St. Louis Blues Prospects Report: Neighbours, Hofer, Robertsson
With the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) seasons well underway, leagues around the world have begun play as well.
The St. Louis Blues‘ system features several well-rounded players who, some would say, have a low ceiling, albeit with a high floor. In this week’s prospect report, we’ll take a look at two players who echo that sentiment and another who may turn out to be the opposite.
The 20-year-old forward, Jake Neighbours, was selected 26th overall by the Blues in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, he was seen as a solid all-around player who very much fit the profile of what the organization looks for: a tough, physical 200-foot game, active on the forecheck, and makes life difficult for the opposition. In his short NHL career, has lived up to those expectations, and, at 5-foot-11, he plays bigger than his frame and often welcomes contact rather than skating around it.
However, he’s lacked a scoring touch. In 20 career games split between 2021-22 and 2022-23, Neighbours has three points (2 goals, 1 assist) while logging 21 hits and averaging 10:58 of ice time. He has managed four takeaways thanks to his strong puck play while only registering two giveaways. With the Blues struggling, they can either keep him in the NHL and up his minutes if management decides to sell, or they can send him to the AHL, where he can play top-line minutes to further his development.
Related: Blues Top 10 Prospects for 2022-23
Latest News & Highlights
Generally regarded as having the potential to become a middle-six winger, Neighbours still has plenty of time to develop. Whether that’s at the NHL or AHL level will depend on general manager Doug Armstrong and what he decides to do with his roster.
The Blues’ goaltending depth took a hit when they traded Ville Husso to the Detroit Red Wings this offseason. However, they still have a few players who should reach the NHL level at some point in their pipeline. At the top of that list is 22-year-old, Joel Hofer. Due to injuries in 2021-22, Hofer made his professional debut against the San Jose Sharks last November and earned his first career victory and assist (two starts, 1-1 record, .880 save percentage, 3.07 goals-against average).
With Thomas Greiss now backing up Jordan Binnington, Hofer has been the starting netminder for the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Through seven games (all starts), he has a 4-3-0 record with a .916 save percentage (SV%) and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.72 while splitting time with Russian prospect Vadim Zherenko.
In case of injury or if the team decides to start selling pieces, including Greiss, Hofer will undoubtedly be the first goalie to be called up to the big club. At 6-foot-5 and 179-pounds, he has the size that teams covet in goal. He stays fairly square to the puck and doesn’t allow a ton of second chances. He’s worthy of being in the NHL and will likely be there sooner rather than later.
Many scouts considered Swedish right-winger Simon Robertsson to be one of the steals of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft when the Blues nabbed him in the third round (71st overall). Still just 19 years old and playing in Sweden, he hasn’t shown the level of potential that had scouts raving about him in the pre-draft process. This season with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Robertsson has scored four points (three goals, one assist) and has a plus-5 rating in seven games.
The SHL is known for giving some younger players a lot of ice time. With an average age of 24 years, eight months, and five days, Skelleftea AIK is one of the youngest teams in the SHL, and Robertsson is still one of the youngest. The biggest concern for his development is his lack of playing time, as he’s played in only seven of his team’s 18 games this season.
In Robertsson, the Blues have a boom-or-bust prospect who possesses a low floor and a high ceiling. The organization seems comfortable letting him play for a few seasons in his home country before signing him to an entry-level contract (ELC), which will allow him to further develop against competition closer to his age.
Related: Blues October Prospects Report: Alexandrov, Bolduc, & Buchinger
St. Louis is in a very odd place right now. The Blues are in last place in the Central Division, paying a lot of money to veteran players and a few younger ones who are vastly underperforming. At the AHL level, the Springfield Thunderbirds are firmly in the middle of the pack with 14 points through 10 games (5-4-0). However, most of the Blues’ high-impact prospects are either playing at the collegiate level, juniors, or overseas. The way the 2022-23 season is going, we may see more fresh faces take the ice for the Blues than we have in previous years.
Marcus Ashpaugh is a husband, father, coach, and a huge sports fan. He has had a few of his own websites in the past where he published pieces about both the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Blues.