Not unlike the L.A. Kings, St. Louis has been a team that spent much of the last decade planning for the future, one that started to arrive over the last couple of years. The Blues are loaded and have begun to reap the benefits of a proper rebuild.
St. Louis is deep beyond the NHL boasting an array of prospects that most franchises would be envious of. Even after trading away Ben Bishop the Blues are secure with Jake Allen on the farm and Jordan Binnington further down the pipe.
There are some potential gems on the blueline like a personal favourite in Joel Edmundson. Brett Ponich, Jordan Schmaltz, Jani Hakanpaa and the AJHL's Colton Parayko are all worth taking note of.
I expect Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko to be in the NHL this year so didn't look at them for this series. I am a believer in both that they can grow into NHL stars one day.
Ty Rattie is destined for a big year in the WHL and Canada's U20 squad and was almost my pick for this series. The Alberta native is driven and definitely motivated after slipping out of the 1st round in 2011 and getting cut from the 2012 WJC team. I wouldn't bet against him this year.
The player I went with isn't expected to be star in the NHL but my curiosity is high for him this coming year as he joins a team that has yet to play the first game of its existence.
Max Gardiner (C)Penn State Nittany Lions
6'3, 190 lbs
Drafted 74th Overall in 2010
It's bound to be an exciting year for NCAA hockey as Penn State joins the ranks of Division I programs. I recently had PSU head coach Guy Gadowsky, and Edmontonian, join me in studio for a full hour to preview the coming year.
During our conversation I brought up Max Gardiner and asked the coach if it was fair to consider him PSU's marquee player in its first season. Not only is he already drafted but Gardiner is one of the few players on the team this year with Div I experience having played a single season with the Golden Gophers. He left the school and played in the USHL with Dubuque last year but is back in college this season.
"[NCAA] is a league that it's not so easy to jump into and he went right out of high school to Minnesota and he probably wasn't ready. That's not a knock on him, that happens to a lot of people. He's a 3rd round NHL draft choice and he went back to the USHL, matured a bit and had a good year. We expect big things out of him; he's got great legs for a big guy and has a good head. I think it remains to be seen who will be our marquee player but we're certainly happy to have him."Gardiner managed just 3 points and played onl7 17 games as a freshman at Minnesota. As Gadowsky described, the big forward might not have been ready to take that big step to collegiate hockey at a young age. It's a notion that others agree with.
With the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Gardiner appeared in 50 contests and contributed 26 points, less than half the total of leading scorer, 17-year-old Zemgus Girgensons (BUF) of Latvia. He was also outscored by rookie defenceman Michael Matheson (FLA).
Without trying to read to much into that, perhaps that's a sign of offensive limitations for Gardiner. At 6'3 and nearly 200 lbs, Gardiner may be more suited to a energy, banger role but maybe he'll show an offensive touch this year at PSU.
Again, he's not as flashy of a prospect as someone like Ty Rattie or Vlad Tarasenko but the the story this year is captivating. Does the production go up after taking a step back to the USHL last year? Might his experience at this level with the Gophers make him a candidate to be a captain at PSU? How will the Nittany Lions perform in year one? Is Gardiner bound to be the marquee player for the program this year like I believe he will be?
For those reason I have pick Max Gardiner as my "One to Watch" among prospects of the St. Louis Blues in 2012-13.