The St. Louis Blues closed the books on 2015-2016 with a 49-24-9 record, good for second in the Central Division and just two points back of the leading Dallas Stars. In the post-season, they played in the conference final for the first time since 2001 and seemed to have taken the necessary steps to push for further success.
And in the off-season, St. Louis watched veterans like David Backes, Steve Ott, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott set sail for other waters. It is time for the changing of the guard, which means that Blues are set to invest in a group of young players. They signed Jaden Schwartz to a new deal, inked Kyle Brodziak and reinstated former first round pick David Perron. They also extended goalie Jake Allen, who will be installed as the starter.
There are still veterans on this roster, make no mistake. Alexander Steen will still shoulder a heavy load, as well as defencemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. But the post-season illustrated a tendency for the Blues to think younger, to bet on the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko to get the job done. And by all rights, that looks like it’s going to pay off big time.
24-year-old Tarasenko had 74 points in 80 games last season, including 40 goals. A dozen of his goals came on the power play and he averaged 18:38 of ice time a game. He registered 292 shots on goal. In the post-season, the Russian had 15 points in 20 games and averaged 18 minutes of ice time a game. What’s scary is that he’s just getting started.
32-year-old Steen had 52 points in 67 games and averaged 20:22 of ice time a game, making him one of the most prolific forwards on the team. The Winnipeg native plays an excellent two-way game and seems to get better when he encounters physical opposition. Steen can be prone to dry spells and a lot of his shots seem to miss the net, but he was good for 10 points in 20 playoff games and is a huge part of this roster.
Paul Stastny put up 49 points in 64 games and averaged 19:09 of ice time a game. He was productive in the playoffs, too, with 13 points in 20 games. The 30-year-old missed time due to injury and didn’t exactly shoot the puck often. Some are already dismissing him due to his age, which is a little on the ridiculous side.
20-year-old Robby Fabbri had a respectable year, with 37 points in 72 games. He exploded in the playoffs for 15 points in 20 games and should be rewarded with more ice time in 2016-2017. He can slip into all three forward positions, which makes him a versatile choice up front. David Perron is also worth a peek. He had 36 points in 71 games last season in Anaheim and could be set to emerge once more on the Blues.
Pietrangelo gives St. Louis a consistent, all-round player in their own end. He plays big minutes and posted 37 points in 73 games last season. He had 10 points in 20 playoff games and saw an average of 28:48 of ice time a game. The 26-year-old likes to unwind from the point, but accuracy can be an issue. Injuries are also becoming a concern.
Jay Bouwmeester registered 19 points in 72 games last season. He averaged 23:06 of ice time a game and is among St. Louis’ most durable options on the blueline. He can play a shutdown game and is a sublime skater, even if he doesn’t tiptoe into the physical side of his game often. The 32-year-old doesn’t have the biggest shot, but he knows how to get into position and can fuel an offensive attack.
Colton Parayko had 33 points in 79 games last season and averaged 19:23 of ice time a game. At 6’6, 226 pounds, he’s hard to knock around. The 23-year-old is already in line to log huge minutes, too. And Shattenkirk can play an offensive game, with 14 goals last season and an average of 22:25 a game. The 27-year-old is an impact player.
With Elliott out, Allen is in. The 26-year-old was 26-15-3 last season with a 2.35 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. He posted six shutouts in 44 starts and most believe that the Blues will push him to 60 starts this season, if he’s healthy. Allen covers a lot of the net when he’s in position and he plays a low maintenance game, which lets the team worry about other things.
Carter Hutton spent last season in Nashville, where he went 7-5-4 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. The 30-year-old is cool with the backup role and that’s a good thing, as consistency issues can dog him if he sees too much time between the pipes.
The Blues have been trying to fill up at centre and have been drafting accordingly, but the current crop features a pile of NHL-ready blueliners. At the top of the list is Petteri Lindbohm. The 23-year-old Finnish defenceman has a nice reach and plays sound hockey in his own end, plus he moves the puck well. Lindbohm has limited offensive upside, however.
Jordan Schmaltz is also in the mix. The 22-year-old seems in line to get a long look in training camp, but most have him charted as earning a second full season with Chicago in the AHL. He’s an instinctive player, but strength can be an issue.
The Path Ahead
The shift to a younger, faster version of the Blues could pay dividends as St. Louis tries to push further into the post-season. That said, the renovation has been done with class and patience so this shouldn’t be trial by fire for the young group. There’s enough veteran savvy to balance the roster and the team is strong at all positions, so there are many reasons to like this group going forward.