In drafting three forwards and two goalies Saturday in the NHL draft, the Blues are hoping what they lacked in quantity they will make up for in quality a few years down the road.
Only once since 1983, when the Blues did not participate in the draft shortly after the league blocked their move to Saskatoon, have the Blues had fewer picks in a draft.
Without a first-round pick this year because of the Ryan O’Reilly trade with Buffalo last July, the Blues had to wait until Day 2 of the draft — held this year in Vancouver, B.C. — to join the party.
At the end of the second round, No. 62 overall, they made center Nikita Alexandrov from Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League their first pick. After the pick was made at Rogers Arena, home of the Canucks, the Blues’ victory song — “Gloria!” — was played in the arena.
By the end of the day, three of the Blues’ five picks were from the league known as the “Q.”
“(Alexandrov’s) a guy that came on late,” said Bill Armstrong, the Blues’ assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting. “He’s had some huge, huge playoffs out there.”
Over two postseason with Charlottetown, Alexandrov had 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 24 playoff games. Bill Armstrong, no relation to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, likens Alexandrov to current Blues center Tyler Bozak.
“He’s got some similarities,” Armstrong said. “He kinda plays like him. He’s somebody that we followed all year. We thought we could get him at the end of the second, and we were able to.”
During the regular season, Alexandrov had 27 goals and 34 assists.
“It’s a really great organization,” Alexandrov said. “They have a lot of good players. It’s exciting to get drafted by the Stanley Cup champion. And now we can win some more.”
Alexandrov is of Russian descent but was born and raised in Germany. After a long career in European professional hockey, mainly in the DEL (German Ice Hockey League), Alexandrov’s father Igor settled in Germany. Nikita Alexandrov says he visits his grandparents nearly ever summer in Russia.
The Blues spoke with him at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, so he knew they were interested.
“But you never know what’s gonna happen in the draft,” he said. “So obviously I’m really happy that St. Louis picked me and I’m looking forward to it.”
Bill Armstrong said the Blues were impressed with Alexandrov’s speed, hockey sense, and willingness to play inside.
“He’s really got some good top-end speed,” Armstrong said. “He creates a lot off the rush. He goes to the dirty areas. He gets involved. The biggest thing for him is he’s always in the right place at the right time.”
The Blues also selected forwards in the fifth and seventh rounds, adding center Keean Washkurak from the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League at No. 155 overall and left wing Jeremy Michel from Val d’Or of the Quebec League at No. 217 overall with the last pick of the draft.
Armstrong described Washkurak as “a little rat that’s got skill. He’s someone that never gives up. He’s always in the mix. Loves to get involved. Physical game. We really like his effort.
“He’s got some wheels. He can push the pace. He can be dirty and nasty, but at the same time he’s got some skill.”
Only 17, Washkurak had 16 goals and 31 assists last season for Mississauga. He was voted the hardest worker in the OHL’s Eastern Conference in a coaches poll. Michel had 16 goals and 42 assists playing for Val d’Or in the Quebec League.
The Blues selected a goalie last year in Joel Hofer, and have Ville Husso and Evan Fitzpatrick in their minor-league system, but you can never have enough.
“As you know, when you’re winning a seventh game (in the Stanley Cup Final), they come in handy,” Armstrong said. “It takes a long time to develop goaltenders. They’re such an important part of it.
“If you can land the one your staff wants, it’s always good to sign one every year to kinda keep feeding the pipeline.”
This year it was two:
- Colten Ellis from Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec League was taken with the last pick of the third round, No. 93 overall. (Fitzpatrick and Jake Allen also were drafted by the Blues out of the “Q.”)
- Late in the seventh round the Blues went to Russia for goalie Vadim Zherenko from MHK Moscow Dynamo.
Ellis was considered the top goalie prospect in the Quebec League this year and was rated the No. 8 North American goaltender this year by NHL Central Scouting.
“He’s got elite sense as a goaltender; he’s got great goaltender IQ,” Bill Armstrong said. “He’s a competitor. The one thing that stands out for us is the background and his character. His hard work. And his ability to get better and improve all the time.”
“There’s things that they have to work on. Like any junior goaltender they got weaknesses. But he’s aggressive. He comes out, he challenges. And we’re ecstatic about him.”
Ellis has piled up experience for Rimouski Oceanic, with a 60-23-1 record over two seasons. This past season he went 27-15-2 with three shutouts and a 2.47 goals-against average.
Alexandrov, Ellis, Washkurak and Michel all will be back in junior hockey next season as they continue their development. Those four are expected to be in St. Louis this week for the Blues’ prospect camp at Enterprise Center.
As for Zherenko, the Blues picked up an extra pick Saturday when they traded a seventh-rounder in the 2020 draft to Toronto for the Maple Leafs’ seventh-round pick in this year’s draft — No. 208 overall. They used that pick on Zherenko, who had a 2.29 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in 19 games for Moscow Dynamo.