Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko
The Blues' offense ranked 12th in the NHL in 2016-17, but with the depth of talent St. Louis has built, they could be set to ice one of the most fearsome attacks in the league.
If one were to poll fans right now about the league’s best offense, it’d be safe to suggest the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Edmonton Oilers would rank among those most feared.
Understanding why that’s the case isn’t all too difficult, either. Think about the star power each of those teams possess. The Capitals are led by Alex Ovechkin, arguably the greatest pure scorer of all-time. The two-time defending champion Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a one-two punch for the ages. The Stars, meanwhile, already boasted a strong offense with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but got that much better by bringing aboard Alex Radulov. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are 40-goal players for the Lightning when healthy. And the Oilers, well, only one player his 100 points last season, and it was Edmonton’s phenom, Connor McDavid.
But let this be a warning: the St. Louis Blues’ offense looks like it could be flying under the radar.
Let’s start where any discussion of the Blues’ offense should start, too, and that’s with Vladimir Tarasenko. Over the past three seasons, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more singularly dominant sniper in the entire league. Ovechkin, for all he brings to the table, might have an argument, but in all situations, it’s hard to top Tarasenko. Since the 2014-15, Tarasenko has scored an unbelievable 116 goals in 239 games, with 87 of those tallies coming at even strength and 29 on the power play. His even-strength total is the best in the league over the three-year span. His power play total ranks 13th. And it’s no wonder Tarasenko has been so effective when he’s able to get so many pucks on net. Only four players have fired more rubber on goal than Tarasenko, who has put 842 shots over the past three seasons, all the while managing a near 14 percent shooting percentage.
Make no mistake, either, that Tarasenko alone makes the Blues offense one of the most dangerous in the league, but what really puts St. Louis into contention for the most underrated attack in the league is the supporting cast that has been built around him. In fact, the Blues might have established one of the most sneaky-good top sixes in the entire league.
Begin down the middle. While his numbers have slipped in recent years due to a mix of injury and ice time, Paul Stastny, when on top of his game, remains an incredibly deft playmaker and a sound two-way pivot that gets the job done at both ends of the ice. His best years may be behind him, especially as he enters his early-30s, but he’s almost always been a consistent 30-assist player. And the thing about Stastny is that even 40-50 points would be spectacular because he won’t really be expected to be a 60-point guy this coming campaign, most certainly not after the Blues made one of the best summer draft-day deals in the league, swapping center Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks for Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn.
Landing Schenn was an absolute coup for the St. Louis in that the 25-year-old seems ready to go even beyond what his breakout year suggested. In 2015-16, he was one of the second half’s most effective scorers before finishing with 26 goals and 59 points. He followed that up with 25 goals and 55 points in 2016-17, but on a deeper offensive squad, it’s not hard to fathom a 60-plus point season from Schenn. And imagine what would be possible should Schenn click with Tarasenko? If all goes well, that could be a duo that pulls top line duty for several years.
And moving to the wings, St. Louis is deeper than many would give them credit for just yet.
From a pure scoring perspective, Jaden Schwartz has all the makings of a consistent 20-plus goal scorer. While his numbers took a dip this past season — he scored 19 goals and 55 points — he has already reached the 25-goal plateau twice in his young career. That ability doesn’t disappear overnight and as he’s set to enter the prime years of his career, he could be set to flirt with the 30-goal mark at a moment’s notice. That’s not to mention Robby Fabbri, set to return in training camp after a season-ending ACL tear, who has 20-goal, 50-point player written all over him. He scored 18 goals and 37 points as a rookie and then notched 11 goals and 29 points in 51 games before falling injured in 2016-17.
The veteran scoring and two-way aspect of the wingers is more than covered, as well, with Alex Steen taking on that role. The 33-year-old has come into his own over the past several seasons in St. Louis, and while his defensive responsibility may sometimes overshadow his ability to put points on the board, he’s scored 50-plus points in each of the past four seasons. Depending on his health, 50 points should be a given once again in 2017-18.
It goes beyond the established players in St. Louis, however. The Blues have wild cards and a few of them. Tage Thompson, for instance, has size and skill that could make him an NHLer as early as this coming campaign. He’s considered among the best forward prospects in the game. Klim Kostin, who left the KHL for the NHL months after being selected 31st overall by the Blues in June, is also one to watch, a true sleeper for the Calder Trophy with his offensive ability. And none of this is to mention Dmitrij Jaskin or Ivan Barbashev, both of whom have had opportunities prior but could take on bigger roles this coming season and potentially break out.
In terms of pure star power, the Blues might not have a one-two like the Capitals with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. There’s no Crosby or Seguin to Tarasenko’s Malkin or Benn. But the sheer depth of St. Louis’ offense is frightening and it should be reason enough to start to fear the Blues.
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