When we began this series well over a year ago, we could not have known that the draft picks we were profiling would win the franchise its first-ever Stanley Cup in 2019. But that was precisely the purpose of the series: to investigate St. Louis Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong’s ability to draft a successful team.
At this point, that ability is no longer in question. Armstrong has proven his mettle, and while he may still be an even better trader, he is certainly a successful drafter. For proof, consider the eight previous entries in this 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
- 2018: A Hobey Baker winner and more
Now we turn to 2018. Naturally, with a draft that recent, it’s too early to know what every player will become in the NHL. But we can look at how the players have developed so far, and what their prospects are. Like with other recent entries, we will ultimately grade the draft both on realized results and long term potential. Now let’s get started.
Pick 14: Brayden Schenn Trade
A fuller treatment of the Brayden Schenn trade can be found elsewhere, and we discussed it in the previous entry in this series. With this pick, the second of the two first-round picks the Flyers received in the trade, they selected Joel Farabee, a winger from the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He made his NHL debut at 19 during the 2019-20 season, and looks to have a very bright future.
Dominik Bokk, F (Växjö Lakers, SHL), #25
As Armstrong often does, he traded up to get a player he really wanted in Germany’s Dominik Bokk. They surrendered the pick they got from the Winnipeg Jets by trading Paul Stastny (#29) and a third-round pick. Playing at various levels in Sweden, the Blues knew when they selected Bokk that his path to the NHL would be a long one. But he has been brilliant in stretches, especially at the international level. He was one of Germany’s best players at the 2020 World Junior Championship, scoring eight points with six goals in seven games, helping his team avoid relegation.
Unfortunately, we will never know what Bokk could have become with the Blues. That’s because Armstrong traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes as part of the package for Justin Faulk. He is now part of their core of young players as they build for the present and the long term. Bokk still has a bright future, though he may yet take some time to get to the top level. He did not make Craig Button of TSN’s most recent ranking of the top-fifty NHL-affiliated prospects.
Missed Opportunity: Rasmus Sandin, #29
With the 29th pick they gave the Toronto Maple Leafs, general manager Kyle Dubas selected Rasmus Sandin, a young Swedish defenseman. While he has a lot to prove, he looks to have a very bright future, and Button ranked him as the Maple Leafs’ top prospect. Of course, the Blues might just as readily have traded Sandin instead of Bokk, and besides, they got their left-handed defenseman of the future with their next pick.
Middle Rounds (2-4)
Scott Perunovich, D (University of Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA), #45
The Blues were so excited about taking their second-round pick that they’d already stitched his name on the back of a jersey, a rarity for anyone after the first round. But they saw something special in Scott Perunovich, a diminutive college defenseman who had already gone twice undrafted but was beginning to prove himself with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who had just won an NCAA Division I Championship.
Perunovich would continue to mature as an offensive defenseman, scoring 29 points in 39 games en route to another championship the following season. He stayed to pursue a threepeat during the 2019-20 season, leaving his future with the Blues in doubt. While he ultimately couldn’t capture that dream because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the end of the NCAA season, he captured personal glory instead, winning the 2020 Hobey Baker Trophy given annually to the top player in college hockey.
With that trophy in his case, and the Blues’ control over him evaporating, Perunovich could have chosen to become a free agent and have his pick of an NHL home. But he honored the team that drafted him by signing an entry-level contract (ELC) with the Blues in March 2020. Due to the continuing uncertainty about the season, that contract will either begin when hockey resumes during the 2019-20 season or, if the season is canceled, it will start with the next season (presumably 2020-21).
While winning a Hobey Baker doesn’t guarantee NHL stardom — with recent winners ranging from Adam Gaudette and Jimmy Vesey to Jack Eichel and Cale Makar — it is a great indicator of his maturity as a prospect. Perunovich looks poised to make an impact with the Blues very quickly, and he’s a fantastic second-round find for Armstrong.
Joel Hofer, G (Swift Current Broncos, WHL), #107
The Blues surrendered their third-round pick to the Maple Leafs to trade up and grab Bokk, and Toronto used it to select Semyon Der-Arguchintsev 76th overall. In the fourth round, the Blues grabbed a goalie, something Armtsrong does often in the middle to late rounds. Joel Hofer was a relative unknown with the Swift Current Broncos at the time, serving as a backup for the team that won the WHL Championship that season. But he looked good in flashes, and his appetizing 6-foot-5 frame convinced the Blues to take a shot on him with a late pick.
The following season started rough for Hofer, as the Broncos had lost many of their stars after their championship. But a midseason trade to the Portland Winterhawks made for new fortunes, and he posted a .911 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.18 goals-against average (GAA) in 18 games there. The following season was even stronger, with a 2.49 GAA and a .915 SV% in an impressive 48 games before the WHL season was canceled.
But Hofer really made his name at the 2020 World Junior Championship (WJC). Though he came in as a backup, barely expected to see the ice, he came on in relief during a brutal defeat at the hands of the Russians. He never left Canada’s net again and had a .946 SV% and a 1.30 GAA in six games. He led the Canadians to gold, including a revenge victory over the Russians in the championship game. Button released his prospect rankings shortly after the tournament and placed Hofer 29th overall.
Late Rounds (5-7)
Hugh McGing, F (Western Michigan University, NCAA), #138
The Blues perused the college ranks again in the fifth round, choosing diminutive forward Hugh McGing from the Western Michigan University Broncos. Though undersized, McGing is speedy and determined and has leadership potential, as he served as the Broncos’ captain in his final season there. He has some offensive output, scoring a point per game in his most recent campaign, but there are questions about his scoring potential at the NHL level. Here’s what The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had to say in an article before the 2019-20 season.
[McGing] plays the game like a ball of energy. He’s a very good skater with a compete level that’s just as good. He pressures forecheckers, hits hard even at 5-foot-8, and with his speed he turns defenders around constantly. McGing’s skill will never dazzle, but he can make 1-on-1 plays and has some offense in him, including a very good shot. His pro projection will depend on if he can become a bottom-six/energy/penalty kill type who can score just enough.From ‘2019 NHL farm system rankings: No. 19 St. Louis Blues.’ The Athletic NHL, Aug. 20, 2019
The Blues obviously have some faith in their pick, as they signed McGing to a two-year ELC in Mar. 2020. With St. Louis’ deep well of forwards, there’s no obvious immediate path to the NHL for McGing, but that will give him plenty of time to mature with the team’s new American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Mathias Laferriere, F (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL), #169
In the middle of the sixth round, the Blues selected Mathias Laferriere, a forward from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Many viewed him as a “boom or bust” type of pick, who had the skillset to transform into an impact player, but whose consistency and developmental path was in question.
But Laferriere answered many of those questions by breaking out somewhat the season after his draft year, notching 74 points in 68 games, a 33-point season-over-season increase in just one additional game. His plus/minus also climbed from minus-22 to plus-16. In 11 playoff games, he added 10 additional points. And before the 2019-20 QMJHL season was canceled, he seemed to be on the same trajectory, with 48 points in 40 games, a .11 point per game increase from his breakout season. This evolution convinced some prospect evaluators to rate Laferriere very highly.
#3 – Mathias Laferriere 🇨🇦— Dylan Griffing (@Dylan_Griffing) April 25, 2020
Laferriere is an incredibly creative winger with great skating and passing. His offense is his specialty, and he produces at a pretty high level. He has the potential to be a middle-six player in the NHL. #STLBlues pic.twitter.com/RXjzNuT9E5
The breakout also convinced the Blues to sign Laferriere to a three-year ELC in Oct. 2019. He will turn 20 over the summer, which likely means he will join the Thunderbirds if and when the 2020-21 AHL season begins. He still needs a lot of polish, but Laferriere has the potential to be a late-round steal for the Blues.
Tyler Tucker, D (Barrie Colts, OHL), #200
With their final pick in the 2018 Draft, the Blues selected Tyler Tucker, a left-handed defenseman playing with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. In his post-draft interview, Blues’ assistant general manager and director of scouting Bill Armstrong (no relation to Doug) smiled broadly as he described the player he’d drafted: “this kid’s all character. He’s old school d-man. He’ll fight. The one thing about him is he has a will to make a difference in the game, his compete is off the charts… he’s a warrior out there.” His only concern was Tucker’s tendency to take too many penalties.
That was a glowing analysis for any seventh-round pick. But what neither Armstrong nor anyone could have expected was the offensive breakout that Tucker would have the following season. Suddenly, a player who had put up three goals and 23 points in 59 games in his draft season had a 59 point season in 68 games. But he still took too many penalties, collecting 105 PIMs throughout the season. That tied him for sixth in the league.
In what will likely be his final OHL season, the Colts traded Tucker to the Flint Firebirds. Between the two teams, he recorded 56 points, this time in only 55 games before the season was canceled. But once again, he ranked sixth in PIMs with 87. Still, discipline can be taught, and tenacity cannot. For a seventh-round pick. Tucker has shown flashes of brilliance, and his potential seems to have far-surpassed his draft stock. The Blues signed him to a three-year ELC in March.
Final Grade: Realized, N/A; Potential, A+
Even if the Blues hadn’t traded Dominik Bokk, they would not yet know how any of these players would pan out in the NHL. And while the early returns on the Faulk trade are not great, a controlled, proven potential defensive cornerstone is worth the price of an unproven prospect with years left to develop.
Beyond the first round, it’s clear that every draftee is as promising and for the most part more promising than they were on draft night, and likely any of them would be selected higher today than they were then. Perunovich won the Hobey Baker trophy, Hofer had a breakout performance at the WJC, and both Laferriere and Tucker have grown considerably as players. Only McGing hasn’t made a major improvement, and he is still viewed highly by evaluators like Pronman.
The Blues won their first Stanley Cup in 2019 based in large part off of Armstrong’s history of draft success. In 2018, even though he’s already traded his first-round selection, he seems to have struck gold yet again. Every player but Bokk and Hofer in this draft class has already signed an ELC, which means they will make an impact with the organization at one level or another.
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.