Like every team in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues will bring 31 players to the bubble in the coming days. The Blues depart for Edmonton, the hub city for the 12 Western Conference teams, on Sunday. And while most of the roster was as expected, a few of the peripheral players to make the cut are surprises. In this article, we’ll take an overview of the 31 men heading to Edmonton, talking about the big topics and surprising faces along the way.
Tarasenko Fully Healthy
One of the biggest advantages the Blues will have entering the postseason is a fully healthy Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian sniper underwent soldier surgery in October and was expected to miss five months. It was uncertain how much time he would have to shake off the rust before the playoffs had the season not been paused due to COVID-19.
While the added months of preparation time came under unfortunate circumstances, they were certainly a boon for Tarasenko. Not only did he get to attend the interim training camp with the Blues, but he had plenty of extra time to fully heal from his surgery. There will be no concerns about rushing him back into action, and fans can expect him to be a difference maker.
In fact, few players have the potential to make as big an impact on their teams as does Tarasenko. Not only did he have five consecutive 33-plus goal seasons before being injured in October, but in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, he scored 11 goals, second on the team behind Jaden Schwartz, and added six assists, good for 17 points which put him fourth on the team. After the injury, the Blues proved their offense could survive without him. But he is their most potent scoring threat, and his healthy return is a huge boost for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Kostin a Roster Surprise
By far the biggest surprise on the 31-man roster is the presence of 21-year-old Russian forward Klim Kostin. The 2017 first-round draft pick made his long-awaited NHL debut earlier this season, appearing in four games and nabbing his first NHL goal. But he’s had a bit of a start and stop career in the American Hockey League, and with the NHL roster so crowded with forward depth, he’s yet to get an extended look at the highest level.
But the very presence of Kostin on the roster has fans excited. Along with Jordan Kyrou and Scott Perunovich, the Russian is one of the team’s top prospects and was considered a massive steal at the end of the first round in 2017. Ironically, Kostin fell due to a shoulder injury of his own.
Kostin joins other depth forwards like Troy Brouwer, Jacob de la Rose, Kyrou, and Austin Poganski, many of whom are unlikely to see much playing time. But for some reason, the inclusion of Kostin feels different. Head coach Craig Berube hasn’t hesitated to include a young, untested player to inject energy into his lineup, most notably with Sammy Blais in a potential elimination game in last year’s Second Round. If Kostin gets that opportunity this season, he could make a huge difference for the team.
New-Look Defense’s Playoff Debut
For a team that seems largely the same as their Stanley Cup Champion predecessors, the Blues have two new, significant pieces on the backend in Justin Faulk and Marco Scandella. Faulk arrived late in the preseason via trade from the Carolina Hurricanes, and after signing an extension, struggled to find the consistency that he’d had through eight seasons in Raleigh.
Scandella, by contrast, was a trade deadline acquisition. But his arrival helped solidify the defense after the sudden loss of Jay Bouwmeester, whose frightening cardiac episode on the bench in a game against the Anaheim Ducks likely ended his career. But Scandella’s presence helped solidify the whole lineup, and the Blues had an eight-game winning streak immediately before the pause. That streak was also the best run of Faulk’s season.
Scandella and Faulk are two major additions for the playoff push, though with limited playoff experience. Faulk did have eight points in fifteen games during the 2019 postseason, his first-ever playoff games. Scandella hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since the 2016-17 season with the Minnesota Wild, but he has played 39 games overall.
With the Blues, the pair will join a defensive unit that led the charge in last season’s playoffs, not only allowing just 2.62 goals against per game, the seventh-best mark in the league, but also contributing 58 points of their own, good for an average of 2.23 per game. St. Louis’ foundation is built on a strong blueline, and Scandella and Faulk will need to live up to the standard set last season for the franchise to repeat as champions.
A Strong Chance to Repeat
With a fully health Tarasenko, two new additions to the defense, and plenty of forward depth, the Blues have as strong a chance as any team entering the somewhat-bizarre 2020 NHL postseason. There’s virtually no predicting what will happen in these unusual playoffs, but St. Louis will not be a team anyone wants to come up against.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.