Thursday, September 15, 2011

St Louis Blues 2011-12 Preview

Can the Blues stay healthy and make a difference in the Western Conference this year? 


The injuries mounted and mounted last year for the St. Louis Blues. It’s a story that’s been repeated for a couple of seasons now. The Blues missed the playoffs, but there is plenty of reason for optimism this year.

The return of David Perron, the emergence of David Backes, Patrick Berglund, Alex Steen, and Alex Pietrangelo, and the arrival of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. Add to that the acquisition of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott and the future looks mighty bright for the Blues.
The Central Division appears to be the toughest division in the NHL this year, as four of the five teams may make the playoffs.

So what are the Blues capable of? Well, they could be as good as giving the Blackhawks a run for their money atop the division, or, if injury strikes again, perhaps as bad as last place.

It’s tough to call. Expect their luck on the injury front to even out this year, and for the Blues to challenge Detroit or Nashville for second place in the division. Expect a playoff birth, and a first round match up against a Division leader.



Forwards The Blues have tremendous potential up front, and a lot of depth as well. This could be the year they break through.

David Backes
Perhaps the Blues best all-around player, Backes was among the leader in +/-, and led the team with over 30 goals and 60 points. A forward any team would love to have, he’s a fantasy factor as well with PIMs, hits and goals aplenty. He does it all.

Chris Stewart Stewart is beginning to put it all together, and the results are scary. Stewart was on pace for about 40 goals last year when he suffered an injury. This year, Stewart could hit 40 goals and 75 points.

Alex Steen At various times last year, Steen looked like the best Blue on the ice. Steen can play in all situations and is dangerous on the penalty kill. Steen is capable of 60 points, but the depth of the Blues may prevent him from getting there. 50-55 points are very realistic.

TJ Oshie The little fireball plays an impressive, in your face style of hockey. Unfortunately, it leads him to injury more often than not. A young player with some upside, Oshie is good for at least 50 points if he can stay in the lineup by avoiding injury.

Patrick Berglund The big Swede boasts solid skills and has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Like Steen, the Blues depth may prevent him from realizing his full potential, but he’ll be an offensive catalyst on this club. 50+ points are in the cards for him.

Andy McDonald The diminutive center turned winger always seems to produce at a good clip, but never seems to stay healthy long enough to reward fantasy owners for their faith. Expect more of the same. 50 points in about 60-70 games.

David Perron Perron has flashes of brilliance, and just when it looked like he was putting it all together, a Joe Thornton hit cost him his season. If Perron returns to form early, pick him up, sit back, and watch the goals and points come in. He’s almost too talented to fail, if only he can stay healthy.

Matt D’Agostini The talented youngster was probably the largest beneficiary of all the injuries sustained by Blues last year. He went from the fourth line to a scoring line. Despite averaging 14:45 per game, he still racked up 20 goals and 46 points. His production may take a dip if he’s relegated to a fourth line again, but he’s quite talented.

Defence
Alex Pietrangelo
Pietrangelo took the league by storm last year. Surprising most fans with a tremendous 43 points, he also averaged 22 minutes of ice time. The sky is the limit for this blue-chip prospect. He may be among the top scoring defenders this year or next. 50+ points this year.

Kevin Shattenkirk The other member of the Chris Stewart / Erik Johnson trade was no ‘throw-in’. Shattenkirk debuted with 43 points. An under-sized defender, his offensive instincts make up for any defensive shortcomings. He and Pietrangelo will form a dangerous tandem. 45+ points are within reach this year.

Goaltending
Jaroslav Halak
A year removed from his fairy-tale season with the Habs, Halak should settle down nicely and lead a strong Blues team to the playoffs. Halak recorded 7 shutouts last year and should surpass 30 wins with ease this season.

Prediction - 35 Wins

Brian Elliott The former Senator bounced around a bit by winding up on the Blues after a stint in Colorado. He’ll look to get back to his earlier form that saw him play quite well in Ottawa. He’ll be pushed by Ben Bishop. Either goalie will be a decent back up.

Prediction - 7 wins

TOP SLEEPER 

Patrick Berglund
The big center demonstrated last year that he can score at a decent rate—but he’s just scratched the surface.

Expect that Berglund can notch 60+ points with the right amount of ice time. If the Blues power play can improve, and if he has solid scoring wingers like Stewart, Steen or Perron, Berglund would pick up a lot of assists and his own share of goals.

TOP ROOKIE
F— Vladimir Tarasenko
The super-talented Russian winger is arguably the most dynamic offensive prospect in the Blues system.

His arrival in the Blues organization, more specifically on their roster, would signify another dynamic forward joining their ranks.

Many Russian prospects are not worth the risk these days, but he may be an exception to that rule. There are more sure fire options, but he does have quite the upside.

Potential Breakout Player


Chris Stewart
Stewart was probably as surprised as the rest of us when he was traded to the St Louis Blues along with Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson last year.

Stewart’s best days are still ahead of him. Expect him to emerge this year as one of the league’s best power forwards. He has the potential for 40 goals and 80 points, and both of those would be an increase from his season totals this past year.

He may fly under the radar, but should be considered one of the top goal scorers in the NHL within a year or two. Combine that with PIMs and hits, and you have a fantasy stud.



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