With 22 games under their belt, the St. Louis Blues are officially past the quarter mark of the 2022-23 season. Mixed with highs (3-0-0 start), lows (eight-game losing streak), and another even greater high (seven-game winning streak), they have yet to settle as a team and truly establish an identity on the ice. Outside of a few players, performance has come and gone in waves, mirroring this team’s win-loss record (11-12-0, 22 points).
This is part one in a four part series where I’ll be grading each player that has seen any time on the ice for the Blues this season. Grades are based on statistics and the overall feel of each player’s performance over the first quarter of 2022-23.
Noel Acciari: A
Signing veteran center Noel Acciari to a one-year, $1.25 million contract this summer was the Blues’ biggest splash in free agency. Expected to be a mainstay centering the fourth line, Acciari has proven to be much more valuable to head coach Craig Berube. Due to both various injuries as well as shaking things up to find chemistry, he’s spent time on nearly every forward line at both center and on the wing.
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Through 23 games, Acciari has 10 total points (six goals, four assists) and is second on the team in faceoff win percentage (FO%) at 54.4 percent. Along with being a viable scoring presence, he’s also been the team’s most physical player. He leads the entire team in hits (73) while also leading all forwards in blocked shots (24). His steadiness on the ice has helped stabilize the Blues’ forward lines in a time where stability is greatly needed.
Nikita Alexandrov: B
His time with the big club was brief (nine games), and he didn’t do much in the way of scoring with his one assist being his lone NHL point, but Nikita Alexandrov seemed to be a great fit centering the fourth line. With the aforementioned Acciari being moved throughout the lineup, Alexandrov centered the fourth line when he was recalled. He was reassigned to the American Hockey League (AHL) on Nov. 27, but will likely see more NHL action as the season rolls on.
Ivan Barbashev: C
Ivan Barbashev broke out in a big way in 2021-22, posting 26 goals and 60 total points in 81 games. Coming into 2022-23, the hope was that the seventh-year forward would be able to at least come close to replicating that success. So far however, that’s not the case this season. He’s logged just 10 points (three goals, seven assists) through 23 games. Where he has been excelling has been his physicality as he’s second on the team with 48 hits. With free agency pending this offseason, Barbashev will need to pick up his scoring pace if he wishes for a big payday next summer.
Logan Brown: Incomplete (injury)
Injured in the preseason and again in the regular season, Logan Brown has had a tough go of it in 2022-23. He’s currently on the injured reserve with an upper-body injury and has no timetable for return. He scored zero points in five games before his latest injury.
Pavel Buchnevich: B+
After a slow start in which he missed five games, Pavel Buchnevich is one of the Blues’ hottest forwards. In total, he’s logged 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 18 games. He’s currently pacing to be a point-per-game player once again in 2022-23.
Over his last eight games, Buchnevich has recorded 12 points (six goals, six assists). His four power-play goals is tied for the team lead with Torey Krug while his eight total power-play points (four goals, four assists) is tied for the team lead with Robert Thomas. He was the NHL’s second star of the week a few weeks ago, registering three goals and four assists in a week where the Blues went 4-0-0.
Jordan Kyrou: B
Similar to Buchnevich, but possibly even more so, Jordan Kyrou got off to an extremely sluggish start after signing a massive extension this offseason. In the first 10 games of the season, he had scored just four points (three goals, one assist) and had a plus/minus of minus-15. In the 13 games since then, he’s tallied six goals and nine assists (15 points) and has registered at least one point in 10 of those games. His defense comes and goes, but he has been much more active on the forecheck and backcheck this season than in the past. He currently sits second on the team in points with 19 (nine goals, 10 assists).
Josh Leivo: B+
Despite being a healthy scratch at times and being reassigned to the AHL once already this season, Josh Leivo seems to have found himself a useful role on this team as a winger on whatever line Ryan O’Reilly is on. It hasn’t translated into a goal yet, but he’s registered six assists. Since being recalled and placed on a line with O’Reilly and Brandon Saad, that line has been on the ice for nine goals for and five goals against, good for a plus/minus of plus-4.
Jake Neighbours: D
Jake Neighbours has been fairly unspectacular in his 13 NHL games this season, registering just one point, a lone goal back in the season opener. Since then, he was reassigned to the AHL after 11 games and then recalled for two more before being reassigned once again. At 20 years old, it looks like he needs to spend at least a season in the minors getting top-line minutes and steady roles in all special teams units before he’ll be totally ready for the NHL again.
Ryan O’Reilly: C
Other than maybe Kyrou, no Blues player has been under the microscope more this season than captain Ryan O’Reilly. For the pending unrestricted free agent, the so-called hockey gods have been unkind. As the team as a whole did, he got off to a horrid start. In the team’s first 12 games, he’d scored two points (both goals) while registering a plus/minus of minus-12.
In the 11 games since, he’s fared much better, scoring five goals and four assists while being on the ice for far fewer goals (minus-1). Since being reunited with Saad and the addition of Josh Leivo, O’Reilly’s numbers have improved greatly, but there still seems to be a step missing from the former Selke Trophy winner’s game. He’s still solid on the faceoff dot, winning 53 percent of puck drops.
Tyler Pitlick: C+
Tyler Pitlick has been a solid, unspectacular player this season, which is what teams look for in a veteran fourth liner. He was brought back into the fold once Brown was put on the injured list and has seen time in 14 games (one goal, one assist). He’s rotated in and out of the lineup and I don’t forecast any changes going forward.
Brandon Saad: B
Saad himself hasn’t been too hot or cold in the first quarter of 2022-23, registering five goals and one assist in 16 games. But the one stat that can’t be ignored is the team’s record with and without him playing. With Saad, they’re 11-4-0. Without him, the team is winless at 0-8-0. Keeping the line of him, O’Reilly, and Leivo together appears to be an emphasis of head coach Berube going forward.
Brayden Schenn: A-
Brayden Schenn has arguably been the Blues’ most valuable player through the first quarter. His 17 points ranks second on the team while his 41 hits ranks third among the forwards behind Acciari and Barbashev. However, what can’t be accounted for in stats is how he has been utilized throughout the forward lines.
Pairing a struggling winger with Schenn seems to be what Berube is using to get specific players going. Once Kyrou got “demoted” to the third line with Schenn, his play began to take off. He’s played up and down the lineup at both center and wing, being the Swiss Army knife this team needs.
Vladimir Tarasenko: C+
Vladimir Tarasenko hasn’t been bad for the Blues in his 21 games. In fact, he’s been pretty good, scoring six goals and eleven assists. But for this team to be great, they need more from him. When speaking to reporters on Dec. 2, Berube said, “They’ve (Tarasenko and Barbashev) got to play better. That’s for sure. It’s not just them, but we’ve got a few guys that have to step up and play better hockey for sure. That’s the bottom line. We need them to play well, need them to work, compete, play at a high level.” The Blues need more from Tarasenko than what they’re gotten in the first quarter.
Robert Thomas: B
Robert Thomas has had a few hiccups, but has been extremely solid out the gates. He’s registered 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 22 games while centering the top line. With him on the top line and on both special teams units, he’s pacing to set a career high in minutes, currently averaging 19:24 per game, which leads the forwards.
While he’s currently on a hot streak with nine points in his last seven games (one goal, eight assists), he appears to have avoided a significant injury when he slid awkwardly into the boards in a game against the Florida Panthers. He missed the end of that game as well as the loss to the Dallas Stars, but has returned with no ill effect.
Alexey Toropchenko: C
The entire organization was shocked when Alexey Toropchenko was deemed ready for return in October. His initial anticipated return timeframe from offseason shoulder surgery was sometime in December, so him breaking camp with the team was definitely a surprise. Being in 15 games, he’s been a healthy scratch at times and was recently sent to the AHL for conditioning.
Nathan Walker: D
Nathan Walker has been a healthy scratch for 12 of the Blues’ 23 games. In his 11 games, he’s failed to score a point and has registered a meek seven shots. He’s not providing the spark when he’s in the lineup that he showed throughout last season.
Robert Bortuzzo: C
Not much more should be expected of Robert Bortuzzo than exactly what he’s given the Blues over the last few seasons. He’s not a scorer (zero points), but he’ll stay at home and do well enough on the penalty kill to not hurt you. That’s pretty much what he’s been in 2022-23 when healthy. However, with Calle Rosen earning more playing time though, it’ll come at Bortuzzo’s expense. The Blues are 4-10-0 with him in the lineup.
Justin Faulk: C+
Justin Faulk has been one of the Blues’ better defensemen in the first quarter, with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 23 games. He’s also seen an increased role (possibly due to injuries), leading the team in ice time at 23:20 per game.
However, his game is not without fault, as he’s been sporadic defensively. He leads all Blues defenders with 17 giveaways, many of which have come within the Blues’ defensive zone. Overall, his plus/minus sits at minus-4 on the season and he’s been on the ice for 38 goals against (fourth worst in NHL), albeit 32 goals for.
Torey Krug: C+
Torey Krug’s season has mirrored Faulk’s in a way. He’s seen a lot of success offensively, driving the puck and quarterbacking the power play (five goals, six assists) and his current 11.6 shooting percentage (S%) is more than twice his career average of 5.2 percent. However, he’s been leaky defensively as well and owns a team-worst plus/minus of minus-18.
Nick Leddy: D
Nick Leddy hasn’t done much in the way of justifying the four-year contract he was given this summer. He’s been an effective puck mover through the defensive and neutral zones at times, helping him get the six assists he currently has on the year. At other times, he’s been out of position around his own crease, leading to easy backdoor goals or even goals deflecting off of him and into the net. Of course, without him the Blues’ defensive depth may have been completely depleted with the losses of Marco Scandella and Scott Perunovich in the preseason.
Niko Mikkola: B-
Quietly, Niko Mikkola has been one of the Blues’ few steady defenders. He doesn’t produce much offense (zero goals, one assist), but he is able to use his size and skating ability on the back check to help neutralize scoring chances. He leads the team in blocked shots (41) and his 44 hits ranks second on the team for defensemen and fourth overall. At plus-7, he’s second on the club.
Colton Parayko: D
Fair or unfair, Colton Parayko catches a lot of heat from the St. Louis fan base. It could be that he’s been judged as having one of the worst contracts in hockey, but the oft-injured defender hasn’t done much this season to suggest he doesn’t belong on that list. He’s been on the ice for 19 high-danger goals against, the most on the team.
He’s managed just four points this season (four assists), but on the positive side he’s pacing to set a career high in hits. He currently has 41 hits and his career high is 127 back in 2018-19. Unfortunately, he’s also pacing for a career low in plus/minus as he sits at minus-12 through the first quarter.
Scott Perunovich: Incomplete (injury)
Scott Perunovich was having a great camp and preseason before suffering a broken shoulder on Sept. 27. He’s had surgery and will be re-evaluated in the spring.
Calle Rosen: A+
Veteran depth defenseman Calle Rosen has been undoubtedly the Blues’ best blueliner through the first quarter, and he’s only played in 14 games. In that time, he’s logged two goals, three assists, and a team leading plus/minus of plus-10. With him playing so well, it’s created a logjam among the defensemen.
Rosen’s strong play has forced Berube to give him more ice time. To make that happen, the Blues have gone with 11 forwards and seven defensemen at times when their defensive unit is fully healthy. He leads the club in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at 52.24 percent and goals for percentage (GF%) at 80 percent. He’s earned ice time and will likely push someone like Bortuzzo out of the lineup in the second quarter.
Marco Scandella: Incomplete (injury)
Before the season even began, Scandella suffered a hip injury and went under the knife for repairs in September. Like Perunovich, he’s being re-evaluated in the spring of 2023.
Tyler Tucker: B-
Tyler Tucker got his first taste of NHL action, getting four starts during his brief call-up when Bortuzzo went down with an injury. He graded positively overall, as the opposition never scored a goal while he was on the ice. He was reassigned to the AHL on Nov. 23, and will likely be recalled when another injury occurs.
Jordan Binnington: B-
While his numbers don’t look outstanding (9-9-0, .899 save percentage, 3.11 goals-against average), Jordan Binnington has been on the receiving end of some very bad and porous defensive play in front of him. He’s had his fair share of bad games and saves he would like back, but more often than not he’s been the reason the Blues have kept a game close.
He’s allowed the third most goals in the league (54), but has also faced the eighth-most shots on goal (480) and has faced the sixth-most high-danger chances against at 218. He’s stood on his head a lot this season, so for him to be better, he’ll need the defense in front of him to drastically improve.
Thomas Greiss: C
Backup Thomas Greiss has been serviceable in the first quarter, going 2-3-0 in five starts (six games played) with a .903 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.77 goals-against average (GAA). When in the net, he’s faced an average of 39.15 shot attempts per 60 minutes (SA/60), the most in the league among goalies who have made at least five starts. Like Binnington, his game will improve if the defense in front of him plays better.
The Blues have several key players who need to have an improved second quarter if this team wants to be a true playoff contender. The roller coaster ride so far has been tumultuous and tough to watch at times, with the peaks being very high (three- and seven-game winning streaks) and the valleys seeming to be bottomless (eight-game losing streak). The Blues have a tough road ahead in December as the second quarter gets underway.
Marcus Ashpaugh is a team writer at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues organization. He enjoys writing about the team at the NHL level as well as the prospects within the organization.