Blues general manager Doug Armstrong recently returned from a trip to watch the club's top prospects play with the organization's American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.
Armstrong was in attendance for the Wolves' 3-2 shootout loss to Milwaukee on the road Friday and their 2-1 regulation loss to Iowa at home Saturday.
Chicago has a record of 9-7-2 (20 points) and sits in eighth place in the AHL’s Western Conference.
“I try to get up there once a month if I can,” Armstrong said. “Our scouting staff is in there quite a bit … Kevin McDonald, Dave Taylor and Timmy Taylor. But I like to see it for myself.
“We didn’t get the results that we wanted (Friday and Saturday). I thought we played much better than the one point that we got. But there are a lot of bright lights going on there right now. They got off to a rocky start, but things seem to be moving ahead.”
Armstrong especially wanted to get an up-close look at forwards Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie, defensemen Joel Edmundson and Jani Hakanpaa and goalie Jake Allen.
Jaskin, the No. 41 overall pick of the Blues in 2011, has three goals and seven points in 10 games. He missed eight games with an upper-body injury, but has returned strongly.
Jaskin recently had a game in which he produced 10 shots on goal, and despite the missed time, he is tied for second in the Wolves’ lineup with 42 shots. He has a plus-minus rating of plus-3.
“I certainly like the play of Jaskin,” Armstrong said. “He has come back from an injury and played very well. He has a nose for the net. He funnels the puck to the net. He’s got excellent puck protection skills down low, very tough to get the puck from. His pace, I think he needs to continue working on his pace, and improve his quickness. But he certainly looks like a really good NHL prospect.”
Rattie, the No. 32 overall pick in 2011, has five goals and seven points in 18 games. He’s a minus-2.
“Rattie is finding his game at that level,” Armstrong said. “He finds his scoring opportunities. Each game he probably gets three or four good chances. He just has a knack for the net. The other areas of the game, he still has to work on. The other part of the ice (defense) is still a work in progress, but we knew that coming in and so did Ty.
“I know that he’s working hard at that, and the coaches are playing him a lot and putting him in good defensive responsibilities, where he’s going to have to grow. To be successful, we’re going to need him to be a good player down there, and as I said, for his first year pro, we’re really seeing some positive things.”
Edmundson (No. 46, 2011) and Hakanpaa (No. 104, 2010) are in the midst of a long development process. Edmundson has one goal and is a minus-1 in 16 games. Hakanpaa has one goal, too, and is a plus-4 in 14 games.
“They are going through those first year growing pains,” Armstrong said. “But you see progress there.”
The Blues’ prospect closest to playing regularly in the NHL is Allen. He has played 13 games and has a record of 8-3-2 with one shutout. He owns a 2.28 goals-against average and a .928 save-percentage.
“Jake Allen played one of the two games and was very good in a shootout loss,” Armstrong said. “He’s been the backbone of that team so far, and it looks like he’s really on the right track. Right from training camp, he got down there, got settled in. He plays a majority of the games down there and has earned that right. He looks very, very comfortable.”
Allen has a one-way NHL contract with the Blues in 2014-15, so it’s fairly solidified that he’ll be with the parent club next season. But with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott playing well this season, it is looking less likely that Allen will see action in the NHL this season, unless Halak or Elliott begin to under-perform or there’s an injury.
“Jake understands the situation that we’re in here and he’s worrying and controlling what he can control, which is his play on the ice,” Armstrong said. “Every time we see him, we keep saying the same thing: ‘You’re on the right track, keep going. You’re more a victim of circumstance right now than anything. It’s not going to hurt you to play every night down there this year, either.’”