The St. Louis Blues are once again turning in a fine season, poised to make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row and for an impressive tenth time in the last eleven seasons. The sustained success under the regime of general manager Doug Armstrong has been built through team depth rather than leaning on top-end talent. When a team is as consistent as the Blues have been, there is never an opportunity to select the top-rated talent in the draft. It takes a combination of elite scouting that can draft well, as well as making smart trades to fill the holes in the roster the draft hasn’t provided.
This year’s Blues have perhaps the greatest depth at forward since the beginning of the Armstrong era. Currently, six forwards are already scoring between 15-20 goals. Jordan Kyrou leads the team with 20 goals, followed by Vladimir Tarasenko‘s 19, Pavel Buchnevich at 18, Brandon Saad with 17, and Ivan Barbashev and Brayden Schenn both with 16 each. While the team doesn’t have a candidate for the Hart Trophy or the “Rocket” Richard, its strength in numbers has been a recipe for success. Taking a look at the list of top scorers, it’s clear that the combination of draft success and savvy trades has been key to the Blues’ consistent run.
The one “down” side to consistently making the playoffs, if you can call it a downside, is that the opportunity to win the draft lottery never comes. The art of finding steals late in the first round and in later rounds becomes crucial in this instance. The team’s leading scorer and lone All-Star representative Jordan Kyrou was a second-round pick. Vladimir Tarasenko, the team’s most consistent offensive player in the last decade, was selected in the middle of the first round. Ivan Barbashev is another second-round choice who has blossomed into a complete two-hundred-foot player. With so many teams consistently selecting early in the draft and continuing to find themselves in the lower half of the league, it has been remarkable that the Blues have been able to draft NHL-caliber talent year after year.
Art of the Deal
At this point, general managers around the NHL should think twice before answering the phone when Doug Armstrong is on the other line. The acquisitions of Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly put the team over the top in 2018-19 en route to the Stanley Cup and have been the foundation for the team ever since. Schenn was acquired in 2018 from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks. Lehtera had fallen out of favor in St. Louis and never made an impact in Philadelphia before returning to play in Europe, meanwhile, neither of the two first-rounders have paid off for the Flyers to date. One season later, Armstrong acquired O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick. While Thompson is finally enjoying a breakout season in Buffalo, Berglund and Sobotka have both been out of the NHL for years. Meanwhile, O’Reilly has gone on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, Selke Trophy, and Stanley Cup for the Blues on top of being named captain in 2020.
The latest success in the trade market for Armstrong came over the summer when he traded Sammy Blais and a second-round pick to the New York Rangers in exchange for Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich has been nothing short of sensational in his first year in St. Louis, quickly becoming a fan favorite. While grading a trade less than a year afterward should be done cautiously, the early returns have been a complete success for the Blues.
While the Blues don’t have a Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby in their lineup, their forward depth can be put up against any other team in the NHL, which is why they are considered a contender in the Western Conference. They were able to win it all three years ago with a team built with depth rather than top-end talent, so it’s not impossible to think they can do it again.
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