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McKeen’s 2020-21 Hockey Yearbook: St. Louis Blues Top 20 Prospects

McKeen's Top 20 New York Rangers prospects for the 2020-21 season. You can read an organizational assessment prior to the draft in Ryan Wagman's article found here. Following the draft we provided a review on each teams performance based on our rankings found here.

  1. Scott Perunovich, D (45th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 1)

There are late bloomers and there are late exploders. A few weeks after signing with the Blues, shortly after the premature end of his freshman season with Minnesota-Duluth, Perunovich justifiably won the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top men’s ice hockey player in NCAA. He is very small, but his skating has improved since being drafted to now be a real draw for his game. He can generally hold his own in his own end, but the best way I can describe his game is by recapping the sequence that led to a goal against Western Michigan this year. Perunovich got puck at his own blueline, and tried to pass it to center ice, but the puck went off an opponent's skate, bouncing right back to the man in question, who then skated it past center ice and passed to a teammate on the right boards. Immediately after passing, Perunovich kicked into overdrive and charged the net, getting the pass back from the same teammate a few feet from the crease, where he proceeded to chip it over a diving goalie and into the net. Between his high-end skating, hands, creativity and vision, Perunovich could be a star. – RW

  1. Jake Neighbours, LW (26th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

More steady than flashy, Neighbours has a stocky frame and more strength than many in this draft class, making him difficult to play against, and especially strong on faceoffs and in puck battles at either end. Even though he is not overly aggressive, he doesn’t shy away from physical play and is a very effective forechecker. The strength of his game is as a playmaker. His passing game is high end as he sees lanes that few others can, with the ability to execute on those options at will. He is equally as comfortable setting up linemates from his backhand as he is from his forehand, allowing him to play on either side of center. Neighbours will quarterback from the top of the slot and either cycle, or penetrate the home plate area, depending on the defensive structure. A high-volume shooter, Neighbours could be even more effective as a playmaker if he was more judicious in his shooting, notwithstanding a quick release that can take advantage of gaps from any angle, forehand or backhand. Regardless, I think the young center will continue to make the adjustments to maximize his ability in this game. – RW

  1. Tyler Tucker, D (200th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 2)

By improving his conditioning and becoming a more powerful and fluid four-way skater, Tucker has emerged as a serious contender for a future NHL blueline job. A throwback player, he relishes playing the body. He is very aggressive in trying to deny zone entries by stepping up on would be attackers. His improved skating has allowed him to have better gap control. He also possesses some above average offensive qualities. His booming point shot gives him the potential to quarterback a powerplay. With an improved stride, Tucker was able to make more of a consistent impact frequently jumping up into or leading the rush. Blues fans should be very happy with his progression and emergence as a legitimate NHL prospect. With his physical approach and underrated puck skills, he has the potential to develop into a quality #4-5 defender who can play in all situations. Continued improvement will be needed from his skating, primarily to maintain a stout defensive projection. Patience will be required, and he may need a few years in the AHL to adapt to the speed of the pro game. – BO

  1. Klim Kostin, RW (31st overall, 2017. Previous ranking: 3)
Sooner or later, the powerful and skillful forward was going to figure it all out; on came the 2019-20 season. Kostin reached new career highs in goals and points in the AHL and scored his first career NHL goal. His physical prowess was on full display at both levels, as the power forward’s superb puck-protection, balance, and ability to maintain skating momentum shifting back and forth on his feet impressed. His heavy wrist shot, and fast, deceptive puck-handling round out his offensive package, although his skating and acceleration can be sluggish. He seemed to unlock the capability of playing that assertive style consistently, which has boosted his confidence and his overall potential. Kostin has finally reminded us of why he was so revered in his draft year. After three full AHL seasons, it would not shock me to see him instantly placed into the top-six role he is well-suited for with St. Louis for next season. - TD
  1. Joel Hofer, G (107th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 4)
From a backup goalie who let in too many soft goals in and lose his net too frequently, to a start who kept his mask above water on a weak WHL team, to stealing a spot on Canada’s Gold Medal winning WJC roster – where he ended up the starter, Hofer has taken several big steps in the past few years. He brings a calm and relaxed presence in the crease. The soft goals have mostly evaporated, as has his past tendency to lose positioning and be forced to scramble. What’s left is an incredibly poised netminder, playing within himself and using his immense frame to do the work for him. His movement is controlled, he tracks the puck laterally very well and competes hard. His puck handling is not a strength, but most of the rest is. Hofer is able to park a bad play or a soft goal and move on and now shows NHL starter potential. - VG
  1. Nikita Alexandrov, C (62nd overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 5)
The first impression of the bulky forward is that he is a force along the boards due to his strong frame and low center-of-gravity. Alexandrov is nearly impossible to knock off the puck when he takes root along the wall, with very strong legs and a very powerful core. He protects the puck well. His acceleration is excellent due to his short and choppy stride, but his top speed is merely good, potentially holding him back at the highest level. His hockey IQ is very strong, and his reads make him strong on the backcheck and as a playmaker. Alexandrov is largely a North-South player, but he has good hands in tight, especially close to the net and along the boards. He can also be a solid net-front player, combining his strong body and quick hands into the ability to find and deflect pucks. What may hold him back is his tendency to keep it simple. Alexandrov needs more confidence in his potential to become a stronger player. At minimum, he can be a strong-willed secondary scorer at the top level but will need to work on his stride. – MS
  1. Dylan Peterson, C (86th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

One of the top defensive forwards in the 2020 draft class, Peterson combines an ideal frame, big and strong, with high end athleticism. He is an excellent skater, particularly considering his size. In the mold of 2019 first rounder John Beecher, Peterson was not used in a heavy offensive capacity for the U18s this year, but when he had the chance, he would generally be found parked in front of the opposing goalie. He has the hands to play in tight and chip the odd puck in. He can shoot from the rush as well and has soft hands. He can be counted on to carry the puck through traffic in the neutral zone, and to direct the puck smartly once the puck is in the offensive end. He plays with solid touch and can work from behind the net as well. Low end middle six is his realistic ceiling. He plays without fear while positioning himself to inflict maximal disruption, stuffing shooting and passing lanes. He could stand to be more physically assertive, but he does a nice job of taking space away and being difficult to play against. – RW

  1. Ville Husso, G (94th overall, 2014. Previous ranking: 6)

The Blues found their goalie of the future in the otherwise unheralded Jordan Binnington, but before that, their most prized netminding pupil was Husso. After a disastrous 2018-19 season, Husso needed a comeback campaign in 2019-20 to return to a high spot in the Blues farm system and his efforts with AHL San Antonio did exactly that. Behind a Rampage team which fielded a fairly weak defense, the Finn rebounded to the tune of a 2.56 GAA and .909 SV%. Husso’s raw athletic skills never faded, but his ability to read plays and confidently position himself to shut down any danger early looked much improved compared to last season. The way he propels himself laterally with his quick foot movement and long legs gives him total coverage of the lower half of the goal, and his rebound control and pre-shot preparation looked better, though his glove hand speed and positioning remain flaws. At 25, he looks like a near finished product and could be a long-term 1B goaltender for the Blues as soon as next season, especially with a frantically compressed schedule that will require the use of several goaltenders. - TD

  1. Niko Mikkola, D (127th overall, 2015. Previous ranking: 7)

Mikkola’s style of play will eventually be a perfect fit in the heavily structured, physical system of play in St. Louis. The massive 2014 fifth-round pick has been steadily maturing into a solid stay-at-home defenseman and would probably be a lineup fixture on a team with a lesser defensive core. A strong skater for a d-man with a 6-5” frame with the capability of playing heavy, demanding physical minutes against high-end opposing forward lines, Mikkola can end plays below the goal line and excels at defending with his stick and muscular upper body. With a high hockey IQ, he anticipates the moves of his opponents and, with poke checks and decent lateral agility, can effectively keep them from getting center position and testing the goaltender from high-danger areas. Though his offensive skill is sorely limited, he at least can get the puck out of the zone. Someone who plays this kind of style does not need much more polishing, and he quickly earned the trust of the Blues coaches in his five-game NHL stint with some key PK minutes. A role as a stay-at-home depth blueliner is in the near future for the big Finnish lefthander. - TD

  1. Hugh McGing, C (138th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 8)

Like Perunovich above, Hugh McGing is an undersized player who was not drafted until his third year of eligibility. In almost all other respects the Western Michigan grad is a very different kind of prospect. While the Bronco’s captains put up good numbers throughout his collegiate career, he projects as more of a heart-and-soul forward who could set up shop in a bottom six and play for years in the NHL, while occasionally moonlighting higher up the lineup as a short-term injury replacement. McGing has quick feet and a plus top speed, but he is just as notable for playing a very gritty game, getting involved in the dirty areas and coming out clean. He has skilled hands and can maneuver the puck from in tight. He is reliable in any type of game situation. Even if he lacks the dynamic skill set you want to see in a top six player, he is fun to watch and there is enough there to expect him to be an injury call up as soon as this season. - RW

  1. Keean Washkurak, C (155th overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 9)

One thing that is critical for tracking the future success of a prospect is how well they close out their draft plus one season. Washkurak did so extremely well, finishing with 22 points in the final 15 games, helping the Steelheads surge before the season was abruptly ended. While he may not have high end upside at the pro level, he is a fantastic skater and energy player who excels on the forecheck and the penalty kill. Next year, Mississauga should be a contender in the Eastern Conference and Washkurak will be a large part of that success. He has the chance to become a real fan favorite in St. Louis down the line as fans grow to love the tenacity and consistent effort that he plays with. - BO

  1. Colten Ellis, G (93rd overall, 2019. Previous ranking: 10)

The newest Charlottetown Islander is a quick netminder who dazzles with his athleticism but has the tendency to over-commit to the puck. His quick play, especially his fast feet and post-to-post movement, is enough at the Q level to shine, but will need to be coached out of his game to succeed in the pros. His size, standing 6-1”, is also not ideal. However, he is a battler who does not give up on a play, even though he might lose sight of the puck a time or two. Ellis is a fan-favorite goaltender for the highlight reel save, but those kinds of saves are usually born out of a lapse in positioning or reading the play. Having said that, there is a solid foundation of technical skills to build upon. Ellis has some work to do, but his athleticism and his hard-working nature could prove him to be a diamond in the rough. – MS

  1. Leo Loof, D (88th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

A lanky defender who skates well and hits very hard, Loof is one of a set of identical twins in the Farjestad system. Brother Linus is a center, but Leo is the one with a legitimate NHL projection. Twice named the best defenseman of his age-group in the youth levels of Sweden, Leo is also frequently called on by the national team and contributed a pair of assists to the Bronze Medal winning group at last year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup. You would like to see him improve his decision making and spend less time in the penalty box, but Loof has enough to offer to imagine a future as a #4-6 blueliner in the NHL. In addition to his wheels, he is a smart and proficient puck mover who helps keep the puck heading in the right direction. He also demonstrates admirable hockey IQ, with the look of a defender who could feature in a shutdown role and take on PK time. The main limitation to his game is a weak point shot that will curtail his offensive production and prevent him from receiving too many power play minutes. – RW

  1. Will Cranley, G (163rd overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

A late bloomer among the 2020 draft class, Cranley hit his stride in the few months before last season was cancelled. His starts were certainly sheltered a bit as Ottawa's back-up, with lots of games against the league’s bottom feeders, and put up a .925 save percentage in his final ten games. A 6-4” netminder who trending in the right direction performance-wise and possesses great athletic tools is always worthy of a draft-day gamble, even for an organization whose strength is in the crease. He sees the ice very well thanks to his size and has some of the technical components of the position well-honed. Cranley is raw and it will take time to iron out some technical issues, with rebound control a particular bugbear. However, he definitely has the make-up of an NHL netminder. First, he will need to seize the starting job with the Ottawa 67s when the OHL resumes play and pick up where he left off last season. – BO

  1. Austin Poganski, RW (110th overall, 2014. Previous ranking: 11)

The former North Dakota captain earned an NHL debut amid a 30-point AHL season as a two-way winger with speed and size. The Blues threw their San Antonio assistant captain a bone with a one-game, six-minute NHL stint, rewarding him for his reliability and versatility in the minors with a taste of the Stanley Cup champions’ roster. A strong PK guy who can control the defensive zone with his stick-positioning and one-on-one coverage, Poganski’s offensive game is evolving, notably with an improving shot and an added sense of assertiveness to carry the puck. He will never be an elite skater, but his high hockey IQ and maturity allow him to remain on the cusp of an NHL job. The fourth-round pick in 2014 has potential to be a solid, albeit unimpressive bottom-six NHL winger for St. Louis soon, though one more AHL season would help him round his two-way game out. – TD

  1. Mitch Reinke, D (Undrafted Free Agent, signed, Mar. 25, 2018. Previous ranking: 12)

Reinke is admittedly a hard player to evaluate and project, with inconsistencies and struggles mixed in with flashes of offensive brilliance and skill. After an excellent rookie season in the AHL that earned the right-hander league All-Rookie team honors in 2018-19, Reinke fell back down to earth after taking a larger helping of minutes and being assigned defensive roles against opposing top-six units. Although his positioning and initial blueline defense suppressed a good amount of shots against and kept shooters from getting inside angles, his lack of size and strength was exposed at times, and with a greater responsibility on defense, his offensive contributions at even strength and in transition were somewhat subdued. If he can balance out the two sides of the game, he can be a dynamic transition piece at the highest level of the game; his passing and puck-handling skills are high-end and his skating is strong enough to weave through the neutral zone solo. Perhaps the American will need sheltered minutes to be able to put up points in the NHL, but he can be a serviceable, depth offensive defenseman with St. Louis in short term. - TD

  1. Jake Walman, D (82nd overall, 2014. Previous ranking: 13)

Coming off his best pro season to date, the 2014 third-round selection showed again why he was once considered a top-five prospect in this system. His offensive potential that looked limited at the AHL level just one season ago appears to have blossomed with a career-best 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) in 57 games. Walman, like Poganski, was given a one-night NHL shot as a reward for his efforts with San Antonio, leading the blueline in goals and plus/minus (+3). A great skater, he plays aggressively with the puck on his stick and has improved his passing through the neutral and offensive zones. Defensively, he chooses to play the body and retrieve the puck after, using his large frame and long reach to dislodge the puck early in transitional defense. He possesses a good shot from the point and loves to use it, especially on the power play. He remains a fringe prospect who has been passed on the depth chart by other young blueliners (Mikkola and Perunovich of note) but has played himself back into an NHL conversation. – TD

  1. Tanner Dickinson, C (119th overall, 2020. Previous ranking: NA)

Immediately noticeable because of his speed, Dickinson made a solid impression in his OHL debut campaign, having spent the previous season playing AAA hockey in the Detroit area. He is explosive and gains the offensive zone with ease, also excelling as a forechecker. He has never demonstrated a great scoring touch, especially struggling to put up points at even strength, but showed a bit of a knack as a playmaker. His best attribute outside of his wheels is his hockey IQ. Despite having very little high-level junior experience, he had no problem whatsoever keeping up with the pace of the game in the OHL. Another thing that may hold him back is that he is very slight and gets knocked off the puck too easily right now. All newly drafted players need to bulk up and physically mature, but Dickinson needs to more than most. The hope here is that the lack of experience against top competition gives him a greater hidden upside than many other middle to late round picks. – BO

  1. Mathias Laferriere, C (69th overall, 2018. Previous ranking: 14)

Laferrière started a key development year on the shelf with a dislocated shoulder and missed more than a month with the ailment but came back strong to show the same offensive touch in 2020 from his break-out 2018-19 campaign. His offensive skills tend to skew more towards his strong shot than his playmaking ability, but he can open up ice with the threat of his shot, and he can feed his linemates with a strong pass. He is a jack-of-all-trades forward; as in, good in most areas, master of none. His consistency has improved in the last two years, but is still an issue at times, and he will need to bulk up to be a ready contributor in the pro ranks. Laferrière’s skillset would make him a good middle-six offensive player at the maximum of his potential, but it will take some work for him to get there. – MS

  1. Nolan Stevens, C (125th overall, 2016. Previous ranking: 15)

2019-20 was a prove-it season in some sense for Nolan Stevens. Previously an exclusively defensive player with little to offer on offense, the Northeastern alum showed he can be a 200-foot center who can wrestle his counterparts off the puck and use his large, 6-3” frame to run a beastly cycle. Improving by 13 points from last season in nine fewer games with roughly the same amount of ice time in the San Antonio top six, the son of former NHL head coach John Stevens is not much of a skater or puck-carrier, but can maintain possession for an extended duration (reminiscent of the Blues’ top skaters), and is a strong, intelligent facilitator from tight spaces. Playing deep in his own zone to assist defensively, Stevens uses his long stick to strip the puck from opponents and his big body to get into shot lanes. A restricted free agent going into next season, Stevens will likely return to the AHL club and hopefully increase his goal-scoring output to somewhere near his 24-goal final season at the NCAA level. - TD