The St. Louis Blues wrapped up their preseason Friday night with a 7-3 thumping over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game was, for the most part, a dress rehearsal for the main roster as all of the team’s top players were in the lineup as well as a couple of fringe players looking to make Doug Armstrong’s final roster decision a tough one to make. The next time the Blues take the ice, they will be in Denver next Saturday night taking on the Colorado Avalanche in the team’s regular-season opener.
But who will be donning the Note on opening night? While most of the pieces are known, putting the puzzle together is a bit trickier. While the Blues don’t have a bonafide superstar like a McDavid or a Matthews, the team is full of above-average to great players, creating a lineup with some of the best depth in the NHL. Using last night’s lines as a baseline, let’s take a look at how the Blues will line up to start the 2021-22 season.
Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron have been mainstays on the top line in St. Louis for the past few years and we expect to see that once again this season. The dynamic duo has had a rotating cast of linemates on their left wing, and it looks like newcomer Brandon Saad is going to be the first to get a shot at playing alongside O’Reilly and Perron. This should excite Blues fans as Saad is a player who drives plays towards the net, which could perfectly complement their playmaking abilities.
The team’s second line could arguably be considered the top line if you just look at offensive production and potential. While the top line will be counted on defensively against opponents’ top players, the second line of Brayden Schenn centering Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Buchnevich will be must-see TV. Kyrou burst onto the scene last year while often being handed limited minutes. Getting a chance to play with Schenn and the newly acquired Buchnevich should only help him develop his game to the next level. Both Buchnevich and Kyrou can play on either wing, offering the Blues some flexibility in how they line up.
If you thought the second line could be a first-line, you will be more than impressed with the potential the third line has to offer. Youngster Robert Thomas is a lot of media pundits’ pick for a breakout season, and getting the chance to center snipers Vladimir Tarasenko and the freshly signed James Neal make that even more likely. Tarasenko comes into this season with much to prove as it is a shock to many that he is even still in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Neal came into training camp on a professional tryout only to lead the team in goal scoring in the preseason to earn himself a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. Expect a lot of offensive zones starts for this trio early in the season.
On the fourth line is where the Blues’ identity has been solidified over recent seasons and that is expected to be the case once again this year. Tyler Bozak re-signed with the team late in the offseason and while he has played as the team’s third-line center the past three years, the team has considerably more depth than it has in the past and he is now slotted in on the fourth line alongside Ivan Barbashev. The last spot on the fourth line is where things get tricky. The team can opt to go with size with the newly acquired Logan Brown or prospect Jake Neighbours, or they can decide to go with gritty wingers Kyle Clifford or Mackenzie MacEachern depending on game-to-game matchups.
The defense remains largely unchanged from a year ago. Marco Scandella and Colton Parayko will take the majority of defensive zone starts and will be expected to log heavy minutes on the penalty kill and in most defensive-based situations. Much like with the forward group, the team’s second pair could be considered the top pair when solely looking at offensive production. Torey Krug and Justin Faulk are both excellent movers of the puck and will see a lot of ice time on the power play as well as a majority of offensive zone starts. After a disappointing first season in St. Louis, Faulk really came into his own in his second campaign, and the team is hoping for a similar second-year jump from Krug. On the third pair, the team has some options depending on game-to-game matchups. Veteran Robert Bortuzzo has been a mainstay on the third pair for several years, and it will be up to youngsters Niko Mikkola, Jake Walman, and Scott Perunovich to make a name for themselves to solidify that last spot in the top six.
In net, nothing has changed from a year ago. Jordan Binnington is expected to carry the load again this season, perhaps even more so after inking a six-year extension last year. After an up-and-down past couple of seasons after his legendary run in 2019, the team is hoping for a bit more consistency from Binnington this season. Backing up Binnington once again will be Ville Husso, who struggled at times in his first season in the league, but looked to settle in down the stretch.
The 2021-22 St. Louis Blues will be heavily reliant on their depth, which is a good strategy to go into the season with after a year in which it seemed like the entire team spent time on injured reserve at some point or another. Expect this team to clinch a playoff spot with relative ease and look to be Stanley Cup contenders once again.
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