Blues make small haul at NHL draft

2013-07-01T00:45:00Z 2013-08-21T19:32:07Z Blues make small haul at NHL draftBy Jeremy Rutherford 314-444-7135

If the Blues wanted, they could have driven their 2013 NHL draft class back to St. Louis, all in the same sedan.

After starting out Sunday with six amateur selections, the club made two trades that dropped the class down to only four prospects, the fewest for the organization since 1983, when it didn’t attend the draft because of ownership issues.

But as one might expect, the Blues were high on their foursome, including one player who will be making a homecoming of sorts when he does make his first trip back to St. Louis.

The Blues selected defenseman Thomas Vannelli, left winger William Carrier, defenseman Santeri Saari and center-winger Zach Pochiro, who was born in St. Louis but moved with his family to Las Vegas when he was a year old.

The club started Sunday with six picks but did not have a first-round choice after trading it to Calgary in the trade for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester last April. The indications were that the team would not move up into the first round, and that didn’t change.

“We really had to be patient at the table,” said Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong, “and keep reminding ourselves to be patient and wait for it to come to us and we did …we were patient.”

Finally, in the second round, at pick No. 47, the Blues heard their name and, in turn, they called the name of Vannelli. Vannelli, 18, is a puck-moving defenseman from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School and the United States Development Program.

“An offensive defenseman,” said Vannelli, who compared his game to Edmonton’s Justin Schultz. “I like to move the puck to my forwards and join the rush. I’m always thinking offense, but I’m responsible in my own zone, too.”

Armstrong said that Vannelli, who is 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, has top-four potential on the blue line.

“He’s a skinny kid who’s got a lot of room to grow with some strength,” Armstrong said. “He’s far away from the National Hockey League right now, but he’s got anywhere from three to four years of school in front of him. We really liked the way that he came on and he played for the U.S. team. We thought he played to make a difference and we were really happy and excited to get him.”

The Blues weren’t scheduled to pick again until No. 83 overall in the third round, but in a trade with Edmonton, the club acquired No. 57 overall in the second round in exchange for No. 83 and two fourth-round picks (Nos. 94 and 113).

Armstrong used the additional second-round pick on Carrier, a left winger who plays for Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“He was a super sleeper for us,” Armstrong said. “He was injured a majority of the year. He’s got some real good poise, he’s got some real good offensive ability, so we’re pretty excited and we think he can be a top-six forward.”

Carrier is perhaps considered a sleeper because he missed the second half of the season in the QMJHL with a serious injury to his right ankle. He erupted for 40 points in his first 24 games, but then suffered what was originally diagnosed as a high-ankle sprain and turned out to be a torn tendon. A rehab process that lasted 12 months cost him the remaining 34 games of the season.

“I was in the corner doing a battle,” Carrier said. “The ankle just popped out. Kind of bad luck. I had a rough year with the injury, so getting drafted in the second round was a dream come true.”

Carrier said that his ankle is 100 percent and the Blues are confident of that, too.

“We’re not worried about it,” Armstrong said. “We did a lot of research about the kid. He didn’t play the second half of the season and we went back and watched some tape and went through our scouts and just really did a thorough job on him. When you’re picking at that point and he’s still on the board, we wanted to go after him and make sure that we got him.”

Asked if three picks was a lot to get another second-round pick, Armstrong replied: “Yes and no. We were looking for a top-six player and we were willing to give it up.”

After the trade with Edmonton, the Blues were without a fourth-round pick, but they made a second deal Sunday to acquire one. They received the 112th overall pick from Nashville, sending the Predators their seventh-round selection (No. 203) and a fourth-round pick in 2014.

They used the fourth-round pick on Pochiro, 19, a forward who plays for Prince George of the Western Hockey League. He had 15 goals and 24 assists in 65 games in 2012-13 and led his club with 105 penalty minutes.

“I play physical, I’ll fight, I’ll block shots and offensively I think I have some skill to my game that makes me unique,” Pochiro said. “I’m a two-way player.”

Pochiro is also a fan of St. Louis sports teams.

“My mom and dad worked at the Casino Queen, and something happened to that, so they ended up shipping out to Vegas,” Pochiro said. “My favorite teams are the Rams, the Cardinals and the Blues. My dad was a big fan of Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan. I live and breathe St. Louis. You can look at my room. It’s so emotional to be St. Louis out of all the teams.”

The Blues used their final pick on Saari, a defenseman who played for Jokerit Jr. in Finland last season.

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Highlights Sports features Gossip

Get weekly ads via e-mail