The St. Louis Blues began their offseason quietly, signing Keean Washkurak to a three-year entry contract on June 1.
That doesn’t guarantee the 19-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., But it’s a pretty big jump for a fifth-round drafted player (155th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft. others, Washkurak has taken a slightly different path over the past season, but that hasn’t affected his value to the Blues’ brass in any way.
After being selected, Washkurak competed in the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament and was also invited to Blues training camp before returning to play a second season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League. .
With the OHL sidelined for the entire 2020-21 campaign, Washkurak made a unique commitment, crossing the ocean to play Level II professional hockey with HK Levice in Slovakia. In 21 games there, Washkurak had 9 goals and 19 points before returning to play three games with the Utica Comets, the joint AHL branch of the Vancouver Blues and Canucks.
With the signing, the quick and tough Washkurak will keep the eyes of Blues scouts and makers on him, but given his age, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 19-year-old return to Mississauga this fall. .
Washkurak made his presence felt with the Mississauga Steelheads – he was voted the hardest worker in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Scouting reports praise the young center for his speed and tenacity, and he doesn’t hesitate to play in dirty areas in front of the net. In 49 games with the Steelheads in 2019-2020, Washkurak totaled 22 goals and 52 points. He led the team in shorthanded goals with three goals and added eight on the power play. Two of his goals emerged as match winners. His 62 penalty minutes are a testament to his abrasive style of play, especially in and around the opposing goal.
To say that he is far from making the Blues this fall even seems overly optimistic, but the fact that a player drafted so late has already made an impression of good omen for his future with the Blues.
Odds vs. Fifth Rounds
The fact that Washkurak has gained the attention he has so far is a testament to both the player’s gut courage and the Blues’ ability to find a diamond in the rough.
An interesting online report from Jokke Nevalainen assesses the possibility that players from every draft round will make it to the NHL. According to his report, while the former have a 37.3% chance of success, the numbers drop sharply from the second round (17.2%), and by the time a fifth round is selected, the number has dropped to 7.5. %.
Ironically, the fifth round had a lower chance percentage than the sixth round at 7.9%, but that’s far from the case.
Here’s a look at some of the team’s previous picks in the fifth round:
2018 – Hugh McGing
Taken at No. 138 a season before Washkurak, Hugh McGing, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound center from Chicago also had a brief glimpse at Utica this season, playing 23 games with the Comets after concluding a fourth and final season with the West Michigan Broncos.
McGing has 13 goals and 35 points in 35 games for the Broncos, wearing the captain’s “C”. In 23 games to wrap up the season at Utica, McGing scored his first professional goal and added three assists.
2017 – David Noël
A 6-foot-1, 194-pound defender David Noël returned to Val-d’Or from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after being selected 130th overall by the Blues. He played two more seasons in Val-d’Or, both as team captain before moving to the University of Quebec / Trois Rivières last season. He made his professional debut in 2018, playing a game with the San Antonio Rampage.
2016 – Nolan Stevens / Connor Bleackley
With two picks in the fifth round, the Blues selected Nolan Stevens in 125th place and added Conner Bleackley in 144th.
Bleackley, a six-foot, 192-pound forward, was actually selected in the first round (23rd overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2014, but was not signed and was available two years later. Since being signed by the Blues, Bleackley has rebounded between the AHL and ECHL, wearing 10 different jerseys.
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Stevens was a member of the Northeastern University Huskies and completed a four-season race there, the last season as team captain.
The 6-3, 185-pound winger played two seasons with the San Antonio Rampage and last season played with the Comets. In 136 AHL games, Stevens has amassed 24 goals and 67 points, but has yet to play for the Blues.
2015 – Niko Mikkola / Luc Opilka
The Blues also had two picks in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, picking up defenseman Niko Makkela at 127 pick, and Luke Opilka, a 146 goalie.
Makkela has made his way into the defensive body of the Blues, appearing in 30 games last season after honing his craft in the Finnish Liiga and the AHL in 2018-19. He has played a total of 118 AHL games and made his NHL debut with a five-game streak in St. Louis in 2019-20. In 30 games last season, Makkela had one goal and two assists, finished the season minus-11, and averaged around 2:30 pm per game.
Opilka, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound goalie, was a member of the United States National Development Team when he was selected by the Blues. He played a few seasons with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League before retiring abruptly as a player, moving on to assistant coach / goaltending coach for the ACHA team. ‘Maryville University (St. Louis) for the past three seasons.
On the right track, but a long way to go
Washkurak seems to be on a somewhat fast lane, and the combination of his speed and physique, despite being on a smaller frame, has certainly turned some heads, but he’s still not sure of anything. In fact, it seems likely he’ll spend at least one more season learning the ropes in Mississauga.
Another thing playing against Washkurak, at least at this point, is the depth of the Blues, especially at the center. The first two in the middle are occupied by two of the team’s best players, captain Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. This depth table lists six centers battling for two spots, including Zach Sanford and free agent Tyler Bozak, as well as Oskar Sundqvist, who hopes to come back from his knee injury in time for training camp in September.
The offseason trades and additions and subtractions could change the depth of the club, and with the role Washkurak is used to, he’s not locked into the center role. In fact, he could be more effective as a hard-hitting winger. Another potential tournament and training camp could give Washkurak a few more opportunities to impress decision-makers and so far it looks like he’s up to any challenge.
Almost 60 years old, Jim has been a hockey fan since the age of five and he eventually crowned him as the THW Writer on the Rhythm of the St. Louis Blues. Growing up in a small town in Ontario, he never went far as a player, but has spent most of the past 40 years writing about the game, from youth hockey to junior hockey and now, to the professional levels. A move to the Midwest (Wisconsin) in 2000 shifted the focus a bit. Working in small newspapers, Jim appreciated the opportunity to focus solely on hockey and tried his hand at that with a pair of websites, midwesthockey.info and saukhockey.info.