Other St. Louis Blues Preview Content:
- Potential Regular Season Award Winners
- Best Value Contracts
- Worst Value Contracts
- Robert Thomas’ Possible Breakout Season
- Top-Six Forward Predictions
- Bottom-Six Forward Predictions
- Blueline Predictions
- Four Burning Questions
- Four Untouchable Prospects
The St. Louis Blues clearly have a contending team with a lot of talent. But there are always surprise performances from players each season. Last season, whether it was a surprise or not, Jordan Kyrou had a breakout season. This article will focus on the good surprises and which players could rebound from last season or breakout this season.
1. Colton Parayko
You may look at this and think how Parayko could be a surprise, but with the way he’s played since the 2019 Stanley Cup win, it would be one. Fresh off of an eight-year extension, the Blues are banking on Parayko having a bounce-back season and returning to his old form. That is a risky bet at a term of eight years, but it might be one worth taking.
As is the case every season for Parayko, the key to his success almost always comes down to his defense partner. When he was at his best, he was paired with Jay Bouwmeester, most notably during the 2019 Cup run. He played well with Marco Scandella prior to the bubble, but that looks to have run its course. I wonder if head coach Craig Berube pairs him with a smaller defenseman like Torey Krug and see if there can be a spark there.
The other main part of this prediction is banking on Parayko to be healthy enough to play 65 or more games, which he has done four out of his six seasons. The two seasons where he didn’t were the pandemic shortened seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
A surprise season for Parayko would be his defensive prowess rounding back into form and him scoring over at least 40 points in 75-plus games. This would obviously be the best-case scenario, but it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. His first four seasons mirrored some of these numbers, even though this would be a step up from that.
2. Zach Sanford
The most criticized player on the Blues is clearly Sanford, and he has struggled to score goals at a steady rate since his 16-goal season in 2019-20. He did all of that 2019-20 damage in 58 games, playing with the likes of Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron.
Since then, he’s played in the bottom-six and has taken on more of a defensive role. His current role as a third or fourth-line defensive forward makes a lot of sense, but I think he may surprise some folks this season.
If the Blues are able to bring back Robert Thomas with some sort of bridge deal, Sanford will likely be a winger on his line. With Thomas’ playmaking ability, I could see Sanford challenging for a 20-goal season.
People may read that previous sentence and think that it’s insane, but the ability is there; we’ve seen it before. Whether he’s playing with Thomas or Tyler Bozak as his center, he should produce better numbers than last season when he was moved all over the lineup.
Either way, the Blues decided to hold onto Sanford for this season, and I’m expecting his role to be in the bottom six. His value as a defensive forward is real, especially with his metrics from last season. Turnovers are an issue, but I think he will improve within a consistent role.
3. Ville Husso
This is the most essential one out of them all because Husso needs to have a quality season to take pressure off of Jordan Binnington.
The Blues are banking on Husso to be better than last season and settle into an important role as the backup. It might be a good bet, especially if the Blues’ defense improves its numbers.
In 2020-21, you can point to nine of the 17 games that he played in where his numbers were less than adequate. There are also two teams you can point to that had their way with him. The Vegas Golden Knights had 12 goals in three games, and the Colorado Avalanche had six goals in two games against him.
On the flip side, he played well against the Minnesota Wild, with a record of 3-0-0 and a save percentage (SV%) of .934. The potential is there, and you can make the argument that with last season’s schedule, teams faced him too much and figured him out.
He must improve his goals saved above average (GSAA) stat, which was minus-six last season. GSAA is a stat that measures the goals saved given his SV% and shots faced versus the league average SV% on the same number of shots. He ranked 58th out of 70 qualifying goaltenders, which is unacceptable.
We will also find out what pressure will do to Husso because if he struggles. If he does struggle, he likely won’t be here next season as the backup.
Overall, the Blues need at least one of these players to surprise us for them to be successful. The biggest reason that the Blues struggled last season was their inability to keep the puck out of their own net. And all three of these players affect the goals against stat with their defensive responsibilities. If they can do so, that alone may be enough to surprise us.
Ethan Carter has been writing at The Hockey Writers for over three years now. He also co-hosts The Blue Note Podcast for the Bleav Network, which covers the Blues and the NHL multiple times per week.