Monday, July 1, 2013

Blues feel they had a solid draft despite no first-round picks

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: July 1, 2013| Contact  |

It was a rather quiet Sunday afternoon for the Blues. The club’s contingent was seated on the draft floor at the Prudential Center for the league’s 2013 draft, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on that involved the club, at least early on in the draft.

 The Blues came into Sunday afternoon with no first round draft picks. The club was not willing to trade away any roster players to move up in the draft, so the team, headed by general manager Doug Armstrong, had to wait patiently for their turn. The focus at the draft was not on the draftees, but rather on the possibility of a hectic day trade-wise. Rumors had been swirling all week, and many expected Sunday to be an active day. For the Blues and for the National Hockey League in general, it didn’t live up to the hype.

The Blues were on the board at No. 47. The reason the Blues were without a round one pick was because they had traded away the pick to the Calgary Flames earlier in the year as part of the deal that brought defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis. With the draft projected to be a deep one, Armstrong knew it wasn’t necessary to move up, something that would have been out of the question just a few short years ago. In fact, the Blues had just four picks, the fewest number since 1983 when the club did not attend the draft. However, the club was very happy with their four picks when the draft concluded.

The two picks that most intrigued Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong were the club’s first two.

At No. 47, the Blues selected defenseman Thomas Vannelli, who split last season between Minnetonka of the Minnesota High School League and Team USA under-18 team of the United States Hockey League. The 18-year old defenseman led all Minnetonka defensemen with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in 25 games. He had two points in 14 games with Team USA.

The Blues had their sights set on Vannelli, so it was a bit of a no-brainer for them when he was still available at No. 47.

“We liked the upside,” said Bill Armstrong. “(He’s a) tall, skinny kid with lots of room to grow physically. We love his game mentally. He has the ability to move the puck and he has top-four ability. He has got to work, he’s raw, but at the same time, we really liked his ability.”

Vannelli said his game is most like that of Chicago’s Nick Leddy, or Edmonton’s Justin Schultz. Vannelli likes to create offense, but says he doesn’t sacrifice defense.

“I’m an offensive-defenseman,” said Vannelli. “I like to move the puck to my forwards and join the rush. I’m responsible in my own zone, too.”

Vannelli had a feeling the Blues were interested in drafting him. He said he had several interviews with the team and talked to them at the combine as well. He said he couldn’t be happier to be a Blue.

“It’s a really great feeling,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine this day going any better. It’s a great feeling having your name called. You dream about this day for awhile and once it’s here, it goes by so fast.”

While Vannelli is nowhere near NHL-ready, his preparation will begin next season at the University of Minnesota. Vannelli, a Minnesota native, said the decision was easy and commented that the coaching staff will help him prepare for the NHL. The Blues will obviously keep watch over Vannelli’s development.

The club had another prospect that they wanted on their team, and were able to show it in the second round. The team chose to trade away their 83rd, 94th, and 113th overall picks to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 57th overall pick, which the team used to draft William Carrier. Carrier, an 18-year old left-winger, was happy to see the Blues show that much interest in him.

“It’s always special to see a team that is interested in you, so, that was great when I saw that trade,” he said. “I didn’t expect it at all. That was great.”

The Blues like Carrier because he does a bit of everything. Carrier spent the past three seasons in the Quebec Junior Hockey League with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He had 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) in 34 games, but spent much of the season sidelined with a high-ankle sprain. Carrier was also forced to miss the Top Prospects game, a chance for players to impress NHL scouts. This is potentially the reason Carrier was still there for the Blues at No. 57. Carrier has second-line potential in the NHL according to Armstrong.

“He (also) has some upside. He has the ability to play in your top six,” said Bill Armstrong. “He has the ability to score, to make plays. We were really excited about going after a guy like that. Sometimes you can sit and wait and see what comes to you, but we felt that we could go after him and Doug was able to do that with some picks.”

“(I’m) a power-forward, so I do everything out there, fight, score goals, bring some offense, bring some defense,” said Carrier.

The six-foot, 198-pound forward was ranked 18th among North American Skating by NHL Central Scouting.

To finish up the draft, the Blues sent pick No. 203 and a 2014 fourth-round pick to Nashville in exchange for pick No. 112. They used that pick to draft St. Louis native Zach Pochiro.

Pochiro, 19, played in the Western Hockey League last season. He had 15 goals, 39 points in 65 games. The Blues knew of Pochiro, who told the club he has always been a big Blues fan, but it wasn’t just because of his ties to St. Louis that the club drafted him.

“He was born here, which is a good thing, said Armstrong. “He always told us he was a big Blues fan so that certainly helped, but more importantly, his determination, ruggedness and his grit. We are really interested in seeing him come to Traverse City.”

The Blues’ final pick of the draft was Santeri Saari, a native of Helsinki, Finland. Saari was ranked 116th among European skaters.
The Blues left the draft satisfied, and ready to begin preparation for next year’s draft. This year may not have been a usual one for the Blues, but the rebuilding process has ended, and the Blues like their current team. However, the club still felt they were able to pick some solid players for the future.

“The area that we were picking in, we were able to acquire the guys we wanted, which you can’t always do in some drafts,” admitted Armstrong. “We were patient with Vannelli, but at the same time, Doug was able to go out and chase some picks for us and put together a chance for us to get Carrier. It worked out for us.”