Blues Rout Rangers, Evade Embarrassment

The final day of action in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament saw all eight teams participating in placement games. The first of these games pitted the Rangers against the Blues in the battle for seventh place (or, perhaps, the battle to avoid coming last). As with each game of the tournament, the Blues found themselves down early, but an explosion of goals from two of their star prospects turned the game around substantially, gave the Blues their first win of the weekend, and left Blues’ fans with a good feeling about their prospects.

Hat Trick for Kyrou

By far the standout player of the game was Blues’ forward Jordan Kyrou, who ranked 15th in TSN’s ranking of NHL prospects. Kyrou collected a hat trick in the game, and each of the three goals was an absolute highlight reel play; even the empty netter he scored to finish off the trio.

The first goal was a breakaway created by Kyrou’s incredible speed. He was able to skate around and past the Rangers’ defense, pull right up to the net, stop short, freeze the goalie, and tuck the puck behind him into a wide open goal. The second, equally stunning, was created when he deked between a pair of Rangers defenders and created a lane in which to release his wicked wrist shot. Both goals were absolute displays of the skill that makes him such a highly regarded prospect.

The final goal Kyrou scored was against an empty net, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Determined to collect his hat trick, Kyrou pinched a defender at his own blue line to steal the puck, then blazed past both defenders as he skated up ice and shot a laser from the Rangers’ blue line into the yawning goal. Kyrou added an assist to his three goal performance, and those four points gave him six in the tournament, placing him among the top scorers in Traverse City and first among his Blues’ teammates.

Kyrou is an interesting prospect for the Blues. At twenty years old, he is ready for the jump to the professional game; however, the Blues stacked defensive core makes it difficult to find an obvious place for him on the NHL roster. The going assumption is that Kyrou will likely begin the season in the AHL, but if he continues to play like he did today, he may force the front office’s hand. Either way, he’s an excellent piece who has a very bright future, and it won’t be long until we see him lighting up NHL lamps.

Walman Makes Waves

Another standout Blues’ player was defenseman Jake Walman, who is among the Blues’ few legitimate defensive prospects. Walman seemed poised to make the roster last season heading into training camp, but a poor performance, coupled with the emergence of Vince Dunn, saw Walman sent down to the AHL. There, due in no small part to the strange AHL situation for the Blues last season, Walman struggled to find his footing and fell in the eyes of many evaluators. That was the Jake Walman who appeared on the ice in the first days of the Traverse City Tournament: indecisive, lost, and lacking confident.

Jake Walman St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues defenseman Jake Walman (46) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

But what a difference a weekend can make. Over the course of the weekend, Walman became one of the Blues’ most vocal on-ice communicators. He was constantly heard shouting instructions to his teammates and directing play on the ice. Walman’s best performance came in Tuesday’s tilt against the Rangers, where he was confident on the puck and willing to sacrifice his body to make necessary plays. He scored a power play goal in the third period that put the game firmly out of reach, and, after being on the receiving end of a dirty hit from Nico Gross later in the third, showed his moxie and frustration by firing hard slap shots at every opportunity.

Walman’s transformation in the tournament could be a boon for the Blues, who are thin on left-handed defensemen, particularly if Jay Bouwmeester and/or Carl Gunnarsson take longer than expected to recover from surgeries. More importantly, both Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson are unrestricted free agents after the season, and neither is predicted to return, so the time may be now for Walman to step into a greater role in the organization. If the Jake Walman that played in Traverse City on Tuesday shows up to Blues’ training camp this weekend, it will be hard for coaches not to notice him.

Other Traverse City Notes

The Blues’ 8-4 victory over the Rangers gave them a seventh place finish in the tournament, and while results are not the ultimate point of this event, it certainly makes the rough weekend a little more palatable for St. Louis. Here are the complete rankings for the teams in Traverse City:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets
  2. Detroit Red Wings
  3. Minnesota Wild
  4. Chicago Blackhawks
  5. Dallas Stars
  6. Carolina Hurricanes
  7. St. Louis Blues
  8. New York Rangers

Final rankings are the result of today’s placement games, and are slightly different from the ultimate standings of the event. The Blue Jackets were by far the surprise team of the tournament, finishing undefeated though boasting the weakest farm system heading into the weekend. The tournaments’ hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, could not quite capture first place, but had a very strong showing, particularly from 2018 first round picks Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno.

Joe Veleno Drummondville Voltigeurs
Drummondville Voltigeurs forward Joe Veleno (Shawn Davidson/QMJHL)

With the tournament in the books, teams will now return home (save for the Red Wings, who will remain in Traverse City) to begin training camp. Puck drops on the regular season in less than a month. Though most of the players featured in this weekend’s action will return to various junior and international clubs, a few will be playing in professional rinks very soon, and for all of them, it was a great opportunity to impress their front offices and build their cases for future opportunities.