St. Louis Blues prospect Jake Walman had a roller coaster 2017-18 season to say the least. Walman played for the Vegas Golden Knights and New Jersey Devils’ AHL teams after failing to crack the Blues roster out of camp. How was this even possible? Long story short, the Golden Knights agreed to a deal with the Blues’ former affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, which left the Blues with no primary affiliate for the 2017-18 season.
There were now 31 teams in the NHL and only 30 in the AHL — somebody had to share. Since the Blues had no primary affiliate, they were allowed to assign their players to the Chicago Wolves since Vegas was an expansion team and would not be able to fill an entire AHL roster by themselves. Walman, the former Providence College Friar who led the NCAA in points per game as a defensemen in 2015-16, was a victim of the AHL debacle during the 2017-18 season which had some Blues fans uncertain about his future.
Chicago Wolves to the St. Louis Blues
Walman’s roller coaster of a season started on Oct. 2 after he was cut from the Blues main camp. The Blues sent a majority of their other cuts to Colorado’s AHL team in San Antonio, but still decided to loan the 21-year-old defensemen to the Chicago Wolves, who he had played 15 games for in 2016-17.
It's official: defenseman Jake Walman is being assigned to the Chicago Wolves! pic.twitter.com/fePF36cUiX
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) October 2, 2017
The main idea behind loaning Walman to Chicago was to benefit him by giving him the opportunity to get more ice time, since the majority of Vegas’ prospects were not ready or old enough to play in the AHL. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong also thought that sending some of his prospects to Vegas’ affiliate would be good for player development because they would be mentored by NHL-ready players that were taken in the expansion draft but did not make the team. Doug Armstrong went on the say:
“He and I (Vegas GM, George Mcphee) have talked extensively on the benefits of this relationship… I think it’s a really competitive advantage for Vegas and us to join forces. We can input some of our better prospects into their environment.”
Walman was taken under veteran Jason “Boom Boom” Garrison’s wing in Chicago. Having Garrison as a mentor was definitely positive for Walman since Garrison had established himself as one of the better two-way scoring defensemen a couple years back. Throughout the year, Walman saw most of his ice time on the second defensive pairing and was never really given the chance to run the power play, since Garrison was the go-to man.
Walman ended up tallying 13 points in 34 games before he was called up to the NHL on Jan. 6 after Vince Dunn hit the IR with the flu. Walman finally got the chance to showcase his abilities on the main stage, but never ended up dressing for the Blues. He was sent back to the Wolves just two days later on Jan. 8.
Chicago Wolves to Binghampton Devils
Due to roster restrictions, on Jan. 31, the Blues loaned Walman to the New Jersey Devils affiliate in Binghampton. The move marked the second AHL team Walman had played for in the season and the third team he had reported to in the month of January. At the time he was loaned, Binghampton was a last-place team and Walman was once again given an excellent chance to log some serious minutes and make a real impact. In early February, he missed a few games after suffering a minor injury, and, when he came back, he often found himself on the third defensive pairing and was a healthy scratch for a handful of games.
— AHL (@TheAHL) April 7, 2018
Despite not receiving a whole lot of ice time, or the opportunity to make a consistent impact in Binghampton, Walman still managed to tally seven points in 19 games. He finished the entire 2017-18 season playing a total of 59 games and in that time he tallied 20 points which ranked 19th in the AHL amongst defensemen.
Walman’s short-term future with the Blues is looking a little foggy. Given the fact that he went on an AHL rollercoaster ride last season, the Blues may want to give him another look in the AHL next year under their own eyes and coaches. There is a very good chance that Walman will make his NHL debut at some point this upcoming season, but he will likely start and play the majority of the season in the AHL.
The Blues defensive core heading into the 2018-19 season remains the same as last year’s with Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson, Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn taking the first pairings, and Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Bortuzzo on the third pairing. If all six of these players are healthy, it will be difficult for Walman to crack the Blues roster unless he has an outstanding main camp, which he could have. Veteran Carl Gunnarsson, who is on a one-way deal, is coming off of ACL surgery but should be ready for the start of the season. Gunnarsson will most likely edge out Walman and Jordan Schmaltz for the seventh defensive spot.
Walman’s long term future with the Blues is looking very bright. He should become a full time player for the Blues during the 2019-20 season when more spots on the back end open up. Whether the Blues actually trade Colton Parayko, or not, they have the 34-year-old Bouwmeester, who is on the final year of his contract, and may not be in the Blues’ plans going forward, especially given the talent that they have in the minors like Walman, among other very strong defensive prospects.
Walman is an extremely gifted offensive defenseman who can skate, handle the puck, and shoot very well. If given the chance, Walman has the ability to run a power play on his own. During the 2015-16 season, he led the entire NCAA in power play goals as a defensemen with eight while playing just 27 games – he has a ton of upside.
There is no doubt that Walman has the talent to play and produce, it is just timing at this point in his young career. Who knows, maybe all the change and uncertainty that he faced this past 2017-18 season actually made him a better player mentally. Expect Walman to bounce back and have a very strong 2018-19 season in the AHL and be a vital part of the Blues’ defensive core starting in 2019.