Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 St. Louis Blues.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 St. Louis Blues
The Blues fired their head coach Ken Hitchcock at the beginning of February and assistant coach Mike Yeo took over coaching duties. Yeo led the team to a 22-8-2 record under his guidance in the regular season.
The Blues traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and goalie Phoenix Copley, to the Washington Capitals in February for forwards Zach Sanford and Brad Malone. More than anything, this appeared to be a last-ditch effort to get something in return for Shattenkirk, who would be an unrestricted free agent come the end of the season.
In the Blues 50th NHL season, they finished third in the Central Division with 99 points. They beat the Wild four games to one in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to advance to the second round. The Blues lost to the Nashville Predators in six games.
The Blues had an eventful off-season. During the NHL Entry Draft, the Blues traded the 27th overall pick, a 2018 conditional pick, and underwhelming center Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers for another, hopefully more successful, center Brayden Schenn.
Soon thereafter, the Blues traded fan favorite enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Pittsburgh Penguins for another center Oskar Sundqvist, and the 31st overall pick, which turned out to be winger Klim Kostin.
The Blues also picked up forwards Chris Thorburn and Beau Bennett. Thorburn is expected to fill in physically for Reaves on the fourth line. He is not afraid of a good fight. Bennett is going to be looked upon to contribute offensively to the Blues in the upcoming season.
Five key injuries during the off-season and preseason could lead to a slow start for the Blues. Patrik Berglund underwent shoulder surgery after dislocating his shoulder during a workout. He Is expected to return as early as December; Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester injured his ankle during training camp and will miss at least the first week of the regular season. Sanford had a chance to make the team at the start of the year if not for his dislocated shoulder that required surgery. He will likely miss at least the first five months of the season.
Alexander Steen injured his hand during training camp and will miss at least the first week of the regular season. Last, but not least, Robby Fabbri reinjured his knee and will not be re-evaluated until the start of the regular season. Due to these injuries, a few unexpected young kids will get their chance to impress the Blues for more than just training camp.
2017-18 Line Combinations
Ivan Barbashev – Tage Thompson – Beau Bennett
The coaching staff is going to have to seriously play with the roster the rest of preseason to find chemistry with all of the key forwards out. It is going to be a challenge.
Jake Walman – Robert Bortuzzo
Defensive pairings are a little out of whack right now due to the injury of Bouwmeester. Once he comes back, Edmundson should move down and Walman will likely lose his roster spot.
Based on Jake Allen’s first round performance against the Minnesota Wild last season, he can do anything you can do and he can do it much better. If Allen can keep his eye on the prize, he could have the best season of his career. That’s the challenge.
Allen has always been a relatively streaky goaltender. When he is on a hot streak, there is no stopping him, but when it rains for him, it pours. The Blues saw that against Nashville in the second round of the playoffs last season.
Expect Allen in net for 50+ games this season and expect many more brilliant saves. The only time Blues backup Carter Hutton is going to get any playing time is when the Blues want to rest Allen or Allen is not playing well. Expect 20-30 games from Hutton this season.
Players To Watch
People in St. Louis have not been this excited about a prospect since Robby Fabbri and before that, Vladimir Tarasenko. Thompson is a Blues 2016 draft pick with a high probability of making the club this season. The 6’5” forward towers over everyone but Colton Parayko. He’s got a killer shot, he’s good with his hands, and he’s fast. He’s the whole package in a hockey player. If he makes the team, expect great things from Thompson in his rookie year.
Do the Blues finally have a center deemed worth of playing on a line with Tarasenko? You will soon find out. Picked up in the Lehtera trade, Schenn is known for his powerplay skills and his ability to score. The Blues can never have too much scoring, especially with the early injuries. The Blues seem to be a nice fit for Schenn.
Players On The Rise
Tarasenko is one of the best scorers in the league. Coming off his best season with 75 points, Tarasenko is hungry for more. He’s only had one 40-goal season in his NHL career and another one, if not a 50-goal season, is surely coming up.
Yes, you read that right. Both Vladimir’s are getting mentioned here. Going into his first full NHL season since 2013-14, the third line center has high hopes. He has yet to score more than nine goals and 33 points in an NHL season and there is no time like the present. He worked hard in the KHL so he would be ready to come back to the Blues. Expect Sobotka’s first 20-plus goal season coming up.
Players On The Decline
Berglund has been struck with several injuries throughout his nine-year NHL career. Each time he returns, he seems a little less himself. It takes him awhile to bounce back from his injuries. Expect a slow partial season from Berglund.
Steen is another player that seems to slow down for an extended period of time once he comes back from injury. Steen is also nearing the end of his career, so he may not be able to get 50-plus points like he once could.
2017-18 St. Louis Blues Season Prediction
Do not count the Blues out just yet. Five injuries to start the season is certainly not ideal, but there is a lot of depth in the organization. Look for young talent like Tage Thompson to impress early on.
Look for Tarasenko to get his first 50-goal season of his career. And expect to see the Blues fighting for one of the top three spots in the Central Division. Once the Blues get past these injuries, if they can stay relatively healthy, they could be a force to reckon with.