We wrap up the St. Louis Blues defensive previews with two sophomores who look to have major impacts on the Blues this season. Kevin Shattenkirk came over at the trade deadline in the Chris Stewart deal while Nikita Nikitin was in the US for only his second year. Both of these players are looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump along with Alex Pietrangelo.
Kevin Shattenkirk: Shattenkirk enjoyed a breakout rookie season and was among the leaders in points for a rookie. After starting the year in the AHL, Shattenkirk burst onto the scene in Colorado early in November and didn’t look back. In 46 games with the Aves, Kevin collected 7 goals and 19 assists on a team that struggled to score all year. When the trade deadline approached, Colorado did the unthinkable and traded away not only one of their stud forwards but also the budding defenseman Shattenkirk for a former number one pick and an energy forward.
While Stewart started off his time in St. Louis with a bang, Shattenkirk struggled to find his groove but once he was paired with Pietrangelo on the power play his true skills shone through. Shattenkirk played in 26 games with the Blues and managed to score 2 goals and 15 assists, with 5 points coming on the power play. His ability to find the open man at the right time was one of the things lacking with Blues defenseman and thankfully Kevin brings that dynamic to the Blues.
Another aspect that bodes well for Shattenkirk and the Blues is his desire even in games that his team has lost. In 42 losses last year, Shattenkirk had 3 goals and 15 assists, which shows that even in defeat he will fight to buzzer. In 17 divisional games with St. Louis, Kevin was an even player with 9 assists. He will have to step up in those types of games this year in order to take the next step in his career.
Look for Shattenkirk to put up big numbers again this year, more so on the power play, and also start developing into a two way defender like Pietrangelo. It is not out of the range of possibilities for Kevin to record between 10-14 goals and 30 assists.
Nikita Nikitin: Nikitin was one of three rookies on the Blues defensive blue line last year and like his cohorts, was a solid part of the Blues highs and lows. Nikitin split time between Peoria and St. Louis last year and was a big part of both teams. In his 41 games with the Blues, Nikitin notched his 1st career NHL goal and 8 assists with a +1 rating.
Nikitin‘s first career NHL goal came one game after his first career NHL point. In a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, Nikitin used his first goal to give the Blues a lead before they blew it and lost. All of Nikitin‘s points came after the All-Star break, which is when he spent most of his time with the Blues.
With Nikitin, its not about his point totals but more his defensive skills and positioning. Nikitin is a big, strong player and uses his size to make opposing players go around him more than they try and go through him. Pairing him with an offensive minded defender will allow the Blues to use four players in the offensive zone knowing Nikitin will be that stay at home defender.
Nikitin will likely split time with the Blues again this year as they brought in Kent Huskins from San Jose to bring some more veteran leadership to the blue line. Nik will participate in about 50 games this year and will up his point totals with 3-5 goals and 10-12 assists.
Next up on our preview list will be the four forward lines starting with the energy line. Come back tomorrow for our season preview as well.