Blues Stock Up, Stock Down: Hofer, Binnington, Blais, & More

The St. Louis Blues are in the midst of one of their better stretches of hockey since they shocked the roster with the trade of veterans Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari to the Toronto Maple Leafs back on Feb. 18. With a win over a Detroit Red Wings team that includes several former Blues last night (March 23), they’ve gotten points in four straight games, going 3-0-1 in the process.

St. Louis Blues Stock Up Stock Down

Head coach Craig Berube is giving some fresh faces more opportunity to play and showcase their skills as this season winds down and the Blues start constructing their roster for next season. With the 2022-23 season already lost, planning ahead for next season is in the best interest of the franchise, even with 11 games remaining on the schedule. Let’s look at those who are making the most of their chances and who they may be taking playing time away from.

Stock Up

Joel Hofer

As a result of Jordan Binnington’s two-game suspension stemming from his altercation with Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Hartman, 22-year old rookie goaltender Joel Hofer was recalled to the big club under emergency conditions. He was in the midst of a quality season with the Blues’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, going 22-14-4 in 40 starts with a .920 save percentage (SV%) before his recall. Since his recall on March 16, he’s started all four of the Blues’ games in that same stretch, going 3-0-1, stopping 118 of 125 shots (.944 SV%), and has a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.74.

Joel Hofer Springfield Thunderbirds
Joel Hofer, Springfield Thunderbirds (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Going into this season with veteran Thomas Greiss in the fold, Hofer was viewed as the team’s backup goalie for 2023-24. To further that point, he signed a two-year, one-way extension in January, virtually guaranteeing himself a spot on next season’s roster. Given how brightly he has shined this season, in both the AHL and NHL, the Blues could have a legitimate 1A/1B situation with him and Binnington going into training camp.

The New Guys

The slew of moves in February and early March brought a lot of new faces into the mix, notably forwards Sammy Blais, Kasperi Kapanen, and Jakub Vrána. Blais has 11 points (seven goals) in 20 games, Kapanen has six points (four goals) in 12 games, and Vrána has six points (five goals) in nine games.

Related: New Blues Players Providing Life After Trade Deadline Fire Sale

In the four games since St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), coinciding with the Blues’ 3-0-1 run during that time, Blais is tied for the team-lead with four points while leading the club in goals with three — all of them coming at 5-on-5. He’s been an offensive force both down low and in front of the net and has been the type of player that epitomizes “Blues Hockey” since he rejoined the club. Below is his goal heatmap from IcyData.

Sammy Blais Goal Heatmap, IcyData.Hockey

Kapanen and Vrána have been great additions as well. Their skills and play style are in line with the direction is going: speed and skill. Putting them in a lineup with similar players in Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, and Pavel Buchnevich, to go along with more physical and forechecking players like Blais, Schenn, and Jake Neighbours give the Blues the flexibility to roll out varying play styles on any given night that can vary from line-to-line.

Jake Neighbours

After being sidelined since late February, Neighbours rejoined the team on on March 21, serving on the fourth line and logged just 9:34 of ice time. That changed dramatically in the following game where he was slotted into the left wing of the top line in their most recent game against the Red Wings. In that game, he saw a huge jump in ice time (16:21) and scored what would be a much-needed insurance goal on a breakaway after fielding a beautiful saucer pass from Robert Bortuzzo.

Neighbours’ upper-body injury came at the worst time for him, as we was slated to see an increased role with the team as they began officially looking toward the future. He ended up missing 13 games between Feb. 19 and March 21, but is now getting the chance to show what he can do perhaps as a top-six forward in the NHL.

Stock Down

Jordan Binnington & Thomas Greiss

Since Hofer’s call up and the subsequent announcement that the Blues intend to keep him around and carry three goalies, both Binnington and Greiss have yet to start a game. Greiss saw 14 seconds of ice time in one of the four games, but that was due to Hofer needing to get a skate blade replaced. Other than that, the crease has been owned by Hofer with Binnington serving as the backup and Greiss being scratched the last two games.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This is the second straight season in which Binnington has lost significant playing time to his backup. Last season it was Ville Husso, this time around it’s Hofer. Together, the duo of Binnington and Greiss has been uneven and underwhelming. In 72 combined starts, the pair has a record of 29-33-5, a .894 SV%, and a 3.16 GAA. With just 11 games remaining, it’s likely Binnington sees only a few more starts while Greiss will likely remain a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season.

Lottery Odds

The Blues, now with 70 points on the season, currently sit in ninth place in the reverse standings, just behind the Vancouver Canucks (69 points) and ahead of the Red Wings (71 points) and Buffalo Sabres (72 points). With each point earned, the Blues are sliding further away from the bottom of the league. In a normal year, that would deserve to be celebrated. But in a year where the team is clearly punting the rest of the season and with a top-heavy draft coming up that includes Connor Bedard, Leo Carlsson, Adam Fantilli, and Matvei Michkov, winning only decreases the team’s chances of obtaining a higher-caliber prospect like the ones I just mentioned.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide

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This club will never embrace tanking, and while winning is great for the team on the ice and for the young players in the locker room, it only gets them further from their goal of acquiring the greatest possible amount of young talent through the draft and coming back strong next season. Outside of Bedard, it’s unlikely that any player drafted in the first round would have an immediate NHL impact. But with their chances at getting the number one pick currently at 5 percent, each game without earning a point will only help improve their lottery odds.

The Blues have four games left in the month of March, with three of them coming against teams lower than them in the standings: Anaheim Ducks (56 points), Canucks, and the Chicago Blackhawks (54). New and young talent should be on full display for Craig Berube as they wrap up the month and head into April

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