The saying “life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get” is very applicable to hockey prospects. The St. Louis Blues got shown that during the 2022 Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
The Blues have often sent a squad up to Michigan for this yearly look at team’s draft picks and unsigned players in on a tryout. The results have been as up and down as the play of those involved.
The Blues have “won” some tournaments in the past. They’ve also finished somewhat poorly too and that’s more what we got in 2022.
St. Louis ended up going 1-2-0 in their three games during these intersquad matchups. However, it was not the losses in and of themselves that were bothersome, but the way it happened.
All three games were blowouts. The Blues won their lone victory 8-3 and then got destroyed by a combined 14-2 score – evenly distributed in two 7-1 losses – in the other two games.
The win was sandwiched by the two disappointing showings. However, this is what you get from guys that are learning how to transition the way they play.
Most of these guys are 18 or 19, with a few exceptions. Other than a few guys with pro experience in Europe, most everyone involved in Traverse City is learning a more pro style after playing in junior.
Many fans wonder what the difference is. It’s quite large given almost everyone drafted was a giant fish in a little pond and now has to find a new role.
The amount of guys that can continue to be a top line player in the NHL is relatively small, so they have to learn to do things not expected of them in some instances. A guy who has been a top-line winger his entire life might not always know to backcheck at 100% or a center might need to learn not to make certain passes when everyone is as talented as you or more.
The Blues saw a lot of youthful mistakes in their prospects three games. The last was particularly disappointing.
The result of a 7-1 loss is somewhat immaterial. When you take six penalties and the Dallas Stars score on three of those, that’s more an indicator on where some of these players stand.
Talent levels are up and down, but a lack of maturity and situational awareness is often what leads to penalties at any age. For example, Tyler Tucker can’t take a cross checking penalty 12 seconds after Zachary Bolduc was sent to the box for a high stick. Dallas only managed one goal during that five-on-three and subsequent five-on-four, but you’re not doing your team any favors.
The Blues prospects were slightly better in their day one loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They only took three penalties there, though all three were in the second period. Perhaps the result of the long change?
Even in the victory, the Blues went to the box far too much. Maybe the refs called it too tight, but St. Louis had 11 penalties and there were 19 infractions handed out in total against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
18-year old Landon Sim got the only goal in the first loss. Bolduc got the only goal in the last contest. Coincidentally or not, Matt Kessel got the assists on both.
The Blues got tons of scorers in their 8-3 win. Sim added two more, Jake Neighbours got on the sheet, Bolduc added his second overall, Kessel hit the back of the net and free agent invite Andrei Bakanov scored a hat trick.
On the positive side, it was a very good showing for Sim. He finished with three goals and five points in his three games. Not a bad first look for a sixth-round pick.
Bolduc was up and down. He finished with two goals and four points, which is great. He also was a minus-three overall and a minus-six during the team’s two losses. Bolduc even admitted to not being as involved in all aspects of the opening loss as he should have been.
Neighbours was a bit of a non-factor. Of course, you’d like to see him dominate guys at this level, but we’ve already seen him against pros and he faired well enough. A simple one-goal performance in three games isn’t too worrying.
Unfortunately, Colten Ellis took a big hit. He got rocked in both losses, allowing nine total goals in two starts and getting yanked about halfway through each one. Ellis will probably not lose any positioning on the depth chart, but he was likely hoping a solid performance might bump him up a notch.
In Ellis’ defense, he didn’t get much. Neither did Will Cranley.
Cranley won the game against the Leafs, but faced 31 shots. He also let up a total of eight goals, though perhaps he gets more of a pass since he got a win and the other two games were in relief when the team wasn’t playing well anyway.
Kessel looked good offensively. He notched a goal and three points. However, the Blues simply have too many similar players ahead of him for this to have made a significant impact on their plans.
Overall, it is what it is. You can’t expect perfect performances from a team that was assembled about a week ago, playing together for the first time while also trying to figure out their individual game.
You feel bad for Ellis, getting shelled like that, but it’s hard to tell if he just had an off weekend or if the defense just did not show.
As mentioned, the wins and losses aren’t that important to anyone other than us fans. You’d like to have had more solid performances though and it simply speaks to the inconsistencies of this current group of prospects to win in a blowout and get blown out in the two losses.
We need not overreact to this particular prospects tournament. A poor showing here doesn’t mean any of these guys won’t be solid pros.
It does indicate that some, if not many, are farther away than we might have guessed.