St. Louis Blues:
Last season – 2nd in the Western Conference
GM – Doug Armstrong
Armstrong has engineered a good team, a perennial contender and this year is no different. While the loss of David Backes will hurt, he has still managed to develop a team that will be able to hang with the best of them. That being said, the leash might be shorter than usual. There is pressure to not just contend and be great in the regular season, but to actually win and get to the Stanley Cup-finals. In the highly competitive Western conference, that is not the easiest thing to do. Coupled with having to be in the same division as Chicago and Dallas, this doesn’t even look easy to do on paper.
Head Coach – Ken Hitchcock
The Blues fought well in the playoffs last season, and that’s why Hitchcock gets a last chance to get a cup with the Blues when they signed him to another contract this offseason. His biggest criticism is that the Blues often can become a too heavy defensive team, to the point where things don’t work their way, they don’t have the abilities or mentality to turn it around.
Nail Yakupov (RW), David Perron (LW), Carter Hutton (G), Kyle Brodziak (C),
26th overall pick 2016 (Tage Thompson, F), 35th overall pick 2016 (Jordan Kyrou, F), Conditional 3rd round pick 2018, 5th round pick 2016 (Connor Bleackley, F), 5th round pick 2017
Brian Elliott (G), Anders Nilsson (G), Zach Pochiro (LW), David Backes (C), Troy Brouwer (RW), Steve Ott (C)
28th overall pick 2016 (Lucas Johansen, D), 87th overall pick 2016 (Garrett Pilon, F), 3rd round pick 2017, 5th round pick 2017
Re-signing Schwartz, Steen and Allen was the Blues most important moves this offseason. They also re-signed Jaskin and then added Perron and Brodziak to the roster. Which as player types is no surprise to anyone as players the Blues would sign. It’s a bit of a shocker with them going for Yakupov, but they got him dirt cheap, so he’s worth the shot. They did lose their longtime captain David Backes, which will definitely hurt them.
Goaltending – 7/10
Jake Allen is a pretty decent goaltender, who just barely managed to edge out Brian Elliot. That might not be saying much. For me, the goaltending issue is definitely something that will hurt St. Louis when it comes to play-off time. Hutton is a decent back-up goalie.
Defense – 10/10
You have to love the defense of the St. Louis Blues. There’s skill, there’s strength, there’s experience and there’s youth. It is likely that Shattenkirk will get traded before the deadline, but as of now he’s staying put. That’s great news for Ken Hitchcock and the city of St. Louis. This defense is right up there with the strongest units in the league, and they also have one of the most exciting prospects in the league in Parayko. He is definitely an entertaining player to watch.
Bouwmeester – Pietrangelo
Gunnarsson – Shattenkirk
Edmundson – Parayko
Forwards – 9/10
While I don’t think they have replaced David Backes with a similar quality-player, the remaining crew is extremely solid. However, while nobody can doubt the talent of NHL17-coverboy Vladimir Tarasenko, one can definitely question his mentality when it matters. There was an obvious rift between him and Hitchcock during the play-offs last year, and if that ports over into this year St. Louis is in trouble.
St. Louis is still, even with no Backes, a physically imposing team on offense. They will let you know that they are there. Yakupov should rebound when being in a winning atmosphere, something that has not been the case for him in the last few years.
Schwartz – Lehtera – Tarasenko
Fabbri – Stastny – Steen
Jaskin – Berglund – Yakupov
Perron – Reaves– Rattie
Team Composition – 9/10
A very well-composed team, even with the questions surrounding the goaltending. It’s built both to dominate and intimidate, while still having a fair share of highly skilled and explosive players. The drawback is that the team has tended to get a bit slow during the play-offs, and you would wonder how they will fare against a really speedy team like the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 7-game series.
Leadership presence – 9/10
With Backes and to a lesser extent Steve Ott it would be 10 out 10. Their voice in that lockerroom was extremely important, and will be sorely missed by the team. However, the team still has leaders, especially coming from the defensive side. On the offensive side Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko will be called upon to provide leadership. You also have Ryan Reaves, who will probably not play as much as in the past, but he provides a good lockerroom-influence.
Skill Value -10/10
It has the players to provide dazzling entertainments and highlights. Tarasenko and Parayko are both standouts in this regard. This team is a definite contender for the Western Conference also this year, but it’s going to be interesting seeing how Hitchcock’s contract-year plays out. Will they “win one for the gipper”, or will they simply zone out if things don’t go their way?
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