WOW. Didn’t see that coming! Armstrong with the move to appease every burning tick that each Blues fan held deep inside themselves. The contracts of Sobotka and Berglund are GONE. Off the books! And to get a player back like O’Reilly is just icing on the cake. Granted, we shouldn’t etch the Blues onto the cup quite yet, but this is a good start to getting back in the conversation. Before free agency hit, we were in the lottery conversation, if you go by the odds in Vegas. Now, we are firmly in the mix. The playoff mix, that is. How do we get back to “Stanley Cup favorite” mix? The answer to that is.. “the kids.”
Armstrong pulled off a miraculous trade to offload the bad mistakes he previously made, while also getting back exactly what the Blues needed. Ryan O’Reilly is a fantastic 2-way centerman and, in my opinion, is in a slightly higher class than Paul Stastny. I do say slightly. Armstrong did all this without giving up his top, blue chip prospects. This alone, makes the trade even more of a win for the Blues.
The signings of David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and trade of Ryan O’Reilly have made the Blues a far better team than before the UFA market opened. A far better team in the present, with an eye on the future. Armstrong accomplished his mission of improving the team and didn’t move a “blue chip” prospect in the process. Let’s take a look at what this team could look like in a few years, with respect to the team’s young up-and-coming group.
What more can be said about this kid that hasn’t already been said? Projected to be the Blues’ top line center of the future, Thomas has an inside track to make the team out of camp this year. After averaging a point-per-game in the OHL juniors, it appears that Thomas is ready to make the jump. To say that his value has risen since his draft day is an understatement. Thomas has elite hockey IQ, his offensive ceiling is high, and he plays a 2-way style that would compare to Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews (barf). Either way, I’ll take that on my team any day. Armstrong was adamant about holding on to the “blue chippers” and Thomas is at the top of that group. He is a highly regarded prospect around the league and has been brought up in most trade discussions that Armstrong has had with other teams. He has worked his way around moving Thomas and has dramatically improved the team at the same time. A floor projection for Thomas’ first season in the NHL, based on the NHLe formula and OHL scoring rate, is around 40 points. He could certainly blow that out of the water given the right opportunity and linemates. Compare that to Robby Fabbri who had 51 points in 30 games his last season at Guelph, his NHLe would have been 43. Fabbri ended his rookie season with 37 points in 72 games. His 82-game pace would have put him at 42 points. Try the calculator out with other players here.
NHL Projection: Opening Night 2018
First 82 GP Point Projection: 50
NHLe 82 GP Projection: 37
NHL Comparable: Patrice Bergeron
Kyrou is in a similar vein to Ty Rattie. Blues fans may cringe when I say that, but there was a lot of hype for Rattie and his scoring prowess when the Blues drafted him. Kyrou comes with the same level, if not more, of that scoring prowess, but is closer to an elite scoring talent than Rattie. That is where Blues fans can find solace. Unlike Rattie did at his age, Kyrou has tremendous skating ability (he won Fastest Skater award at the CHL Top Prospects testing combine in his draft year), and that is where the young sniper can create space for himself to translate that scoring ability to the next level. In the past Kyrou has shown tendencies to disappear at times in certain games. I don’t anticipate this being the case when he enters camp this year, he’s said to be more focused than ever to make the team. I would expect him to start the season in the AHL, on the top line in San Antonio, with Klim Kostin.
NHL Projection: 2nd half of 2018-19
First 82 GP Point Projection: 45 (coming into the 2nd half of next season and start thereafter)
NHLe 82 GP Projection: 42
NHL Comparable: Bryan Little
Klim Kostin is a beast. Personally, I am very excited to see him fulfill his highest potential. Kostin has the look of a prime Rick Nash, big boy with a ton of scoring ability and can “chuck knucks” if need be. He’s a man-child, but needs to learn how to use that big frame to his advantage. Kostin had 72 PIMs, including 2 fights, last season with the Rampage. Everyone, especially the Blues, would love to see that comparison pan out, a prototypical power-forward (and he’s Russian!!). Let’s keep in mind that Kostin turned 19 just two months ago. He played last season in the AHL as an 18 year-old, had 6 goals and 28 points, playing 67 games. Not what you’d expect from an elite prospect in the AHL, but let’s remember the chaos that was the Blues minor league system last season. Working out a deal to partner with one minor league team was a move they had to make this off-season. This will be a big season for Kostin. The Blues control the path of the San Antonio Rampage, and they plan for Kostin to have a major role in the team. Kostin should enter this season ready to roll, he will be challenged to control the games and be “The Guy.” The 19 year-old recently tore up the Blues’ development camp and he needs to hold onto that momentum to infuse into his game this season. He’s fueled by the promise of the NHL, and the Blues may have to give him a taste or he could end up calling Putin after next season.
NHL Projection: 2nd half 2018-19 or start of 2019
First 82 GP Point Projection: 47
NHLe 82 GP Projection: 16 (based on his AHL stats, take it with a grain of salt)
NHL Comparable: Evgeni Malkin/Rick Nash
Bokk seems to be another one of those shoot-first players. Someone who wants the puck on his stick with the game on the line. His defensive awareness is probably his biggest downfall, but his stick work makes up for it. Bokk was considered a top-15 talent going into the draft, but the Blues saw the opportunity to take him when they traded up to the 25th spot in the 1st round. I’m excited to see what he can do with the big league club in Sweden, the Vaxjo Lakers, this upcoming season. I will be keeping tabs on him and the rest of the top prospects in a running section throughout the upcoming Blues season, stay tuned. Bokk is still a few years out from really competing for a spot on the roster. By then, the team could look a lot different.
NHL Projection: 2021
First 82 GP Point Projection: 48
NHLe 82 GP Projection: 55 (used his junior team stats in the SHL projection, another grain of salt situation)
NHL Comparison: Patrick Laine/Leon Draisaitl (German love)
Blues fans love smash-mouth hockey and that’s exactly what Foley brings to the table. High energy and high skill is what’s in store for this prospect’s future. He’ll be a fan favorite in no time. You’ll see exactly what Foley’s gameplan is in the video above; take the puck wide, drive the net. He’s your net-front presence on the powerplay. He’s not as skilled as some other players in this list, but he’ll definitely outwork them. He has great speed, a huge asset in today’s game. Foley had 88 points in his 110-game college career while playing a few seasons with Jake Walman at Providence College. Foley will start the first year of his ELC this season, likely to start in San Antonio, and can bring a physical edge that the Blues could be able to use later in the season.
NHL Projection: 2019
First 82 GP Point Projection: 36
NHLe 82 GP Projection: 30
NHL Comparison: David Backes
There are others that could be included in this list; Tanner Kaspick, Alexey Toropchenko, Scott Perunovich, Evan Fitzpatrick, and David Noel, to name a few. Regardless, the Blues AHL affiliate San Antonio is going to be a team to watch this season. While you enjoy the Blues resurgence back into the playoffs, this Rampage team will be on, well, a rampage! It’s been a long time since the Blues were this stocked with quality prospects and the fans should take notice. Armstrong has kept this team’s future intact while bringing in pieces to compete this season. Sorry to say, it’s going to be a long road to a Stanley Cup with the monsters in the East. Tampa and Toronto have stocked and loaded up to win right now (Karlsson/Tavares.. how in the world..), the Penguins will be there per usual, Capitals are defending champs, Winnipeg and Nashville are above the Blues in the division (whether you accept it or not). The Kings added Kovalchuk, and I don’t believe they’re done adding yet. San Jose will be a formidable opponent per usual, and who knows if Vegas goes on another run to a Cup final. Nothing is impossible, but the chances of the Blues breaking that 50+ year curse in the next couple years is highly unlikely. However, the faith and will to win will always be there.
All I’m saying is, enjoy the ride this season, but don’t forget what’s in the pipeline. There’s a lot of talent coming for the Blues. Tarasenko, Schwartz, Schenn, O’Reilly, Pietrangelo, and Parayko are the now, but once the young group reaches its full potential, watch out. The future is bright and I’m glad Armstrong made a point to keep that future alive. The Blues aren’t there just yet, and it would be unwise to go all-in at this point in the process. The Blues are entering what I would call a “competitive rebuild,” (yes, I just made that up) stay competitive until the cavalry arrives. As previously mentioned, the Maple Leafs are stocked and loaded. They’re stocked and loaded after the Tavares signing, but it was created through development of homegrown talent. Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Kapanen are 4 players under the age of 22 that are significant pieces the Maple Leafs success. The Blues can take the Leafs model of rebuilding and implement it into their own system on the fly.
Did you miss it?
How could you possibly miss it unless you were on vacation with no service. Tavares signed a 7-year, $77M contract with the Maple Leafs. Like I mentioned in my previous piece, “Free Agent Frenzy Preview,” you can blow all your money on the Leafs now. But wait, there’s more frenzy! Erik Karlsson is rumored to be headed to the Tampa Bay Lightning, you now have my permission to place your bets on Tampa too! Wow, Yzerman is one aggressive S.O.B., and he’s hurting my spirits more than a goal scored from right outside the blueline in double OT (wtf Jon Casey..).
Other notable signings since we last shared words:
James van Riemsdyk (PHI) – 5 years, $35M ($7M cap hit)
Paul Stastny (VGK) – 3 years, $19.5M ($6.5M)
James Neal (CGY) – 5 years, $28.75M ($5.75M)
Calvin de Hann (CAR) – 4 years, $18.2M ($4.55M)
Michael Grabner (ARI) – 3 years, $10.05M ($3.55M)
Mike Green (DET) – 2 years, $10.75M ($5.375M)