It seems like the St. Louis Blues will likely become sellers at the trade deadline despite taking three of a possible four points in their last two games against Central Division opponents. If that’s the case, keep an eye on Josh Leivo, who could surprise people as a good trade piece.
The Blues do not need a high return for Leivo, but moving on from the 29-year-old left-winger could open up more opportunities for young players like Alexey Toropchenko and Jake Neighbors. However, if the team trades too many forwards, they could be left with holes in the lineup that will be hard to fill from within the organization.
Leivo may not be as popular a trade candidate as Vladimir Tarasenko or captain Ryan O’Reilly, but the return for him could amount to a mid-round draft pick that will help rebuild the Blues’ farm system. General manager Doug Armstrong did well by signing Leivo, as he could net a mid to late-round pick in the draft for just $750,000.
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Since being elevated to the O’Reilly line, Leivo has brought some stability to an inconsistent offense (from ‘Hungry right wing Josh Leivo scratching out a role with Blues,’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12/7/22). His efficiency, however, has not shown up in the box score. Instead, he provides a heavy style, and his average 13:48 of ice time is the most he has averaged since the 2019-20 season when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Blues desperately needed a partner for O’Reilly after deciding to let David Perron go in free agency. As a result, they went through a variety of forwards at the beginning of the season to try and spark their captain. After months of searching, Leivo became the answer.
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By elevating O’Reilly’s game, the Blues have a much better chance of getting the type of return you would expect of his talent. After a slow start, Leivo has helped turn O’Reilly’s season around, which should increase his value to other teams.
Leivo’s ability to play with some of the Blues’ top forwards should make him intriguing to any contender. They could even look to move him within the division to spike his price. The Colorado Avalanche have been depleted by injuries but still expect to be contenders. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs might be interested in bringing him back as an option to play with Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
The most significant contributor to Leivo’s success this season is his health. He played just 81 games in the last three seasons combined and has bounced around three different teams, including the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes.
He spent six years with the Maple Leafs and appeared in just 84 games. Midway through the 2018-19 season, he was traded to the Canucks and finished the season scoring 10 or more goals for the first time in his career.
Leivo appeared in 76 games that season, scoring 14 goals and adding 10 assists. He has never been a huge factor on the power play, as he has just five power-play goals in his career. Instead, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound forward has been relied on to be a physical force and a net-front presence.
Leivo’s ability to throw his body around is what Blues head coach Craig Berube has been looking for, and it is a big reason why he is getting first-line minutes. He has missed 10 games this season due to injury, but when healthy, he has contributed offensively.
That said, Leivo has made himself expendable as a depth forward who does not bring a lot of offense to the team but is able to provide other contributions. There are plenty of players in the American Hockey League who could step in and play a similar role if the Blues decide to trade him.
However, if the Blues find themselves in playoff contention in March, then they could use a veteran forward to help push for another Stanley Cup. A dramatic shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers to start a five-game road trip was a step in the right direction, but they still remain three points behind the Avalanche, who have three games in hand.
Now is a good time to evaluate where the Blues stand and whether or not they will indeed be sellers. Armstrong is famous for making small, incremental moves, but now he has two stars who could bring legitimate value to St. Louis because of how Leivo has elevated their games. The team is on the brink of retooling the roster if they continue to fall out of contention in the Western Conference. Leivo won’t headline the festivities at the deadline, but he could be a valuable addition to any contender.