A big talking point on St. Louis Blues social media lately is the idea that the team might as well trade off their current assets to gain draft picks and prospects. The plan is that the Blues need to repackage themselves and gaining draft capital is the way to do it.
This is puzzling. It makes sense in other sports, specifically the NBA and NFL where draft picks often make an immediate impact the season following their draft.
Like baseball, the NHL works on a different pace. First overall selections are often put in the NHL right away, but that’s because the team that selected them is usually so bad they don’t have any better options.
With notable exceptions, put that same player on a current playoff team and they probably don’t crack the lineup or are a bottom-six player. Like baseball, most draft picks take several years to really be ready to produce at a high level on the professional stage.
So, why do we think the Blues need to go that route? It makes no sense given the current makeup of their team.
The Blues currently have 11 players under contract through the summer of 2025. You would only decrease that to nine players if you extend it beyond that offseason.
That’s a good amount of players signed to long-term deals. Most of them are not in the early stages of their careers like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas.
The Blues are going to be in win now mode for awhile. Perhaps they won’t be “all in” every year in that period, but they’re not going to do a rebuild. A true rebuild would waste the prime years of guys like Kyrou and Thomas while waiting for the new batch to reach the level they are at right now, much less where they’ll be at in a couple years.
On top of that, there is no guarantee of success with top draft choices. The social media throng seems to think it’s automatic that you get good draft picks and you win.
The Edmonton Oilers are a prime example of that not working.
In 2007, the Oilers had three first-round picks with Sam Gagne, Alex Plante and Riley Nash. Gagne had a decent Edmonton career with over 100 goals with the team, but never amounted to a first round pick really; Plante played barely a handful of games in the NHL and Nash never suited up for the Oilers.
Jordan Eberle was the first rounder for the Oilers in 2008. He was a solid mid-20 goal scorer, but the Oilers never build much around him.
No offense, but Magnus Paajarvi was a waste of a pick in the first round of 2009. After a good rookie season, he actually had more bright spots with the Blues than the Oilers and that’s not saying a ton.
Taylor Hall was a great selection with the 2010 top pick. He’s now doing well with the Boston Bruins after being mostly a malcontent in Edmonton.
Second rounders can be steals sometimes. Tyler Pitlick was the 2010 second rounder of the Oilers and now he’s a fourth-line player on the Blues because of injuries. Not what you’d hope from the 31st overall pick.
From 2011 through 2019, the Oilers have always had a selection in the top 10 of the draft except 2017. While Nail Yakupov was a huge swing and miss, they’ve landed on quality players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi and Connor McDavid.
Puljujarvi is the main question mark out of those names. Kailer Yamamoto would be the only other one they’re waiting on for development.
Regardless of the level the players reached, the Oilers are still not that great overall. Yes, they’ve got an incredible top line, but they’re not championship material no matter how much you want to drool over McDavid.
Since 2005-06, when the Oilers made the Stanley Cup Final, they’ve reached the playoffs four times. They’ve made the playoffs seven times this century. I would suggest the 2022 trip to the conference final was an aberration, not the norm.
You can’t just say it’s the Oilers front office either. It happens elsewhere.
Alexis Lafraniere was supposedly the consensus top pick in 2020. While some of it is New York media driven, there are trade rumors now because he wasn’t ready to go right out of the chute. Some are now suggesting that Tim Stueztle might be the best player out of that draft.
None of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL Draft played a full NHL season right out of the gate. How dare they not be ready yet.
Circle back to the Blues own draft history – hint, it’s not great. They passed on the better overall player to select a need in 2006 when they had the top overall pick. Erik Johnson is a decent NHL defender, but he’s no longer on the Blues and the player they passed on won three Stanley Cups as the Chicago Blackhawks captain.
The bottom line is that tearing apart what is a talented, yet underperforming team in an attempt to find the next big thing is not realistic. The Blues are built to win in the present, not in the future.
Acquiring potential that you still need to rely on right now instead of known quantities is just gumming up the works. Even at those top picks, you just don’t know what you’ll get.
For every Sidney Crosby, who had 102 points his first season, you’ve got a Nail Yakupov that had 31 points. You’ve got guys like Owen Power, who may develop into a Hall of Fame player for all we know, but didn’t even really play in the NHL his first year.
Jack Hughes played right away, but isn’t looking like a true star until his fourth season. Brady Tkachuk has always had solid numbers for a second line player. He hasn’t transitioned to a star until he hit his fourth season too.
As a Blues fan, do you really want to be a wild card team or miss the playoffs the next four years while hoping the 2023 draft choice pans out? Sure, Kyrou and Thomas would still be in their prime, but everyone else that would still be under contract would have wasted their prime.
The caveat to this is if the Blues honestly know their pending free agents will not be back. If it’s an absolute no on signing an extension, then perhaps you try to trade a Ryan O’Reilly or Vladimir Tarasenko simply to get something rather than nothing.
You can get decent players in the mid-to-late first round and an occasional steal after that. However, this idea that getting someone from this draft class will magically change the fortunes of this franchise is foolish.
The Blues don’t need to tank. They need to stay in contention and let their own draft picks develop at the proper pace.