Let’s face it, things have gone better for the St. Louis Blues. While some fans are left scratching their heads at this season, others are protesting online to burn the roster down to the bare bones and “tank hard for (Connor) Bedard.” The team currently sits with a 23-25-3 record, good enough for sixth in the Central Division, 11th place in the Western Conference, and eight points from tying Colorado at 57 points for the second wild card position. There may be doom and gloom among the fanbase right now, but hope may still be on the horizon.
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The Blues have multiple prospects scattered across the globe, but this article will be focused solely on the players in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Springfield Thunderbirds. While fans have likely seen the offensive damage that players like Jimmy Snuggerud and Zachary Bolduc have done in their respective leagues and international play, they will likely need to wait at least one more full season before the two first-round draft picks have a legitimate shot in the NHL. It’s time to look to the minors and see three players that could be recalled by the Blues.
Before we get into the discussion, it is important to note that the Blues have multiple players deserving of a call-up this season. Whether they are played on the fourth line in a limited role, or they find their way into a top-six role alongside Pavel Buchnevich, Brayden Schenn, or Robert Thomas, the team has multiple players that could reasonably be added to their NHL roster that would not cause fans to second guess the front office’s decision.
With that being said, players like forwards Will Bitten (14 goals, 28 points in 36 games) and Nathan Todd (eight goals, 14 points in 16 games), alongside defensemen Brady Lyle (five goals, 24 points in 43 games) and Tyler Tucker (one goal, 14 points in 28 AHL games, and one assist in 12 NHL games) have all shown that they have the ability to log heavy responsibilities in the AHL and could prove useful to the NHL squad even in a bottom-six role. With that being said, here are three players whose play this season should warrant a call-up after the NHL Trade Deadline.
The current leading scorer for the Thunderbirds, Matthew Highmore, has appeared in all 43 games played this season amassing nine goals and 40 points, tied for 18th in total points across the AHL. The 26-year-old has appeared in 137 NHL games in his career split between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks, scoring 12 goals and 27 points with a minus-9 rating. While Highmore may lack the pure skill to play in a top-six role in the NHL, his overall play at both ends of the ice could contribute well in a bottom-six capacity. His energetic style of play and willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice make him an interesting player for fans to keep their eye on. The Blues could be one of the heavier players come trade deadline and Highmore could be in for a promotion to St. Louis as long as he stays healthy and keeps to his strong production.
To say that Martin Frk has a powerful shot about him could be an understatement. After breaking the hardest-shot record in 2020 at 109.2 MPH during the AHL’s All-Star skills competition, Frk still shows he’s got it, and perhaps never lost it, two years later. This season for the Thunderbirds, he is second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 37 points in 38 games.
Like Highmore, Frk has not been recalled despite the high point production for their AHL club. The 29-year-old has earned multiple opportunities in the NHL appearing in 124 games scoring 20 goals and 41 points with the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings, and the Los Angeles Kings. The 2012 second-round draft choice has become a player that continues to excel in the AHL, but is not quite good enough to become an NHL regular. Should the Blues become the trade deadline sellers that many think they could be, Frk should be a player with NHL experience that could be leaned on in a bottom-six or even middle-six role beyond the March 3 deadline.
Joel Hofer is an interesting case this season. The Blues recently signed the 22-year-old with a two-year contract extension worth an annual average value of $775,000 beginning with the 2023-24 season. While St. Louis currently has Jordan Binnington and Thomas Greiss as their goaltenders for this season, it may not be out of the question for teams looking for a netminder to inquire about the veteran goaltender, Greiss, and the cost to acquire his services for the remainder of the year.
After a disappointing 20201-22 season with the Detroit Red Wings, Greiss managed a 10-15-1 record, 3.66 goals-against average (GAA), and .891 save percentage (SV%) stat line last season. He has returned to form with a 5-7 record with the Blues, sporting a .906 SV% and 3.29 GAA, along with one shutout. While the return may be low, the Blues could look to move Greiss and promote Hofer and start their tandem a little early ahead of next season.
This year, Hofer is fourth in the AHL with 15 wins, and eighth in SV% at 0.918. Since making his way to the AHL in the 2020-21 season with the Utica Comets, he has appeared in 79 games with a 2.85 GAA and a .909 SV%. It should not be out of the question that the Blues would entertain bringing their netminder to the NHL a little to begin the next phase of his career should the Blues’ struggles continue.
While it may not be a foregone conclusions that these players will make their way to the NHL for the remainder of this season, their play has proven they are capable of time with the big club. The Blues may not have the high-end talent in the AHL that will make a substantial offensive impact on their roster moving forward, but they have NHL-ready players that can kill penalties and provide depth on the roster moving forward.