had traded their own fifth-round pick the previous year to draft Connor Bleackley. So their next pick was late in the sixth round. And Bourque appealed to the Blues because of his strong skating.
Over his next two seasons with the Attack, he remained a strong defender, but never developed much of an offensive game, scoring just 29 points across two seasons. The Blues never offered him a contract and in July 2019, he signed a two-way contract with the Belleville Senators of the AHL.
Anton Andersson, D (Lulea HF J20, SuperElit), #206
With their final selection, the Blues chose Anthon Andersson, a big defenseman from the SuperElit league in Sweden. At six-foot-four, 216 pounds, he had size, but he was still an underdeveloped player. Still, Bill Armstrong had a lot of hope for his development.
“He’s a big man,” Armstrong said, “and he’s someone that is, I would say, raw, here’s a guy that is six-foot-four, he can skate, he plays an aggressive style game… he’s a ways away, he’s a very raw player, but there’s some good qualities with his size and his athletic ability.”
Andersson put up 29 points in 39 games in 2018-19 with Lulea, but has yet to make the jump to the North American game. It’s uncertain whether he will join the AHL squad in the 2019-20 season, but at just 20, he has plenty of time to continue to develop.
Final Grade: Realized, A; Potential, A+
This may be Doug Armstrong’s best draft ever. Thomas has already debuted and appears to be a potential future superstar. They used another draft pick to help land a roster player who, along with Thomas, was a major piece of a Stanley Cup victory. Plus, Oskar Sundqvist, who seemed like a secondary piece in their second draft-day trade, became a top penalty killer for that squad. Those three facts easily make this a valuable draft.
On top of that, the Blues have two players who still have a very good chance to make an NHL impact in Kostin and Torepchenko. Noël needs to prove more, and Bourque and Andersson look like probable misses, but if either of the Russians became difference makers, this will join 2010 as the greatest drafts of Armstrong’s tenure in St. Louis.
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.