With the exit of David Perron, a sizable hole has opened up within the St. Louis Blues’ top-six forwards and their top power-play unit. To help fill in the point-production left in Perron’s wake, multiple players will have to step up to fill that void – names like Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Pavel Buchnevich come to mind. All three can be dangerous in space and will need to display that skill at a higher level this coming season.
As far as filling in the gap left on the top six in five-on-five, that’s where the questions start to come up. Locked in, the Blues have Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Thomas, Kyrou, and Buchnevich for five of their top six forwards. The pieces they have left to theoretically fill in their remaining top six spot are veterans Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad. Since Schenn is regarded as one of the leaders on this team on and off the ice, we’ll focus on what his role is going to be for 2022-23 and where he is going to fit best in the lineup.
Front and Center
Schenn played up and down the Blues’ top nine forwards last season, both as a winger and a center. He is a natural centerman and is best suited for that role when the lineup is fully healthy. With O’Reilly and Thomas clearly occupying first and second-line center positions, the third-line center duties could feasibly be placed on Schenn’s shoulders. Considering how deep the Blues’ forward position was last season, being on the third line should not be viewed by anyone as a demotion. With him in the middle, Ivan Barbashev on one wing and possibly one of Logan Brown or Jake Neighbours on the other, this line would appear to be a third scoring unit for St. Louis.
Related: St. Louis Blues’ 2021-22 Report Cards: Brayden Schenn
That would then place Saad to the wing on the top line with O’Reilly or the second line with Thomas. It’s relevant to note that Neighbours lived with Schenn during his nine-game stint in St. Louis last season before returning to the Western Hockey League (WHL). If Neighbours makes the team to start the season, pairing the two together could help the rookie transition into a full-time NHL role.
Schenn is a Top Six Winger
Although he is most comfortable in the middle versus the wing, Schenn has no issue with such an assignment. Say head coach Craig Berube wants to put Barbashev or Brown in the center of the Blues’ third line with Saad on the wing. If they go that direction, then they’re going to be placing Schenn on the wing of one of the top two lines. While he is definitely more effective overall in the middle, it’s no doubt that his skills and abilities are that of a top-six forward in the NHL. If placed on either of the top two lines, he’ll bring a physical presence and a greater level of toughness that the Blues just don’t have elsewhere. Buchnevich would be a close second, but Schenn is definitely the leader in that regard.
Moving all around the Blues top three lines last season, Schenn spent the majority of his even strength ice-time (18.9% of his season total) as the third line center alongside Barbashev and Kyrou, according to Dobber’s Frozen Tools Line Combinations chart. Beyond that, he spent 11.6% of his total even-strength ice-time alongside O’Reilly on the first line, which would mean he moved off the dot and onto one of the wings.
Schenn’s Playing Style
It’s never been a doubt that Schenn is a physical player. In each of the last three seasons with the Blues, he has recorded exactly 119 hits in each campaign (second among forwards in 2021-22 behind Ivan Barbashev’s 160 hits). With St. Louis lacking in a true enforcer, he is generally the player the Blues often look to when a physical presence is needed on the ice. In tune with his center position and physical play style, he spends a lot of his offensive zone time in center-ice right in front of the net. During the 2021-22 regular season, according to IcyData, 40% of his shots were from net-front versus the league average of 22%.
Schenn has racked up his own list of lingering injuries. Dealing with three different sets of broken ribs (and a positive COVID test), the forward was able to log only 62 regular season games in 2021-22. Through all of that, he was still nearly a point-per-game player with 58 on the season (24 goals, 34 assists) while spending time bouncing around between each of the Blues’ top three offensive lines, power play, and penalty-killing units.
Where Schenn Fits Best
Line chemistry aside, Schenn needs to be put in the best position possible for this team to win and for him to succeed. Is that on the wing next to O’Reilly or Thomas? Or does he best serve the team centering the third line? History would say the latter option – and I do believe that’s the direction Berube will go to start the season. The third line is where Schenn spent a majority of his time last season and saw much success.
Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade
Being in the middle of the third line allows the Blues to essentially roll out three offensive lines capable of putting up points. But if one of the top two lines sputters and needs a jolt, look for them to shuffle Schenn around in a few spots until the Blues see something click.