Physical Staples and Puzzle Pieces: Thinking Outside the Box

3 Things. Fit, click, and stay out of the box!

In this article, I’ll be discussing some St. Louis Blues players that do just that. I want to focus on physical players that probably take fewer penalties than you would expect. All of the statistics I bullet here are based on each player’s last three seasons. The stats pretty much speak for themselves.

Also, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on each player, and a reason why they’re a puzzle piece, or an asset to the team. I’m suggesting they’re perfect for their specific roles. Before we begin, I’ll define physical staple. Obviously a physical player, but also one that should be a staple on the roster.

Each of these players are aggressive. Last season, none of them averaged over a minute in the box per game.

I believe there are 4 physical staples on this team, two offense, and two defense. Each has his own role and approach. Three might drop the gloves here and there. For one, that’s a rarity, but he still deserves to be on this list. I’ll start with him. You don’t have to fight to be considered a physical player.

I’m talking about the underappreciated Dmitrij Jaskin.

Dmitrij Jaskin (last 3 seasons)

  • 192 games
  • 431 hits
  • 58 PIM
  • Approximately 0.3 PIM per game
  • 2,306 minutes on ice

Jaskin lead the Blues in hits last season (2017-18) with 207 in 76 games. Also, Dmitrij averaged just 0.18 PIM per game. He is one 4th line winger that plays very smart hockey. This is often overlooked because of his unfortunate lack of offensive contributions.

Dmitrij is, in my mind, a staple on this roster. His presence is felt, and he simply doesn’t take “stupid” penalties. Heck, you see the numbers. It is my opinion that of all the potential 4th line wingers, Jaskin is the most effective and responsible at his particular role.

To me, even with all of the competition at camp, there will be a 4th line wing spot waiting for Jaskin. I think he should play 60+ games for the Blues (2018-19) if healthy. He’s been asked to do more than he’s built for at times, and he’s received too much criticism from the fan base.

It can be frustrating when a 4th line role player gets thrown into the mix of the top 9. Jaskin has done so many things right when this has happened with him, but unfortunately many can’t seem to get past Jaskin’s wrap-around attempts (I know, I know).

The offensive depth that the Blues have should result in more scoring and better special teams. Dmitrij is one puzzle piece to a successful 4th line. He’s a player that many organizations would love to have on their roster, and he’s yet to reach his full potential.

If Jaskin gets to play his game, and the scoring comes from where it is supposed to come from (top-9 & power play), fans won’t be so frustrated with Dmitrij. The man does his job and does it well. He may surprise you on the score sheet, too. With the right line-mates, he can excel.

I want a career year from #23. He’s a hard worker. He deserves it.

Let’s evaluate the other forward on my list. This guy isn’t touching the 4th line (although he would, proudly). He’s certainly not afraid of anyone, but that’s just one ingredient that makes the cake. He is one that brings so much to the table. Most importantly, he’s proven to be quite responsible, himself.

Now, let’s take a look at the Big Rig, Patrick Maroon.

Patrick Maroon (last 3 seasons)

  • 227 games
  • 490 hits
  • 256 PIM
  • Approximately 1.1 PIM per game
  • 3,468 minutes on ice

Maroon registered 150 hits in 74 total games last season (2017-18) while averaging just 0.98 PIM per game. Patty plays smart. The diversity that he brings is special and his level of intensity isn’t matched by most on the ice. He’ll go to the front of the net with authority and that’s part of what the Blues have been missing.

He’s a player that pushes his weight around. For the most part, he doesn’t cross the line and take “stupid” penalties, but boy is he ready to retaliate with a clean physical game. If he needs to drop the gloves, he will, but Pat is so far from a “goon” that his strength and fighting ability come as a plus to his impressive skill set.

Patrick has proven he can skate with the best of them. There are many gifted forwards on this roster that simply can not provide what Patrick can for the Blues. They call him the “Big Rig” for a reason, and when he’s coming at you, you’re bracing for impact.

This is a player that can potentially be a puzzle piece anywhere up and down the left wing (possibly right). Maroon has a proven identity. His strengths will be put to use in St. Louis whether he plays on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd line. He’ll prove to have a specific purpose and help his linemates.

He can play top-line minutes responsibly while providing great physical presence. He’s a solid screen in front of the net and is one adequate garbage goal scoring threat. Maroon is no slouch and can hit the back of the twine in a number of ways, but picking up loose change, or just being in the right spot at the right time will result in success for Maroon and the Blues.

The fact that he’s home and he gets to live this dream and share it with every one of us; That’s just special in itself. It’s a priceless piece of the organization’s connection with the people of St. Louis, and it will only grow with each moment Pat takes the ice.

Maroon coming to St. Louis was huge. Just be Pat. You’ll fit right in.

Let’s switch it up and talk about an important defenseman. His presence on the ice has proven to make a big difference for his Blues. He brings a little bit of this and a little bit of that. This particular player continues to get better and better. He’s not out there head hunting, but keep your head up. He won’t pass on a clean hit.

One of my favorites. Here’s Joel Edmundson.

Joel Edmundson (last 3 seasons)

  • 205 games
  • 403 hits
  • 180 PIM
  • Approximately 0.8 PIM per game
  • 3,657 minutes on ice

Edmundson registered 116 hits in 69 total games last season. In his 3-year NHL career, #6 has remained steady beneath the 1 PIM per game mark. Consistency in his game has been key to him receiving opportunities.

Joel can rock an opponent, but he’s smart about it. In Tim Hirsch’s article, “That’s Just Hockey For Ya” A closer look at Joel Edmundson’s game, Tim states, “Since (Edmundson’s) rookie season, he has made his presence known, setting a rookie record for the Blues with 165 hits in 67 games.”

Edmundson doesn’t hit as much as he used to. He’s become a bit more choosy with his contact since being given opportunities up the lineup. It’s a different game when you’re playing top pairing minutes, and he’s able to make those adjustments. He’s quickly become a solid complement to Alex Pietrangelo.

That’s why Joel Edmundson is a puzzle piece on this club. He’s the Captain’s partner. Sure, expect Mike Yeo to experiment, throwing Jay Bouwmeester into the top pairing mix here and there, if he’s healthy. I don’t and won’t agree with it, because I personally believe Joel has earned his keep.

One thing that he’s improved upon is his shot blocking. He proved he would get in front of anything last season when he registered a career-high 150 blocks. His first two seasons, 52 blocks in 2015-16, and 95 blocks in the 2016-17 season. His goal and point totals have steadily increased as well.

As I said about Maroon, Edmundson’s willingness to stick up for his teammates is simply a big plus to his well-rounded skill set. As Tim Hirsch stated in his article (linked earlier), “His Blues teammates play a little bigger because he’s on the ice.”

Edmundson is a difference maker. The Blues just need him out there.

Our last of the physical staples is a defenseman who has played very responsibly throughout his last two seasons. He is +22 in that span. This player was able to reach career highs in goals and points in 2017-18. He’s big, strong, committed to his teammates, and he makes great decisions with the puck.

A solid 3rd pairing D-man, Robert Bortuzzo.

Robert Bortuzzo (last 3 seasons)

  • 150 games
  • 291 hits
  • 108 PIM
  • Approximately 0.7 PIM per game
  • 2,132 minutes on ice

Bortuzzo registered 121 hits in 72 total games last season (2017-18) while averaging just 0.56 PIM per game. He had 13 points on the season to the lefty, Carl Gunnarsson‘s 9. Carl had a total of 35 hits in 63 games.

Jay Bouwmeester will surely be playing. If he can, he will. If I was Mike Yeo, my go-to third pairing would be Jay Bouw and Bortuzzo. This is why Bortz is a puzzle piece. Jay registered over 100 hits just twice in his career. In the past 10 seasons, he’s registered 72 or less. Robert Bortuzzo is a good partner for him.

He’ll be the muscle on that pairing. Jay can mentor him in many ways, and I believe Robert can improve even more. He has good instincts in the offensive zone and is not afraid to shoot the puck. He gets to business, doesn’t get fancy, and is remarkably consistent in his approach from game to game, but any defenseman can learn from Bouwmeester.

Robert plays his role and more for the Blues. He’s not your 1st or 2nd pairing defenseman by any means, but a perfect 3rd pairing guy in my eyes. He does everything responsibly and is willing to defend his teammates at the drop of a dime. This city respects Bortuzzo, and Robert has earned it.

You think about the fact that Robert Bortuzzo was probably the toughest guy to play on the roster for the most games in 2017-18 and take a look at how very disciplined his game was at the same time, it’s quite impressive.

Robert Bortuzzo is blue collar. He belongs here, and he should play.

Well, there you have it. I’ve laid out four puzzle pieces that, when placed correctly will hopefully complete the picture of a successful Blues team that has a great season, goes on a deep playoff run, and who knows? Maybe ends with a picture of a new trophy to display down at Enterprise Center.

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