The 2021-22 NHL season is fast approaching and after a terrific offseason, the St. Louis Blues are poised to make another deep playoff run. With additions to the roster such as Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad, the Blues made drastic improvements to the weakest areas of their team.
While team success will always be at the forefront of an organization’s mind, the Blues have multiple key players that could put together a strong campaign and vie for some individual hardware to take home at the end of the season. A number of factors will go into these player’s chances at winning an end-of-season award but there’s no doubt they possess the talent and drive to get the job done.
Hart Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly
Undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Blues, captain Ryan O’Reilly has been in the Hart Trophy conversation in the past and this year could just be the year he breaks through and snatches it. Having previously received votes for the award in 2019 and 2021, O’Reilly has never managed to crack the top 10 in total votes.
O’Reilly is a true two-way forward, with his phenomenal play on both ends, coupled with tremendous leadership ability, he exemplifies the meaning of an MVP. With a never say die attitude and a spirit that never lets him slow down his pace, he makes the lives of his teammates easier, and the lives of his opponents miserable
While O’Reilly certainly has what it takes to fit the criteria of a Hart Trophy recipient, there are a few roadblocks in his way. Typically, those who receive the majority of first place votes, are within the top ranks of point-getters. While his 54 points in 56 games is nothing to scoff at, when compared to other top players from around the league, he was not within the top 15 of total point scorers.
Part of this is due to O’Rielly’s aforementioned play-style, where he prides himself on his defensive abilities. Unfortunately, more often than not, voters tend to overlook that side of the game and focus on the offensive side of the puck. For O’Reilly to have a legitimate shot at the Hart Trophy, he will need to put on an absolute clinic on a nightly basis, and surpass his career-high of 77-points from his 2019 season. If he is able to hone in on his offensive skill set and truly make a push at the award, he could have a solid shot at putting up career-best numbers and start turning some heads from around the league.
It may be unlikely, but it is not impossible. As his drive and competitive nature along with a strong supporting cast, his output could skyrocket this season. O’Reilly has easily been the most valuable player for the Blues over the past three seasons, so it is only fitting for him to surpass this and put his name in the history books as the leagues most valuable player.
Norris Trophy: Torey Krug
Last off-season’s big free-agency splash, Torey Krug had a solid first year with his new club. Putting up 32 points in his first season with the Blues, Krug asserted his presence along the blueline as a top offensive defenseman within the NHL. One of the most consistent players in the league, he has always had a knack for getting his team on the board while still brandishing a hard-nosed physical style of play.
In the past, Krug has garnered some attention in the Norris conversation but has never really been seen as a serious contender for the award. The closest he has gotten was in 2017 when he received one second-place vote after putting up 51 points in 81 games with the Boston Bruins. Since that season he has only received one vote towards the Norris, coming in the 2020 season.
When looking at past winners, the Norris is a hard award to predict. While it seems defencemen who register an abundance of points will always garner some attention for the award, name-value certainly holds some weight. Krug has been as good as they come during the bulk of his professional career and with his high scoring play-style, he could be set to explode this season with a strong offensive Blues squad. If he can continue to produce at his current rate he could easily slide his name into the conversation for top D-man in the NHL
Krug does have his fair share of critics, however, most of this stemming from his at times “suspect” defensive play. While he may not be a traditional stay-at-home defenceman, he has never had a problem with protecting his end and making solid plays on the puck. Not only does he have an underrated defensive skillset but on an incredibly strong defensive team, his abilities as a scorer will shine bright and any slack on the defensive end will be easily picked up by his teammates.
Right now this is flying under the radar of most but Krug certainly has the potential to be in the Norris Trophy conversation. Look for him to continue racking up points and potentially cap of this season with his first individual award within the NHL.
Vezina Trophy: Jordan Binnington
Coming off a subpar season in 2021, Jordan Binnington has got a lot to prove to not just the hockey world, but to himself. After signing a massive extension with the Blues last season, Binnington was heavily relied upon to give the Blues a push over the edge and get them back into Stanley Cup contention. Unfortunately, after being worked to the bone, fatigue noticeably had set in on the young goaltender. Putting up his worst campaign since his spectacular emergence into the NHL, his play on the ice was not what Blues fans had come to expect from him.
With a chip on his shoulder heading into his fourth NHL season, Binnington is going to have to use his fiery attitude to propel himself back into the upper echelon of netminder, and back into the Vezina Trophy race. Placing fifth in voting in 2019, Binnington seemed like he would be a constant within the Vezina conversation for years to come. But after only receiving one vote in 2020 and zero this past season, this downward trend has been disappointing to see.
If Binnington wants to re-assert himself as a dominant force within the NHL he is going to have to look deep within himself and find his game. There is no question he has the skill and potential to compete for top goalie honours in the NHL, proving this time and time again with stellar performances that can steal his club a victory on any given night. With a long rest over the offseason, we could see a rejuvenated Binnington that is ready and able to slam the door shut on any doubts to his game and prove he is worth every penny of his current contract.
Another asset towards Binnington’s potential Vezina Trophy candidacy comes from team success. It’s no secret that the voters for this award look at one stat more than any other wins. With the top three nominees this past season coincidentally also being the top three in wins on the season, it is clear to see what the voters are looking for. With the Blues positioning themselves for a big season, if they can up their win total and jockey for a top spot in their division, Binnington’s hat will certainly find itself in the Vezina Trophy race.
The Blues are counting on Binnington to step up his game from here on out and have him develop into the player they’d hoped he’d become. This season could prove crucial for his career and with a few steps in the right direction, we could be seeing a resurgence between the pipes for Binnington.
Calder Trophy: Klim Kostin
Now, this is one doozy of a wildcard, but the 22-year-old Russian may be ready to make his name known within the NHL. After being taken with the 31st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Klim Kostin has only appeared in six games in his professional career. With his development looking to be on the right track, we could be seeing Kostin finally crack the Blues lineup and start to showcase his skillset on the grand stage.
With some openings within the Blues bottom-six, Kostin is poised to be in contention to nab one of these remaining spots. With more exposure and ice time within the NHL, his game is sure to rapidly elevate and along with this, so will his output. Still, a young prospect, when given the right opportunity Kostin could prove himself to be an integral member of the Blues future.
If given this chance to prove his ability, Kostin has the right skillset to ingratiate himself within a team culture. With a nose for the puck and a great all-around offensive skill set, he will be an immediate impact player for the Blues able to generate offence for both himself, as well as his linemates.
Along with his gritty and determined play style, Kostin has great size allowing him to battle with the best of them. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he is no pushover. His physical attributes will make him a force on the ice able to be as effective within the defensive end as he is offensively. If he can maintain a tough mindset and throw his solid frame around, he could be a versatile weapon that would be hard for Calder Trophy voters to ignore.
With plenty of top young talent all still qualifying as rookies this season, Kostin is definitely not on the shortlist of favourites to walk away with the Calder Trophy this season. Although, with his unique skill set, size, and potential, he could rise from the woodworks and shock the hockey world. With a stellar full-time campaign, he could possibly sneak himself into the rookie-of-the-year conversation and possibly take home the honors.
Originally from Owen Sound, Ontario, Matt Eichhorn has spent the past 4 years studying the field of Sport Media at Ryerson University. Eichhorn is a life-long hockey fan with experience working in a variety of media roles around the game. Currently, Eichhorn covers the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers.