In the past week, the St. Louis Blues have locked up two of their biggest surprises from the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Championship season. First, they signed rookie sensation goaltender Jordan Binnington to a two-year, $8.8 million extension. Then, on Sunday, the team announced that they had agreed to terms with restricted free agent (RFA) Oskar Sundqvist on a four-year, $11 million deal.
For Blues fans, Sundqvist’s rise from fringe roster player to everyday contributor was nothing short of shocking. But for some, including Pittsburgh Penguins’ superstar Sidney Crosby, his arrival has been a long time coming.
Blues Land Sundqvist for Reaves
The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft was an eventful one for the Blues, who made two picks and two trades. The last of general manager Doug Armstrong’s moves was the trade of Ryan Reaves. They sent the beloved enforcer to the Penguins, along with a second round pick, in exchange for Sundqvist and the 31st overall pick (with which they selected Klim Kostin).
At the time, it seemed like Sundqvist might be little more than a throw-in. The Russian prospect Kostin, who many thought would be a potential top-10 pick but for an injury in his draft season, seemed like an absolute steal at that spot in the draft. Many analysts were surprised that the Penguins, who had won back-to-back Stanley Cups at the time, surrendered such a high pick for Reaves, who was a fourth-line contributor at best.
Sundqvist’s first season with the Blues didn’t change anyone’s minds that he was an afterthought in the deal. He played just 42 games, and collected one goal and four assists. Entering this past season, it was unclear where he would play, considering all of the additions Armstrong had made to the team. When Tom Wilson illegally checked Sundqvist in the preseason, earning himself a 20-game suspension and sending his victim to the injured reserve, no one knew when, if ever, the Swedish forward would resurface.
Sundqvist’s Incredible Season
Sundqvist did resurface on Oct. 25, in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Though he was a minus-one with no points in that contest, he would get an assist in game two and two goals in his third appearance. Those games would both end up being wins, the first back-to-back victories of the Blues’ season. In fact, St. Louis would win four of their first six games with the Swede back in the lineup, their best stretch of the early season.
It didn’t take long for Blues fans to realize that this was a whole new Sundqvist. Though he started playing under 10 minutes a game, he quickly began playing 15:00 or more every night. By the end of the season, he was the team’s secret weapon. He collected 14 goals and 17 assists in 74 games, and established himself as one of the Blues’ most versatile forwards and top penalty killers.
While no one in St. Louis may have seen the breakout coming, one league superstar certainly did. Early on in Sundqvist’s season, the Blues’ new broadcaster Joe Vitale, a former teammate of Crosby’s in Pittsburgh, spoke to the Penguin’s captain about the young player. Vitale wasn’t certain what to make of Sundqvist, but Crosby assured him that the youngster had special talent:
Joe, we never should have gotten rid of this kid. This kid is unbelievable, wait until you see what this kid can do.Sidney Crosby speaking to Blues Broadcaster Joe Vitale about Oskar Sundqvist
Sundqvist certainly justified Crosby’s faith in him during the regular season, and further established himself in the playoffs. He collected four goals and five assists in 25 games, finishing as a plus-five. And while the circumstances weren’t ideal, his value was solidified when the NHL gave a one-game suspension to Sundqvist for his hit on Matt Grzelcyk. The Boston Bruins trounced the Blues in that game, scoring four goals on four power play shots with Sundqvist absent.
St. Louis Pays Their Man
Following his breakout campaign, very few questions lingered about how good Sundqvist could be. But the team needed to determine his value, because they owed him a new contract.
Apparently, Armstrong had seen enough to make a long term commitment to Sundqvist, signing him to a four-year, $11 million deal. The contract takes a gamble on his 2018-19 season being an anomaly, but if he continues at this level, it should be a steal.
if Sundqvist continues to perform at a 30-point per season pace, and continues to play critical minutes on special teams, paying him $2.75 million per year for the next four seasons will be highway robbery. Of course, according to Crosby, that wouldn’t be the first time Sundqvist had been stolen in his career.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.