Another summer has passed and with it many questions have been answered. However, for the St. Louis Blues many questions still remain as well. Will they be able to make another deep playoff push without long-time captain David Backes or tenacious vet Troy Brouwer? Will Jake Allen be able to take over as the true number-1 in goal?
These are just a couple of the questions that still loom large for the boys in Blue, especially with some personnel issues already taking place (we're looking at you Jaden Schwartz). Here’s a peek into what fans can expect from the Note in their historic 50th season.
The Team’s Core
For a couple of years the management team has been praising the Blues’ young core, while trying to transition the (locker) room from the crafty vets, to those young, budding stars. This season will finally see this plan play out in full force, as some of the key 'older' players on the team have since moved on. Without the physical prowess and playmaking upside of Backes and Brouwer, the Blues will not only rely on, but will absolutely need their younger players to step up and fill those gaps to find success.
Players like Dmitrij Jaskin, Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, and even Ty Rattie will need to become more of a physical presence this season, and crafty vets like Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall, Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, and Paul Stastny will need to add some grit to their game if the Blues want to be successful in the heavy-hitting, quick Western Conference this season.
If these players can assert themselves physically, other play-makers like Robby Fabbri, Schwartz (when he’s healthy), and Vladimir Tarasenko will be able to find those seams in coverage their so good at locating, and convert on many of their chances. However, if the Note, as a team, can’t manage to slow the opposition down, tire them out, and protect their teammates it’s going to be tough to stay healthy, find the back of the net consistently, and string together wins. That would spell a long, tiresome winter in the Gateway to the West.
"We got the unfortunate call with Schwartzy the other day, and that's difficult. David Perron was sick for a couple of days, and Fabbri (too). So there's all these little things that pop up (at the beginning of the year), but we'll get a good handle on our group here leading up to the season." GM Doug Armstrong on the current state of the Blues
“Defense Wins Championships”
The good news for fans is that even if the team’s core struggles to find the back of the net, their back-end should bail them out. With a solid mix of shut-down defensemen, and those with an offensive touch, the Blues should be formidable in their own end and beyond. Players like the new captain Alex Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson, Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, and the seemingly rejuvenated Jay Bouwmeester (based on his World Cup play) should be able to keep opposing chances to a minimum in the team's own zone. However those chances that do happen to get through will be met with an equally stout tendy in Jake Allen.
Allen will be in his first year as the true number-1, and much will be expected of him after Brian Elliott left for the greener pastures of Calgary this summer. For those who think Allen isn’t quite ready for the number-1 role just remember that he’s been a top goalie at every level he’s played, and he’s consistently made huge saves in key moments to keep the Blues in games already. Yes he’s let some soft goals in, but it’s all part of the learning experience for the 26-year old. If he does happen to falter at some point this season, the Blues are more than set with goaltending depth that includes NHL vet Carter Hutton, and a plethora of young studs such as Phoenix Copley and Ville Husso being groomed for future success.
Offense from the Defense
As far as offensive defensemen are concerned, the Blues certainly don’t lack there either. Kevin Shattenkirk is back, and though he may not be a Blue forever, he’s focused on helping his team at both ends of the rink more than he’s ever been before. Colton Parayko is ready to show that the ‘Sophomore Slump’ is a myth (and that his slapshot is even better), and even Pietro has showed a knack for scoring since last spring.
If one of these blue-liners happen to go down due to sickness or injury, Peterri Lindbohm and Jordan Schmaltz will be chomping at the bit to get some NHL action this year. Both of these young talents have shown prowess at each end of the ice, and will be a welcome edition to the Note's backend if/when they transition to a full time role with the club. Lindbohm weighed in on the impressive defensive depth the Blues currently have:
"We have a good competition going among the young guys. There's not too many spots on the team and we all want (it). There's good competition out there and it helps us get better. We can't have an easy day, everybody has to work hard to get better."
If this group of guys can build on where they were last year, and can stay focused on each shift as it unfolds, the Blues could end up with a top-10 D-core (in terms of point production), which could spell the difference between a favorable playoff seed, and just barely squeaking in.
Overall this will be a transitional year that exposes a lot within the organization, from the Head Coach on down. However if what’s left of the ‘older core’ and the new, young core can bond together as one, it could be another very successful year in St. Louis. Though they won’t necessarily make it to the Western Conference Final this season, they will certainly have a shot at making a decent postseason run.
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