The St. Louis Blues are defending Stanley Cup Champions, but apparently, that doesn’t guarantee safe passage through the following season. The Blues are ravaged by injuries, and now have bad news about another budding star. They made a predictable roster move in the short term, but is this a long term opportunity for the team’s top prospect?
In the second period of the Blues’ game on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Erik Černák checked Blues forward Sammy Blais into the boards awkwardly. St. Louis fans were irate that the play wasn’t a boarding call, but anger quickly turned into concern as they realized that their young forward was slow to get up.
Blais went back to the locker room shaken up, with an obvious cut near the eye. But that did not end up being Blais’ biggest concern. The Blues announced on Wednesday that the 23-year-old forward would require surgery on his right wrist, and would be re-evaluated in 10 weeks, making his timetable for a return somewhere around the NHL trade deadline.
It’s a devastating injury for the team and the player, who was in the midst of a breakout season. The Blues drafted Blais in the sixth round in 2014 as an undersized player with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. But he quickly sprouted into a 6-foot-2, 205-pound physical, NHL-caliber forward. He emerged as a difference-maker during the postseason, debuting in Game 6 of the second round against the Dallas Stars.
This season was set to be Blais’ emergence as a regular NHL forward, and everything seemed to be going according to plan. He already had five goals, which put him in a tie with Ryan O’Reilly and Jaden Schwartz for fourth on the team.
After the devastating loss of Vladimir Tarasenko for what appears likely to become the entire season, Blais’ presence was even more important. Unfortunately, it’s a null point now, as the Montmagny, Quebec native is out of action for the foreseeable future.
In the immediate moments following the team’s announcement of Blais’ injury, they announced another roster move. The Blues signed NHL veteran and former Blue Troy Brouwer to a one-year, two-way contract valued at $750,000. Last week, general manager Doug Armstrong announced that he was bringing in Brouwer and Jamie McGinn on Professional Tryouts (PTOs) and explained his desire to add a veteran presence to his locker room.
We’re down to 12 healthy forwards right now. I think in our game in Calgary I think we had eight players on our roster with less than 200 NHL games, and we started five guys with less than 100, at the start of… the season. It’s an experienced League, and we just wanted to see if there are any experienced players that can help us… There are no guarantees for Jamie or for Troy, but we’re going to take a look at them.Doug Armstrong
Even though Blais is among those players with fewer than 200 NHL games, with his injury, that concern became a full-blown crisis. Signing Brouwer was an easy and immediate move to make, as he was already practicing with the team.
Brouwer is familiar to Blues fans from his one season with the team in 2015-16. Acquired in the T.J. Oshie trade, he played a fine season, posting 39 points in 82 games and scoring a monumental postseason goal against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now 34, Brouwer has had a few difficult seasons since departing the Blues. But he certainly will provide the veteran presence to the locker room that Armstrong so desperately wanted. To replace the scoring of Blais and Tarasenko, however, they’ll need to look elsewhere. Could it be to their top prospect?
Is It Kyrou Time?
The Blues’ top prospect is Jordan Kyrou, a former second-round pick currently playing with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League (AHL). Though he began the season recuperating from knee surgery late last season, he hasn’t seemed to miss a beat. He already has nine points in eight AHL games.
That shows that Kyrou has picked up right where he left off last season when he put up 43 points in 47 AHL games between various stops at the NHL level. He’s got nothing left to prove with the Rampage, but when will the call happen for him to come north to St. Louis?
Armstrong needs to pick up the phone sooner rather than later. The Blues are already 19th in goals scored per game at 2.95, and according to Corsica Hockey, they are second-to-last in expected goals for per game (xGF/60, 1.94). Without Blais and Tarasenko, neither of those stats will improve, and Armstrong cannot expect 34-year-old Troy Brouwer, whatever his strengths, to make many contributions there.
With this many significant injuries, the Blues need to make it a priority to develop Kyrou (as well as their other top prospect, Klim Kostin, who was called up recently and has played in the last two games) at the NHL level. Kyrou is precisely the kind of high-end skill difference-maker the lineup needs right now. They should call him up soon, and they should commit to playing him regularly.
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.