St. Louis Blues

Making history: Keller poised to become area’s only first-round pick

Swansea’s Clayton Keller, shown here playing for Team USA,s is expected to be a first-round pick Friday at the NHL Draft.
Swansea’s Clayton Keller, shown here playing for Team USA,s is expected to be a first-round pick Friday at the NHL Draft. Minas Panagiotakis/HHOF-IIHF Ima

For the first time in NHL Draft history, a metro-east player will likely be selected in the first round.

Swansea native Clayton Keller is slotted to go anywhere from eighth to 13th overall in most mock drafts after piling up points and breaking records for the U.S. National Team Development Program the past two seasons.

Draft coverage begins at 6 p.m. Friday on NBC Sports Network.

Keller is one of four potential first-round picks that all grew up playing AAA hockey in St. Louis for former Blues defenseman Jeff Brown. The others are Matthew Tkachuk, Brown’s son, Logan Brown and center Luke Kunin.

“Back at that age we were just playing to have fun, just playing the game that we love,” Keller said. “Now it’s obviously a lot more serious. I’m just really thankful to have been around all those guys, we’re so competitive and driven.

“We just made each other better by practicing a lot and having fun together. It’s pretty amazing.”

Having four first round picks from the St. Louis region is pretty amazing, too.

“It’s unique in the draft with those guys,” said Bill Armstrong, the Blues’ Amateur Scouting Director. “There’s been St. Louis kids in the draft almost every year since I’ve started here and hats off to the alumni, the players that have stayed around and are helping kids with youth hockey.”

As for Jeff Brown’s coaching prowess?

“He did too good of a job,” joked Armstrong, whose team’s first round pick isn’t until No. 28. “He put them out of our range.”

At least two other St. Louisans, center Trent Frederic and goaltender Joseph Woll, are expected to be drafted as well.

No player from the St. Louis area has ever been drafted in the first round.

The three highest-drafted players from this region previously are Philip McRae (33rd overall by the Blues in 2008, second round), Scott Mayfield (34th overall by the Islanders in 2011, second round) and Ryan MacInnis (43rd overall by the Coyotes in 2014, scond round).

MacInnis is the son of Blues Hall of Fame defenseman Al Macinnis and McRae is the son of former Blues forward Basil McRae.

Doing their homework

Finding hidden gems like defenseman Colton Parayko is getting harder and harder for NHL teams that have video on virtually any player they need and can also dispatch scouts around the globe when necessary.

In 2012 Colton Parayko was 18, playing for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The Blues knew about him thanks to a local scout, but did their best to hide their interest.

“We really stayed away from him,” Armstrong said. “He’s the only guy that I ever showed up to watch in the second period of a game — and I didn’t go to see him, I just went to see what other scouts were in the stands.”

The Blues’ stealth approach paid off and they selected Parayko in the third round of the 2012 draft at No. 86 overall. After three years at the the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the rangy 6-foot-6 defenseman with the booming shot and strong skating ability crashed his way onto the Blues’ roster and became a starter on a team that reached the Western Conference Final.

He also made the NHL’s All-Rookie team.

Parayko had nine goals and 33 points in 79 regular-season games with the Blues, then contributed another two goals and seven points in his first 20 NHL playoff contests. His plus-28 rating was fifth best in the entire NHL.

“That’s the greatest part of being a scout is you can have impact,” Armstrong said. “You go to work every day and you’re on these old logging roads and dodging trucks every night somewhere in Canada, knowing you did it right.”

Barring a trade, the Blues will be drafting late in the first round at 28th overall. The Blues also have picks in each of rounds 2-5 and two picks in the seventh round.

“It’s a little different draft here,” Armstrong said. “We’re picking at the back end, so we’re going to be waiting a little bit to see what’s left. It’s up to the other teams. You have to make decisions based on the decisions that they made. It’s interesting.”

The Blues did not have a first-round draft pick last season after trading it away. They used their second-round pick (56th overall) on Vince Dunn.

Recent Blues first-round picks include Robby Fabbri (21st overall in 2014), Jordan Schmaltz (25th overall in 2012), Jaden Schwartz (14th overall in 2010) and Vladimir Tarasenko (16th overall in 2010).

Armstrong said the Blues’ approach is almost always to take the best player available. A current positional need may not be a need two or three years down the road.

“You’ve got to go with the best available player,” he said. “When there’s a tie between the two players on the board it always goes to a positional need, but we’ve always gone toward taking the best player.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

2016 NHL Draft

When: 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo

TV: Friday-6 p.m. on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN); Saturday-9 a.m. on NHL Network; NHL.com

Blues Draft: Barring trades, the Blues’ first-round pick is 28th overall; their other picks include second round (59th overall), third round (87th), fourth round (119th), fifth round (125th) and two seventh-round picks (209th, 211th)

Top prospects (TSN rankings): Auston Matthews (center), Patrik Laine (RW), Jesse Puljujarvi (RW), Matthew Tkachuk (RW), Pierre-Luc DuBois (center), Olli Juolevi (defense), Alexander Nylander (RW-LW), Clayton Keller (center), Mikhail Sergachev (defense), Logan Brown (center)

NHL Mock Drafts: Here’s where several NHL Mock Draft sites had Swansea native Clayton Keller going -USA Today and TSN (8th to Buffalo); CBSSports.com, BleacherReport.com and SBNation.com (11th to New Jersey); NHL.com and Sportsnet.ca (13th to Carolina)

Other metro-east or southern Illinois NHL Draft picks: Connor Chatham (Swansea) drafted in third round by New Jersey in 2014; Luke Opilka (Effingham/St. Louis) drafted in fifth round by Blues in 2015.

Blues top prospects: Ivan Barbashev (center), Ty Rattie (RW), Petteri Lindbohm (defense), Jordan Binnington (goalie), Ville Husso (goalie), Jordan Schmaltz (defense), Vince Dunn (defense)

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