St. Louis Blues forward Ivan Barbashev was primed for a breakout season in 2020-21, but an ill-timed ankle injury cost him 18 games. As such, his stats are skewed. In 38 games, he scored five goals and a paltry 12 points, which is far below his normal scoring pace.
In 2018-19, Barbashev played in 80 games and scored 14 goals. Then in 2019-20, his 11 goals and 15 assists helped fuel the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship. By comparison, his 2020-21 campaign is one he’d probably like to forget.
Inconsistent is the word that comes to mind. In his season-ending report card for The Athletic, beat writer Jeremy Rutherford pulled no punches:
“He looked ‘uninspired’ the first month of the season, according to Berube, but seemed to find his game after being placed on a line with (David) Perron and (Ryan) O’Reilly. Then he suffered a broken ankle on a shot by a teammate and missed the next six weeks of the season. So it was a bit of an inconsistent year for Barbashev, but he was helpful up and down the lineup, particularly because of his physicality,” (”’This is embarrassing’: St. Louis Blues final 2020-21 report card following another first-round playoff loss,” The Athletic, 5/25/21).
What Went Right
The Blues tinkered with their line combinations for much of the season. In one version, Barbashev got the dream assignment of playing on a line with skilled veterans Perron and O’Reilly.
“It’s been really nice,” Barbashev told The Athletic in February. “I knew those guys are tough players and really skilled. But what really makes it easier for me is they’re not asking me to make some good plays for them. They just play simple; together we play a really simple game. We work hard, and if we have opportunity to do something, we’re going to do it and try to score some goals,” (“Blues coach Craig Berube is putting faith in players, and it’s paying off,” The Athletic, 2/14/21).
Berube liked what he saw.
“I think he relishes the opportunity there and understands that if he forechecks hard, gets in there and creates loose pucks, there’s opportunities for him to score goals,” Berube said. “He’s done that, tonight, he got one. So the line has good chemistry right now, which is nice to see. That’s probably one of the reasons. You get excited when you move up like that and you play with a couple guys like O’Reilly and Perron. He’s doing a good job.”
In a key divisional matchup against the Colorado Avalanche on April 24, Barbashev’s fourth goal of the season, along with O’Reilly’s hat trick, gave St. Louis a much-needed 5-3 win to snap a three-game skid. St. Louis had lost five straight against the Avalanche after a win on Jan. 13 in the season opener in Colorado, according to ESPN.
What Went Wrong
Barbashev, like so many others on the Blues, was streaky. In February, Berube had a one-on-one talk with his 25-year-old Russian star in an effort to get him to play a more up-tempo game. “Barbashev recently went nine games without a point, and not only was there no scoring, but there also was no emotion,” Rutherford wrote in The Athletic. “It wouldn’t have been surprising if Barbashev had been taken out of the lineup, but instead he was promoted to play with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron.”
“He’s kind of looked a little bit uninspired at times, and I’ve talked to him,” Berube told Rutherford in The Athletic. “We had a good conversation, so I’m hoping his inspires him a little bit, get a little bit more life in his game, a little bit more emotion in his game.”
The ankle injury had a tremendous impact on Barbashev’s season. He suffered the injury during the third period of the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18 and was sidelined for six weeks. The replay showed a shot hit his left foot or ankle while he was jumping in the air to dodge the cannon headed his way. Barbashev landed, took one stride, and then crumpled to the ice.
“Initially, there was hope,” wrote Dan Panula of Bleeding Blue on Feb. 19. “Brent Burns stick was in between his legs and Barbashev made it to the bench under his own power. The hope was it was a bruise and the fall was from Burns’ partial trip. The Blues were not that lucky.”
Barbashev was activated on April 2 after missing 18 games in the shortened season.
Barbashev’s five goals and seven assists match his offensive output from his rookie season in 2016-2017, both the lowest of his pro career.
He finished 12th among Blues’ scorers this season, and was 14th on the team in total points. His goals and points totals put him behind teammates Jaden Schwartz, Sammy Blais, Vince Dunn, and Zach Sanford.
Known for his prowess on faceoffs, Barbashev had a bit of a down season in the circle. He won 82 and lost 107 this season. His best season was 2018-2019 when he won 201 faceoffs and lost 240.
Final Grade – Ivan Barbashev: C-
If not for the injury, Barbashev’s numbers would have been much better. He was reliable on the ice, but the ankle injury handcuffed him. He had surgery in February and then rehab until he got back on the ice in April. All the while, the Blues were going through extended losing streaks and struggling to stay afloat in the division. They really could have used him in those 18 games.
The grade of C- is fair, although I am not proud of giving it to him. Like many fans and the media, I expected to see a breakout season from Barbashev. Despite the team’s patience, it never really happened to the level we expected. His lackluster play due to the injury may not have been the difference in the Blues’ season, but it surely would have made a difference had he not been injured.
In that regard, this was a disappointing season for the Moscow native. Look for him to regain his form during the offseason and be a major piece of the team in 2021-2022.
Rob Staggenborg covers the St. Louis Blues for TheHockeyWriters.com, as well as hosting several NHL podcasts. He enjoys St. Louis style pizza with gooey cheese, and sitting for hours on end in metro St. Louis traffic listening to sports podcasts. He is a proud U.S. veteran. Visit his website at brockbanner.com
Follow his Blues coverage at STLFanReport.com and on Twitter @RealBrockBanne1