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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – ST LOUIS BLUES – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #9

Top 20 St. Louis Blues Prospects

1. Jimmy Snuggerud

The Blues landing Snuggerud at 23rd overall is already looking like one of the best value picks of the 2022 draft. The University of Minnesota had one of the best lines in all of college hockey between Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies and Snuggerud, with the latter popping 50 points in 40 games as a freshman. Yes, there was a lot of collaborative heavy lifting going on that led to point sharing, but the less heralded member of the trio was not a passenger. He's a well-rounded, complete winger who might not have one true standout skill, but he's able to touch many different areas of a game. Having NHL bloodlines and the knowledge gained from a couple of years with the USNTDP prior to being drafted have been huge factors in the steep upwards trajectory of Snuggerud's growth, and he has only just gotten started.

2. Dalibor Dvorsky

Blessed with an NHL-ready wrist shot, Dvorsky’s been a hot topic for the scouting community for years. A wonderful generator of offense thanks to strong agility on his feet, creative hands, a nose for the net, and a unique ability to process the game at high speeds, he was on pace to set scoring records for 16-year-olds in Sweden’s top U20 circuit already his D-1 year. After moving along from Vladimir Tarasenko at the trade deadline, St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong couldn’t make it to the podium quickly enough to select Dvorsky 10th overall this summer. Despite a modest, yet full pro season for a struggling club in the Swedish Allsvenskan last regular season, he contributed another 25 points in 13 total U20 league games. Most impressive were his international performances, kicking things off with a Hlinka Gretzky Cup featuring 8 goals and 12 points in just 5 games, continuing as an underager at the WJC (3 points in 5 games), and then putting his nation on his back with an 8-goal, 13-point performance at the U18 Worlds, where his Slovakian underdogs only bowed out to Canada in overtime of the bronze medal game. Possessing the talent to be a future offensive dynamo at the NHL level, Dvorsky is scheduled to take the next step in his development with Oskarshamn of the SHL.

3. Zach Bolduc

Bolduc wasn’t chosen to be a part of Canada's roster at the 2023 World Juniors, but that was more of a reflection of Canada's immense depth than any deficiency with his skillset. However, he helped lead Quebec to QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles last season, which were pretty neat consolation prizes. He is a lethal shooter, as evidenced by his back-to-back 50-goal seasons. Almost all prospects who can consistently score at such a high rate find ways to be top scorers in the NHL. He already has a lot of pro-level shooting abilities, such as disguising his release point, elevating from in tight, and firing cleanly from his top speed. His skating strides are also fluid and mechanically sound, which allow him to create a lot of space for himself to get into dangerous ice. Bolduc hasn't gotten nearly enough fanfare as a first-round pick who is living up to his potential, but that is likely to change in short order.

4. Zach Dean

The Blues have to be pretty excited about the return they got for trading away Ivan Barbashev, because Dean was on an absolute tear after the trade happened, humming along as one of the QMJHL's top playoff scorers with Gatineau. He has always had the tools to be a major offensive contributor, but the Olympiques prefer more structure than the usual freewheeling seen in the league, so he focused more on his two-way game instead. It speaks volumes right now that he can produce points like this without having to cheat or sacrifice his responsibilities. He is a fast, technically sound skater who loves to keep his foot on the gas, but stays calculated with how he applies himself. Dean could crack the NHL as a bottom-six forward soon and then gradually work his way up the lineup over time.

5. Scott Perunovich

Perunovich missed most of his 2022-23 season due to a fractured shoulder that he suffered in the preseason, and it's a real shame because he was primed and ready for a big sophomore year at the professional level, following a terrific rookie campaign that saw him dress in seven playoff games for the Blues. What's most important now is that he's healthy again. The mobile defenseman was back in the AHL last season as he got himself back up to game speed, so while he’s had to wait a little longer still to record his first NHL goal, it seems like only a matter of time. The way he manages games is very impressive, using a combination of brains, feet, and hands to quickly and shrewdly move pucks out of his own end and make sure they get where they need to go to up the ice. St. Louis currently has a logjam on the blueline, but don't be surprised if they make a move to create room for Perunovich.

6. Otto Stenberg

What a year for Stenberg, who St. Louis seemed oh so happy to swoop in on at 25th overall this summer. A strong draft candidate heading into last season after not only showing up at the 2022 U18 Worlds, but getting a fairly regular top nine shift for the gold medal winning Swedes, Stenberg picked his strong-skating game up a notch with 9 points in 5 Hlinka Gretzky Cup games last summer before hitting some bumps in the road with his Frölunda club back home. 26 points in 14 total games for his club’s U18 team were just fine, although his clip of under a one PPG pace at the U20 level and an up-and-down showing in 23 SHL games scratched away at his status as a likely 1st rounder. That all changed at the U18 Worlds when he willed Sweden to a silver medal with 16 points and a +13 rating in 7 games. At his core, Stenberg is a gamer who can spearhead an attack and keeps his opponents on constant alert. He drives the play and creates lanes for prime scoring opportunities, be they for himself or for his teammates, shooting and passing with a strong level of proficiency. A leader and all-areas plugger, a big season with Frölunda would be the logical next step on his path to the NHL.

7. Nikita Alexandrov

Alexandrov would have to pass through waivers to return to the AHL this season, and St. Louis surely knows that some other clubs would happily pounce on that opportunity. Luckily for them they got to see 28 NHL games out of the German-trained Russian in 2022-23, and the results were encouraging. He has a snappy, clean release on his shot, and is an expert at looking off goalies before firing. When handling the puck, he can tuck it close to his body or keep it out at arm's length, depending on what makes more sense. He has ice running through his veins, playing with an unwavering concentration that is borderline unsettling at times. As nice as it is that he never gets too rattled or dejected, that also makes you wonder a bit if he'll ever struggle to raise his intensity in situations that call for it.

8. Joel Hofer

Hofer was given a legitimate tryout late in the season so that St. Louis could get a better look at him against NHL competition, and between his performances there and his rock-solid play all year in the AHL he seems ready to assume the role of Jordan Binnington's backup. Whether that actually happens this fall, or if he has to wait until the following season, is still undetermined. Regardless, the pathway for his career over the next few years is crystal clear. He's huge and unflappably even-keeled and has put in the work asked of him since his draft year to improve his fluidity and refine his technique to acceptable professional levels. His game is still skewed towards the former attributes more than the later, but the overall package is very impressive. Hofer has the potential to become a bonafide NHL starter one day.

9. Theo Lindstein

One of three 2023 St. Louis 1st rounders, two of which were Swedes (and the third of which also played in Sweden), Lindstein’s selection was regarded by many in the industry as a bit of a reach. He nonetheless entered the 2022-23 season as one of the more accomplished 2023 prospects after having made a 12-game SHL debut and winning gold at the U18 Worlds as a 16-year-old the season before, making him look like a probable late first rounder heading into action. The combination of Lindstein’s somewhat bland draft season, average size and weight, and a general lack of offensive punch has us questioning his overall upside, yet his game features excellent lateral movement and solid puck-handling capabilities, while his mobility with and without the puck in all game situations is high in comparison to most rearguards in his age group. Also, getting into 37 SHL games as a 17/18-year-old attests to his maturity, especially considering how he was force-fed 19-27(!) minutes of ice time over the final 3 relegation round contests. No longer in the SHL, Lindstein is now scheduled to play for Brynäs next season in the 2nd tier Hockey Allsvenskan.

10. Michael Buchinger

The 2022-23 season was a major disappointment for a Guelph Storm club that started off the season on wobbly footing and never managed to find their balance, but it all would have gotten so much worse were it not for Buchinger, who was an absolute rock on their back end. No matter how dire things got he remained committed and unflinching, so it's easy to understand why his coaches gave him mountains of ice time. He displays an advanced understanding of all aspects of his defensive positioning and is comfortable being entrusted with key responsibilities. There are still some questions about how well he will be able to transition from the junior level to the professional level. When he was drafted, there were also concerns as to whether he was one of those “jack of all trades” types that would have a difficult time finding a role. The rapid progression he showed this year has altered the perception of his NHL upside. With a strong skating base, improving puck skill, and high hockey IQ, Buchinger could very well develop into a top four defender.

11. Simon Robertsson

At this point, the Blues are patiently waiting for Robertsson to have a breakout offensive season. He has the upside as a skilled scorer, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together. If it doesn’t happen this year, will it ever?

12. Quinton Burns

Rehabbing from an injury suffered at the U18’s, Burns may not be ready for the start of the OHL season, but the 2023 draft selection is a gamer. He loves to mix it up physically and thinks the game at a high level. St. Louis will be looking for improvement in his puck management this year.

13. Juraj Pekarcik

The big winger had a breakout performance at the U18’s, leading to a high selection by the Blues. He offers up intriguing offensive upside because of his skill level and on puck play. He’s headed to the USHL this year to play for Dubuque, despite being a high pick in the CHL Import Draft.

14. Tyler Tucker

No longer exempt from waivers, the Blues will be faced with a tough decision regarding Tucker this season. It’s obvious that they like the physical defender out of the UHL, but does he truly skate well enough to be a long-term fixture? He should at least be the team’s 7th defender this year.

15. Matt Kessel

A former UMass standout, Kessel’s first pro season in the AHL was a pleasant surprise from an offensive perspective. A big, physical defender, he keeps things simple with the puck, but that efficiency proved very effective. He looks like a future NHL contributor.

16. Aleksanteri Kaskimaki

Kaskimaki’s post draft year wasn’t a great one. His off puck play and overall compete level are still concerns. However, the skill is abundant. Hopefully he can use his strong showing in the Liiga playoffs last season as a springboard to a strong, consistent 2023-24.

17. Tanner Dickinson

Finally cleared for action after recovering from a gruesome broken leg, Dickinson will be looking to get his pro career back on track. If Blues’ development camp was any indication, he hasn’t lost a step despite the injury. One of the best skaters in the system, Dickinson brings great versatility to the ice.

18. Leo Loof

Loof is a dependable and steady presence on the blueline who has signed with St. Louis and will be playing in Springfield this year. He doesn’t have tremendous upside, but his well-rounded game makes him a potential third pairing option down the line.

19. Vadim Zherenko

Zherenko has bounced around in recent years, from the VHL in Russia, to Liiga in Finland, to finally the AHL last year. He was solid in his North American pro debut and has given the Blues some hope that he can develop into an NHL netminder.

20. Marc Andre Gaudet

Gaudet’s play last year split between Chicoutimi and Sherbrooke earned him a contract from the Blues. One of the better defenders in the QMJHL, he is an intelligent two-way defender with a big point shot. What kind of role he ends up playing at the pro level remains to be seen, but he’ll test those waters this coming season.