The Traverse City Prospect Tournament was back up and running on Monday, and the St. Louis Blues were determined to undo their rocky start. But it wouldn’t be easy, as a date with their rival Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects was on the agenda.
The Blues started rough as they had done every game in the series, but this time, they didn’t let things get out of hand. They fought back steadily and won the game 4-2. But it’s how they won the game, and more importantly, who shined brightest, that will truly encourage Blues fans.
More Disciplined Hockey
In the first two games of the tournament, the Blues committed 15 penalties and were woeful on the penalty kill. Their opponents’ seven combined power play goals were the principal factor in demolishing the Blues’ hopes for success, and they contributed significantly to the two blowout defeats they suffered.
In Game 3 against the Blackhawks, the Blues committed just two penalties, excluding the matching five-minute majors charged to St. Louis’ Keean Washkurak and Chicago’s Riley McKay for fighting.
Just as importantly, the Blues’ penalty kill stood tall, killing both opportunities. Goaltender Joel Hofer, drafted in the fourth round in 2018, played very well, allowing just two goals on 18 shots. And those goals were hardly his fault: one took a strange deflection off a shot from the point, and the other was a second chance after non-drafted invite Jake Christiansen allowed a breakaway.
Kostin Finally Shines
For fans wondering the whereabouts of Blues’ top Traverse City prospect Klim Kostin, he finally appeared in full force on Monday. The Russian showed all the skills that made him such an enticing prospect when the team selected him 31st overall in the 2017 Draft, skating, hitting, and scoring.
Kostin seemed much more confident in Game 3 than he had in the opening games of the tournament. He skated around the ice looking for opportunities to make contact, he played strong on offense and defense, and he displayed more hockey-IQ than he had in recent performances. Though he took one of the team’s two penalties, a minor for holding, it was a penalty out of necessity in defense of an odd-man rush, rather than one committed because of sloppy play.
It was Kostin who evened the score early in the third period. A precise pass from teammate Nolan Stevens found him in alone on a breakaway with only Blackhawks’ goaltender Chase Marchand. A front hand to backhand deke beat the goalie easily and gave Kostin the breakaway tally.
It was one of Kostin’s best performances in a Blues’ sweater and should set him on the right foot for what might be a make or break season for the Russian. It is time for him to prove himself at the AHL level if he hopes to receive the NHL call he so desperately wants.
Nikita Alexandrov, whom the Blues selected with their first pick, the 62nd, in the 2019 Draft, also had his best performance so far. He scored the opening goal, a beautiful one-timer on the power play. Alexandrov has been a creative player in the QMJHL who has performed well on the man advantage before, and he displayed his wicked shot in scoring this opener.
Other Blues’ standouts included Mitch Reinke and Alexei Toropchenko, both of whom have looked good throughout the tournament despite the team’s struggles. Toropchenko is giving Kostin a run for his money as the Blues’ best young, Russian power forward prospect.
Finally, the Blues saw important contributions from their undrafted invites, two of whom scored the final two goals of the contest. River Rymsha, a Michigan native who played collegiate hockey with the Miami University (of Ohio) Redhawks, scored the game-winner on a hard slap shot that beat the goalie on his far side. And Kevin Hancock, a 21-year-old who scored 107 points between the Owen Sound Attack and the London Knights last season, finished the battle with a short-handed empty-net goal from beyond center ice.
Tuesday’s Final Game
The Blues are set to play one final game on Tuesday night, facing the New York Rangers in the fifth-place game. The game will start at 12:30 local time, 11:30 central time, and fans can watch the contest on Fox Sports Go. It’s a perfect matchup, as it will be an opportunity to watch the Blues face off against one of the league’s top prospects in Kaapo Kakko, as well as Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox, and other blue-chippers from the NHL’s best farm system.
Wins and losses matter less in this tournament, particularly on the fourth day, than strong performances. If the Blues’ prospects continue to perform as they did on Monday, they will be primed and ready for training camp starting next 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.