It is once again that beautiful time of the year. Hockey season The St. Louis Blues kick off the 2017-18 NHL season tomorrow night against the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues will watch the Penguins unveil their fifth Stanley Cup banner, as the Blues hope to raise their first at this time next year. As any team, the Blues have some major questions coming into the season. Here are some compelling questions heading into this year’s season.
Q: After his phenomenal play at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs last season, what Jake Allen will we see this season?
Jake Allen’s season was a true roller coaster ride last year. Allen went from playing well, to letting in some soft goals, and some fans even coined the term “Shaky Jakey.” Allen was struggling so much at one point, the Blues left him at home in St. Louis during a road trip so Allen could clear his head. But after bringing in Martin Brodeur to coach him up, we saw a new Jake Allen. Allen finished the last 15 regular season games 11-2-2.
Allen then nearly single handedly stole the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, in which no one gave the Blues a good chance of winning. Allen stopped 174 of 182 shots in the five-game series, good for a .956 SV%. But Allen hasn’t looked exactly sharp this preseason. While this could be mild cause of worry, it is just the preseason. However, the Blues will need Allen at his best to compete in the stacked Central Division this season.
Q: Can Joel Edmundson’s offensive production in the playoffs translate to the regular season?
To the surprise of most Blues fans and even the hockey world, Joel Edmundson was one of the best offensive weapons for the Blues in the 2017 postseason. In 11 playoff games, Edmundson netted three goals and added three assists, for a total of six points.
But despite his playoff production, Edmundson hasn’t shown that offensive prowess in either of his first two regular seasons in the NHL. In 136 career regular season games, Edmundson has only totaled four goals and twenty assists for 24 points. The 24-year-old has shown steady offensive and defensive improvement, and it could be a big year for Eddy, who will be a restricted free agent after this season.
Q: Will the Blues have a solid offensive second punch behind Vladimir Tarasenko?
Without a doubt, Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the best pure goal scorers in the NHL. He’s always near or over the 40-goal plateau. But the NHL’s best teams have a quality one-two punch offensively: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, etc. Unfortunately, the Blues have been lacking on supplying a consistent solid goal scorer behind Tarasenko.
Tarasenko can handle the offensive load during the regular season, but once he’s shadowed in the playoffs, the Blues sometimes struggle offensively. The Blues only had one twenty goal scorer besides Tarasenko last year, with Patrik Berglund netting 23. But Berglund will miss the first few months of the season because of a shoulder injury.
The Blues have three guys they could really look to this season for premiere offensive production, but not that it will be limited to just these three. One of these guys is Jaden Schwartz, who has averaged 24 goals a season over his last three seasons in which he played 75 games or more. Schwartz just missed the 20-goal mark last season, as he finished with 19. But Schwartz led the Blues in the playoffs in goals (4), assists (5), and points (9) in 11 playoff games this past spring. Schwartz is only 25, and can be lethal offensively as long as he stays healthy. He and Tarasenko could potentially be the first Blues duo to score 30 goals each in the same season since Brad Boyes and David Backes both scored over 30 goals in the 2008-09 season.
Another option for the Blues is newly acquired forward Brayden Schenn. The Saskatchewan native has scored over 20 goals in three of his last four seasons. Schenn can bring a lot to the table. He’s accounted for 114 points over the last two seasons, is a physical player, and is known for his power play excellency, as he was tied for the league lead in power play goals last season (17).
Finally, one player who could really help the Blues offensively is Vladimir Sobotka. Sobotka rejoined the team right before the playoffs last season, and his impact was felt immediately. Sobotka was an offensive bright spot in the playoffs last season, scoring two goals and tallying four assists in 11 games. His total of six points tied for 3rd on the team in points during the postseason. I’m not saying Sobotka is going to come out and score 30 or even 20 goals, but he has the potential to surprise some people this season.
Q: The youth movement is on, who is going to contribute?
The Blues currently have an unbelievable amount of quality prospects in the system. They’re much deeper in terms of exceptional prospects than maybe we have ever seen. Young guns such as Tage Thompson, Vince Dunn, and Wade Megan made the opening night roster. But more prospects have a chance to crack the roster at some point this season, especially if the injury bug continues to bite the Blues. These prospects can include but are not limited to Jake Walman, Samuel Blais, Klim Kostin, and Robert Thomas. The contributions the Blues get from their rookies and young players can be crucial for their success this season. Just look at the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
Q: How will head coach Mike Yeo and the Blues fare in his first year with his own assembled coaching staff?
The Blues coaching situation last year was a mess. It was supposed to be Ken Hitchcock finishing off his last year in the NHL while Mike Yeo waits to take over the throne. As you know, that did not happen. Yeo took over midseason and helped turn the Blues from a struggling team into a playoff team. But now Yeo has brought in his own assistant coaches, such as familiar faces in Barret Jackman (development coach) and Steve Ott (assistant coach), and former NHL defenseman Darryl Sydor, who did play 47 games for the Blues in 2009-10. The Blues also hired David Alexander as the goalie coach, as Alexander has worked with Jake Allen in the summer for several years now. Yeo says he preferred to hire these guys because they’re known faces and that the “getting to know you” stage wouldn’t take long to get through.
As usual, it should be yet another fun and exciting hockey season in St. Louis. There is bound to be plenty of twists and turns to make things interesting as usual. It is truly going to be interesting to see how the Blues perform in the Central Division, as six of the seven teams in the division have a shot to make the playoffs this season. The Blues are going to need contributions from all over and the fun starts tomorrow at 7:00pm. Happy hockey season.