|Redemption comes from the Czech Republic
40 wins, 32 losses, 10 OTL, 15th overall in the league
The St. Louis Blues are a team of ups and the St. Louis Blues are a team of downs. After having made the post-season 23 straight years, the Blues have been feeling the growing pains of an attempted rebuild missing the playoffs four of the last five years. The Blues are a team on the upswing after acquiring arguably the best goaltender of last year's playoffs and witnessing some of their youth develop into key players. This team is close to returning as the venerable challenger it was for so many years and perhaps to another post-season appearance streak. This season could be St. Louis' breakout party as this team really responded under new head coach Davis Payne when he was brought in mid-season to replace former head coach Andy Murray last year. The talent level is finally there for the Blues and the question for this team will be can they return to being a contendor.
The Blues are led up front by Blues captain David Backes who has a rare blend of skill, size, and tenacity for the NHL. The large 6-3 American thrives in the physical game by being an excellent checker and a very intimidating presence on the ice. Backes also has a decent pair of hands having a 30 goal season on his resume. Since moving from wing to center Backes has been more concentrated on distributing the puck but he's one of those rare players who exceeds 100+ penalty minutes every year while offering a very respectable offensive game. This is also a contract year for Backes so expect an excellent performance out of him. Likely playing with Backes on the top line will be 22-year old David Perron who's emerged as probably the most potent offensive player on the Blues. Perron is a quick shifty forward that can play both wings that excels at playmaking but can also bury the puck if the opportunity arises. The Blues hope that Perron can regain his 2008-2009 form where he helped carry the Blues to the post season as there were some questions about his work ethic and intensity last season. Perron remains probably the most likely player to breakout this season as he's received rave reviews from training camp about his conditioning and off-ice training. Completing the first line will be Brad Boyes who had a disappointing season last year. Boyes is an intelligent sniper who's adept at generating offense and finding the twine. Boyes scored 33 and 43 goals respectively before having a hiccup last year with 14 but Boyes should be a likely candidate for a bounce back year.
Centering the second line will likely be 22-year old Patrik Berglund who's another player that had a disappointing campaign last year. The big bodied Berglund fell into a hellacious sophomore jinx after impressing in his rookie debut. However the playmaking former 25th overall pick spent all but one month of the off-season in St. Louis training for the upcoming season and rehabbing an injured shoulder. Berglund has been compared to Evegni Malkin when he's playing at the top of his game but lacks the consistency and work ethic to dominate to the levels he should with his innate abilities. This will be a defining season for Berglund as the training wheels are off now and he needs to define himself in this league. Occupying the wing on the second line will be Andy McDonald who will be relied upon as a veteran presence as only one of three players on this roster over 30-years old. McDonald is one of the fastest skaters in the league and has been one of the most consistent scorers since the lockout. Likely occupying the opposite wing will be 23-year old roller hockey god T.J. Oshie. The former 24th overall pick has developed into a hard working energy player who can do just about anything and play just about any role that's asked of him. It will be interesting to see what Oshie does this season as he says his focus is on scoring goals.
Starting on the third line will be two-way winger Alex Steen who's virtually the only Blues player not to have an off-season last year. The 26-year old seems to be finding the scoring touch and consistency that's been projected in him since his arrival in the league. Steen is also a toolbox player for the Blues being able to play in virtually any situation or role. Jay McClement has made a career of being a shutdown center and is one of the more underrated defensive centers in the league. Look for McClement to get the bulk of penalty kill minutes up front. Gritty grinder B.J. Crombeen will fill in on the opposite wing but could see himself fall to the fourth line during the season. Crombeen is an agitating defensive minded winger who's adept at the throwing the body and his fists.
Rounding out the Blues forward group will be defensive winger Brad Winchester renowned for his ability on the forecheck. Enforcer and hometown hero Cam Janssen will be protecting the lineup. Depth player Matt D'agostini will fill in at center until energy center Vladimir Sobotka returns from a shoulder injury.
Former first overall pick Erik Johnson leads the Blues defense. The 22-year old 6-4 defenseman oozes top end skill and the ability to play a mean game. However Johnson has been unlucky with injuries including missing his entire sophomore season. If Johnson can remain healthy he's already an elite defenseman while projecting to only get better in the next several years. This year will be Johnson's opportunity to prove he's a franchise blueliner. Paired with Johnson will be one of the finest defensive defenseman in Barret Jackman who will free up Johnson's offensive game and take the bulk of penalty kill minutes. Jackman has faced injury concerns through the course of his career but when he's healthy he's a shutdown defenseman who can lockdown a defensive zone while playing a nasty punishing brand of hockey.
Anchoring the second line will be big Eric Brewer who's a capable minute eating defensemen. The 31-year old never really lived up to his fifth overall pick hype but has settled into being a capable three zone defenseman who doesn't necessarily excel at any one aspect of the game but can play any role. Brewer has been plagued with injuries throughout his career but will be entering this season healthy for the first time in three years. Roman Polak is a smooth skating Czech defenseman who's developed into a shutdown defenseman on the Blues backend. The 24-year old Polak (I feel I just committed a racial slur) isn't the most offensive gifted nor the most physical but he can safely handle 20 minutes a night while playing a significant role on the penalty kill.
Probably the most exciting player to watch this season for the Blues will be 20-year old Alex Pietrangelo who's absolutely dominated at the junior level. The former fourth overall pick projects to become one of the finest offensive defenseman in a few years but needs some work in the defensive zone. Pietrangelo's innate offensive gifts should be on display this season as he'll begin the year on the top powerplay unit with Erik Johnson. Beginning the season paired with Pietrangelo will be Carlo Colaiacovo which should be an interesting test of faith. Colaiacovo is an extremely adept offensive defenseman who can move the puck with the best of them. However Colaiacovo is injury prone and has some serious questions about his defensive zone work. It will be interesting to see how these two defensemen compliment each other. Physical depth defender Tyson Strachan will fill in as the seventh defenseman.
There were near riots in Montreal when 25-year old post season hero Jaroslav Halak was traded to the Blues this off-season. Halak emerged last season as a first tier goaltender with the ability to excel in pressure situations. For the first time in recent memory the Blues will actually have a legit number one goaltender between their pipes while Halak shows all the signs of being in the perfect situation for him in St. Louis. Backing up Halak will be one of the finest number two goaltenders in Ty Conklin who's made his career on hard work. Conklin found his way to St. Louis last season and had a very respectable campaign as the backup. Look for Conklin to get 25-30 games this year.
The Blues are a team on the rise as they experienced an immediate improvement under a new coach last season. This team has a lot of talent and unrealized potential that could snowball into a very frightening team to play against if everything goes right. The Blues also have a legit number one netminder who should be able to carry this team through rough stretches. The Blues are a bubble playoff team.
Look for them to come in somewhere between 9th-14th in the league.
BVB's Projected Opening Night Lineup
David Perron - 26 G/29 A 55 P
David Backes - 23 G/33 A 56 P
Brad Boyes - 28 G/31 A 59 P
Andy McDonald - 25 G/27 A 52 P
Patrick Berglund - 19 G/28 A 47 P
T.J. Oshie - 23 G/29 A 52 P
Alex Steen - 25 G/29 A 54 P
Jay McClement - 10 G/19 A 29 P
B.J. Crombeen - 6 G/10 A 16 P
Brad Winchester - 2 G/6 A 8 P
Matt D'Agostini - 2 G/3 A 5 P
Cam Janssen - 0 G/1 A 1 P
Barrent Jackman - 3 G/16 A 19 P
Erik Johnson - 12 G/35 A 47 P
Eric Brewer - 6 G/12 A 18 P
Roman Polak - 3 G/16 A 19 P
Carlo Colaiacovo - 6 G/23 A 29 P
Alex Pietrangelo - 7 G/22 A 29 P
Jaroslav Halak - 32-26-3 | 2.48 GAA | .918 Sv%
Ty Conklin - 10-8-3 | 2.61 GAA | .915 Sv%