This One Time, At Blues Camp: Part 2, Defensemen and Goalies

(The Blues’ Prospect Camp has come and gone, and for three out of four days, I enjoyed my time at Ice Zone in Hazelwood, MO. Here is my quick scouting report on the Blues’ prospective defensemen and goalies. We all have cause to rejoice: our future is bright.

Please note: my observations may differ from others, based on what I saw. Feel free to disagree as you see fit!)

1 Hofer, Joel G
At 6’3” and only 17 years old, Hofer is big, he is young, and he is raw, but holy cow, he is a monster goaltender! When he is in goal, he towers over the crossbar at least a good foot and a half. When he lowers himself into position, he is dead even with the crossbar, and all that potential, coiled energy in his legs sets him up for dynamic playmaking ability. His hands are very quick, he has a good glove, and he’s a solid wall in blocking shots. He is super quick in the crease. He tracks the puck very well in traffic. I would classify Hofer as an “instinctual” goalie like Carter Hutton: his play style is more reactionary than calculated movements. However, in grading Hofer’s potential, I don’t see Hutton: I see Hutton’s former colleague, elite goaltender Pekka Rinne. Hofer’s got the potential makings of a Rinne-like goaltender, and if he hasn’t developed the skills yet, he has ample time to learn. That is one of the supreme benefits that Hofer has: his youth will allow him to soak up any knowledge he needs to be a better goaltender, for far longer than some had the opportunity to do so. He also will have more time to practice at an elite or semi-elite level, and if he continues to press and push himself towards making the NHL, I can see him being the future netminder of the Blues within the next ten years. His top shelf needs work: puck elevators like Erik Foley can score easily over Hofer’s shoulders, and he needs to learn how to spring up from the balls of his feet to either block those with his body, or be quicker with his glove. He needs to put on more muscle. At this time, he is still developing into a full-grown man, and will fill out accordingly, but he’ll need to target arm and shoulder strength for making dynamic plays when he’s reaching for plays on the ice, and he will need to continue working on his lower strength to maintain his quickness and ability to kick out in the crease. He needs a lot more polish. Otherwise, he has enormous potential.

39 Reinke, Mitch D
Reinke, the only prospect who has NHL experience, and is one of the strongest defensemen of camp, hands down. I saw his potential in his debut against Arizona, and I saw it during the practices at Ice Zone during the tail end of the 2017-2018 season. Reinke has extremely good edges, and though he doesn’t have the height or strength of Colton Parayko, he sure does play like him. He is a very quick skater, able to join the rush effectively without losing his position to defend his zone if he has to fall back quickly. His shot is not a cannon shot, but it is deadly accurate, and strong enough to be a force. His puck control is excellent; his footwork is tight, controlled and superb, and his balance on his skates is on-par with some of the best young talent in the league. On one foot, his transitions during one of the drills was fantastic; he was required to skate figure eights backwards to forwards, one foot to the next, and all of them were easy and smooth. His backwards skating was also effortless. I classified Reinke as a “goal-digger”: when he rushes into the play, he doesn’t just come from the point. No, he’s deep in the corners, pushing others out of his way, and dishing it to the forwards. He even takes advantage of any dirty goal opportunities as he can. If the Blues ever needed a “fourth forward”, you have that in Reinke. He improved quite a bit in the off-season, and if he does not make the team this year, I expect him to get called up immediately when there’s an injury. Reinke’s just that good, and he’s only going to get better. He’s not the biggest guy, so I would recommend more upper body strength training, so he’s able to bump people off of the puck a bit more, but other than that, working on perfecting the mechanics he already has in play is all he needs to do to be successful.

45 Opilka, Luke G
For a small goalie, Opilka is one of the strongest skaters of any of the prospects. His legwork to shift himself back and forth in the crease is fantastic. He is extremely quick. A standout strength is his ability to kick his legs out for saves, and his glove is speedy. He’s a post-minder, and due to his solid positioning, he can subconsciously “make” opposing players shoot the puck at the post instead of the net by being just slightly off here and there. He made a lot of extremely effective plays, including a play in which he splayed out in front of the goal on his stomach to make a save; that impressed me a lot. Though he does make reactionary plays, my initial read of Opilka is that he is a “cerebral” goalie, like goaltender Jake Allen: when someone shoots the puck at him, he’s already five steps ahead of the play, and able to calculate the angle of the rebound, who would likely get it, and what needs to happen in order to prevent another shot from happening. He makes several, calculated adjustments almost subconsciously, to be in the right position at the right time. Every move is deliberate and well thought out. His main area of improvement would be sneaky plays, either wraparounds or five-hole shots. Like all goaltenders, sometimes that wily puck can find itself behind pads, wedged between a skate and a post, or takes a few crazy bounces that you can’t anticipate. Allowing himself to relax and make as many instinctual saves as well as calculated saves would benefit him greatly.

47 Perunovich, Scott D
Inconclusive. I would have liked to see Perunovich, but he was injured, and did not participate on the days that I was there. He only skated the first day, and that was the only day I could not make it to camp.

60 Noel, David D
Noel has one sick wrist shot! It is mean and nasty, very hard to track and especially through traffic. The release for his shot is very good. His skating is very good, and very clean and precise. His edges are also very good. However, I cannot give a fair evaluation of his skills because I unfortunately did not have a chance to really focus on him long enough to draw a fair conclusion. I will say this though: he shows a lot of promise.

63 Bourque, Trenton D
Bourque was one of the faster defensemen on the ice. He was very smooth on his skates, and he was very, very good at skating backwards, which will help him in the long run in guarding the defensive zone. However, I cannot give a fair evaluation of his skills because I unfortunately did not have a chance to really focus on him long enough to draw a fair conclusion. I will say this though: he shows a lot of promise.

73 Andersson, Anton D
Inconclusive. Unfortunately, Andersson was injured, and could not participate.

75 Tucker, Tyler D
BIG Tucker fan right here. He is tough as nails! During the scrim on the last day, he took a stick to the face and just shook it off. His shot is one of the heaviest and most powerful of all the defensemen, and he is an extremely good multitasker on the ice. When he’s not checking people hard into the boards (and laying out what his friends and family call Tucker Bombs!), he deliberately sets himself up in the right positions to succeed in whatever task he’s able to do, without losing his concentration on what’s going on around him. During the tag exercise on the last day, he was one of the only players who was able to position himself in areas where he knew his teammates were likely to gather, and made good use out of anticipating their movements. He is very effective at chip shots into the net. Tucker is very raw though. He lacks the same finesse as some of his other defensive counterparts when he has to move the puck, and learning how to control the puck a bit better would be beneficial. Also, his backwards skating could use some practice.

85 Fitzpatrick, Evan G
Fitz has solid positioning, is very square in his crease and has extremely strong legs to kick himself back and forth. He’s able to deflect picks up or into his chest, and does not leave a lot of rebounds. He was also the goaltender most likely to leave the crease to make a play, which proves he is a dynamic playmaker that’s unafraid of what anyone could throw at him. When there is a rebound, he is quick to pounce on it. He is also very calm and collected; nothing seems to faze him much. I would classify him as an “instinctual” goalie, someone who is very, very good at reacting to the shots taken on him in the heat of the moment. A contemporary that played for the Blues would be Carter Hutton, and he can make the same plays as Hutton when he has more practice; his spatial awareness is spot on. Out of the three goalies, he is the obvious best of the lot, based on his experience and his ability. One area of improvement would be his top-shelf work. During one drill, Erik Foley, a natural at elevating the puck, was able to score two goals over Fitz’s right shoulder, and one over his left shoulder. Fitz needs to work on positioning his glove to catch those, or raising his body upwards from the balls of his feet, in order to reach the right height to block those shots with his larger frame.

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