The St. Louis Blues is an organization that prides itself on drafting and developing talent, and much of general manager Doug Armstrong’s reputation is built on that very skill. But is perception reality with the Blues and the draft?
We’ll be taking a look at the Blues’ drafts since 2010, the year Doug Armstrong took over the front office. Thirteen of the Blues’ 25 active players (including Alex Pietrangelo and Robby Fabbri, who are injured) were Blues’ draftees. But is that an accurate assessment of their overall draft success? Let’s examine the 2010 draft, where two of their biggest starts were taken.
Jaden Schwartz (Tri-City Storm, USHL), #14
Jaden Schwartz has been one of the Blues’ offensive cogs since he was called up in the 2012-13 season. The Blues saw his talent at the USHL level, where he scored 83 points in 60 games, and took him at 14, between Brandon Gormley and Derek Forbort.
Schwartz has collected 285 points in 401 games in his career. His only limitation has been injury. Whenever he’s been healthy, though, he’s been a tremendous difference maker. So high is Schwartz’s reputation around the league that he was voted the second most underrated player in the league by his peers in the NHLPA last season.
Schwartz has been a golden find for the Blues in the middle of the first round, and considering they also got their man at pick number 16, they could not have done any better.
Vladimir Tarasenko (Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL), #16
Vladimir Tarasenko entered the 2010 draft as the second ranked European prospect behind only Mikael Granlund. Fortunately for the Blues, the league was gripped by particularly intense fear of players staying in their native Russia to play in the KHL around the time of the 2010 draft, and so Tarasenko was still available at pick 16.
But the Blues didn’t have the 16th pick. They’d chosen Schwartz at number 14. What they did have was a willing trade partner in the Ottawa Senators, who surrendered the 16th pick in exchange for David Rundblad, the Swedish defenseman the Blues had drafted at 17 in 2009. Considering that Rundblad played only 24 games with the Senators, it has to be one of the more lopsided draft trades in recent memory, though Rundblad was flipped for Kyle Turris later on.
Even with Tarasenko’s name in the rumor mill, there can be little question that he was the best draft pick of the Armstrong era, at least so far. With Schwartz and Tarasenko, the Blues had one of the better first rounds in draft history without a top ten pick.
Middle Rounds (2-4)
Sebastian Wännström (Brynäs IF, SHL), #44
With their second round pick, the Blues selected Swedish forward Sebastian Wännström. He never played a game in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean he was without talent. He’s still contributing in the SHL, with 12 points in 25 games for HV71.
But Wännström’s American career was insignificant. He bounced around a few stops in the AHL and ECHL, but never made it to the big time, and therefore has to be looked at as a missed pick.
Missed Opportunities: Ryan Spooner, #45; Tyler Toffoli, #47
The Blues look even worse for drafting Wännström by missing two serious NHL contributors in the next three picks. Spooner has bounced around a few stops, and currently plays for the Edmonton Oilers, but he has 163 points in his 305 game career. Toffoli has been a fixture with the Kings, and though he’s never quite reached the ceiling they may have hoped, he’s got 114 goals and is a plus-91 on his career.
Max Gardiner (Minnetonka High, USHS-MN), #74
Max Gardiner was a promising high school prospect who captained his team and collected 43 points in 17 games. That was the peak of Gardiner’s career, though, as he struggled to find success in the NCAA, first with the University of Minnesota and thereafter with Penn State. He would never play in the NHL.
Missed Opportunity: Brian Rust, #80
The only player the Blues really missed on in the neighborhood of Gardiner is Brian Rust. He’s won a Stanley Cup and been a decent bottom-six contributor with the Penguins, but hasn’t been a big enough success for the Blues to regret taking Gardiner too much.
Jani Hakanpää (Kiekko-Vantaa U18, Jr. B SM-sarja), #1o4
The Blues came closer to success with Jani Hakanpää, their fourth round draft pick. The Finnish defenseman played 132 games in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, before electing to return to his homeland in the 2015-16 season. Whether he would have found success in the NHL or not is unknown, but the Blues did offer him a qualifying offer in 2015, so they would have liked to keep him in the fold.
Missed Opportunities: None
The Blues took Hakanpää within ten picks of Tom Kuhnhackl and Philipp Grubauer, but the former has stayed mostly a bottom six contributor, and the latter is only just beginning to find success as a 1B type goaltender.
Late Rounds (5-7)
Cody Beach (Calgary Hitmen, WHL), #134
The Blues drafted Cody Beach out of the WHL in the fifth round. He had just 14 points in 51 games, but was a physical player. The Blues were taking a chance on his growing into an NHL-level enforcer. He didn’t, as he never surpassed the AHL level. And they missed on a few valuable pieces by taking Beach where they did.
Missed Opportunities: Louis Domingue, #138; Petr Mrazek, #141; Brendan Gallagher, #147
Of these three, Brendan Gallagher is the big miss. Louis Domingue and Petr Mrazek have both been serviceable NHL backups (with Mrazek being called upon to start frequently), but neither would have supplanted Jake Allen or Brian Elliott with the Blues. The real miss here is Gallagher. If the Blues were looking for a physical difference maker in the fifth round, Gallagher would certainly have been a better call than Beach.
Gallagher was undersized, but had 81 points in 72 games with the Vancouver Giants, as well as 21 points in 16 playoffs games, and he brought similar penalty minutes (an inaccurate measure of a player’s grit and physicality) to Beach. The Blues probably preferred Beach because of his size (he’s 6-foot-5 to Gallagher’s 5-foot-9), but Gallagher has become a very valuable and extremely underrated, talented NHL agitator.
Stephen MacAulay (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL), #164
With their seventh and final pick (having traded their 2010 seventh round pick for Nashville’s in 2009), the Blues drafted Stephen MacAulay. MacAulay was a decent QMJHL player, but like the majority of sixth round picks, never made it to the NHL. To his credit, he’s played in Germany’s second league this year and collected 36 points in 29 games with the Tölzer Löwen. The dream never dies.
Missed Opportunity: None
Yes, Mark Stone was drafted with the 178th pick, and, yes, the Blues would certainly love to have him right now. But they can hardly be blamed for missing by 14 picks in the sixth round, especially considering the player Stone was at the time. He had just 28 points in 39 games in his draft year. The following year, he’d collect 106 points in 71 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He quickly became a higher rated prospect, but by that point he was firmly in the clutches of the Senators.
Final Grade: A-
There’s little criticism for a team drafting two-thirds of its future first line in one draft year, as the Blues did by taking Schwartz and Tarasenko at 14 and 16. But they failed to find any supplemental help later in the draft, as their next five picks played a combined zero NHL games. It’s a mild disappointment, but nothing nearly serious enough to derail the success of finding two studs in the middle of the first round.