Blues’ Depth Forwards Rising to the Occasion

The St. Louis Blues are devastated by injuries and pressed tightly against the salary cap ceiling, which has made the last week-plus a nightmare for team management. In recent games, they’ve been forced to ice less than a full roster, due to cap restrictions, injuries, and COVID unavailability.

In that messy situation, they’ve been forced to turn to some options that they would rather have waited to call into action, and possibly even some options they’d rather not have been forced to call on at all. And, for the most part, they’ve gotten more than they could ever have expected. With due respect to Charlie Lindgren, who has been great in two games and may have a few more starts ahead of him, and defenders like Calle Rosen, in this article, we’ll focus on the forwards who have surpassed expectations and risen to the occasion for a team in need.

Hats Off to Nathan Walker

One of the best hockey stories of the week has to be Nathan Walker. The first Australian ever to play in the NHL, he’s played in the Blues’ organization since July 2019 and has looked great in brief stretches, but hadn’t played a top-level game since April 17, 2020. Entering his first game of the season on Thursday night with three goals in 25 NHL games, he did the unthinkable, scoring three more and leading to the team with his and Australia’s first NHL hat trick.

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Sure, some of his goals arguably should have been stopped by the opposing goaltender. But he played a gritty game and had a nose for the puck, which is exactly what a call-up needs to do. After the game, head coach Craig Berube spoke about the accomplishment, saying: “Very happy for (Walker). He’s a hard-working guy. Really good teammate. Really happy for him.” You could tell the whole team shared the sentiment, and Walker’s crowning hockey achievement is one of those moments in a season that can totally shift the direction of the team.

Joshua’s Steady Hand

While Walker got all the headlines, he was supported on the first goal by Dakota Joshua, who notched another assist later on Colton Parayko’s goal, his first career multi-point game in the NHL. Joshua, whom general manager Doug Armstrong quietly acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs just two weeks after signing Walker, was a college product uncertain to make the NHL. But he came into 12 games last season and looked solid.

Related: Blues’ 2020-21 Report Cards: Dakota Joshua

Despite getting sent down out of training camp due to a numbers game, the Blues and Berube were eager to call him up quickly and recalled Joshua late in October. At the time, Berube told the press: “He had a good camp… He’s a good player like he knows his role and he does it very well. We’re going to need him now.”

So far, he’s played up to his coach’s high praise and arguably surpassed it. He’s already matched his 2020-21 games total and has become a consistent center in the bottom-six. Though he’s not always called upon for the role, he’s also winning faceoffs at a 60.9 percent clip, which is vital for a defensive forward. Joshua has been everything a team could reasonably hope for from a young, two-way forward who cost the organization almost nothing.

Brown Has Found His Place

The Blues brought a hometown kid back to St. Louis when they acquired Logan Brown from the Ottawa Senators. And while they certainly could have used Zach Sanford while shorthanded, Brown has done quite well in his first five games in his hometown. When he finally got his opportunity, he had a chance to earn an extended opportunity with the Blues, and so far, he may be well on his way.

Logan Brown St. Louis Blues
Logan Brown, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

Brown has two goals and an assist in his five games with the team and has nearly doubled his ice time from game one to game five. The fact that he played 7:54 in game one and logged 14:49 in game four (his total dropped a bit to 14:00 in game 5) is proof enough that he’s earning his head coach’s trust. He even earned an opportunity in the shootout.

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Beyond the points, Brown is showing something he failed to display in Ottawa: he’s been physical and heavy on pucks, forechecking hard and committing to the 200-foot game. Any player looking to impress Berube has to display those skills, and Brown has done it incredibly well. And now, it’s only fair to ask exactly how high Brown’s ceiling could be. Few questioned his raw natural ability: he was drafted 11th overall in 2016, he stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 218 pounds, and he’s the son of a great NHL player and renowned youth hockey coach. There’s every reason to believe he could be great if he finally seized an opportunity. Now, he seems to be doing it, and if he locks down a long-term role, it could be the greatest benefit of this shorthanded stretch.

Opportunities Abound with Walman, Husso Out

Sadly for the Blues, relief isn’t on the immediate horizon. Key forward David Perron recently began skating with the team, but backup goalie Ville Husso and versatile defenseman Jake Walman both hit the injured reserve on Friday. Some of the players with milder COVID symptoms may return soon, but there will still be opportunities for these players to show their skills. The team has performed remarkably well while shorthanded, and they have these forwards, among others, to thank. They’ll try to continue their streak of success at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

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