Blues’ Top 3 Questions to Answer This Offseason

It’s been documented on this site for over a month now, but this is one of the most significant offseasons in recent memory for the St. Louis Blues. Now two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup title, the Blues are 2-8 in their last 10 playoff games.

The Blues will clearly make significant moves this summer, especially with owner Tom Stillman discussing his desire to spend to the cap. The other factor is the Blues’ thinking that their Cup window remains open. There are three significant questions I will try to answer here.

Who Will the Seattle Kraken take?

The Blues have quite the interesting protection list this time around with league expansion.

Here is their list:

  • Protected Forwards: Ivan Barbashev, Jordan Kyrou, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Robert Thomas, Brayden Schenn, Oskar Sundqvist
  • Protected Defensemen: Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko
  • Protected Goaltender: Jordan Binnington

With that being their list, I believe it is down to three players that the Kraken could take: Vladimir Tarasenko, Sammy Blais, or Vince Dunn. They would get different benefits from each of the three players.

With Tarasenko, the Kraken could draft him and then trade him; the Philadelphia Flyers are a team rumored to be open to this. We saw the Vegas Golden Knights do similar things like this, and I expect many Kraken expansion draftees to never play for them.

In terms of Dunn, the Blues have been shopping him on and off for around seven months now. He’s still only 24 years old and projects to receive a decent contract in restricted free agency this summer. I’d expect the Kraken to try to work out a deal with him rather than trading him; a puck-moving defenseman comes at a premium in this league.

Vince Dunn St. Louis Blues
Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I’m leaning towards Dunn being the pick for Seattle. Whether they take him or not remains to be seen, but that is the excitement of this event.

There is an outside chance that the Kraken go with Blais. We’ve seen a lot of great things with Blais when he’s been healthy, but avoiding injuries has been an issue for him. He’s still young and has upside, a perfect third-line winger to start with an expansion team, but I don’t see it happening.

Who Will the Blues Take With the 17th Pick?

It’s important to note that while the Blues selection will be listed as the 17th pick, it’s actually 16th overall due to the Arizona Coyotes’ forfeited pick. The Blues took forward Jake Neighbours at the end of the first round last year, but their position is much better in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

The Hockey Writers’ Armchair GM Mock Draft saw the Blues selecting Sasha Pastujov, a winger from the Junior U.S. National Development Program. Pastujov is a player I thought the Blues should covet no matter their position in the draft; I wrote about it before the order came to fruition.

This quote from our Head of Prospects, Matthew Zator, sums it up for me, “This is a great pick for the Blues. Criminally underrated by the draft community, Pastujov is a multi-faceted offensive threat who will be making a lot of people eat their words in a few years.”

Sasha Pastujov USTNDP
Sasha Pastujov, USTNDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Blues need to replenish their prospect pool as players graduate to the NHL ranks. Pastujov can help do that with his ability, and the club must take advantage of their draft position.

After Pastujov, I think there are two other players that the Blues could pick with this selection. Those two are both defensemen, Carson Lambos and Scott Morrow.

Lambos could be a boom or bust prospect. He was considered to be one of the top three defensemen in this draft prior to the last season, where he played a total of four games between JyP HT Jyvaskyla of the SM-Liiga and the Winnipeg Ice of the WHL.

He had a terrific season for the Ice in 2019-20, where he scored 32 points in 57 games and proved to be a relevant first-round draft prospect. Lambos projects to be a solid two-way defender, something the Blues’ prospect pool could use. I like the idea of taking a chance on a former top-10 prospect in this class even though he’s moved down, but the potential is there.

Some might call Morrow a reach at the Blues selection, but I love his game and what he brings to the table. With proper development, I believe he could turn into a top-pairing defenseman in the right system. He has tons of skill and size, his defensive ability will need to develop, but I like where he is.

Scott Morrow, Shattuck-St. Mary's
Scott Morrow Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Photo Credit: Shattuck-St. Mary’s)

It’s going to take a minimum of two seasons for Morrow to be ready, but I think when he is ready, he will make a big impact in St. Louis. The bottom line is that his skillset suits this version of the NHL better than most in this draft.

Either way, the Blues have seen some success in the middle of the first round over the last decade with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz in 2010. Robert Thomas was the 20th selection in 2017, and then Robbert Fabbri as the 21st selection in 2014, had some success.

What Will the Significant Moves Be?

The Blues will have the “swing for the fence” mentality this summer, as they clearly maintain the belief that their Cup window remains open. There are two moves I believe the Blues will try to make, one in free agency and one in a trade.

Signing Gabriel Landeskog

Here’s the thing, this move makes too much sense. The Blues desperately need an elite first-line winger to go along with O’Reilly and Perron; those two haven’t had an elite winger with them. Landeskog fits that mold, even if the price is labeled as “too high.”

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There have been reports that if he hits the open market, the Blues would have plenty of interest. The Colorado Avalanche captain has a prior history with O’Reilly, playing with him when they were in Colorado. Blues’ fans saw firsthand in the playoffs how good of a player and leader he is.

Landeskog has scored 20 goals or more in eight of his NHL seasons, with a few of those playing without Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, which is something people will use against him. He has 512 points in 687 games, which is more than respectable, so the Blues should make this happen.

The contract for Landeskog is likely to be for seven years with a cap hit of around $8 to $9.5 million. A big contact, no doubt. The Blues are likely going to go for it, so why not take a big risk to return to 2019 form.

Trade for a Defenseman

It’s difficult to get specific on trade targets for the Blues, but I think a couple will be traded that they can look into. The thing is, the Blues likely aren’t named as possible suitors for these players, but that doesn’t affect my two picks. Those two picks are Rasmus Ristolainen and Sami Niku, two young defensemen who’ve had issues with their game.

With Ristolainen, he has fallen off since his four straight seasons of 40 or more points from 2015-16 to 2018-19. The potential is seemingly still there; he is just 26 years old and was a top-10 pick in 2013. Part of the issue is the team is he playing on with the Buffalo Sabres.

Everybody knows the Sabres will be selling pieces like crazy this summer, and Ristolainen should be one of them.

Rasmus Ristolainen Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has one year left at $5.4 million, and then he becomes a UFA. I’d say the Blues would trade for him and talk about an extension, but I don’t know if that would get done. Many would think this doesn’t make sense, as Ristolainen has a similar frame to Parayko, who is also a UFA after the 2021-22 season.

I think Ristolainen would be a solid player here for a season, and then the Blues can go from there. I don’t think the asking price would be too steep, as the Sabres have been trying to move him for quite some time, and his value has diminished since.

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The Winnipeg Jets are looking to get Niku a change of scenery, as the former AHL defenseman of the year has had trouble getting on the ice in the NHL.

Niku would be an excellent choice to take a chance on, as he’s only 24 years old and only 54 games under his belt. The Blues could trade a small package for him since he’s only making $725K next season. He could go into training camp with a chance to be their third-pairing, right-handed defenseman behind Parayko and Faulk.

Sami Niku Winnipeg Jets
Sami Niku, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I don’t know if the Blues have an interest or if the Jets would move him within the division, but it could happen. In 2017-18, he had an AHL season with 54 points. That doesn’t happen by accident. Seventh-round pick or not, there is potential here, and maybe the Blues will become the team to unlock it.

Either way, this offseason is paramount for the Blues, and the moves they make must be well thought out. They have to be aggressive if they want this team to seriously contend for another Cup, and that’s just the bottom line.

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