Blues make deals to move up in draft

News-DemocratJune 30, 2013 

After sitting out the first round of the NHL draft on Sunday because of the Jay Bouwmeester trade, St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong pursued two trades to move up a bit higher than scheduled.

"He really worked," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues' Director of Amateur Scouting. "He put some stuff together for us and it was a combination of our scouts wanting players and him being creative and finding a way to get those players at the right time of the draft."

The deals left the Blues with only four picks, their lowest since 1993 when they sat out the draft entirely while ownership was feuding with the NHL over the sale of the franchise.

The last time they drafted just four players was 1979.

The Blues' highest pick was in the second-round (47th overall) and they used it to select Minnesota high school defenseman Tommy Vannelli.

Vannelli (6-foot-2-inches, 165 pounds) is a University of Minnesota recruit who joined the U.S. National Team Development Program after his senior season.

He played for the U.S. squad at the 2013 under-18 tournament, helping the team to a silver medal.

Vannelli had eight goals and 31 points in 25 games for Minnetonka (Minn.) High School. Most scouting reports like his skating and puck-moving skills, but also say he needs to add more muscle and strength.

"We just kind of waited and he came to us, so we're excited," Bill Armstrong said. "We think he could be a top-four defenseman; he's got the size and the skating and he's got the shot to score. He's very raw, he's a few years away and he is going to take some time to get there."

Vannelli said the Blues showed a lot of interest during the NHL draft combine. The team has pursued many players from Minnesota and current Blues David Backes and T.J. Oshie both played high school hockey there.

The Blues also used the first overall pick in 2006 on another Minnesota native and University of Minnesota recruit, defenseman Erik Johnson.

"I interviewed with them a few times, pretty much in depth, so in the back of my mind I knew it was a possibility," Vannelli said. "I was hearing late first or early second round, so I landed pretty much where I expected. But to hear my named called was still a really good feeling."

Vannelli felt he benefited from his recent international experience.

"It was good going with the U.S. program, the coaching staff, and the players I was with definitely pushed my game to another level," said Vannelli, who played in one game with the U.S. team during his high school season. "In the back of my head I knew it was an opportunity, but it was still a little bit of a surprise when they called me (back)."

Vannelli, a finalist for the prestigious Mr. Hockey award in Minnesota, said the offensive side of his game is a particular strength.

"I'm an offensive defenseman, moving the puck and joining the rush,," he said. "Right now I'm rounding out the defensive side of my game."

Vannelli said his career hockey highlight thus far is playing with the U.S. squad at the world championships in Russia earlier this year.

"We were excited with the way that he played at the world championships," Armstrong said. "He came out of a Minnesota high school, so it was great to see him in that environment with 15,000 people in Russia. He also got to play in that championship game."

After drafting Vannelli, the Blues dealt three picks (their third-round pick and two fourth-rounders) to Edmonton for an additional second round pick at No. 57 overall.

They used that pick on winger William Carrier, who played for Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Despite battling an ankle injury, Carrier (6-1, 198) still finished the season as his team's leading scorer with 16 goals and 42 points in 34 games.

"He's a super-sleeper. He's a wild card for us," Armstrong said. "We really dug deep on him and he was a little bit of a puzzle because he didn't play much this season because of the injury. Doug really went after some picks and put something together so we could go get him.

"He can skate, he can score and has some great vision."

Bill Armstrong said Carrier was also hurt a bit draft-wise since he played on a below average team.

"He's certainly someone that we kept track of over the years in the Quebec League," Armstrong said. "We did our research and we're very happy that we got him."

The Blues swapped picks again and moved up into the fourth round, this time taking St. Louis native Zach Pochiro. The Blues sent their seventh-round pick in 2013 and a fourth-rounder in 2014 to the Nashville Predators for the Preds' fourth-round pick this year.

A rugged forward who isn't afraid to drop the gloves, Pochiro (6-1, 161) had 15 goals and 39 points in 65 games last season for Prince George in the Western Hockey League.

Before signing with Prince George, Pochiro had 18 goals, 34 points and 154 penalty minutes in 52 games with Wichita Falls in the North American Hockey League.

He grew up in Las Vegas and also has played previously with the Los Angeles Junior Kings.

"When we met with him, he loved the Blues since that's where he was originally from," Armstrong said. "He plays the game hard from start to finish and gets his nose dirty and has some ability to score, too.

"He can play wing and play center, but he's just a competitor. We had scouts on our staff that are just raving about this guy."

The Blues' last pick was in the sixth round was Finnish defenseman Sentari Saari (6-2, 192). Saari had five goals and 23 points in 46 games for the Jokerit under-20 squad in Finland and also played briefly for Jokerit Finish Elite League squad.

He came highly recommended from Blues scout and Finland native Ville Siren.

"He knows that area very well and felt that this would be a great pick," Armstrong said.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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