(HockeySTL)-- To become a Stanley Cup contender, as the St. Louis Blues have, it takes a true commitment to the NHL draft. It’s a long process, but it’s also rewarding.
The Blues have one of the best, young nucleuses in the National Hockey League, largely in part to their success in the draft. Yet, even with the depth that the Blues have at the NHL level, they still have several high-level prospects tucked away in the American Hockey League.
While 2010 was the one of the Blues’ most successful drafts in recent memory, the Note having chosen forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz that season, 2011 is looking pretty good, too. The Blues did not have a first-round draft selection in 2011, their pick having gone to Colorado in a trade earlier that season, yet they came out with two solid players in the second round of the draft.
That year, the Blues selected Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin with the 32nd and 41st picks, respectively. Jaskin has already graced the NHL with his presence this season, and Rattie doesn’t appear to be too far behind.
“There are many NHL teams he'd be playing for right now, no doubt,” Paul LaTour, who covers the Chicago Wolves for the Chicago Tribune, said of Rattie. “He has the talent to play at that level. But I believe it's to his benefit (to stay in the AHL). The Blues are so loaded up front that they don't need to rush him along. I don't expect him to be with the Wolves long, but getting at least one full season in the AHL will be a huge advantage to him in the long run.”
Of the Blues’ two 2011 picks, Rattie, 21, is arguably the most intriguing. The young forward was with the Blues in this year’s preseason camp, but several factors led to him being left off of the Blues’ roster. For starters, the Blues, being one of the deepest teams in the NHL, didn’t have room for Rattie on their squad. The 6-foot, 167-pound forward was also told it would be to his benefit to become a bigger player and to become more defensively sound. Both are things he has been working to improve upon in his first AHL season.
Rattie’s defense has come into question at times, but it always does for players with the dynamic scoring ability that Rattie has. Players with that ability often sacrifice a little bit of defense for offense. However, the Blues expect both equally from their players, which is why it was key for Rattie to improve in that regard.
“He hasn't really talked about too many specifics, but he has mentioned how he's had to learn to be more of a presence in the defensive zone,” said LaTour. “That might have been his biggest adjustment. I don't have the numbers on his weight, but he seems to have grown a bit during the season. He's not a physical liability on the ice at all, and he's not afraid to initiate contact or to stand up for himself.”
This year was a big one for Rattie as he made the jump to the AHL from the WHL. Rattie had played with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks since he was 16 years old, and had accumulated 348 points (151 goals, 197 assists) in five seasons with the Winterhawks. He also had two seasons with 100-plus points, including a 121-point campaign in 2011-12. No one expected Rattie to put those kinds of numbers up in the AHL, but he is still producing on a consistent level with the Wolves. Combining his ability to produce and his compilation of confidence, Rattie is opening eyes around the League.
“Rattie has a goal-scorer's knack for the net,” LaTour said. “Early in the season he struggled to adjust to the league, and was very inconsistent with his production. But as he has gained confidence, his talents are really starting to shine through. I keep going back to the goal he scored against Milwaukee in February when he swatted the puck out of midair and into the net from the left face-off circle. The key to me was that he had the confidence to even try something like that. I'd think most players would have waited for the puck to hit the ice before attempting a shot.”
So far this season, Rattie has 27 goals, 42 points in 64 games with the Wolves. He leads the Wolves in nearly every offensive statistic, including: goals, points, and shots on goals. He is also second on the club in shooting percentage.
“He's definitely among the best I've seen this season, and one of the best first-year players I've ever seen since I began covering the Wolves in 2010,” said LaTour.
Rattie is unlikely to reach the NHL level this season, as the year has reached its latter stages. But he’s certainly in the discussion for a spot on next year’s club with potential roster openings becoming available following the season.
It also doesn’t hurt that Rattie is now in close proximity to St. Louis, where the Blues can more easily keep an eye on the forward. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has traveled to Chicago to watch the Wolves play several times this season, and stays up to date on his team’s prospect with the help of Wolves head coach John Anderson. Anderson, who is a former NHL skipper, has been impressed with Rattie’s goal-scoring ability.
“Anderson continuously tells us Rattie is a goal scorer, it's what he does,” said LaTour. “As I mentioned before, Rattie's inconsistency was somewhat of a concern for Anderson, but he understood how difficult it is for a young player to adjust to the AHL.”
But it’s not just the coaching staff that has a fondness of Rattie.
“The players, they seem to have high regard for Rattie,” LaTour said. “Just the mention of his name in a couple pregame interviews has drawn smiles from guys like Taylor Chorney and Mark Mancari. The veterans seem to appreciate his talent and the way he handles himself. He's not the slightest bit a prima donna.”
And in Chicago, where hockey is greatly admired by the fans, Rattie is said to be very well-connected to the fan base.
“He seems to be a fan-favorite both on and off the ice,” LaTour said. “He's very personable and I think he makes himself pretty available to fans, especially after games, win or lose.”
It seems to be a matter of when, rather than if Rattie makes the jump to the NHL level. He appears to be doing the right things to put himself in a place to succeed. Assuming he makes the transition to the Blues within the next few seasons, he will have the chance to grow under a solid veteran group. That part, at least, would remain the same as it is in Chicago, where Rattie’s focus stays locked on the right things.
“The Wolves are loaded with veteran players so Rattie isn't asked to fill a leadership role,” said LaTour. “That allows him to just focus on improving and doing what he needs to do to help the team win.”