This weekend, the Blues will join seven other teams at the prospect tournament hosted by the Red Wings in Traverse City, Michigan. The tournament is a showcase for the league’s young talent, the stars who will carry their respective teams into the future.
This year, the Blues’ roster is stacked, and may be the team to beat. Their top prospects, including Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Dominik Bokk, and Klim Kostin, will all be on the ice. The full roster features 25 players in the organization, most of whom have been drafted by the Blues in the last several years. For fans eager for the Blues’ bright future, this tournament will offer the first taste of what lies ahead. And it gives them a chance to see some exciting things and answer some questions. Here are a few of those:
1) A Healthy Robert Thomas
Fans who attended the Blues’ rookie camp immediately following the NHL Draft this summer were disappointed to find out that Thomas was sidelined with a leg injury that he sustained in the CHL playoffs. The injury was considered minor at the time, but any time a team’s top prospect is hampered, there is certainly cause for concern.
Now, Thomas is believed healthy and is expected to play full minutes at the tournament. No one among the Blues’ prospects is projected to have a higher ceiling than Thomas. It’s believed he could be the first-line center the Blues have sought for as long as anyone can remember. Though Thomas played in the Traverse City tournament last year, this year he will be looked at as a leader of the team, and if St. Louis’ prospects are going to succeed, they will need Thomas to play a big role.
2) Who Will Rise from the Blues’ Defense?
The biggest question mark about the Blues’ core of prospects is whether they have anyone on defense who can rise to be a significant NHL contributor. Other than Jake Walman, whose progression stalled last year, there doesn’t seem to be an especially outstanding defensive prospect in the group. Niko Mikkola and Mitch Reinke seem to be the next men up in terms of NHL readiness, but nether has an especially high ceiling.
Blues’ second round pick, Scott Perunovich, will not be in attendance due to college commitments. Among the rest, Trenton Bourque, David Noel, Tyler Tucker, Sean Allen, and Joel Lakusta, all are either undrafted or late-round players. If any of them can develop into a high-caliber prospect, that would be a real boon for the Blues. Otherwise, they will need to address their weakness on defense in upcoming drafts.
3) What Kind of Prospect is Alexey Toropchenko?
When the Hockey Writers ranked Blues prospects, Alexey Toropchenko was placed high on the list — in the third tier. This is because the Russian forward, whom the Blues drafted in the fourth round in 2017, is beginning to be looked at as a potential draft steal. He’s a great skater, aggressive and physical, and at 6-foot-3, he brings great size.
Had a chance to watch Toropchenko this week and he's got one heck of a shot. Tall, lean, quick. Had 39 points (17 goals) at Guelph of the OHL last year. #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) June 29, 2018
Toropchenko has impressed at every public display of his talents, most recently in his preseason camp with the Guelph Storm. With another impressive performance in Traverse City, he has a chance to establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects behind the top group. If you’re looking for a lower-profile prospect to watch during the tournament, keep your eyes on Toropchenko.
4) The Future of Blues Goaltending
The biggest question Blues’ fans are asking at the NHL level are about their goaltender — Jake Allen. While he is unlikely to be supplanted by any of the prospects this season, teams are always in search of the long term answer in net. Though top goaltending prospect Ville Husso won’t be in Traverse City, Evan Fitzpatrick and Joel Hofer will be, and each has the potential to blossom into something special.
Fitzpatrick struggled last year before being traded to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Thereafter, he went on an incredible streak that carried the Titan through the QMJHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup. In the process, he excited many scouts and raised his stock as a prospect. Hofer, on the other hand, was just drafted in the fourth round in 2018, but he has the size at 6-foot-3, and he impressed at the Blues’ rookie camp. Both are players to watch as they look to establish themselves as the heir apparent to Husso as the Blues’ top goaltending prospect.
5) How Will the Blues’ Prospects Do in a “Playoff?”
It may sound silly, but for a team that is still in search of its first Stanley Cup Championship, it’s never too early to try and gauge whether their players can perform when the pressure is on. Though the tournament is fairly relaxed, it is still competitive, and Blues’ fans should be rooting for their prospects to take home a title.
Many of these prospects already have plenty of hardware. Robert Thomas is a two-time OHL Champion, a two-time gold medalist (at the U17 and U20 world championships), a Memorial Cup winner, and an OHL Playoff MVP. Evan Fitzpatrick helped the Titan bring home a QMJHL and Memorial Cup championships last season. Jordan Kyrou won a U20 gold medal alongside Robert Thomas, and also took home the OHL Most Outstanding Player trophy last season.
Ultimately, all the great prospects in the world will never satisfy Blues’ fans. The only thing that will satisfy fans is a Stanley Cup parade down Market Street. But, the players who will take the ice this weekend in Traverse City may be integral to bringing the Cup home. If you’re invested in the Blues’ future, be sure to track the tournament this weekend, and check back in with The Hockey Writers for coverage all weekend.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.