Even though Blues GM Doug Armstrong hasn’t had the best picks when it comes to how high they are in the draft, I still believe that, in the past few years, Armstrong and the Blues scouting department have made some great picks in the NHL Entry Draft. So let’s take a look at these drafted talents by St. Louis and go through MY top five St. Louis Blues prospects.
NOTE: I am classifying a prospect as a player that is 24 years old or younger, and a player that is currently Calder Trophy eligible for the 2022-23 season.
#1: Jake Neighbours, Left Wing, 20 years old, 26th overall pick in 2020
If you told me two years ago when Jake Neighbours was drafted that he would be the best Blues prospect, I would’ve called you insane. I just would not believe you, but that’s how much things change in two seasons. Neighbours just finished his 4th complete season with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, and to say he was incredible is a massive understatement. In 171 total games with the Oil Kings from 2017-2022, Neighbours put up 60 goals and an insane 116 assists for 176 points, which puts him at about 1.03 points per game. His past season was somewhat riddled by injuries but in the 30 games he did play in for Edmonton this year, he had 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points. So, 0.567 in goals per game (15th in WHL), 0.933 assists per game (9th in WHL) and 1.5 points per game (7th in WHL).
If Neighbours had played a fully healthy 68 game season, he would’ve been on about a 39 goal, 63 assist, 102 point pace (102 points would’ve put him 4th in the WHL). Of course, you have to note that Neighbours was the Captain for Edmonton this past season, and he captained them to their first WHL Championship in 8 years. What I’ve loved the most about Neighbours, especially last season, is how much his skillset has grown since he was drafted. He has massively improved his handling of the puck, and his skating has really grown as well. He’s always been a pass first type of player and this year he really showed that this past season. I absolutely believe that he starts full time this season for St. Louis, and he’s very, very deserving of it. A great leader, a playmaking machine, and a WHL champion. What else to say?
#2: Jimmy Snuggerud, Right Wing, 18 years old, 23rd overall pick in 2022
I know it may be hard to believe that a player that St. Louis just drafted is already a top three prospect in the organization, but my counter to that is Jimmy Snuggerud is EXTREMELY deserving of a top three spot. I did a lot of coverage before the draft and he was one of my absolute favorites that St. Louis should take at 23, and they did just that. Snuggerud played 26 games for the US National Team Development Program Juniors team and had six goals and 20 assists for 26 points, which of course, is a point per game. However, he played most of last season with the US National U18 Team, playing 59 games. In those 59 games he had 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points (about 1.07 points per game). You may wonder why a player that was 6th in points on the US U18 team is in the top three for Blues prospects.
I think that using just points to describe Jimmy Snuggerud’s game is very incorrect, because there is so much more to his style of play compared to others on this list. Snuggerud was arguably the best support player in the entire 2022 draft, and his two-way style is one of the best for wingers from the draft. EliteProspects.com scout Mitchell Brown rated Snuggerud a 79 in offense, an 83 in transition game, and an incredible 97 in defense. His passing and shooting metrics are extremely strong and he has one of the better hockey IQ’s from this year’s draft class. He was able to read plays in both ends extremely well to help his team. So, even though the counting stats for Snuggerud aren’t totally eye-popping, it’s the other things that put him so high. Snuggerud is committed to the University of Minnesota for the 2022-23 season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes the team sooner rather than later.
#3: Scott Perunovich, Defenseman, 23 years old, 45th overall pick in 2018
It feels kinda wrong to still consider Scott Perunovich a prospect as he played in a little bit of the regular season and most of the playoffs for St. Louis, but he is still Calder eligible as he has not played 23 NHL regular season games in his career yet. Perunovich is still by far the best defenseman in the Blues’ prospect system, and he showed last season in his limited time with Springfield in the AHL that he still holds that crown. Unfortunately, he had another injury plagued season, getting in just 17 AHL games and 19 NHL regular season games. When he was with Springfield however, he was an absolute dynamo on the back end, ESPECIALLY on the powerplay. He put up three goals and 19 assists for 22 points in those 17 games. He earned AHL Player of the Week honors back in October 2021 after he put up one goal and five assists in just three games.
From 2017-2020, he played with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and had 20 goals, 85 assists, and 105 points in 115 total games with the school. Perunovich of course won back to back National Championships with the Bulldogs in 2018 and 2019. Perunovich was the leader in points with 36, AS A FRESHMAN, on the 2017-18 championship squad, becoming only the 4th defenseman ever to lead a championship team in points. Perunovich followed that season up with 29 points in 2018-19 and a team high 40 points in 2019-20. As of late however, the injury bug has hit him pretty hard during the past few seasons, but I am a firm believer that he can still live up to his potential as a powerplay quarterback and a top 4 defenseman for St. Louis. He’s likely going to be full time next season, and I hope to see a future Torey Krug in the making from him.
#4: Zachary Bolduc, Center, 19 years old, 17th overall pick in 2021
Now, we get to the scoring machine of the pool. Zachary Bolduc has played in 147 games in the QMJHL over the past three seasons. He played for the Rimouski Oceanic from 2019-2021 where he had 40 goals, 41 assists, and 81 points in 82 games. You can already tell that he’s a pure goal scorer and that’s why St. Louis reached a little bit to get him at pick 17 in the 2021 draft. However, in the 2021-22 season he put it all together for the Quebec Remparts. In just 65 games, Bolduc had 55 goals (2nd in QMJHL), 44 assists, and 99 points (8th in QMJHL). He lit it up for Quebec, putting up about 0.85 goals per game this past season.
He was an offensive dynamo in every way, especially on the powerplay. His defensive game prior to this past season needed some work and he honestly improved it a lot in 2021-22. He was very aggressive on the puck, which created offense for others, as well as himself. I was able to watch a lot of Bolduc at the Blues development camp a month ago, and he showed that when he gets the puck, he is going to make a play no matter what. And that’s what you really want to see from him. His shot release is absolutely incredible. He may now be the best player in the entire Blues organization who can beat goalies with quickness and efficiency, and yes, I mean over guys like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jordan Kyrou. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Blues prospect that is as gifted as Bolduc. May take him a little bit to reach the NHL full time, but when he gets here he is going to make an immediate impact.
#5: Joel Hofer, Goaltender, 22 years old, 107th overall pick in 2018
It’s always difficult to evaluate goalies, and especially prospects, because there’s always very little year to year consistency from them. Joel Hofer is in that area, but I still believe that he is on the upside for STL prospects. Hofer just finished his first full professional season with Springfield where he had a .905 save percentage while having a somewhat iffy 18-14-8 record. Remember though, consistency with goalies is always off the charts, and Hofer proved that by putting up a stellar .934 save percentage in 10 playoff games for Springfield. His past seasons in the WHL were solid, posting an overall save percentage of .911 in 115 total WHL games. Talk about clutch gene though, in the 2020 World Juniors he had a .946 in 6 games for Canada’s gold medal winning squad.
I honestly believe that there is still a chance that Hofer can thrive with more time in professional hockey, and his playoffs for Springfield were just the start. Maybe the goalie of the future if the Blues don’t have Jordan Binnington 3-5 years from now. It takes a lot of time for goalies to develop, and we saw that with Ville Husso. I think that with more time, Hofer will end up thriving really well in the Blues organization, as he’s already had a great playoff performance in professional hockey when he was just 21 years old. He’s got pretty solid fundamentals for a goalie prospect and he’s pretty quick when it comes to moving laterally. Let’s hope he continues to develop strong in the organization.
So there you have it! My top five prospects in the St. Louis Blues organization. STL has done some pretty good drafting in the past few years, and hopefully that continues for the future. And hopefully these five players, along with all of those that didn’t make the list (Leo Loof, Tyler Tucker, and Nikita Alexandrov just to name a few) live up to their potential as well. We can only hope.