Hockey

St. Louis Blues 2021-22 Preview: Forwards

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Last week, we took a look into the St. Louis Blues defensive core for the upcoming 2021-22 season; now it’s time to take a dive into the forwards. From All-Star fan favorites like Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron to up-and-coming potential stars like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, the Blues offense has intriguing storylines up and down the lineup. Add in the uncertainty surrounding star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, and there are a plethora of storylines surrounding this group.

The Top Six

St. Louis has undergone significant roster turnover since its Stanley Cup in 2019, however, many of the main pillars to that team still play a significant role in the team. O’Reilly and Perron have emerged as the focal point of the offense, leading the team in points the last few seasons. The Blues have struggled to find a suitable left winger to pair with the two All-Stars, so GM Doug Armstrong addressed that issue in the offseason by acquiring Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers and subsequently signing him to a four-year contract, as well as signing free agent Brandon Saad to a five-year deal. The team is likely to try out both players on the top line in hopes that one will find instant chemistry with O’Reilly and Perron, while the other is destined to play on a line with center Brayden Schenn. Schenn’s right-wing is where the lineup gets a little more complicated. If the Blues cannot find a deal for the disgruntled Tarasenko, logic says that he will start the season on that line, having played alongside Schenn the last several years. In the unlikely event that a trade does come to fruition before the start of the season, we could see the young and dynamic Kyrou being awarded the first crack at the top six spots. While the team doesn’t have that out and out superstar in the top six like a Connor McDavid or Austin Matthews, its shown in the past that its greatest strength is its quantity of above-average talent that can score by committee, which will once again be the approach St. Louis takes this season.

The Bottom Six

Taking a look at the third line, the surprisingly still unsigned restricted free agent Thomas projects to be the center. If the team does re-sign unrestricted free agent Tyler Bozak, who remains unsigned and has reportedly been skating with members of the team in the St. Louis era recently, he would slide back into that familiar role, pushing Thomas over to right-wing. While Zach Sanford has not been able to mesh well on the top line in recent years, a spot on the left-wing in the bottom six could prove to be fruitful for a player who looks to be on his last shot in St. Louis. Klim Kostin spent the majority of last season on loan with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, winning the Gagarin Cup, and returned to St. Louis for the last week of the regular season and the playoffs. A former first-round pick, Kostin should get a decent look in training camp to perhaps assert himself into the conversation for a spot on the third line. On the fourth line, fan favorites Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev are both back, giving St. Louis one of the better fourth lines in the league. Between veteran Kyle Clifford and younger players like Mackenzie MacEachern and Dakota Joshua, there should be healthy competition for playing time and provide different looks for Craig Berube to use throughout the season.

Overall Outlook

Once again, the Blues will be looking to score by committee, which has been their identity in the Doug Armstrong era. While there is uncertainty around whether Tarasenko will start the season with the team, or even end the season in St. Louis if he does start there, thankfully for Blues fans, the team has shown the last couple of seasons that it can cope without him. Tarasenko’s absence has allowed players like Perron and Schenn to take the next step, providing a safety net for those who wonder where the goals will come from without the Russian winger. But for now, Tarasenko is still a St. Louis Blue and unless something drastic happens between now and opening night, expect him to be a focal point in the lineup.

Projected opening night lines:

Brandon Saad – Ryan O’Reilly – David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich – Brayden Schenn – Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford – Robert Thomas – Jordan Kyrou

Klim Kostin – Ivan Barbashev – Oskar Sundqvist

Main image credit

Embed from Getty Images

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