Forward Sammy Blais (9) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the first goal of the new season. (Photo courtesy: Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports)
St. Louis, MO – Every NHL team has a so-called “secret weapon” – one of those younger players that flew under the radar of scouts and coaches, whether they were drafted low or slogged it out in the AHL (or worse) for a few seasons, only to break out in NHL and stupefy everyone. One big example is Victor Olofsson with the Sabres: 7G-5A-12PTS in 17 games for the 24-year-old after getting drafted in the 7th round of 2014. Last year, Jordan Binnington stole the show after playing in just one NHL game prior to last season, going all the way to win the Stanley Cup for the Blues.
Binnington, however, is no secret anymore. He’s got the hardware and has become a bonafide elite goaltender in the league after just half a season. That said, some of the younger kids like Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn are getting some recognition outside of the St. Louis organization and fanbase for their talent, and prospects like Klim Kostin and Jordan Kyrou have yet to pan out in the Bigs. Who, then, is the Blues’ real “secret weapon” this year? Enter the Blues’ second-favorite French-Canadian, Sammy Blais.
Sammy Blais, 23, is in his first full NHL season (43 combined GP from 2017-2019) and has already racked up new career highs for every stat. In just 17 games, he has 5 goals and eight points, not bad for having three goals in two years. Originally paired with fellow Canadian Ryan O’Reilly and fellow French-Canadian David Perron on the 2nd line, his average ice time has launched from 9:51/game to 13:28/game. His offensive point shares sit 6th amongst all forwards, behind the superstars of Schenn, Perron, ROR, and Tarasenko.
Finally, his offensive zone starting percentage (that is, possession numbers based on faceoffs in the O-Zone) are 6th among all players. This number is huge in terms of possession time and offensive zone time for St. Louis, especially when your linemates can get a new sequence going at the drop of a hat. The turnovers are a little concerning to start the season (7 giveaways), as are with any rookie player, but playing next to one of the best two-way forwards in the league should definitely help keep those numbers to a minimum.
Some of the defensive contributions of Sammy Blais are noteworthy as well. 40 total hits leads his entire team almost far and away (Barbashev in 2nd with 36). His defensive point shares clock in at .4, 3rd amongst all forwards on the team (guess who two of the others are). For the statheads out there, Blais’ Corsi and Fenwick numbers need some improvement; however, Sammy Blais’ primary stats provide the most interesting insight.
The New Muscle
Blais has filled in the role the Blues lost this offseason, with the departure of Pat Maroon. Obviously, Maroon’s offensive contributions for St. Louis pretty much stopped at the 2OT thriller against Dallas, but Maroon had an innate talent for getting the puck in the O-Zone. Find any of his game film and you’ll see when he had the puck down low behind the goaltender, no one laid a finger on him – they knew they’d lose.
Sammy has the same kind of edge to his game. Let’s jump to the second game against Minnesota where Blais scored (he scored in both contests against the Wild). Blais works the puck hard off of the defender (and yes, probably tripped him up a little), quickly diverts attention towards Bozak with a pass, and a split-second later, Blais has all the real estate in the world in front of Devan Dubnyk and jams it in.
What can set Blais apart from Maroon, however, is that solid offensive play that shows up on the stat sheet. He’s already halfway to Maroon’s total regular season goals with the Blues last season. Maroon may not have gotten to play top 6 minutes with top 6 players, but Blais’ shot has a special quality that Maroon just doesn’t quite have. Don’t believe it? Here’s Blais’ prettiest goal of the season, scored against Montreal in October:
The 2nd Offensive
Sammy Blais is definitely an offensive forward with a physical mindset. Drafted 176th overall, Blais is doing what he must to get minutes in the NHL. Only now, he’s getting pucks in the net. Most players take time to fill into a new role with new partners; Blais has done it in stride with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Maybe it’s a consequence of playing with two of the best players on St. Louis’ roster, but Blais compliments not only the play style of Perron and O’Reilly, but of the St. Louis Blues as a whole.
He’s a heavy hitter, a pest in both ends, and cuts his teeth in the dirty areas of the O-Zone. He and his linemates play a slow, building shift that wears down and confuses the defenders. If the offensive zone time continues to rise, so do the goals they score: ROR, Perron and Blais lead all lines in goals and points, 18 and 45, respectively. That grinding level of play may not be an exclamation mark on the stat sheet, but it gets the job done and it gets pucks to the back of the net. Sound like a team in the NHL?
Onto The Next
Now, in more recent games, Blais’ upgrade to his play is affecting his other teammates. In the last couple contests he has been paired with Tyler Bozak and new Blue Jacob de la Rose. Bozak has two goals since (which Blais set him up perfectly for the first) and de la Rose – albeit early in his Blues career – has the best CF% on the team in terms of offensive possession.
Look at their most recent game in Arizona. A team-high hits at even strength and the fourth-best CF% at 81.8% (with de la Rose right ahead of him). In a game that saw the top line of Schenn-Schwartz-Thomas dominate offensive ice time, having the third line right up with them in possession time and quality is an understated aspect to a player’s game, and Sammy Blais contributes to all of that.
With the departure of Maroon and the mounting injuries, Sammy Blais is the injection that the Blues need. He may not be the fastest skater or the best in his own end at the start of his young career, but he does the things Berube asks of him – physical presence and forechecking that results in scoring. It’s complimentary to how the middle 6 play and it’s complimentary to the way the St. Louis Blues win.
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