The St. Louis Blues qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season a year ago. Winners of 27 games during the Covid-19 shortened season, they secured the fourth and final spot in the West Division. Led up front by veteran forward David Perron, the winger continued his strong play over the last few seasons. He recorded 19 goals and 39 assists to lead the team with 58 points. Along with this, Ryan O’Reilly remained one of the elite two-way players in the game. Leading the Blues up the middle, the former Conn Smythe winner amassed 24 goals. In addition to playing over 20 minutes per night on average. Torey Krug paced the group on the backend in his first year with the team after lading in St Louis as a free agent.
The Blues were quiet at the trade deadline despite being right in the thick of the postseason hunt. They entered the season with a few key pending unrestricted free agents like Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, and Tyler Bozak. However, general manager Doug Armstrong ultimately decided to stand his ground and keep his team together. Matched up with the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round of the playoffs, the team would find themselves in tough.
Led by superstar forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche captured the President’s Trophy after recording the highest point total of any team in the regular season. Quickly down 2-0 after dropping the first two games on the road, a 5-1 loss in game three, followed by a 5-2 loss in game four, would send Colorado on to the second round while disappointingly sending the Blues home.
After spending his lone season in Colorado a year ago after being dealt from the Chicago Blackhawks, Saad landed in St Louis in the offseason. Inking a five-year 22.5 million deal, the 28-year-old winger will join O’Reilly and Perron on the team’s top line to begin the season. Making multiple moves to retain their pending free agents, Jordan Kyrou will look to play a more significant role during the 2021-2022 season after Schwartz was claimed in the expansion draft.
The franchise will hope that the return of Vladimir Tarasenko can provide an added spark offensively for the group. Out last year, after undergoing shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old remains just two years away from his fifth straight 30 goal campaign. Rounding out their bottom-six, rookie Jake Neighbours will look to carve out a role alongside Tyler Bozak and Ivan Barbashev.
Returning all six members of their defensive core, Colton Parayko will once again anchor the Blue’s top pairing. Playing alongside former second-round pick Marco Scandella, the St. Albert. Alberta native inked an eight-year 52 million extension in the offseason. Coming off a year averaging over 20 minutes per night. Behind their top two, Justin Faulk and Krug should continue to provide the team with offense from the backend.
Faulk racked up 25 points last season while recording his highest shooting percentage in four seasons. Brought in to be the quarterback of the St Louis powerplay, Krug recorded 19 power-play points last season. Closing out their blue line, Jake Walman joins 11-year veteran Robert Bortuzzo after the 2014 third-round pick appeared in a career-high 24 games a year ago.
Disappointing by his standards during his 2020-2021 campaign, Binnington posted a career-low .910 save percentage. Furthermore, he also posted a 2.65 goals-against average. Leading the team with 42 starts made, he posted a .512 quality start percentage. They need him to return to his prior form if they hope to make the playoffs again. Behind Binnington, 26-year-old Finnish netminder Ville Husso will once again handle the backup duties.
Making 17 appearances in his first year in the league last season, he posted an uninspiring .893 save percentage and a 3.20 goals-against average. Needing a bounce-back performance from their number one netminder, after a historically poor showing defensively a year ago. If Husso can help manage the load of Binnington, it will set the franchise up in good shape.
A first-round pick of St Louis in 2017, Thomas enjoyed his best season as a pro two years ago. He racked up a career-high 10 goals and 32 assists in 66 games. However, he was unable to build off of his strong season a year ago. The 21-year-old amassed just 12 points after missing 23 games with an injury. Projected by the Blues management to play a top-six role at the center spot upon his drafting, Thomas has failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Recently rewarded with a two-year 2.8 million contract in the offseason after hitting restricted free agent status. If Thomas can play up to his potential next season, it will go a long way to helping his team.
Buchenevich was acquired in the offseason in exchange for winger Sammy Blais and a second-round draft selection. Enjoying the best season of his five-year NHL tenure in 2020-2021, the 26-year-old racked up 48 points in 54 games. Along with this, he finished a career-high plus 12 while playing more than 18 minutes per night. Unable to come to terms on an extension with the New York Rangers after often being under-utilized, he inked a four-year 23.2 million deal with the Blues. Brought in for his offensive ability, he will open up the year on the top line alongside O’Reilly and Saad. In need of players with the ability to create and put the puck in the back of the net, the team will need Buchnenvich to add a scoring punch.
Biggest Question Facing the Blues
After ranking 20th in the NHL in goals against last season, the Blues will need to clean up their play on the back end. The strength of the team for multiple seasons, they will need both Krug and Faulk to play a more balanced two-way game. With over 90 scoring chances surrendered above the league average, the group will need more consistent play from both Scandella and Bortuzzo. In addition to cleaning up the play in their own zone, St Louis will also need Buchnevich and Saad to step into their top six and provide instant offense to replace the departed Schwartz and Mike Hoffman.
With many players on the Blues roster poised to breakout, look for them to be a team to watch in the Central Division. They have four lines that can play significant minutes for the team. St Louis will need to continue to get production from the bottom six of their forward core. The Blues will also need both Binnington and Husso to bounce back after both goaltenders enjoyed down seasons a year ago. The team is almost a sure thing to return to the playoffs next season behind one of the best coaches in the game in Craig Berube. Look for them to challenge the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets for the second spot in the division.
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