It's been a whole 1.5 years since the blues last did a Top 10 Professionals under 25 installment. To make the list a player must be signed to a professional contract and be under 25. In December 2016 the blues had 3 significant players who fit that description in Landeskog, RNH and Pearson. The talent level dropped off significantly after that. Lets take a look at that 2016 list:
Lets start by looking at the list in December 2016:
1. Gabriel Landeskog L
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins C
3. Tanner Pearson R
4. Nathan Beaulieu D
5. Drake Caggiula C
6. Connor Carrick D
7. Samuel Morin D
8. Martin Marincin
9. Michael Chaput C
10. Michael Mersch
Stuart Percy D
As previously mentioned, the 2016 list was pretty top heavy but lacked any significant depth. Is the 2018 list any better? Lets have a look.
1. Igor Shestorkin G - 23 - A very high skilled Russian goalie currently playing for SKA in the KHL. Shestorkin is touted as the Rangers goalie of the future. The blues paid dearly to get him, a first in last years draft (somewhere in the 20's). Shestorkin has put up gaudy numbers the last couple years in the K. In 2016-2017, he went 27-4-6 with a 1.64 GAA and a .937 SV %. In 2017-2018, he went 20-4-4 with a 1.69 GAA and a .933 SV%. Shestorkin is under contract for 1 more year with SKA and is expected to make the move over to New York after that. Shestorkin is probably the closest thing the Blues have to a sure fire NHLer. His floor is at least a backup goalie which isn't much to get excited over. His ceiling however is a top 5 NHL goaltender. Will he reach those lofty heights? Goalies are notoriously difficult to project so chances are he won't.The Blues are are hoping he at least comes close. With 2 years left on his NEFHL contract the blues are hoping to sign the young Russian to a long term deal on the back-end of his first year backing up the King in New York.
2. Nikita Scherbak R - 23 - After scoring at over a ppg pace in the AHL last year Scherbak had a promising stint in the NHL with 4 goals in 26 games in a limited role. To be effective Scherbak needs to play in an offensive role. The problem is there isn't much room on the right side in Montreal this year. Playing in his favor, Scherbak has to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL this year. Something that is unlikely to happen given his potential. Scherbak is a great play maker with top 6, 50 point potential. The question is, will he reach that potential or be one of many ex Montreal 1st rounders to not quite make it. Although part of a bigger deal, the blues gave up a 2nd for Scherbak and he's the type of player the blues need to pan out if they want to continue being competitive.
3. Brendan Leipsic W - 24 - What do the blues have in Brenden Leipsic? That is a great question. A proven scorer in Junior and at the AHL level he hasn't quite put it together at the NHL level just yet. However he has shown glimpses of what he could be. After moving from the Vegas Golden Knights to the Canucks late in the season he managed to put up nine points in 14 games. A very small sample size to be sure however given his past it could be something more. With the Canucks this season he should get lots of ice time, top 6 minutes and even some power play time. Signed at a team friendly 650k for the next two years. If he puts together a decent season in Vancouver the Blues could see some serious value in the young winger.
4. Tyler Benson L - 20 - A prospect with a back story. Benson was a phenom as a young teen growing up in the Edmonton area setting scoring records on his way to becoming the first overall pick of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. Then injuries hit - alot of them. After scoring 45 points in 63 games as a rookie in the WHL, the forward would go on to play only 60 games in the next two seasons due to a rash of injuries including surgery for a double sports hernia. This caused Benson who was at one time projected as a sure thing to go in the top half of the 1st round to drop all the way down to the 2nd round albeit 32nd overall. There is some good news though - after the Oilers stepped in to make sure he had proper medical care, Benson managed to get healthy playing a total of 58 games in his final WHL season. He didn't set the world a fire scoring at barely a point a game pace but there were glimpses of the player Benson could be come if he manages to stay healthy. He already had NHL level passing skills and hockey IQ. He needs to continue to stay healthy and work on his skating a shot. In a short end of season stint with Bakersfield he managed 3 assists in 5 games. It's expected he'll put in at least another full season down there if not 2 before we see him skate for the big team. Most project Benson to be a middle 6 winger but he does have the potential to be slightly better then that. The Blues are hoping he does.
5. Cliff Pu C - 20 - A big player with skill and speed, Pu was drafted in the 3rd round of the NHL 2016 draft by Buffalo. He was most recently traded to Carolina in the Jeff Skinner trade. Pu had a pretty decent Jr career with London in the OHL scoring at well over a point per game pace and winning a memorial cup early on. He stole the show at last years rookie camp out performing bigger name prospects such as Nick Baptiste. Pu will graduate to professional hockey this year and is expected to play the year with the Charlotte Checkers. Pu projects to be a middle 6 center or wing. A decent prospect with a relatively low floor.
6. Samuel Morin D - 23 - We've been waiting for this guy to play in the NHL since 2016. A big guy at 6'7 Morin has NHL ready size. THe NHL flyers however thought it was best for his development to play with the phantoms for a couple years and work on his skating and puck handling. Projected as a shut down type at the NHL level with little offensive upside, Morin showed well in last years training camp. In fact he was one of the last cuts. Injuries prevented the big dman from even getting called up to the big club throughout the season. Making matters more difficult, Morin injured his ACL in the AHL playoffs and will not be available until this January. Working in his favor is the fact that he must now clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL and there is not a snowballs chance in hell he would. So he will start the season in Philly, albeit on the IR. What the new year holds for Morin is anyone's guess. It's expected he'll get at least a few games in this year. Morin has top 4 potential as a shutdown guy with a decent first pass. He also has the potential to be a top end PK specialist.
7. Calle Sjalin D - 19 - A 2017 5th round draft pick by the NHL rangers, Sjalin actually went undrafted in the NEFHL and unsigned up until the Blues signed him this summer. Although at least 3-4 years from NHL ready, many say Sjalin, who is solid on both sides of the puck, has top 4 potential. Considering the cost, it's surprising he wasn't signed before this summer.
8. Jordan Subban D - 23- Certainly not as well known, the younger Subban actually has alot in common with his older superstar brother. Both are known for their offense and drive the play with their speed and puck handling in order to help their teams. One big difference however is their effectiveness, with the older Subban clearly on a different level (then even his NHL peers). Another difference is their size. Although not big, PK stands a respectable 6ft and weighs 210 pounds. That's 3 inches and 30 pounds heavier then Jordan. But enough of the comparisons already. The NHL leafs just signed Jordan to a 1 year show me deal and are hoping he is able to turn his game around after a very poor year last year. He's never going to be his brother but if the ex 3rd round pick can get his game back, he has the potential to be a bottom paring NHL D man and PP specialist. Decent potential considering the blues got him for a 7th and 1.2 million.
9. Anthony Richard C - 22- Another free agent signing by the Blues. Richard is a 2015 4th round pick of the NHL predators. A decent scoring forward in Junior,43 and 37 goals in his final 2 years, Richard struggled in his first year of pro hockey but managed to turn it around in his second year with 19 goals. Undersized, he's a great skater with great hands, someone who might have been looked over in years past but could fit right in with today's NHL. A center in Junior Richard is likely to play on the wing in the NHL. He has the potential to be top 9 winger. The blues have him at 650k for the next 2 years.
10. Dominic Toninato C - 24 An interesting piece signed by the NEFHL blues back in 2016 and just re-signed for the next 4 years at 650k. Toninato is a college player out of Duluth originally drafted in the 5th round by the NHL Mapleleafs. Toninato started the year in the AHL but was called up by the Avs on numerous occasions last year and managed to finish out the year with them. Known primarily for his big body and defensive acumen, Toninato isn't going to wow anyone with his skills. At worst this guy has already proven to be a fringe replacement level NHL player. At best he's probably a defensive aware 3-4C. Low ceiling, high floor kinda guy. He's on the bubble this year in Colorado however if he makes the team, he could be the NEFHL blues 4th line C for the foreseeable future.
There you have it, the blues top 10 under 25 professionals, 2018 edition. At an initial glance you could say the blues have gotten older which is true. However they are hardly old with the majority of the core (Klefbom, Couturier, Granlund, Landeskog, Rattie, Leivo Scheifele, Sissions) coming in at 26 or younger. I do think the Blues have improved as a team and improved their organizational depth along the way since December 2016. They haven't achieved great success on the ice though and that's what matters. Stay tuned for more blues news to come.