The St. Louis Blues have not had too many high draft picks in most of our lifetimes. It is actually quite amazing how consistent and good the Blues have been despite their lack of high draft picks.
Since 1990, the Blues have only had three picks in the top 10 overall and that includes their 10th overall pick this coming draft. The other two selections were Alex Pietrangelo, fourth overall in 2008 and Erik Johnson, first overall in 2006.
The last time the Blues had a pick in the top 15 was 2010. They selected Jaden Schwartz then.
Did any name stand out among those three? If you said Erik Johnson, you would be correct.
Johnson has had a solid NHL career. He won a Stanley Cup, has played 15 years as of writing this, and regularly contributed over 20 points.
However, a solid career is not what you expect from a first overall draft pick. You expect a player that is a true number one defenseman and a pillar for your team.
That’s no fault of Johnson. He was highly touted and was going to be a top 10, if not top five, pick even if the Blues did not select him.
The Blues selected based on need in that draft. They knew they needed a top defender for the future and made their selection based on that instead of taking the best available.
The plan was not unsound. The team was hoping that they would have a pairing of Johnson and Barret Jackman for a decade and be a force with that duo.
Jackman never quite acclimated to the game once the rule changes on clutching and grabbing went into effect. Johnson had a good career but was never really suited to be a top-pair defender.
Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Claude Giroux were all selected in that draft. Maybe they don’t play the same with the Blues, but it’s hard not to wonder if any of those names might not have been better overall picks than selecting Johnson, especially considering he only lasted three seasons in St. Louis.
All that is to say that the team’s fortunes might have been vastly different if they selected based solely on talent. They selected a player because they felt they needed a defenseman and it didn’t work.
We face a similar circumstance heading into the 2023 draft. The Blues have plenty of decent players, but they’re in need of someone they can consider a top defender.
It’s much easier said than done, but you have to develop one. Expecting a draftee to be a top defender simply because they’re the most highly touted at the time of the draft is a mistake.
Defenders are similar to goaltenders. It takes them longer to develop because the change in speed at the highest level.
Most analysts seem to agree that David Reinbacher is the best defensive prospect available. It’s near impossible to tell how well he might translate.
Beyond being a young player, he spent last year in the Swiss pro league. He’ll have the advantage of playing against professional men, who are going to be stronger and wiser.
However, many European leagues play on Olympic sized rinks. That means it’s much more open and a very different style of defense because it’s often much less physical.
6’2 is fine for height, but he’s also only 185. If you’ve got any hope of someone playing this season, or even next, you can’t really be waiting on them to grow into their body on defense. The Blues already have enough trouble with their guys getting outmuscled on the blue line.
None of this is to even put down Reinbacher or any of the other defenders in this draft class. It is simply to state that the Blues need to select whomever they believe has the most talent.
If you’re going to be waiting on a player for a couple seasons anyway, why draft for a positional need you have right now? Even as deep as most contend the 2023 draft might be, it’s unlikely that someone selected 10th overall is going to play this coming season regardless of position.
If Doug Armstrong feels a defender is truly the best player available when the 10th pick comes around, so be it. Like drafting a running back in the NFL, it just feels like it would be a mistake.