ST. LOUIS - Another Blues Prospect Camp is in the books.
Thirty NHL hopefuls got a taste of what it might take to make it to the big leagues last week after participating in four days of strenuous on-ice and off-ice workouts at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall. The prospects also got to see the unbelievable commitment from some current players, such as when Alex Pietrangelo was working out early in the morning just two days after his wedding, or when Ryan Reaves came to town to lace up the skates on Friday.
“Not often do you get to see the every day work that these pros go through,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ Director of Player Development in charge of organizing this year’s camp. “Now these young players see it and start to understand it and hopefully apply it when they go back home.”
Here are five things we learned at this year’s camp.
1. Tage Thompson is pretty good at hockey. And Snapchat.
The Blues bet big on 6-foot-5 forward Tage Thompson by trading up in the first round to pick him at 26th overall. Thompson will enter his sophomore season in the fall after leading the NCAA in power-play goals (13) as a freshman last season at UConn.
“Tage is a big player and you don’t usually get centermen that are 6-foot-5 with the physical presence he brings,” said Taylor. “He’s a player our scouts feel with his size, can bring a lot of speed - especially in the Western Conference where we’re looking for bigger players up the middle. He could be a guy that after a year or two in college, he might be ready to step in.”
We turned the keys to the Blues’ Snapchat Account (stlouisbluesnhl) over to Thompson throughout Prospect Camp, which resulted in a few fun behind-the-scenes glimpses into camp, including pictures and videos from a team trip to Busch Stadium for a Cardinals game last Tuesday.
2. Ville Husso could be the real deal.
Back in 2014, the Blues’ scouting staff was surprised to see goalie Ville Husso still available in the fourth round of the NHL Draft, so they grabbed him before another team could. At the time, Husso was considered the top European goalie available.
Today, he looks as good as advertised.
“He has experience of playing in men’s leagues back in Finland,” said former Blues goalie Fred Brathwaite, who worked with the goalie prospects last week alongside Goalie Development Coach Ty Conklin. “The composure he has in the net, the way he reads the game, I see a really bright future for him in the Blues organization, for sure.”
After spending three seasons with Helsinki in the Finnish Elite League, Husso is ready to make the jump and will compete to become the third goalie on the team's depth chart behind Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. Expect Husso to suit up for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL this season.
3. Vince Dunn drives fast. Evan Fitzpatrick drives slow.
Prospect Camp featured plenty of long days and tedious workouts: both on the ice and off of it. But after 5 p.m. each night, it also featured some fun and games, such as go-kart racing at Gateway Kartplex, a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium and even a cook-off challenge.
As far as the racing goes, it was Vince Dunn - a 2015 second-round pick - who had the fastest lap at Gateway Kartplex, clocking in at 40.57 seconds. Goalie Evan Fitzpatrick, the Blues’ second-round pick in 2016, had the slowest lap (42.57 seconds) and took home the “Goon of the Race” award.
We promise, his glove hand is quicker than his go-kart driving.
4. The future looks bright
In addition to Thompson and Husso, plenty of young players impressed at camp. Dunn is only 19 years old but appears to be playing beyond his years. Conner Bleackley, a former first-round pick who re-entered the draft and was selected by the Blues in the fifth-round this year, will likely begin competing with the Chicago Wolves this season. Justin Selman, a prospect camp tryout last year that earned an entry-level deal in March, also impressed.
While players definitely can stand out with strong performances in practice and scrimmages (see Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko at last year's camp as examples), the primary intention of the camp is to get players familiar with the commitment it takes to be an everyday pro.
“It’s not a camp where you’re taking total evaluations of players or where they’re going to play in the lineup,” Taylor said. “We’re just trying to get a feel for personalities and where they need to get to to get to the next level. We feel very confident with these young players. It’s our job to educate them and motivate them to be an everyday pro as quickly as possible.”
5. St. Louis loves its hockey
It’s July - a time when fans aren’t thinking much about hockey - but the four-day Prospect Camp was jam packed every day at the Ice Zone, proving once again that St. Louis just can’t enough of the game.
Fans turned out in droves to watch the daily practice sessions and scrimmages, often having to find standing room along the perimeter of the rink to catch a glimpse of the future of the Blues.
“It’s great to see the fans come out and support these guys. They feel that support,” Taylor said. “It really dangles that carrot for these kids when the fans come out. They want to be part of the Blues organization, they want to be that player whose name is on the back of a fans’ jersey.
"It’s great to see them come out and support all these future Blues.”