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It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.

2017-18

44-32-6, 94 points. (5th in the Central Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

IN:

Ryan O'Reilly
Tyler Bozak
David Perron
Chad Johnson
Patrick Maroon

OUT:

Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund
Tage Thompson
Carter Hutton
Scottie Upshall

RE-SIGNED:

Nikita Soshnikov
Robby Fabbri
Joel Edmundson

The St. Louis Blues got off to a strong start in 2017-18. Early on, it looked like they were going to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. The Blues won 10 of their first 13 games (10-2-1) thanks to impressive performances from players like Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Taranseko, Alex Pietrangelo and company.

Everything appeared to be great. But near the end of the calendar year, the season started going off the rails. St. Louis wound up losing seven of nine games between Dec. 12 and 29. Things didn’t seem to get much better in the new year. The magic that had been surrounding the Blues early on in the season appeared to be gone.

[Under Pressure: Allen | Breakthrough: Dunn | 3 Questions]

Losing one player to injury shouldn’t be the reason for a season to go off track but looking back, it definitely appears as though losing Jaden Schwartz to an ankle injury did just that. When Schwartz went down on Dec. 9, he had racked up an impressive 35 points in 30 games. After that, they clearly weren’t the same team anymore.

Schwartz was a key cog during their early run, but if a team can’t survive one injury then they probably weren’t that good to begin with.

As always, starting netminder Jake Allen went through his usual ups and downs. His numbers weren’t always terrific, but he still had a 17-6-2 record at one point. When the team started slumping, their starter wasn’t able to help get them out of a hole.

In late December, Allen had even lost his starting job to Carter Hutton for a while (Hutton started 10 of 14 games between Dec. 30-Feb. 2). But Allen and the Blues managed to put together a six-game winning streak in March, but it still wasn’t enough to secure a berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When the Blues decided to trade pending free agent Paul Stastny at the deadline, some players (i.e. Brayden Schenn) voiced their displeasure in the media. Sure, they were in the middle of a tight playoff race, but GM Doug Armstrong obviously didn’t believe that his team was good enough to do any damage even if they did sneak into the postseason. It might not have been a popular decision, but Armstrong was doing what was best for his group in the long run.

So after missing the playoffs, he decided it was time to make some significant changes to his roster. They added plenty of depth down the middle in the form of Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak and they also added wingers that can chip in offensively like David Perron and Patrick Maroon.

With the new additions and Schwartz and Robby Fabbri now healthy, the Blues appear to be a legitimate threat to make the postseason.

Prospect Pool:

Robert Thomas, 19, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Thomas has emerged as one of the best prospects in the game. The youngster had an outstanding OHL season with London and Hamilton, as he put up an impressive 24 goals and 75 points in just 49 games. He also performed very well for Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he accumulated six points in seven games. But Thomas isn’t only just an offensive force, he’s also capable of playing a 200-foot game. Even though he’s still a teenager, the 19-year-old has a legitimate shot of cracking the Blues roster this season.

“I’m excited about Robert. What I like, what coaches like, is he’s got a well-rounded game,” coach Mike Yeo said, per NHL.com. “Robert’s a guy who’s going to learn quickly. He’s a very coachable kid, he’s a smart player, plays well on both ends of the ice. Another right shot, but a guy that’s got a lot of elements, a lot of high hockey intelligence to his game that could really give him a chance to come in and make our team.”

• Jordan Kyrou, 20, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – 2016 second-round pick

Kyrou put together an incredible final season in junior in 2017-18. The 20-year-old had 39 goals and 109 points in just 56 games with Sarnia last season. That’s even more impressive when you consider that the second-leading scorer on his team finished the year with 73 points.

The young forward will now make the full-time leap to the professional ranks. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not he is capable of cracking the Blues’ opening-night roster or not. But with all the additions the team made during the off-season, they probably won’t be able to keep both Thomas and Kyrou, so that might be an interesting camp battle. Unfortunately for Kyrou, he can be sent to the AHL and can be recalled to the big club anytime they need him. If Thomas doesn’t stick, he has to go back to junior for the season.

• Klim Kostin, 19, C, San Antonio Rampage (AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder was the last pick of the first round in his draft year, but he’s shown that he should have gone much earlier than that. Kostin made the leap right to the North American professional ranks last season, as he spent the year in the AHL. He finished the year with a respectable six goals and 28 points in 67 games, which isn’t too shabby for a player who was 18 for most of the hockey year. Kostin will need more seasoning in the minors, but he’s shown that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues GM confirms Kovalchuk interest, makes Jagr comparison

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PHT’s Adam Gretz placed the St. Louis Blues fifth in his power rankings for potential Ilya Kovalchuk destinations earlier week, citing the team’s need for a boost on offense (while highlighting the tantalizing potential of Kovalchuk with Vladimir Tarasenko).

It sounds like Blues GM Doug Armstrong is throwing his team’s name in the hat, if nothing else. He confirmed the Blues’ interest in Kovalchuk, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Always looking to improve our team,” Armstrong said. “We’re like all teams. He’s 35 years old, there’s risk involved with players of that age. But he could be Jaromir Jagr. He could start slowing down at 41. Or he could come back and hit the wall. You never know.”

Armstrong also mentioned that, unlike teams such as the Sharks and Kings, the Blues didn’t arrange a face-to-face meeting with Kovalchuk. It’s unclear if that fact indicates a lower level of interest from St. Louis and/or Kovalchuk.

The age comments are more than just pointing out the obvious, by the way.

Kovalchuk would count as a 35+ contract, and with his most recent ask being a manageable cap hit yet a deal that would ask for some term at three years, a team would need to be confident that signing him would be worth it in the future. Not just now.

Taking a look at the Blues’ Cap Friendly page, such a risk would be reasonable for St. Louis, yet they would need to mull over the ramifications.

Three especially noteworthy players currently have three years remaining on their contracts: Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, and Alexander Steen. It might surprise some to realize that Steen is already 34, but Schwartz and Allen are young enough that the Blues must acknowledge that raises could be coming.

(Personally, that seems most pressing for Schwartz, as Allen has his critics as an up-and-down No. 1 goalie.)

A couple other looming raises could make Kovalchuk’s hypothetical three-year deal a bigger burden, as such a deal would run concurrently with raises in 2020-21. Both Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million cap hit) and Brayden Schenn ($5.125M) stand to make a lot more money once their bargain deals expire after 2019-20.

Overall, the Blues are in a fantastic situation to make it all work.

They only have about $62M committed to 18 players heading into next season, and the only plus of Robby Fabbri‘s terrible injury luck for St. Louis is that the RFA is likely to sign a team-friendly contract. (Assuming that Fabbri gets a clean bill of health.)

The Blues stand as a dark horse candidate for John Tavares for the same sort of reasons that Kovalchuk would make sense. While last season’s failure to make the playoffs was a disappointment, they’ve generally been competitive. A big-time addition could really accelerate that improvement, and this team has money to burn (for now). St. Louis also boasts some prominent players in the thick of their primes.

And, sure, Tarasenko’s presence cannot hurt.

St. Louis isn’t exactly like the Ducks, a team that hasn’t drafted a Russian player since 2009. While Tarasenko is the most prominent countryman on the Blues roster, St. Louis also employs Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nikita Soshnikov. (Czech forward Vladimir Sobotka also isn’t far removed from a three-year sojourn in the KHL, for whatever that’s worth.)

Long story short, the Blues have plenty of reasons to legitimately pursue Kovalchuk, and there’s some reason to believe that St. Louis would be a good fit for him.

That said, they’ll need to get in line … and they may not be in the front of that queue when free agency begins in July.

MORE ON THE KOVALCHUK SWEEPSTAKES

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Bruins at Blues

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[Puck drop at 8 p.m. ET, CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.]

PROJECTED LINES

Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand / Riley Nash / David Pastrnak

Ryan Donato / David Krejci / Danton Heinen

Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Jordan Szwarz / Noel Acciari / Brian Gionta

Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk / Kevan Miller

Nick Holden / Adam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

[Bruins – Blues preview]

St. Louis Blues

Jaden Schwartz / Brayden Schenn / Alexander Steen

Patrik Berglund / Kyle Brodziak / Vladimir Sobotka

Dmitrij Jaskin / Ivan Barbashev / Tage Thompson

Nikita Soshnikov / Oskar Sundqvist / Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson / Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn / Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson / Robert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Red Wings at Blues

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Detroit Red Wings

Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAndreas Athanasiou

Darren HelmFrans NielsenJustin Abdelkader

Martin FrkLuke GlendeningDavid Booth

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Niklas KronwallXavier Ouellet

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

[Red Wings – Blues preview.]

St. Louis Blues

Alexander SteenIvan BarbashevVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennNikita Soshnikov

Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakChris Thorburn

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Vince DunnColton Parayko

Carl GunnarssonJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

St. Louis Blues

Alexander SteenIvan BarbashevVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennNikita Soshnikov

Patrik BerglundVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Vince DunnColton Parayko

Carl GunnarssonJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[Preview for Blues – Wild]

Minnesota Wild

Jason ZuckerEric StaalMikael Granlund

Zach PariseMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Charlie CoyleJoel Eriksson EkTyler Ennis

Daniel WinnikMatt CullenMarcus Foligno

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba

Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk