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Tarasenko tops Blues' batch of prospects

by Dave Lozo

The St. Louis Blues had their fair share of struggles from 2005 to 2011, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of six seasons. But with those setbacks come high draft picks, which the Blues used to transform themselves into an elite team in the Western Conference last season.

There's still plenty of talent in the system, so much so the Blues dealt goaltender Ben Bishop to the Ottawa Senators last year because of a logjam at the position.

The next prospect to get a chance is a talented Russian, but who else do the Blues have that will make an impact down the road? Here are 10 talented players in the system who have yet to play 20 NHL games.

Vladimir Tarasenko, selected 16th overall by the Blues in the 2010 NHL Draft, is expected to see his first NHL action sooner rather than later.
(Photo: Noah Graham/Getty Images)

1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW: He has yet to play a game in the NHL, yet on the Blues' website, he's listed on their main roster and not the prospects list. It's a sure sign the 6-foot, 200-pounder will be a member of the big club when camp breaks.

Tarasenko played his first Kontinental Hockey League game as a 16-year-old and has grown into one of the top prospects in all of hockey. He was a force on Russia's gold-medal team at the 2011 World Junior Championships with four goals and seven assists in seven games, tied for second at the tournament with countryman and Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov.

2. Jaden Schwartz, LW: The 20-year-old made had a seven-game stint with the Blues toward the end of last season. In two years with Colorado College, Schwartz had 32 goals and 56 assists in 80 games.

There may not be room for the 5-9, 179-pound native of Melfort, Sask., when the season begins, but it shouldn't be long before he reaches the NHL after some time with the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League.

3. Ty Rattie, RW: The 32nd pick of the 2011 draft had a dominating season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League last season. In 69 games, the 5-11, 170-pound Rattie had 57 goals and 64 assists to finish third in the league in scoring. In 21 postseason games, he had a league-best 19 goals and his 33 points were second behind Portland teammate Sven Bartschi, the top prospect of the Calgary Flames.

Still only 19, the undersized Rattie has some growing to do. The Blues could give him one more season at the junior level or let him get a taste of the professional life in the AHL. He probably won't see the NHL this year.

4. Philip McRae, C: The 22-year-old from Apple Valley, Minn., has cut down on the penalty minutes and shown he can score at the AHL level. The son of former NHL player Basil McRae had 23 goals and just 26 PIMs in 71 games for the Rivermen last season.

That's a change from the 6-2, 200-pounder's game in recent years. He averaged about a penalty minute per game at the junior level, but perhaps McRae is learning he's more effective on the ice and hurting his team by spending so much time in the penalty box.

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5. Jake Allen, G: The Blues' organization is probably one of the last a young goaltender wants to find himself with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott on the big club, but Allen is doing everything he can at the AHL level to show he belongs in the NHL.

The 22-year-old split time the past two years with Ben Bishop, who was traded to the Ottawa Senators last season. Allen's 2.93 goals-against average and .915 save percentage weren't great last season, but he was ranked in the top-20 in those categories in 2010-11. Now that Bishop is gone, Allen will have a chance to prove he can handle the workload on his own.

6. Jordan Schmaltz, D: The Blues' first-round pick in 2012 has size (6-2, 180) and offensive talent on the blue line with 10 goals and 41 points in 55 games split between Sioux City and Green Bay of the USHL last season.

7. Joel Edmundson, D: At 6-4 and 200 pounds, the 19-year-old is not just a physical force -- he can be a playmaker, too. He had four goals and 19 assists in 56 games for Moose Jaw of the WHL last season. Edmundson missed time at the start of last season with a high ankle sprain.

8. Dmitrij Jaskin, RW: The 19-year-old was the 41st pick in the 2011 Draft, but his numbers weren't great last year for Slavia Praha of the top Czech league. In 30 games, he had just one goal and one assist, but he has the goal-scoring talent that shouldn't stay hidden this year.

9. Brett Ponich, D: The 21-year-old was steady in his first season at the AHL level. He'll never be mistaken for Paul Coffey with only five assists in 61 games for Peoria, but he was an even player in terms of plus/minus.

10. Max Gardiner, C: The 19-year-old could use some heft on his 6-foot-3, 187-pound frame, but he showed promise in his first year at the USHL level with Dubuque with 12 goals and 26 points in 50 games.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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