The Blues will be looking to find that “next” Alex Pietrangelo as they try to boost their defensive corps for the future. There may also be a search for a minute munching blue-liner as Jay Bouwmeester is in the twilight of his career. There are solid defenseman in the Blues system but none qualify like Pietrangelo, who was picked 4th overall back in the 2008 NHL Draft. As the Blues appear to be loaded in forwards, the time has come to address the defensive corps. We will concentrate primarily on the right-handed defenseman prospects in the next two Drafts but will also look at those potential left-handed defenseman as there are two in particular in 2020 who may be of interest to the Blues organization.
NHL scouts are getting better at evaluating defenseman all the time and as a result we see less top pairing defenseman slip past the 1st round. Often a discussion for fans is the claim that a lot of the best defenseman in the league were not drafted in the 1st round. There are obvious examples like the Blues own Colton Parayko and further afield players like Kris Letang, Duncan Keith, Roman Josi and Keith Yandle who were all picked in the later rounds. Generally its the largest portion of the best forwards in the NHL are picked in the 1st round although there are exceptions.
These prospects picked out are the most intriguing defenseman in the 2019 and 2020 NHL Drafts and in that all Blues and hockey fans in general should keep a close eye on in the future. As most fans are aware the hockey world is changing at a rapid rate as many of the top talents are recognized before they are old enough to get behind the wheel of a car. With more video, more social media and more statistics, scouts have never had so many tools for evaluating talent.
In the 2019 Draft class we are going to concentrate on Andrew Perrott, Drew Helleson, Lassi Thomson and Case McCarthy. These players are all right-handed defenseman and are players to watch as they progress through the season.
Andrew Perrott (6″0, 202 lbs) the Detroit, Michigan native who turns 17 in late August is a big right hand shot defenseman who plays with great poise and is an excellent puck mover. Perrott is a two-way defenseman who can shut down the opposition and contribute in the offensive zone. He was a 2nd round pick in the 2017 OHL Draft by the London Knights selected 34th overall. He currently plays with Team Red in the USA-S17 but in the season past played with the London Knights in the OHL where in 62 games posted 9 points (4 goals and 5 assists). He also had 47 PIM and finished the season with -3 rating.
During the season with the Knights he was often paired with Edmonton Oilers prospect Evan Bouchard (10th overall, 2018) and complimented his partner well. Perrott is projected to be a more stay at home defenseman but with Adam Boqvist, the Chicago Blackhawks prospect (8th overall, 2018), Bouchards likely partner, Perrott may have to wait for his real opportunity. With his physicality and commitment to defense, Perrott has the potential to be a “sleeper” in the 2019 NHL Draft. If he continues to work on his skating and can become more offensive which will happen if he gets power-play time, Perrott may be worth a look for Blues scouts. Interestingly Perrott is the son of former NHLer Nathan Perrott who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars.
Drew Helleson (6″2, 168 lbs) the Farmington, Minneapolis native is 17 after his March birthday is a mature two-way blue-liner beyond his young years. He poses good speed and is efficient puck carrier as he is a main component running his teams power-play. Last season with the US National Under 17 team he posted 40 points (5 goals and 35 assists) in 61 games. He will head to Boston College (NCAA) come the fall to continue his development along with Cam York, another top defensive prospect for 2018. Helleson poses elite play-making abilities along with his mobility makes him a nightmare to play against. He plays with a more aggressive style of play by pushing the puck up the ice trying to create offensive. At times he is found to be out of position but with more development he will learn when he can pick his spots.
Lassi Thomson (6″0, 187 lbs) who turns 18 in late September is a Finnish defenseman who currently plays with Ilves U20 Juniors in the SM-Liiga. Last season in 49 games he posted 27 points (12 goals and 15 assists). Thomson will play next season in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets after he was picked 53rd overall in the CHL Import Draft. He is a defenseman who likes to rush with the puck and plays with smarts knowing when to take risks in the play. Thomson is an active and mobile defenseman with offensive skills. He plays a simple game and poses good edge work in his skating. In April he was part of the Finland team that won gold at the World Junior Championships and he contributed with 2 points in 7 games.
Case McCarthy (6″1, 194 lbs) the Clarence, New York native turned 17 in January is committed to national powerhouse Boston University for the 2018-19 season. Last season with the US National Under 17 team he had 18 points (4 goals and 14 assists) in 41 games. There are some that believe that McCarthy is the second best US defenseman for the 2019 Draft behind Cam York. He doesn’t have the highest of offensive sides but is a very competent defender and can release a heavy shot. Overall he plays a quiet and steady game with nothing too flashy.
Also worth a mention and other players to watch are Victor Soderstrom and Oliver Turan as well as left sided defenseman Bowen Byram, Cam York, Matthew Robertson, Tyler Kleven and Marshall Warren in the 2019 Draft.
Although the NHL Draft for 2020 is some time away, after careful analysis and research, these 4 right-handed defenseman along with two further left- handed defenseman are certainly worth a further look. We will analyse Jamie Drysdale, Justin Barron, Gerard Keane and Ruben Rafkin along with left sided defenseman Lleyton Moore and Kaiden Guhle if the Blues choose to boost their left handed defensive corps for the future. These two players in particular have potential to be absolute gems come Draft time.
Jamie Drysdale (5″10, 163 lbs) the Toronto, Ontario native just turned 16 in April and will play in OHL next season with the Erie Otters after being selected 4th overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Drysdale was named the GTHL player of the year with the Toronto Marlboros with 50 points (8 goals and 42 assists) in 57 games. The biggest thing that separates Drysdale from the rest is his skating. He makes it look effortless and has that boost of acceleration when he needs it. His edge work is NHL caliber. His first-step is explosive, and make a great first pass. Always a threat coming out of the D-zone, due to his numerous weapons.
He is one of the elite defenseman in his age group and plays with smarts that he controls the play from his own end. At this point he has all the attributes to be a number- one defenseman at the OHL level. Watching the Erie Otters next season just got a little more interesting for NHL fans as his progression is inevitable.
Justin Barron (6″1, 187 llbs) the Halifax, Nova Scotia native turning 17 in October played his rookie junior year with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL after being selected 13th overall in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft. Last season he posted 21 points (2 goals and 19 assists) in 51 games which was further highlighted by his inclusion to the QMJHL All-Rookie team for 2017/18. Barron has a great hockey sense and is a very smooth skater who can move the puck very well. With his good size he is expected to be one of the top pairing defenseman in the QMJHL as he continues his development. His brother, Morgan was the New York Rangers sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft
Gerard Keane (5″11, 170lbs) the Homer Glen, Illinois native turned 16 at the end of January will suit up for the London Knights in the OHL next season. He was drafted 42nd overall by the Knights in the OHL Priority Selection in April past. This past season with the Chicago Mission Bantam Major team he had 8 points in 20 games. He is the younger brother of Barrie Colts defenseman Joey Keane who was selected by the New York Rangers in the 2018 NHL Draft (88th overall 3rd round). Keane is a great skater and is very efficient with his puck management. He could be the new-age defenseman who already has a high compete level.
Ruben Rafkin (5″11, 185 lbs) hailing from Finland just turned 16 in January will suit up for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL in the 2018/19 season. He is committed to the University of Denver for the start of the 2020/21 season. Last season with the Selects Hockey Academy Under 16s he posted 44 points (10 goals and 34 assists) in 47 games. He is a solid two-way defenseman who has the ability to be an impact player with the dynamic offensive he provides. A world class player for his young age and will likely represent Finland in many international tournaments.
The two left handed defenseman in the 2020 class that the Blues may look towards are Lleyton Moore and Kaiden Guhle. Both have been scouted as cant miss prospects.
Lleyton Moore (5″8, 163 lbs) a Saskatoon native who turned 16 in February will play in the OHL next season with the Niagara Ice Dogs after being selected 12th overall in the OHL Priority Selection. Playing along side mentioned prospect Jamie Drysdale with the Toronto Marlboros he posted a very impressive 50 points (16 goals and 34 assists) in 54 games. Moore is a rare special talent who is the ultimate game changer. He has tremendous spatial awareness and often creates something out of nothing. Moore has the potential to be a 1st unit NHL power-play quarterback. He poses a skill set that does not come around that often but also is player who prides himself on his defensive game and is willing to go into the dirty areas. He is a player that fans will be excited to watch now and for years to come. As the NHL has become all about speed, skill and vision he poses all those attributes in abundance.
Kaiden Guhle (6″2, 190 lbs) a Sherwood Park, Alberta native who turned 16 in January was the 1st overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft for 2017 taken by the Prince Albert Raiders. He is a smooth skating defenceman with a tremendous on ice presence. He does it all, he can be that shutdown defenseman but also be that player who puts up points every night. Its his obvious leadership that separates him from the rest and this was emphasized by him being named the CSSHL top defenceman in the Bantam Prep Division. Last season with the OHA Edmonton Prep he posted 39 points (14 goals and 25 assists) in 35 games. The sky could certainly be the limit as time goes on for this kid and hockey fans should watch this kid now as we will talking about him a lot more next summer.
Regarding the top prospect for 2020, fans will soon find out about Alexis Lafreniere if they haven’t already. Lafreniere is already drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby. He is the first 16 year old in the history of the QMJHL to record a 40 goal season since Crosby did so back in 2004. With his 80 points (42 goals and 38 assists) in his first season of junior hockey is even the more impressive as Conor McDavid scored 66 points in his rookie year with the Erie Otters and we all know what he turned into ! A player to watch and the first time most fans may see him will be when he takes part in the Team Canada roster for the 2019 World Junior Championships.
All of the players mentioned have magnificent skills however at this point it is nearly impossible to predict how a 15, 16 or 17 year will turn out come Draft time. There has been speculation and observation while conducting this piece and things can obviously change over the next year to 18 months.
With all been said, the time is now for the Blues to pick that defenseman in the next two drafts as a top pairing defenseman in general takes longer to develop. With a renewed focus on speed and skill in today NHL it is increasingly being built for younger talent. In turn this has led coaches, analysts, scouts and even fans to put even more emphasis into building the team through the Draft. It is tried and tested, just need to ask the Stanley Cup winners of recent times.