The St. Louis Blues had their backs to the wall before Saturday’s commanding 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. But the joy of the victory was muted somewhat by the injury which took Jake Allen out of the game late in the second period. After a late collision with teammate Zach Sanford in his own net, Allen left the game and did not return. Consequently, the Blues called up goaltending prospect Ville Husso from the AHL today to support Chad Johnson with Allen on the shelf.
But Husso wasn’t the only call-up of the afternoon. A trio of players who missed the first month of the season with various injuries have been called up after brief conditioning stints with the San Antonio Rampage. While corresponding moves have not all been announced, we have a good idea what the Blues will look like when they face off against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday evening, and there are several significant differences in the roster.
Four Players Called Up
As we’ve already mentioned, rookie goaltender Ville Husso has been called up in relief of the injured Jake Allen. Husso has been called up under such circumstances before, serving several stints on the bench in the 2017-18 season, but he’s not yet gotten his skates wet in an NHL regular season game. That could change this week, if the Blues decide to give Husso a chance over Chad Johnson, who has been inconsistent and rarely exposed as Allen’s backup.
Husso has struggled mightily in the early going this season, posting an abysmal .887 save percentage in seven games played with the Rampage. Playing him in his first NHL game right now might be a risk, especially with the Blues in “win now” mode, but perhaps a strong performance on the grandest stage would get Husso right back on track. His potential to play will probably boil down to how long Allen is out, and with him already feeling better, perhaps Husso will have to wait a little bit longer for his first big league shot.
No one has worked harder or longer to return to the NHL than Robby Fabbri. After missing a season and a half with consecutive ACL injuries, Fabbri is back and ready to hopefully return to the form that made him the Blues’ most promising young player just a few seasons ago.
Mike Yeo says Robby Fabbri is an option for Thursday's game. Carl Gunnarsson and Nikita Soshnikov are close, too. #stlblues
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 29, 2018
Fabbri will have an uphill battle to climb to grow his strength and endurance after such a long layoff, and may need to build his own confidence in relying on a knee that has failed him twice. But if he can, the Blues will be adding a dynamic forward to a group that is currently scoring 3.6 goals per game and has scored four or more in each of its last four games. Fabbri’s return, if he can stay healthy, would be both a feel-good story and a huge boon for the offense. A strong season from him would make him a serious contender for the Bill Masterson trophy.
Speaking of players returning from ACL injuries, the Blues will also soon be seeing veteran Swedish defenseman Carl Gunnarsson on the ice again. While Gunnarsson has been much maligned by some fans for his lack of flash and occasional defensive mishap, with the Blues’ defense performing poorly in the early going, his return will be a welcome addition to be sure.
Gunnarsson may be able to help the Blues on the left side, where longtime stalwart Jay Bouwmeester is starting to show his age a bit. With both expected to move on at season’s end, perhaps they will split time the rest of the season and give each other some much needed time off. Knowing head coach Mike Yeo, though, there’s a risk they will sap time from Vince Dunn, which would be a mistake.
Not to be lost among the returning Blues is a player who has played just 12 games in a Blues’ uniform, Nikita Soshnikov. Acquired at the trade deadline last season, Soshnikov has struggled with various concussions in his career and is returning from yet another injury, but he could help bolster the Blues’ fourth line, a position he’s served well in his career. It is no small feat to be trusted on the penalty kill by Mike Babcock, so Soshnikov has some valuable tools he can offer to the Blues, if only he can stay healthy.
Jordan Kyrou Sent Down, One Move Left
To make space for all the new arrivals, some sacrifices had to be made. One of those sacrifices is Jordan Kyrou, whom the Blues sent down to San Antonio. The incredibly fast and dazzling young forward has seen decreased playing time in recent games, culminating in his being a healthy scratch for the first time on Saturday. While he’s looked electric in flashes, he’s struggled to find consistency and hasn’t yet collected his first goal.
With plenty of depth at forward, it’s been hard for the Blues to give Kyrou a consistent role, although Yeo’s constant shuffling of the lineup hasn’t helped. While Kyrou’s demotion may feel like a setback, if he’s able to play consistent minutes on a top line in the AHL, it may be better for his development long-term.
With Allen on the shelf, and the Blues already having a free roster spot, they’ll need to make only one more move to accommodate the four call-ups. Most likely, they will waive defenseman Jakub Jerabek, who has played in just one game but managed to be a minus-three in just eight minutes of ice time. The Blues traded for Jerabek in a moment of panic when they were facing a number of defensive injuries, but with Gunnarsson and Edmundson both back healthy, he will probably be waived and, unless he is claimed, sent to the AHL.
Projecting Thursday’s Lineup
Depending on Allen’s health, Chad Johnson will most likely be starting against the Knights on Thursday. Whether Gunnarsson, Fabbri, and Soshnikov will all be totally up to speed is yet to be seen. If all three are in, Mike Yeo will have some tough decisions to make. Robert Thomas returned to the lineup after a four-game hiatus on Saturday and looked strong, but Yeo has typically chosen experienced players over rookies this year. If both Soshnikov and Fabbri return immediately, it will likely mean the benching of Thomas and possibly Oskar Sundqvist, who has looked just okay in his two games back from injury.
Jay Bouwmeester was scratched two games ago for the first time in his career and has not looked any better since. Yeo offered words of confidence in Bouwmeester recently, but the veteran saw reduced playing time in Saturday’s game. He’s a candidate to be scratched again if Gunnarsson is healthy, though Yeo could also choose to play four lefties and bench Jordan Schmaltz.
Whatever Yeo chooses, the additions of Fabbri, Gunnarsson, and Soshnikov add some interesting variety to the lineup. If Yeo can find the right combination with a fully healthy team, it could steady the ship and send the Blues off to a string of victories. If he fails, and the team falters, Yeo is on the hot seat by his own admission. Whatever happens, the next few weeks will be very interesting for the Blues.
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.