(Eye on the Future is WCH's new feature in which we break down an individual game by an NHL prospect in-depth, while also looking at what that prospect's long-term future is.)
Player: Teddy Blueger, Forward, Minnesota State
Minnesota State forward Teddy Blueger is a 5-11 165 lbs. forward in his first season of college hockey with Minnesota State University. Last summer, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2nd round of the NHL Draft out of the famed Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school.
Blueger has tallied two goals and six assists through the first 14 games of his collegiate career. He has been centering the Mavericks' third line, sandwiched between a grinding physical winger in Chase Grant, and a hard-shooting sniper in Johnny McInnis. Blueger has also been a fixture on Minnesota State's second power play unit, manning the right point for the Mavericks.
Saturday was a bit of a breakout game for Blueger. He tallied three assists in the game, all on the power play for his first career multi-point game, after being held off the score sheet for three straight games. Post-game, his head coach, Mike Hastings, said Blueger's line had been pressing a bit after not being rewarded for some of their work, and that hopefully the big night was a good sign for their future.
With the three assists, Blueger's best attribute, his passing ability, was on display. His first assist of the evening came on the power play, just over 12 minutes into the first period. Blueger carried the puck into the zone with speed. The defense, having to respect his skating ability, gave him a bit of gap to work with, and Blueger cut across the middle of the ice, leaving a drop pass for McInnis in the high slot. While his left wing has changed a few times this year, Blueger has been consistently paired with McInnis with the hopes that Blueger's play-making ability could create opportunities for McInnis to fire off his big shot. That's exactly what happened here, as Blueger created that space and got the puck to McInnis in position to score.
His second assist, which came just over 15 minutes into the second period, was his most impressive. After cleanly winning a face-off, Blueger took a pass in the left corner, and began skating like he was going to take the puck behind the net. Bemidji's far-side defensemen had been covering the front of the net on the near-side post, but moved towards the far-side post as Blueger appeared to heading behind the net. But at the last possible moment, Blueger was able to slip to a pass out on the near-side at a near impossible angle to Chase Grant, who one-timed the puck into the net for a goal.
On his final assist, he took a pass in the left corner again. The near-side defenseman tried to pressure him to take away his opportunity to take the puck behind the net again, but Blueger fired a quick pass to a defenseman pinching in the from the point who scored a goal.
He finished the game with three shots on goal, including a snap shot from the top of the circles, and a one-timer slap shot from the point on the power play. Blueger had nice looking form on both shots, but at this point in his career, just doesn't have the strength to seriously challenge goalies at this level from that far out. That's an area that should improve as he gains strength.
He had 10 wins against 6 losses in the face-off circle for a winning percentage of 62.5%, just a touch above his season average of 60.8%, which makes him the team leader among players with over 30 total face-offs.
Defense is an area he's worked to improve, and he's pretty responsible for a player that specializes offensively like he does. He's got a +2 +/- rating on the season, and plays pretty disciplined from all three forward spots on the forecheck. Bemidji State liked to try and sneak a forward behind the defense when coming off a penalty kill, and a forward did get behind Blueger once while he was on the point late in a power play, but he was able to catch up to the player when the pass to him wasn't handled cleanly, and Blueger made a nice stick play to eventually break up the rush. If nothing else, it's quite a vote of confidence for his responsibility that his coach is willing to put a freshman forward on the point on the power play.
Overall, Blueger is off to a faster start at the college level than I expected. I thought there would be a much slower transition to the college game for a forward coming in at just 165 lbs., regardless of how skilled he was, but Blueger's skating and passing ability have made him an effective player right out of the gate. He still has a long ways to go physically before he is ready to play hockey at the professional level. He'll likely need at least another year or two in Mankato beyond this one before he is ready to sign a contract. Blueger's professional upside looks like a second line scoring forward. Pittsburgh's gamble to take him in the second round of last year's draft, considered at the time to be a bit of a reach, looks like it has a pretty decent chance of paying off for them.