One of the biggest reasons that teams win the Stanley Cup is the depth of their roster. Having an above-average bottom-six forward group is almost always essential when it comes to winning. The St. Louis Blues roster structure is typically only successful when it is deep, and the 2021-22 bottom-six group could be really good. If you haven’t read my top-six forwards prediction article, it evaluates how they can put their best forwards together.
LW Zach Sanford/C Robert Thomas/RW Klim Kostin
This is a third-line with potential; it makes sense to make sure that Sanford plays in a bottom-six role and he could fit on this one. I like the idea of Thomas and Kostin together, as the dynamic playmaking and scoring ability between the two could be explosive.
While I think that Thomas and Jordan Kyrou with Brayden Schenn would be exceptional, I think Thomas needs to play the center position. He struggled last season with injuries and moving in and out of the lineup, he scored just 12 points in 33 games.
Sanford signed a one-year, $2 million extension this summer. With that salary, he should be nowhere near the top six, and I’d assume head coach Craig Berube knows this. He gets a lot of negative comments from the fanbase, but he is a good defensive forward with some inconsistent scoring touch.
This is a good fit for Thomas — two big forwards who can score with his pace and passing ability. It is about time that Kostin gets a legit chance with the Blues, and now is that time. He hasn’t gotten enough of a chance yet.
LW Kyle Clifford/C Ivan Barbashev/RW Mackenzie MacEachern
I don’t expect Oskar Sundqvist to be ready for the 2021-22 season after his ACL injury in March, but he will slot in over MacEachern or Clifford when he is ready. Barbashev needs Sundqvist on his line to play his best, but this combination could work for him. This is a heavy and gritty line, one that suits all three of them well. This is the type of line that winning teams need — a heavy fourth line is important.
Expect a lot of hitting from this line, but I think the Blues will look to find more minutes for Barbashev, likely on the penalty kill. This is a big opportunity for MacEachern if he gets it, but he’ll be battling with Dakota Joshua and a couple of others for this spot. Even Clifford will likely have to fight for this role, despite being a veteran player.
I believe there are about 10 of 12 spots locked in on the Blues forward group for 2021-22, all of them except for a couple of the fourth-line winger spots. The big takeaway from this is that it is time for Kostin to get a chance, as I mentioned, not on the fourth line, though. It would be a massive mistake for the Blues not to put him on the third line with Thomas.
The big wrinkle is that Vladimir Tarasenko could still play for the Blues in 2021-22, which would shake things up. I would think that Kyrou would move to the third line with either Kostin or Sanford going down to the fourth.
It’s clearly a 50/50 shot at this point if Tarasenko is on the Blues in 2021-22, but the chances seem to be increasing as the days go by. The Blues don’t want a lackluster return, but teams aren’t budging on what they would give up for him.
The Blues’ training camp begins in September, a lot will be determined by then and the team will look to mix and match pieces around to try and return to Stanley Cup contending status.
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.