Last February, the St. Louis Blues were 28-22-9, surprising many as they battled for the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference. When the season was over, like Andy Murray coached teams of the past, the Blues finished 5-14-4, good for a 33-36-13 record and 14th spot in the Western Conference.
The Blues have the potential to sneak into the playoffs, but with the injury to Erik Johnson they will need significant production from their rookies in order to fulfill that potential.
Last year, rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane propelled the Blackhawks to respectability and gave them hope for the future. St. Louis is hoping for the same result with 2005 and 2006 first round draft picks T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund. At least one of these players will be a top-six forward this year, and down the road both should be decent point producers.
Top line center Andy McDonald developed relatively late in his career. Now 31, McDonald has had three consecutive productive seasons and has not missed a game during that time. Paul Kariya will never score at the pace he was at earlier in his career, but he has the capability to re-establish himself as a point-per-game player. Kariya had a disappointing 2007, only scoring 4 goals in his last 41 games.
Keith Tkachuk had two straight seasons where he played 79 games, scored 27 goals, and had 31 assists. Blues management would be pleased if the 36 year-old Tkachuk can match those totals. Brad Boyes is the first Blues player to score 40 goals since Scott Young. At 26, Boyes is looking to replicate last year’s success.
St. Louis will probably not be able to rely on their defensemen for offensive production.
The Blues, already having a weak defense corps, lost their de facto number one defensemen Erik Johnson for the season. Johnson is a rising star, but so far in his career is developing a reputation for being injury-prone.
The injury to Johnson leaves Eric Brewer with even more responsibility at the back end. Brewer was named Blues captain last year, but having never scored 10 goals, amassing 30 points, and having only 1 season with a positive +/-, one can only imagine he is a great leader in the dressing room.
Jay McKee and Barrett Jackman are valuable defensively, but Jackman, a career + player struggled last year posting a -12 rating.
St. Louis may have a chance to score from the blueline, but it will come from rookies Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak. There’s no question Pietrangelo will be a great defensemen. It remains to be seen, however, how soon his offensive skills will make an impact in the NHL. If he is able to impress Blues management, he could be quarterbacking the powerplay by the second half of the season. Polak is a fast skater with a big shot from the point. If he makes the team, he could also see time on the powerplay.
Legace was one of the reasons St. Louis was an early season surprise last year, posting a 2.41 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. The health of Legace is usually a concern, especially since St. Louis’ backup was Hannu “Mr. Sieve” Toivonen last year. This year, Legace has proclaimed that he is 98% healthy (he can see his right kneecap for the first time in four years).
St. Louis has a respectable backup in former Predators goalie Chris Mason. Mason might challenge for the starting job, but it remains Legace’s to lose.
Ceiling: Second in Central Division, 7th in Western Conference
Floor: 5th in Central Division, 14th in Western Conference