The Good The Bad and The Youngsters: A Blues Season Review Part 1 The Forwards

Feb 9, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (29) celebrates with left wing Zach Sanford (12) and center Oskar Sundqvist (70) after scoring during the first period against the Nashville Predators at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

ODD SEASON

The 2018-19 Season was a bit of an odd one for the St. Louis Blues. It started out with so much promise and potential, then very quickly fell apart in October and November. By December, it looked like all hope was gone, and on January 2nd, the Blues had fallen all the way to dead last in the NHL. In January, the idea of even scrapping out a wild-card berth looked like a fever dream. Then the Blues started climbing. They were carried forward by a breakout rookie performance, a new voice behind the bench, an old song and a revitalized core. The Blues used this to escape from the basement of the league.  They not only climbed the ladder to a wild card spot but beyond it, ending up the 3rd seed in the Central.

They then eliminated the 2nd seed Winnipeg Jets and moved on to play the wild card Dallas Stars, with home ice. That series was sent to 7 games by a simply incredible performance by former Blue and St. Louis native Ben Bishop, the goalie of the Stars, and was ended on an equally stunning goal by St. Louis hero, Pat Maroon. The win over Dallas left us facing an old rival, the San Jose Sharks. The Blues first shrugged off the endless narrative about Joe Thornton finally winning a cup. Then shrugged off a blatant missed hand pass that led to an overtime goal to eliminate the Sharks and claim the Western Conference, and a Stanley Cup Final berth for the first time since 1971.

Had the Blues simply stopped there, this would have been an amazing season. Had they managed to win only 1 game, this would have officially been the most successful season in franchise history. Had the Blues fallen in 5 or 6 games, we all would have been disappointed at first, but we would have eventually smiled and accepted it. We would have seen it as a great year after a string of poor ones.

They didn’t fall short, however. Instead, they went forth and set a list of franchise records so long, that I’m not sure I can even list them all. They won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final Game, in overtime no less, on the road. They won their first Stanley Cup Final game at home in game 4. They then took game 5 and set up a two-game shot to win the cup. Of course, they didn’t do it in Game 6. Not this team. Not the team that was in dead last in January. Not the team that had played better on the road all year than at home. We always had a road ice advantage and this series was no different. The Blues bungled game 6 at home and then they went to Boston and won the whole damn thing.

I am typing right here, words I have waited my entire life to say, “The St. Louis Blues are the Stanley Cup Champions”. We went to Boston, played a winner-take-all game 7, on road ice, and won. I would have been happy to just make the final. I would have been happy just to win a game. I don’t even know how to describe winning the Cup. I don’t know how to put this into words. I don’t even want to try. This is, right now, the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life. The best part is, we are only getting started.

This season didn’t start out the way we thought it would, but after seeing that start, the end outmatched even our wildest expectations. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at who performed, who didn’t, who we can expect more from, who we shouldn’t, and possibly what the Blues can do to get even better next year. Remember, the vast majority of this Stanley Cup Champion roster is still under contract for next season. We could literally have this whole team, almost to a man, back next year to go for it again.

Forwards

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Ryan O’Reilly

O’Reilly came to the Blues via trade, a week after the draft. In hindsight, this trade was an absolute steal. The Blues offloaded Berglund and Sobotka, who had both become dead weight here. They also added a decent prospect in Tage Thompson, along with this year’s 31st overall pick and a 2nd rounder in the future. Berglund was released by the Sabers and crashed out of the NHL. He is currently dealing with his own mental health back home in Sweden, and I personally wish him all the best and hope he gets back to the hockey player he is capable of being. That being said, he is no longer a Saber, so that was a win for us. Sobotka was abysmal for Buffalo this year. He only managed 13 points in 69 games. Thompson wasn’t too much better, 65 games and 15 points. Now, those draft picks may turn out to be big for Buffalo. However, considering that the pick for this year will be 31st overall, it’s unlikely that it will amount to a legitimate superstar.

In exchange for all of that, the Blues got Ryan O’Reilly. All O’Reilly has done this year is to have, arguably the best year of his career. He played all 82 games, tied his career high in goals, 28, set new career highs in Assists and Points, 49 and 77 respectively, played more minutes than he’d ever played before and took more shots than he ever had before. He also added 94 takeaways, 31 hits, and a 56.9% faceoff percentage. The biggest stat that O’Reilly had, and one that I think clearly shows the disparity between the Blues and the Sabers, is Plus Minus. Ryan O’Reilly played 3 years with Buffalo and 6 with Colorado before that. In all of those seasons, he had a positive Plus Minus only once, 2009-10 with Colorado (his rookie season). This year with St. Louis, O’Reilly was +22. That’s 18 higher than his career high and a full 45 higher than last year with Buffalo. He then went on to become playoff MVP, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. Riles played all 26 games, posted 8 goals and 15 assists for 23 points and a +2 rating. That’s a franchise record and tied for the league high in points. He did most of that with a cracked rib that he suffered against Dallas.

Ryan O’Reilly was brought in to be the top line center and a leader of this team. He did both, all year, and excelled at both. When the Blues were struggling in October, he more or less put the team on his back and carried them. He watched his linemates change all season and through it all he continued to excel. O’Reilly was far and away the Blues best player this year, and statistically had the best year of his career. If he doesn’t win some kind of individual award this year it would be a travesty. He also looked happy. As a player, O’Reilly has spent most of his career playing for some of the worst organizations in the league. He looks as if he has finally found his home, like so many others, in St. Louis. O’Reilly is under contract with the Blues through 2022-23 and if anyone even thinks about trading him, they should be fired immediately.

Vladimir Tarasenko

This was not the greatest season of Vladimir Tarasenko’s career. He started out slow, like most of the team, with only 9 points in October and 11 pts in November. Then had an absolutely abysmal December, 2pts and -11. Had the season ended at the halfway mark, Tarasenko would have easily had the worst year of his career. However, it didn’t, and he absolutely exploded in February, 10 goals, 12 assists, 22 points and +12. That month essentially saved Tarasenko’s season. He did miss a few games to the odd injury or illness, he played 76 of 82 games, but was never really out for any long continuous stretches.

All in all, Vlady finished the season with 33 goals, 68 points, and a +8. He also managed to match his career high in Power Play goals, 12 and carried on a slightly more physical level of play by recording 88 hits. That’s one short of his career high of 89 set last year, but significantly higher than all of his previous years’ totals. His average time on ice did go down slightly this year. That may have been due to a couple of things. First, the increased strength of the Blues 2nd and 3rd lines. Second, the constant line shuffling that saw Vlady changing Centermen and Left Wings almost weekly at some points.

A lot of people expected Vlady to take over the playoffs, but he really didn’t. He scored 11 goals and notched 6 assists, for 17 points. He had extended periods, where he seemed like he simply couldn’t find the net to save his life. However, right when it mattered most, Vlady ripped off an 8 game point streak spanning the entire San Jose Series and the first 2 games of the Final. He also added an assist on the back-breaking goal in Game 7. Vlady wasn’t the hero of the 2019 playoffs, but he didn’t need to be. He needed to be the scorer that he is and he did that perfectly.

Ultimately, this was not the best season of Tarasenko’s career, but it was by no means the worst. He is currently under contract for $7.5 million until 2023 and there is little reason, to my eyes at least, to consider moving him at all.

Brayden Schenn

Schenn is a complicated topic for the Blues. He had a fairly good year. He finished the season with 17 goals, 37 assists, 54 points, +3, an 18:35 ATOI and a 47.5% faceoff percentage. Those stats aren’t bad, especially considering that he did that in only 72 games due to a couple of minor injuries. Like the rest of the team, he had a shaky start and then came alive in February and March. In the playoffs, he put in 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points across all 26 games. His biggest moment by far though was scoring the 3rd goal in Game 7, which ultimately killed the Bruins off. He bounced around lines during the playoffs, but ultimately found himself back with Schwartz and Tarasenko, and the top line from 2017-18 came back for a glorious reunion tour.

Unlike the rest of the team though, Schenn is not so easy to quantify. He started the season as a Center on the 2nd line. Then he bounced to the 3rd line, to the 1st line, and then back. In February, Berube put him with O’Reilly and Tarasenko on the top line as a Winger. The three of them proceded to set the NHL on fire for a month and a half. Schenn is a natural Center, he is actually fairly good at being a Center, except that his faceoff numbers simply aren’t as good as O’Reilly or Bozak. However, some of his best play has come as a Winger, not a Center. He is simply a really versatile player and unfortunately, that likely means he will never have a steady defined role. He is simply too useful to put somewhere and leave him. Because of that, it is likely that Schenn will spend the rest of his time in St. Louis almost constantly being bounced from position to position and line to line.

Schenn likes coach Berube. He played with him before in Philly, and he seems to respect him as a coach and his decisions regarding his near constant shuffling. If that continues going forward, then I see no reason why he couldn’t be a valuable piece of the Blues system for years to come. However, Schenn is only under contract with the Blues for one more year. Cap space is already getting tight and will only get tighter in the next couple of years. It is still up in the air as to what kind of terms, both money and years, it would take to keep Schenn around, and Schenn is not the kind of player you break the bank to keep. If an extension can be worked out that makes sense for both parties, then I say re-sign him. If not, then I’m sad to say, next year may very well be Schenn’s last year with the Blues.

Oskar Sundqvist

Sunny blew pretty much everyone away that was watching, with what he achieved this year. He played 74 games, 32 more than his previous career high. In those 74 games, he racked up 14 goals, 17 assists, 31 points, an ATOI of 13:49, 31 Blocks, 101 hits, and 41 takeaways. All of those are career highs by more than double his previous best. He did manage only 42% on the faceoff dot, which isn’t great, but he isn’t really a natural Center and he took far more faceoffs than he ever has before.

Sunny then played 25 of 26 playoff games and while he notched only 4 goals and 5 assists, he did so with a +5 rating and more importantly, he laid out 74 hits. That kind of physicality is ultimately what delivered the Blues the Cup. Sunny did get suspended for boarding on Boston Defender Matt Grzelcyk, but that hit was more Grzelcyk’s fault than Sunny’s. Sundqvist’s line was one of the most energetic lines in the playoffs and Berube actually started him more than once. It’s also amazing to note that at only 25 years old, this young Swede has already got his name on the Stanley Cup twice.

I said this in a previous article, Oskar Sundqvist is a bigger, stronger, better version of Vladimir Sobotka. He is essentially a Swiss Army Knife player. Sunny can play any Forward position on seemingly any line. He can log PK and PP minutes without a problem, and he doesn’t have a problem just putting his head down and getting to work. That is the kind of guy every team needs at least one of, preferably 2 or 3. When you can get 30 point seasons out of that guy, that makes it even better.

Sunny is currently 25 and is a restricted free agent with arbitration this year, so the Blues do control his contract, but he does have some say. I don’t think anyone would argue against keeping him in St. Louis, at least in the short term. However, there are those that would argue that maybe this season was more an anomaly, than the beginning of a trend. Either way, the Blues need to lock him up for at least the next 2-3 years and hopefully, this is the beginning of a long and happy stay in St. Louis for the talented young Swede.

Tyler Bozak

I’m going to qualify this one before I start. Bozak did not have a great year in comparison to his previous year and his career bests. However, Bozak wasn’t brought in to do that. Bozak was brought into St. Louis to do a specific job, mainly lock down a 2nd or 3rd line Center role until Robert Thomas is ready. If you look at Bozak’s season through the lens of his other seasons, it doesn’t look that great, but if you look at it through the lens of him doing the job he was brought in to do, he nailed it. His stats don’t scream off the page, he had 13 goals, 25 assists, and 38 points in 72 games. He did manage 54.3% on the faceoff dot and that was one of the main reasons he was brought in, to win faceoffs, which he’s managed.

When Bozak got here he said, “I came to St. Louis to win a cup. There’s Your Headline, Print it.” That statement turned out to be more of a prediction than a dream. Bozak basically spent the playoffs as a 3rd line Center and he did it admirably. He scored 5 goals, added 8 assists for 13 points and posted a 54% faceoff number. He logged a healthy amount of power play minutes and even logged his fair share of hits. Bozak continued doing his job from the regular season in the playoffs and he continued to do it exactly to expectation.

All in all, Bozak hasn’t lit it up that much this year. He wasn’t really that bad either, not bad enough to consider his presence hurting the team. He’s under contract till 2021 at a reasonable $5 mil. He also has a modified No-Trade clause, so if the Blues feel they don’t need him, they can move him. For right now, I’d keep him around for at least another year and see if he plays better next season, now that he’s developed some chemistry with his new teammates.

David Perron

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Perron when the Blues re-signed him, again, in the offseason. He was coming off the best season of his career in Vegas and the fear of regression was fairly high. He didn’t exactly disappoint. Perron scored 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points and did it in only 57 games. Those stats aren’t career highs in any category. However, if you throw out his 50 assist season last year, they aren’t far off his best season either. What they are high in is his per-game numbers. If you throw out the Vegas season last year and the 2010-11 season when he only played 10 games, Perron had his career-best season in Goals per game and Points per game, .4 and .81 respectively. That’s not bad.

David then added a quiet but effective playoffs. He had 7 goals and 9 assists, for 16 points although most of it came in the early rounds. Perron also finished with a +4 and over 18 mins per game. He wasn’t a knockout star in the playoffs and there were times when he had to be shifted off the top 2 lines because he wasn’t exactly living up to the billing. However, he did his job in the playoffs and finally got a cup after the disappointment of last year. Add in the fact that he reportedly left money on the table to come back to St. Louis because he loves the team, and this acquisition and season looks even better.

Perron’s under contract till 2022 for $4 mill per year and has an even friendlier modified NTC than Bozak. He is good to have around the locker room, can play any of the top 3 lines, and could be a good guy to have around with the number of young Forwards the Blues are going to have moving forward. I do have one major concern with Perron and that is injuries. He has had more than a few of them through the years including multiple concussions. It pays to keep in mind that those injuries, especially the concussions, tend to build up over the course of a career and could lead that career to a premature end. As long as he’s healthy, I think Perron is a great guy to have around for the next couple of years, but remember he could be one big hit away from calling it a career.

Pat Maroon celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal in game 7 of the 2nd round in the NHL playoffs against the Dallas Stars. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Pat Maroon

Pat Maroon is another mediocre guy to me. He didn’t exactly have a great season or really the season the Blues were hoping for, but he also didn’t have a bad season. I think a lot of fans were expecting more from Maroon than I believe he’s capable of giving. He played 74 games and put up 28 points. He added another 3 goals and 4 assists in the playoffs while playing all 26 games. None of that is career high for Maroon. I think he, like Tarasenko and Schenn, also suffered from the constant line shuffling.

What Maroon did bring to this team was size and grit. Both things that the team was sorely lacking last season. He also brought a home town passion that can’t really be replicated. To many St. Louis fans, his game 7 overtime goal against Dallas will go down in history right next to David Freeze’s game 6 home run in the 2011 world series. Here in St. Louis we love our players, and the players that were born and raised here, are loved even more.

Pat didn’t set career highs in any major stat. There were also plenty of rumors about him being up for trade before the deadline. However, at the end of the day, Pat Maroon is a 30-year-old hometown guy, who brings a particular set of skills that the Blues didn’t have last year without him. He also only cost the Blues $1.75 million this season. If the Blues can find a way to bring him back next season at or around $2 mil, I’d love to have him back and keep this reunion going. Ultimately though, Maroon is not the kind of guy to break the bank going after.

 Alexander Steen

Last year I wrote an article similar to this for this same website. Here’s what I wrote about Steen then:

Steen was a good Forward. He was never really a knockout offensive forward, his career high in points is 64 and his career high in goals is only 33. Steen’s value has always been as a defensive forward and it wasn’t too many years ago that he was being looked at as a contender for the Selke Award. In fact, a couple of years ago I even suggested he was a great fit for the Tarasenko line, as his defensive abilities allowed him to cover up for Tarasenko’s lack of defensive abilities. All that being said, his numbers are way down from those career high years. The last three years he’s averaged less than 20 goals and about 50 points. Now those numbers aren’t exactly bad, but they’re not knockout first line numbers. Steen is currently costing $5.75 million towards the cap. That’s first line money and he is not playing first line hockey. So what happened? Steen got old. He is 34 years old and is starting to look it. I believe he probably has a few more years working the second line, but the Blues have a list of talented young prospects coming through the ranks and honestly, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up that could supplant him for that second line spot. When that happens, the team will find itself stuck with a third line forward that they are paying first line money.

Change the relevant numbers, stats, and age, and you can more or less say the same thing this year, except worse. This year Steen only managed to play 65 games, compared to last year’s 76. His goals went down to 10, his points to 27 and his ATOI is down to only 15 min per game. His playoff numbers were also nothing to write home about. He had 2 goals and 3 assists, and only 13:22 ATOI. I said last season that he was a solid 2nd line guy, then the Blues went out and essentially brought in an entire line (O’Reilly, Perron, Bozak). They also had breakout seasons from Thomas and Sundqvist. By the time this season drew to a close, Steen was buried on the 4th line and fighting for minutes with an underwhelming Robby Fabbri.

The problem with Steen is his contract numbers. He’s still making $5.75 million until 2021 and has a full NTC which stays in effect till February 1, 2021. Even if you could get Steen to waive his NTC, I question whether you’d be able to find a team willing to take on that contract for the player Steen has become. At this point, the Blues will either be stuck with Steen for the next couple of years, or they will have to buy his contract out this offseason. I’m glad Steen won the cup here. I’m glad he got to lift that trophy in a Blues’ sweater and with this team. However, I think a buyout is probably necessary here. If you buy him out he will give you a $1.75 mil cap hit next season, $3.75 mil in 2020-2021, and then $1.5 mil for the next two years after that. To me, that’s a small price to pay for not having to pay a glorified 4th liner $6 million for the next 2 years.

Jaden Schwartz

Jaden Schwartz had an incredible playoffs this year. He played all 26 games, scored 12 goals and 8 assists for 20 points. Jaden finished with a +9 rating and 17:28 ATOI. He also managed to go down in history for notching 2 hat tricks in the same playoffs. One against Winnipeg and one against San Jose. Had Schwartz continued that performance and scored a few more goals against Boston in the final, it may have been him and not O’Reilly lifting the Conn Smythe.

Unfortunately, Schwartz had those playoffs after what was a simply awful season for him. First, he only managed 69 games played. That was mostly due to injury, but he hasn’t ever managed a full 82 game season.  His career high is 80 in a single season, and he has had one season more than cut in half with an injury. He needs to stay healthy. When he was playing, he managed only 11 goals and 25 assists, for 36 points. Now, as with others, that can partially be attributed to the shuffling of lines, but with Schwartz’s game that shouldn’t matter as much. He simply didn’t have it this year. Last year he played fewer games and more than doubled his goal total along with 10 more assists. He is a useful defensive skater. This year, however, his blocks were down on his career average and he’s never been a takeaway machine.

I have often said, however, that Schwartz is the kind of player who doesn’t exactly show up in the traditional stats. Even a look at stuff like Corsi numbers isn’t exactly great this year. Last year Schwartz had a Corsi For % Relative of 7.0, which is great. The year before, on a rebuilding team, it was 4.4. This year it was only 4.0. Now to be fair, there are a lot of teams that would kill for a player with a 4.0. However, when a guy does better than that on a much worse team, it doesn’t look good.

I’m not ready to give up on Schwartz, not by a longshot. He is signed through 2020-21 and I fully believe he is a first line Winger. However, there are younger guys that are coming up through the system. If Schwartz doesn’t improve pretty soon one of them is going to be gunning for his spot. For now though, let’s just hope that the Schwartz we saw in the playoffs, is the real one and that this regular season was just a blip on the radar for a talented, if underappreciated, player.

Robert Thomas

Thomas had a great rookie season and honestly, it almost didn’t happen. Thomas was called in for training camp and preseason, as he should have been. In that period, he honestly wasn’t really good enough to crack the NHL team. However, he was only 19 years old and because of that, the Blues were faced with a choice; keep him in St. Louis or send him back to Canadian Juniors for the rest of the year. There is no call-up option, no choice of going to the AHL in San Antonio, its NHL or bust for a 19-year-old. Basically, Thomas was too good to send back to juniors, so they kept him.

He struggled at first. His first month in the NHL was, simply put, an extreme learning experience. He scored 1 point in only 6 games in October and averaged 4th line minutes. In November he was up to 13 games, scored his first goal and was now up to 2nd line minutes. He was put off a bit by an injury in January which held him to only 5 games. Robert also had a slightly sluggish February playing 14 games and managing only 6 assists and no goals. He finally broke out in March. In March he played 15 games and notched 4 goals and 8 assists as the Blues surged into the Playoffs. Put all that together and in his rookie season, Thomas played 70 games, scored 9 goals and 24 assists for a total of 33 points, and averaged 13 mins on ice. That’s not bad for a 19-year old that looked lost at the start of the season.

He does have some things to work on. His +/- was -2 which needs to improve and he had 30 giveaways to only 36 takeaways. That ratio needs to improve, preferably with the giveaways going away. He also saw only limited action on the faceoff dot and only posted a 44.1% win percentage. If he is the future Center that everyone thinks he is then that needs to improve, although I would suggest that simply getting more game reps on the dot will help that.

His playoff performance has more or less mirrored his regular season. He looked timid and a little unsure in the first series against Winnipeg. It showed as he only managed 1 point in 6 games. By the Dallas series, he looked far more confident. That was reflected by the 4 points and 1 goal he scored. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to continue that trend in the San Jose series. He only 1 assist in that series despite playing all 6 games. Thomas also saw his minutes erode from 15:32 in the first game to under 10 in the final game. He only got to partake in 2 games of the Cup final, unfortunately. First, he was forced out after a hit from Boston’s Krug in game 1. He didn’t manage to make it back until game 6, where the whole team looked flat. Thomas showed some flashes of brilliance in the playoffs and had periods where he looked like a future elite. However, he also had points where he looked outmatched. At only 19 though, that’s really to be expected.

Thomas spent most of this season learning how to play NHL hockey and he did most of it from the Wing. Next year he needs to move into the Center more and hopefully start the season like he ended this season. If Thomas continues to improve, he could be a fixture of the Blues for years to come.

Ivan Barbashev

I know we’ve all seen Barbashev before, this is actually his 3rd NHL season. However, this is the first season he’s really been able to show what he’s got. Barbashev got to play 80 games this year and he split those games mostly between the 3rd and 4th lines. He managed to set new career highs in pretty much everything because of that. Barbie doubled his previous high in goals with 14 and added 12 assists to go with them for a total of 26 points. He also managed a 45.6% faceoff percentage across over 400 faceoffs, marking his first appreciable time at Center. Ivan also set career highs in blocks, hits and takeaways with 31, 86, 36 respectively and only had 14 giveaways, which is a pretty respectable takeaway/giveaway ratio. On the negative side, he posted a -4 rating on the season and his Corsi numbers aren’t very pretty.

Ivan didn’t come out looking great in the playoffs. He didn’t score a point in the Winnipeg series. Although he did show his worth by throwing more than his fair share of hits. However, Barbie redeemed himself after that. In the later 3 rounds of the playoffs, he managed to notch 3 goals and 3 assists. More importantly, for him at least, he finished the playoffs with 87 total hits. He also had 17 takeaways and only 9 giveaways. Barbashev did all that while only earning 4 penalty minutes, which is honestly a bit incredible based on how many hits he was laying out. He also only missed playing the entire playoffs by 1 game. That due to a suspension he picked up for Game 6 of the Cup Final. Barbashev was a key man on a simply brutal 4th line for the Blues. He was also key in their great forecheck game, a facet of the Blues’ game that honestly won them the playoffs in my opinion.

Early forecasts have Barbashev as a possible loss in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. If he can improve his stats over the next couple of years and cement himself as a 3rd line Forward, I could definitely see that happening as the Blues may have more important people to protect. This year though, Barbashev has had a good season for the Blues. He is a Restricted Free Agent this year, and as such the Blues should have no problem locking him up for at least the next couple of years.

Zach Sanford

Sanford’s season started out looking pretty good. He put up 6 points in only 5 games in October and he looked like he was about to have the season that Sundqvist ended up having. He even spent some time playing on the 2nd line with O’Reilly. However, as the Blues surged late, Sanford didn’t. When everyone else was having breakouts in February and March, he managed only 1 and 6 points respectively, and only 2 goals combined.

In his defense, Sanford hasn’t really had a chance to show himself at the NHL level. He missed all of last year due to injuries and a lack of room on the roster and split the season prior to that between St. Louis and Washington. He played 60 games this year, which is 21 more than his previous high, but looked to falter when asked to step beyond a 4th line role. On the upside, he did set new career highs in goals, 8, assists, 12, points, 20 and ATOI, 12:35 min.  He was also a +8 on the season which was good considering how bad the Blues started the year. He also looked to have fairly good chemistry with Ryan O’Reilly, although in limited playing time together.

That lackluster showing down the stretch earned Sanford a spot on the healthy-scratch list for most of the playoffs. He did start the first 3 games against Winnipeg and really didn’t look all that great. He failed to score a point and averaged less than 10 mins per game. However, injuries and suspensions reared their ugly head in the Cup Final. When they did, Sanford was there to take advantage. He was re-inserted into the lineup for game 3 of the cup final and stayed there the rest of the way. In just those 5 games, he scored 4 points, 3 assists, and 1 goal. He also put up 15 hits and managed to climb all the way up to 13:48 mins in game 7.

Sanford had an odd year. He looked to be growing and developing at points and then looked lost at other times. His stats improved, but he failed to truly cement himself into a spot on this team. Although his performance in the final showed that he is capable of stepping up and delivering in the crucial moment. He is currently an RFA and is arbitration eligible for next year. The Blues may not get him as cheap as they would like, but there are definitely worse options we could have for the 3rd or 4th line. I would recommend re-signing him. However, he may find himself fighting for a regular roster spot next year with some of the other guys on this list as well as a possible rookie or two. He also might be an interesting chip in a trade, should Doug Armstrong decide to shop him around in an attempt to improve an already great roster for another deep run.

Robby Fabbri

It’s easy to forget that Fabbri is only 23. He seems like he’s been in and out of the Blues for much longer than that age would suggest. Fabbri was coming back this year after a series of knee surgeries. Honestly, anything better than IR was a win for him this year. He played only 32 games this year. However, he didn’t get hurt doing it. He also had a few decent performances, even forcing Alex Steen to the bench for a little while at least. He also managed to step in and play admirably in relief, in a couple of playoff games.

All in all, this was a feeling-out season for Fabbri and he did just that. He got his legs back under him and showed he can still skate at the NHL level. However, he is a long way off from the future franchise player we all thought he was before the knee injury. Fabbri’s got time to get his game back and he is an RFA, so if the Blues can get him for a low number, which they should be able to, I have no problem giving the kid another shot at reclaiming his spot on the 2nd line and showing us the form that he had his rookie season a mere 3 years ago.

Jordan Kyrou

Kyrou didn’t play much this year. He only played in 16 games and he didn’t really do much with that time. In those games, he averaged only 9:40 ATOI and he put up an unimpressive 1 goal and 2 assists. He also added 3 blocks, 2 hits, 3 takeaways and 3 giveaways to that and capped it all off with an abysmal Corsi For relative of -10.1. None of that is really good, but Kyrou had a far more productive season in San Antonio. There he played 47 games, had 16 goals and 27 assists for 43 points and was +1.

What that says is that Kyrou is not quite ready for the NHL. He is rising to the top of the AHL though, so he should be soon. It is good that he got his feet wet and at 21 years old he has a little time left to learn before being thrown into the pool. Kyrou ultimately projects to be a Jaden Schwartz type Winger. That should eventually find himself standing to the side of Robert Thomas. This wasn’t his year in the end. However, he has already met the criteria to be exposed for the expansion draft, so there is no reason for the Blues to delay him. Kyrou is currently blocked by better players on the roster, but don’t be surprised if a lack of cap space sees him in the NHL full time sooner rather than later.

Sammy Blais

Blais is the kind of player that comes in and simply attacks the game. He skates around with almost reckless abandon and has no problem throwing his body around. He played 32 games this season, averaged only 9:51 min a game and yet still managed to rack up 93 hits. That’s almost 3 hits per game. That’s the kind of energy that is needed out of a 4th line guy and Blais is delivering it.

There is a bit of a problem though, that energy doesn’t always add up to points.  Blais managed only 4 points this year, 2 goals and 2 assists, but it can be a huge asset in a 4th line forward. Blais’ game does leave some obvious gaps. He had a negative plus/minus this year and had 11 giveaways, not good for that short of ice time. He also has had an unfortunate tendency to pass up on a chance to play the puck in order to lay a hit. That is something that can get a player in trouble at times.

All that aside, however, Blais proved himself as a valuable component on the 4th line. He first showed it in his small amount of regular season action. However, it was more obvious in the playoffs. There his energy brought a much-needed jump to the Dallas Series and saw him score his first ever playoff goal, albeit on a shaken up Ben Bishop. He finished the playoffs with 3 points, and an incredible 70 hits in only 15 games. Basically, Blais was given a chance in the lineup, took it, and then refused to give it back. He has also proven to be relentless on the forecheck. I think, with a little training, he could also be a solid penalty killer. Regardless, Blais has definitely earned himself a shot at a full season of 4th line work. That might come as a starter or as the 13th Forward. Either way, look for the Blues to re-sign this 22-year-old RFA and start using him even more next season.

Mackenzie MacEachern

Mackenzie, or Mac Mac as he came to be called, was a bit of a bolt from the blue this year. I didn’t really have him on my radar and I’m not sure a whole lot of others did either. He is a 25-year-old Winger, drafted in the 3rd round in 2012 and honestly looked to be one of those guys that get signed, stays in the AHL for 6 or 7 years, ages out of the AHL, and then bounces around a couple of teams before inevitably retiring at 30 and moving on from hockey.

That assessment turned out to be wrong, however. The Blues called him up in January and he ended up playing 29 games for them and bringing much the same energy as Blais. In Mac’s case though that energy is slightly more controlled and slightly more productive. In those 29 games, he managed 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points and a whopping 49 hits, all while averaging only 8:02 mins. He also managed to record 6 takeaways and had 0 giveaways. All of that is great news for a 4th line gunner.

Mac was given a job to do, forecheck and attack the puck, and he did it and did it well. He threw hits when necessary and managed to get ahold of the puck fairly often when he did. Honestly, the only reason Blais got the playoff minutes is that his game translates better in the playoffs when the rules are relaxed a little. Mac is a better regular season player and I expect to see him there even more often next year, possibly splitting 4th line starts with Sammy Blais.

Conclusion

The Blues Forwards, simply put, were stellar this year. They had everything, speed, skating ability, playmakers, a couple of pure goal scorers, grit, physicality and a relentless forecheck. It took them a while to get going and come together as a group, but once they did, the sky was literally the limit and they reached it. The Blues cycled through a rotation of young talents on the Forward group throughout the year and most of them at least showed signs of being good. There is still room for improvement and there are a few guys that are, honestly, overpaid for what they contribute. If the Blues can get slightly more consistent and the youngsters can live up to the potential that we saw they had this year, then this Blues’ Forward core could be a force to be reckoned with, for years to come.

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