The St. Louis Blues have quickly made a name for themselves this year, being considered among the top NHL teams before the season even started, then stalling out of the gate, before finally rising back to the top through dynamic play-making (we’re looking at you ‘STL’ line) and opportunistic wins. And what’s great is that we’re only in mid-November. Here we take a look at each Blues player on their depth chart, and why they fit into the system so well to help all St. Louis fans better understand their boys in Blue. It’s like the late, great Herb Brooks said, “We’re not looking for the best players, we’re looking for the right ones.”
This is Part 1 of 3 for this series (and will be by far the longest), where we dive in to the forward corps of the Notes team, and see why they will mesh well throughout the season.
Blues’ Depth Chart
Here. We. Go, fans.
They’re all good, like really good at what they do, even if they may not always show up and execute (but hey, it’s the NHL and you go through peaks and valleys every season).
David Backes– Not much needs to be said about the All-American Captain of the team. His work ethic and physical play are well known around the area and his leadership extends well beyond the ice. His supreme focus is where he makes the biggest difference, but don’t overlook how he continues to keep his teammates dialed in to the task at hand every night, as that’s his true gift. his impeccable hand-eye coordination and being able to heal from injuries like Wolverine help too.
He’s great because: He’s a true lead-by-example type of guy on and off the ice, and never gives up on any play.
Alexander Steen– Here’s a crafty vet that has been known by his fellow players as one of the most skilled guys in the league (as in the NHLPA). His hockey IQ is a big reason why he’s so respected by other NHL players, and why he finds open ice to make plays so often. He’s the perfect compliment to gritty forwards because he will grind alongside them, then find room to get open for a scoring chance. His shot is timely, accurate, and quick which makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
He’s great because: He gets the game at a level most don’t which allows him to find time and space to make plays consistently.
TJ Oshie– Who? Oh yeah, the guy everyone now knows as TJ Sochi (outside of St. Louis where he was already a star). Unfortunately as of late he hasn’t been himself, but the time off to recover from his concussion seems to have woken him back up. He’s playing like fans are accustomed to now and it shows (1 G, 1 A, plus-1 in 2 games back). Oshie is the type of player that can fill in anywhere on the depth chart and make a difference, and his ability to bounce off checks and make plays in all situations gives him the ability to always be a difference maker. He’s the perfect compliment to players who follow up the rush (the ‘3rd man in’) such as Bergy or Lindstrom, but also can make great things happen alongside Backes and Steen when cycling into and out of corners. He’s got silky mitts and quick feet which is why he is so illusive out there, and that’s not even talking about his amazing shootout abilities.
He’s great because: He’s shifty and tough to knock off the puck so he always makes a play.
Paul Stastny– The biggest story this summer was a St. Louis native who was itching to make a statement in the local market. He’s a guy who also has impeccable hand-eye coordination, and who can win big draws in every zone. He’s a regular 50-point+ producer, and his passing ability makes him extremely difficult to defend. He draws defenders to him to create openings for others, which is the sign of someone who puts the good of the team ahead of himself. That’s why he’s great on and off the ice, and why he’s helping Backes lead this team in the right direction. He compliments shifty players who seize opportunity when it knocks, like Oshie, Tarasenko, Lehtera, or Lindstrom, but his versatility means he can have success playing with anyone in any lineup, a rare skill-set to possess.
He’s great because: He’s versatile, and comes through in the clutch. Great hockey IQ too.
Vladimir Tarasenko– FRANK! Or as I like to call him, Vladimir Tara-snipe-show. This young up-and-comer is no longer just the Blues well kept secret. He’s been an NHL ‘Star of the Week’ twice, has 2 or 3 different goal of the year highlights already, and is one of the most humble players in the league today. His quick feet are only outdone by his speedy hands, which are only outdone by his lightning-fast release. He makes his mark on opportunistic rushes where he changes speed at the blink of an eye, creating necessary time and space to do what he does best (get into a scoring area and let ‘er rip). He complements other play-makers well as he can cycle with the best of them, and there is no better place on the roster for him than with Schwartz and Lehtera on line ‘STL’. New and former teammates have come together on this Blues roster to create a chemistry for the ages. Hull and Oates and Oates anyone?
He’s great because: He creates time and space out of thin air, he never gives up on a play, and has a Phil Kessel-type shot release.
Jori Lehtera– What wasn’t known about the crafty Finn has now been brought to light. He will win face-offs in every zone/situation, and plays the big bodied game you need to in the NHL. His work ethic sometimes goes un-noticed but this guy is a true bull on the ice. He can make plays in tight, and has a knack for finding his line-mates Schwartz and Tarasenko while drawing opposing defenders to him, similar to Stastny, to give them room to do what they do best. He’s also got a knack for finding the back of the net in a variety of ways, similar to a Keith Tkachuk (in a very different way, if that makes sense). He has the right attitude off the ice to be a great teammate and keeps the mood light enough to remind everyone it’s business, but it can be a fun ride along the way.
He’s great because: He’s awesome at stickhandling in tight and finding open teammates in high scoring areas.
Jaden Schwartz– Here’s another up-and-comer who’s already made quite the name for himself in St. Louis, and is getting league-wide recognition now. He missed some of training camp due to contract negotiations, but hasn’t missed a beat on the ice since his return. Schwartz is the perfect guy for any team’s depth chart because he beats teams in many different ways. He can act like Tarasenko and dangle-snipe, or he can grind in corners and fish out pucks like Oshie, Backes, or Steen. His on-ice awareness is what sets him apart, because he always knows where his teammates are for outlet passes, and cross-crease one-timers. He can dish or finish and his newly found chemistry with Lehtera will bring their entire line to another level (and already has). He’s been such a dynamic player throughout his career that it’s no surprise he’s this versatile (and effective) in the show.
He’s great because: He keeps defenders guessing, and never gets out-battled in corners at either end.
Patrik Berglund– Well for starters, he’s a bit of an anomaly. He has been offensively silent for the better part of 2 years now, but still plays solid zone defense, and helps contribute to scoring in other ways (such as good transitional play). He benefits from playing with better players who will go into the corners for him, and when he decides to use his size appropriately he is a good guy to have on yours (side). Whether he decides to do that every game is never certain, but at least his back-checking is. He’s coming back around and playing better now that he’s been with Oshie more, which only means good things for the club. He keeps the mod light off the ice, and he has good chemistry with a lot of the veteran core, as he’s been one of them since 2008.
He’s great because: He can get open through seems in opposing defenses, and he back-checks with the best of them.
Joakim Lindstrom– Though Lindstrom has played in over 100 NHL contests throughout his career, he is finally coming into his own with his 4th NHL club. He has a great knack for finding open ice, and can bury the puck in one swift movement, but needs support from line-mates to stay effective. His style of play is very European which is why he fits well with Steen and Berglund when he gets the chance. His biggest asset this season is the ability to play his role game-by-game (as it changes quite frequently) and to keep getting pucks to the net. Every team needs quality secondary scoring to stay successful in the long term, and Lindstrom provides the Blues with exactly that. Did I mention that he’s also the reigning SHL (formerly the SEL) regular AND post season MVP?
He’s great because: He’s quick on his feet and finds the low slot well. When he gains body position over the opposition it’s game over.
Ryan Reaves– The resident tough guy has a lot more to his resume than just bruising power. He already has 2 goals this season which ties his total from all of last year, and when he’s in the lineup you see a very different game played by opponents. They have to respect what Reaves brings to the table; grit and grinding ability, and monster hammer fists of fury. He hustles his butt off every game, and when healthy he’s probably the most effective 4th liner in the league.
He’s great because: He can single handedly keep other teams in check, just by his presence on the ice alone. That makes every Blues’ teammate a little safer out there (which translates to more scoring chances for them).
GIF :Ryan Reaves crushes Seth Jones with a monster hit – http://t.co/wDErKhp4BC
— St. Louis Blues (@NHLBlues_fans) November 19, 2014
Steve Ott– Here we go, why is Steve Ott great? Because he takes some questionable penalties? Because he can’t seem to contribute to the score sheet, like ever (0 G, 5 A, 50 PIM, minus-12 in 40 games with the club)? Nope to all of the above, it’s because he’s focused on being the role player the Blues need him to be. He hustles alongside Reaves, and gives the Blues an option to move him throughout the lineup to fill any gaps injuries may cause. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do as a player so though his offensive production may be low, he gives the team heart, and a physical presence to help them play ‘Blues hockey’ every night.
He’s great because: His 713 NHL games played give him great knowledge to spread to the team’s youth, helping them continue their development.
Maxim Lapierre– Though he hasn’t cracked the score sheet very often over his tenure with the Blues (18 points in 89 games), he has shown up in other areas. He’s silently been our most consistent face-off man as of late, and has continued to hustle to keep up with the rest of the 4th line. He is a pivotal part of the Blues’ hard-nosed game, and he has learned to be less vocal and dramatic on the ice, allowing his play to do the talking. He complements Reaves and Ott so well because together they can fill any gaps in coverage, and any passing lanes using their strong legs to boost them into position in a moment’s notice.
He’s great because: His face-off prowess gives us 4-5 excellent centers to take those pivotal draws at key times and get a win.
Magnus Paajarvi– Though Magnus hasn’t been given much of a chance to shine this season, he has played his role extremely well. His attitude shows his perseverance, and his off-ice work ethic shows that if the time ever comes where the Blues need a secondary scorer to step it up (whether due to injuries, or other issues), he’ll be that guy for certain. He was one of the most highly touted players returning to camp this season, he’s bigger, faster, and stronger this season so look for him to be the go-to fill in if Ott can’t get the job done.
He’s great because: He plays his role as needed with a good attitude, and provides good jump and skill when he’s called upon.
Chris Porter– Even when Chris Porter is not in the Blues lineup he’s a great team guy to have. His positive attitude and crazy work ethic provide drive to his teammates at all times. He gives the 4th line some added jump when he’s in, and he never gives up on a puck regardless of the situation around him. He’s also been known to step up and score in situations, but hasn’t been needed for that as much over the past couple of seasons. His resiliency is his biggest strength, and it allows him to cash in on the opposition’s mistakes in a timely manner.
He’s great because: He gives guys much needed rest without sacrificing skill at the wing.
Dmitrij Jaskin– As we draw near the bottom of the NHL club’s depth chart we find the next young stars for the Blues. Jaskin has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his call ups, but can’t seem to be a regular team member just yet. He’s a type of player that needs to play regularly to keep a scoring rhythm, and he’s seemed more focused and ready this season (so Chicago is the best fit for him right now). His development has been fun to watch and he definitely adds some size and pop into the Blues’ offense when he’s on the ice. He’s working on his hockey IQ, and should be a force to be reckoned with in a few year’s time.
He’s great because: He should be the first in the next wave of Blues stars, and is already contributing to the team’s success.
— Rick Ackerman (@bluesrick) November 14, 2014
Ty Rattie– Here’s a guy who fans have only seen don the Blue note a couple of times total. He’s not yet been called up this year, but is having another great season in Chicago. He’s got 12 points (10 G, 2A) in 15 games this season, and has his true scoring touch back. If he is to get called up he would fit in nicely with most of the Blues’ top 9 as he would provide the finishing those lines would need if someone was out of the lineup. He will also be among the first in the next wave of Blues stars like Jaskin.
He’s great because: He has that true scoring talent, and can fill in for a top 9 spot if needed.
There you have it. The 1st part of this 3 part series is complete. Be sure to check back in a few days to see Part 2 of 3: The Defensive Core, and as always if you like what you read please share it and follow me on Twitter (simply click the button above), thanks!
Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.