While the St. Louis Blues‘ top six are all but set, the bottom six remains a mystery. Heading into training camp and the start of preseason action, the club has a veteran look and feel to it. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a sure thing, and many players will be competing for a starting role until the last minute.
Blues Boast Strong Internal Competition
The Blues have several returning players, including Logan Brown, Jake Neighbours, and Nathan Walker, who have performed well through two preseason games. With the injury to Alexey Toropchenko, an additional roster spot has opened up, leaving those competing for a spot optimistic about their chances. However, newcomers Noel Acciari, Josh Leivo, and Martin Frk also have something to prove and will not go down without a fight.
After St. Louis’ 4-0 victory against the Dallas Stars on Monday, Brown led the NHL in preseason goals and points with three goals and four points in two games. The 11th-overall draft pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has yet to find solid footing and live up to his draft status, but he’s trying to prove this season could be different. He has offensive talent with 205 points (74 goals, 131 assists) in 182 games in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and 96 points (29 goals, 67 assists) in 113 American Hockey League (AHL) games. At 24, this could be a pivotal season for Brown.
While Brown may be leading the preseason in scoring after two games, other Blues are showing they have what it takes to make the club. Leivo and Neighbours each have three points this preseason – Neighbours with only one game under his belt. After a nine-game appearance at the start of the 2021-22 season, Neighbours was reassigned to the Western Hockey League, where he captained the Edmonton Oil Kings to a championship season with his eyes set on a full-time NHL job.
In addition to Neighbours and Brown, the newly signed Martin Frk has also shown intense competition throughout training camp and early preseason play. His chemistry with Brown should make them a viable pairing option should he make the team out of camp.
During his first game, he made an impressive cross-ice pass to Brown that beat two defenders, creating a highlight reel goal. Frk, 28, was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2012 with the 49th overall selection and has yet to establish himself in the NHL. However, he has shown his overall talent in the AHL with 253 points (137 goals, 116 assists) in 226 regular-season games over nine seasons. The competition to earn a starting role on opening night against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be worth keeping an eye on.
Kostin at Risk of Losing Starting Role
Despite the stiff competition, Klim Kostin has yet to make a significant impact. Through one game, he registered zeroes across the board. The 31st-overall pick in 2017 has struggled to make his mark in the AHL, leaving many fans wondering if a trade is in his future. Through 46 career games in the NHL, Kostin has five goals, 11 points, and a minus-three rating.
His nine-point performance over 40 games during the 2021-22 season resulted in a reassignment to the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds. During his time there, he scored an underwhelming three goals and six points over 17 regular-season games, followed by four goals and eight points in 18 postseason games. His performance could make this a true make-or-break season for the Russian, especially competing against many other forwards who are willing to play head coach Craig Berube’s 200-foot game.
The competition will be fierce throughout the remaining games of the preseason, providing little room for costly errors. However, fans should remain optimistic as the organization’s forward depth will provide options moving forward.
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.