Part 29 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Top 3!
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
2. St. Louis
4. NY Islanders
7. NY Rangers
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#2: St. Louis Blues
Top Fws: David Backes, T.J. Oshie, David Perron
Top Ds: Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk
Top G: Jaroslav Halak
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. D Alex Pietrangelo (22)
2. D Kevin Shattenkirk (23)
3. D Ian Cole (23)
Top 5 Prospects
1. F Vladimir Tarasenko (20)
2. F Jaden Schwartz (20)
3. F Ty Rattie (19)
4. G Jake Allen (22)
5. F Philip McRae (22)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: B
The Blues have built a team based on much of the same philosophies as their division-rival Nashville Predators; namely, a strong group mentality and team focus as well as a willingness to grind it out. While they don't look overwhelmingly strong at any one area, there's good depth throughout the organization and their batch of young players continue to improve year-to-year.
It'd be nice if their players can stay healthy; for example, Perron and Andy McDonald are arguably the Blues' two most skilled forwards, but have combined for a total of just 150 games between the two of them over the past 2 seasons. While the team can roll four lines, that plan becomes moot when players start hitting the IR. Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott were brilliant for 95% of last season, then promptly faceplanted in the wake of the Kings' multi-faceted offensive firepower.
The Blues' strengths in their system lie up front and in goal. Jake Allen leads a small-but-talented group of goaltenders, while the Blues have a multitude of prospects at center and on the wing. Vlad Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are arguably the best one-two punch in any system's forward group, and guys like Brett Sonne, Ty Rattie and Evgeny Grachev look like they could be fighting for spots in camp as early as next season.
While the defensive group is solid overall, the team lacks a major topnotch blueline prospect. The forwards are mostly 3rd and 4th line types and a few of their skilled prospects up front have hit snags in their development. The Blues will likely see top prospects Schwartz and Tarasenko graduate to the big club this season, but the team doesn't have anyone to replace them within the system.
The Blues got off to a rough start in 2012. Limping along in the early stages of the season, GM Doug Armstrong eventually said enough's enough and went out and got a hardass coach to prod the Blues along in Ken Hitchcock. Almost immediately, the team was transformed and they found themselves in an unfamiliar position at the end of the season; 2nd in the West and holding home-ice advantage for the first time since the Chris Pronger era in St. Louis.
St. Louis has spent the last few years patiently biding their time and acquiring young assets, and that patience has been rewarding. The Blues have one of the best young cores in the league, and a strong group of prospects to boot. Names like T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron and Patrik Berglund will lead this team for the foreseeable future and they've got young prospects coming up at all positions.
The Blues will look to build on their surprise 2011-12 season by following it up with an even better one. They're likely to be among the top teams in the league for a long time.