Last Season: 44-32-6 94 pts (5th in Central Division; Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: F Patrick Maroon, F Jordan Nolan, F Ryan O’Reilly, F Tyler Bozak, F David Perron, and G Chad Johnson
Key Departures: F Scottie Upshall, F Patrik Berglund, F Vladimir Sobotka, F Kyle Brodziak, and G Carter Hutton
Top Questions Facing the Blues:
- How is Robby Fabbri’s knee?
It’s been a long road back for Robby Fabbri since first tearing his ACL on February 4, 2017, and re-injuring it in training campy prior to last season. The Blues missed Fabbri’s contribution on offense – even with the addition of Brayden Schenn, the team fell from 12th to 24th in scoring.
While we won’t know how Fabbri’s knee is faring or how well it holds up until the season actually starts, nhl.com‘s Lou Korac reports that the team is optimistic about his level of effectiveness.
Word I’m getting on Fabbri is he looks great & barring anything crazy happening again, this will be a strong addition to the lineup. A number of veteran players are putting in extra work pre- & post-informal skates, which tells the commitment they’re coming in with. #stlblues https://t.co/rWxOIylTbu
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) September 6, 2018
That said, there isn’t a whole lot of data regarding NHL players coming back from one, let alone two ACL tears within a year, and a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine concludes that hockey players coming back from ACL injuries experience reduced total games and decreased offensive output in subsequent seasons. However, Fabbri is significantly younger than those analyzed in the study and has rehabbed diligently. Much of the success of the Blues upcoming season hinges on just how effectively Fabbri can slot in to a top 6 or top 9 role.
2. Can Jake Allen play consistently for a full season?
This is the big one. I’m not here to knock Jake Allen – he has played exceptionally well for long stretches of seasons past, as well as almost single-handedly carrying the Blues past Minnesota in the 2015-2016 playoffs. That said, the Blues cannot ignore (yet ostensibly did) the fact that Allen has had extreme meltdowns for significant stretches each of the last two seasons. While it has become quite fashionable amongst Blues fans to try to shed the “blame goalie for everything” moniker, last season Jake Allen posted career lows (excluding abbreviated call-up/first season) in save percentage, goals against average, and shutouts. This is not an insignificant reason as to why the Blues missed the playoffs. To his credit, after a string of woefully bad games between December and February last season, Allen put up generally strong (enough) performances the rest of the season, albeit at a time when scoring was at a dearth for the Blues.
Regardless, having a two month stretch where your starting goalie cannot be relied upon to be even mediocre is going to eviscerate any team’s playoff chances. While Allen was certainly not to be blamed completely, he was simply not good enough last year, and the Blues do not have the luxury of falling back on Carter Hutton (who led the league in save percentage at .931). The Blues must hope that Allen can play consistently throughout the entire season, and that the lows are not too low, otherwise they will have to rely on either untested Ville Husso, or career backup Chad Johnson.
3. Can the Blues have an effective power play?
There is no way to sugar-coat this, last season the Blues’ power play was awful. After finishing near the top quarter of the league the previous season, the Blues substantially regressed to second to last with a paltry 15.4% rate. The new additions of Ryan O’reilly (15 power play goals last season) and David Perron (18 power play points), as well as Robby Fabbri’s return should help the Blues execute more efficiently on the power play.
The real question that coach Mike Yeo has to evaluate is not do the Blues have the players for an effective power play, rather why it was so bad last season. With a team composed of offensively-minded players like Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, the ever-improving Joel Edmundson, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn, there is no reason the power play should have been as bad as it was. This speaks not to the quality of players, but to the inability of the coaching staff to utilize the players effectively and build a power play strategy that fits within the strengths of the team. Let’s hope, now that they have even more offensive talent, that the coaching staff remedies this deficiency. There is no reason the team should not have a top quarter power play, or better.
4. How will the young players fare?
This is the question most Blues fans are most looking forward to having answered. The two most likely rookies to get a shot at the NHL level are 2017 first round draft pick Robert Thomas and 2016 second round draft pick Jordan Kyrou. While both are listed as centers, likely only Thomas will be played at that position. Tim Taylor, Director of Player Development, had some high praise for Thomas, stating he hoped he develops into a Jonathan Toews type player. While that is a lofty comparison, one that may turn out to be unachievable, it shows just how high the team is on Thomas’s potential. If Thomas can add the type of defensive prowess Toews brings, along with a high-ceiling offensive upside, the Blues are going to finally get their 1C they’ve been seeking. While Thomas seems to be more of a sure-fire contributor, the jury is still out on Jordan Kyrou. While Kyrou has dazzled fans with sleek goals, and received notoriety as the OHL’s Player of the Year, it still remains to be seen whether his style of play will transfer to the bigger, faster, NHL level. If it does, a Thomas-Kyrou combination can be a formidable duo for years to come.
Ultimately, this season presents of great optimism for the Blues and their fans. If all goes well with the emergence of the younger players, return of Fabbri, and integration of the new players, this team is poised to contend with the likes of Nashville and Winnipeg for the top spot in the Central Division and maybe the Western Conference.