With the news earlier in the week that David Perron will miss the start of the season, the Blues roster is finally taking shape and we can start to pinpoint where guys will be playing. After suffering through another season with disappointing injuries, Blues management went out and got some support and leadership for this young team.
GM Doug Armstrong has made his mark with this team quickly. Going back to the EJ trade, Armstrong has brought in Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Elliot, Kent Huskins, Scott Nichol and numerous draft picks. This team has changed from all home grown talent to a team ready to compete for a title.
If this team can stay healthy, can manage to get Perron back in a timely fashion, and have strong play from the goaltending position, a playoff spot is not entirely out of the question. If the Blues make it to the playoff they can be a deadly team, like the LA Kings from the last few years.
With training camp set to start in a month we can start to place players in lines to see where this team could be at to start the year. While position battles must play out, we can safely assume that our roster is set and we can look to where guys will play.
Line 1- Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, David Backes: When Andy McDonald returned from injury this line gelled instantly. Stewart equaled his goal output in Colorado in 20 fewer games with the Blues with 15 goals in the Blue Note. Backes led the team with 31 goals and his play blossomed as the year went on and injuries set in. The leadership displayed by Backes is earning him talk of captiancy in the near future. McDonald suffered a concussion like Perron but was able to return and still put up big numbers, 20 goals and 30 assists. While having two big bodies on one line may seem overkill, it worked for the Blues last year and should work nicely again this year. This line will be a beast for teams to match up against as it combines size, speed and skill in one packaged line.
Line 2- Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Jamie Langenbrunner: This line will pick up right where line one ends with size and skill. Berglund burst back onto the scene after his sophomore slump with his first 50 point season in his career. His point totals in his first three seasons are comparable to the Sedin twins and look where they have gotten themselves. Steen has been reborn in St. Louis after the trade from Toronto and has put up big numbers in the place of injured teammates. Langenbrunner brings a veteran presence that this team has been lacking since the retirement of Keith Tkachuk and also has a Stanley Cup to help back his words. While he may be on the decline of his career, his presence will be a big boost for this team.
Line 3- TJ Oshie, Jason Arnott, Matt D’Agostini: Its not all teams that have a third line of a former first round pick with potential still to shine through and a recent 20 goal scorer but the Blues do. Oshie has battled injuries in his time with St. Louis but his fiesty attitude and strong work ethic make him a fan favorite in the Lou. He may not put up huge numbers but he will work hard from every puck and will not let up until the final horn. D’Agostini had a breakout season last year as he was given more minutes as injuries set in. He was up to the challenge as he netted 21 goals and added 25 assists. Arnott is another veteran presence that will help balance the youth on the team and still can add a punch to the scoring line too. Arnott accumulated 17 goals last season and gives the Blues 8 forwards who scored double digit goals last season.
Line 4- Ryan Reaves, Vladimir Sobotka, BJ Crombeen: In previous years the fourth line was the checking line and while that may hold true to an extent this year, the line has upgraded its scoring potential too. Reaves brings the physical play of Can Janssen with a rudimentary scoring touch along the likes of Tkachuk. Reaves will likely rotate with newly signed Scott Nichol but will still make his presence known more often than not. Sobotka is a faceoff whiz and led the team in faceoff percentage last year. He also is the leader of the penalty kill unit and takes the place of Jay McClement nicely. Crombeen has 25 goals in his three years with the Blues and while his goal scoring declined last year he can still put up a goal in a pinch. While not a high powered scoring line, this fourth line does give the Blues 4 legitimate scoring threats which should put some fear in teams they play.
The defense also has a good mix of youth and veteran presence along with the new ability to actually score from the point again.
Top Defense Pairing- Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk: Most teams would not give the keys to the top pairing to two young players but these two seem different. Petro and Shattenkirk paired up to shut down the opposing teams top lines after the trade yet still suffered through some growing pains. Both players can defend well and see the ice and can also score when needed to as well. Petro led the team with 32 assists while also pouring in 11 goals. Shattenkirk led all rookie defensemen in points last year, even with the trade to the Blues. There will be nights where one or both may have a lapse in play but with the potential they have shown so far at such a young age, Blues fans will be able to cope with those lapses this year.
Pairing Number 2- Carlo Colaiacovo and Roman Polak: This pairing gives the Blues a physical presence and the stay at home defensmen. Both players are smart in their own zone and will give Jaroslav Halak some piece of mind when they are on the ice. Colaiacovo, like Steen, has seen his career do a 180 while with the Blues. While he has suffered some injuries like in Toronto, for the most part he has been on the ice for a majority of games and has contributed on offense too. Polak has been an underrated player in the league over the past few years. While not a high scoring defensemen, he shown his knowledge of the game and his ice vision. Polak has been one of the best defensemen for the Blues since the lockout ended and management has seen that as well.
Pairing Number 3- Barret Jackman and Nikita Nikitin: This pairing will be the one with the most rotation if all stay healthy. Jackman is the longest tenured Blue and has grown as a defensemen since his Calder winning season. His play has progressed from all out destruction to a more measured pace and his teaching has developed players like Polak. He wil put that to use again this year pairing with Nikitin and possibly Ian Cole. Nikitin had a solid season in his first in America. Nikitin used his size to batter opponents like Jackman did early on in his career but also had great vision and defensive zone play.Nikitin is still unpolished and with the addition of Kent Huskins and the play of Ian Cole last year, the last spot on defense will be a dog fight all year and will keep everyone hungry.
Goalies- Jaroslav Halak and Ben Bishop: Halak is firmly entrenched in the starting role and with Conklin’s departure is more likely to loosen up and play with some confidence. Halak started the season off hot, going 9-1-2 and ended the year equally as hot. It was the middle where things fell apart and when injuries took their toll. Halak must put that behind him like he does with a bad game and come out strong yet again to push doubt ou fans heads. Bishop will fight with Brian Elliott for the back up position and in my mind will likely win that fight. Bishop has experience with the Blues systems and will be less likely to get into Halak’s head. With Elliott’s starting time in Ottawa being a factor, Halak could see him as a back up like Conklin, ready to steal the role if he should falter. Both back ups provide the Blues with stability in the NHL and AHL.
As training camp opens and the preseason plays out we will see if these lines work the best for this team. As with every season things change, players get hurt and trades happen but as it stands right now the Blues look to be a playoff team. Teams in the Central should take a close look as to how they will shut down this team when it fires on all cylinders.