The St. Louis Blues will drop the puck on the 2023-24 season next month. After missing the playoffs in 2022-23, they will need several players to step up and make improvements to their game. In this article, I will evaluate five players and a prediction for each of them. The Blues have a quality mix of youth and experience on this roster, so there are several choices. Here are five player predictions for 2023-24 Blues.
Player One: Can Pavel Buchnevich Be Elite Once Again?
The simple answer to this question is yes. Pavel Buchnevich will be the Blues’ best player for the third season in a row. The Blues traded Sammy Blais and a second-round pick to the New York Rangers for Buchnevich in 2021. Since that moment, he’s been the Blues’ best overall player by a mile. In 136 games across two seasons, he has tallied 56 goals and 87 assists for 143 points. If it weren’t for a couple of injuries, he would have at least one 80-point season with the Blues. He also became the first Blue not named Vladimir Tarasenko to score 30 goals in a season since Alexander Steen in 2013-14.
The Blues’ success this season hinges on Buchnevich’s ability to stay on the ice. If he is healthy, he’s going to perform at an elite level. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he scores 40 goals this season. A line with Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, and Jakub Vrána could be fantastic.
Player Two: Will Sammy Blais Continue His Performance From Last Season?
The Blues re-acquired Blais from the Rangers in the Tarasenko trade prior to the 2023 trade deadline. Upon his return to St. Louis, Blais looked like an entirely different player.
In 31 games with the Blues, Blais scored nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points. It was a complete turnaround from his time in New York, where he scored zero goals in 54 games across two seasons. He looked far more confident with more minutes in the system of Blues head coach Craig Berube. While I don’t think Blais can be quite as productive as last season with the Blues, I still expect him to be a key component of the forward group. A full season with over 40 points would be ideal for him.
Player Three: Will Kevin Hayes Be a Good Fit?
The big acquisition of the 2023 offseason for the Blues was their trade for veteran forward Kevin Hayes from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2024 sixth-round pick. The Flyers also retained 50 percent of Hayes’ $7.1 million salary cap hit. It’s unclear where he will fit into the Blues’ lineup this season, but I imagine he’ll slot in as the second or third-line center. The Blues have numerous wingers that could fit next to Hayes.
As for previous production, he had 18 goals and 54 points in 81 games for the Flyers last season, but he wasn’t a great fit under head coach John Tortorella in Philadelphia. I think Hayes will be a good fit for the Blues, but I think his point total could be the same as last season or drop. However, I expect him to score more than 18 goals for the Blues this season with better personnel around him than he had last season with the Flyers.
Player Four: Can Torey Krug Produce and Stay Healthy?
The Blues originally planned on trading defenseman Torey Krug to the Flyers in a deal involving Hayes. However, the deal was nixed as Krug refused to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Flyers. For now, Krug remains in St. Louis with four years left on his contract, which he signed with the Blues in free agency prior to the 2020-21 season. He has struggled to stay healthy over the past five seasons, and two of those seasons came with the Boston Bruins. He missed 18 games in 2018-19, nine games in 2019-20, five games in 2020-21, 18 games in 2021-22, and 19 games in 2022-23. So, he’s been able to play in 60-plus games for nine of his 10 full seasons in the NHL, but it’s been a struggle in most of his time with the Blues to remain consistent.
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There’s no doubt that Krug will get an opportunity to run the Blues’ top power-play unit once again. He led them to the league’s second-best power play in 2021-22 with 19 power-play points. The Blues have replenished their offensive firepower with the addition of Vrána, Hayes, and Kasperi Kapanen, so it’s likely that Krug will have more to work with this season. I still expect him to miss 10 to 15 games, but he will score 40-plus points for the second time in his career with the Blues.
Player Five: Can Jordan Binnington Return To Form?
This could be the most important factor for the Blues this season as goaltender Jordan Binnington has lost his form over the past two seasons. Part of the issue for Binnington has been the poor defense in front of him, but it’s clear that he’s lost a step.
Binnington signed a six-year extension with the Blues, carrying a cap hit of $6 million. His first two seasons with this extension have been well below average. In 98 games over the past two seasons, he has a save percentage (SV%) of .897 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.24. He also has a quality start percentage (QS%) of under .500 in the last two seasons after being above .500 for the first three seasons of his career. Unfortunately, I don’t expect Binnington to regain his form this season, but I believe he will improve in certain areas. It’ll be interesting to see if backup goaltender Joel Hofer pushes Binnington into upping his game.
In order for the Blues to have success this season, they’ll need clear answers from the performances of these five players. With the season right around the corner, the answers will come soon.