The preseason has finally come to a close, and all eyes in St. Louis are looking towards the Stanley Cup. Despite the rocky 4-3 finish, head coach Mike Yeo and the Blues plan to take this season all the way to the final round – and hope to finish as champions.
With a lineup of talented new recruits who are itching to tear into the ice and earn their spots among the veterans, the Blues will use the next few days to refine their strengths and work on their weak spots. A handful of players recovering from postseason injuries are still in question as to whether they will be able to return to the ice at the start of the season, according to Yeo.
Key players like Alexander Steen (upper body injury) and Robby Fabbri (torn ACL) will be hopeful returns against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 4. In the unfortunate possibility that these and other injuries persist, the Blues continue to condition their rookies as replacements and strengthen new line combinations that have shown promise in the preseason.
Promising New Players and Prospects
Undoubtedly one of the most powerful new additions to the team is Ryan O’Reilly, who was traded from the Buffalo Sabres at the end of the 2017-18 season in return for Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka. O’Reilly ended a bitter final run with the struggling Sabres as one of the team’s top centers with a total of 65 goals over three seasons.
A strong forward line consisting of Vladimir Tarasenko, O’Reilly, and Jaden Schwartz played a huge part in the 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars in their second preseason meeting. The trio, with 446 combined career goals, works well together and is expected to be a force.
The Returning Rookies
There are quite a few young prospects that have been making their names known among the Blues in the preseason. One of them is 20-year-old Jordan Kyrou, a center for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
Kyrou had the chance to play alongside Schwartz and Brayden Schenn against the Stars, scoring one goal and an assist before the Blues ultimately fell 5-3 on Sept. 18. Another OHL stand-out is Robert Thomas, a 19-year-old center for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Both prospects had the advantage of playing in preseason games with the Blues last year, but Thomas met the unfortunate fate of an illegal hit after losing possession of the puck from Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Despite experiencing probably one of the hardest hits in his hockey career, Thomas is excited to return as a rookie for the Blues.
“I think there was a lot more nerves last year,” Thomas said. “You don’t know what to expect. I think this year, I’m a little more prepared. There will still be nerves, but there will be good nerves.”
Kyrou ended the preseason with one goal and three assists in five games, and Thomas with one goal and two assists in five games.
New Additions to the Blues
St. Louis-native Pat Maroon was signed to the Blues this summer under a $1.75 million contract. Before returning home to St. Louis, Maroon found success as a left-winger for the Anaheim Ducks, the Edmonton Oilers, and the New Jersey Devils with 78 career goals and 100 assists since his professional career began in 2011.
In the past few weeks, Blues fans got a glimpse of the veteran’s dynamic skill set. Both agile skater and powerful scorer, Maroon has also proved to be skilled in art of fisticuffs, as seen against Capitals Liam O’Brien on Sept. 25.
The team announced on Oct. 1 that they acquired defenseman Jakub Jerabek from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a conditional 2020 sixth-round draft pick. While Jerabek was not expected to make the Oilers roster, he will bring much-needed skill to the Blues as a former defenseman for the Capitals in their Stanley Cup-winning season last year.
He is one of the players expected to take the spot of Bortuzzo during the home opener against the Jets while he serves the final day of his suspension for throwing a high-elbow hit at Michael Kempny.
Blues Have the Potential, but Can They Go All the Way?
As we find ourselves asking year after year, could this be the season that the Blues go all the way? With the likes of O’Reilly and Tarasenko on the forward lineup, Jordan Schmaltz, Alex Pietrangelo – who earned a team high of 25:51 on the ice against Stars recently – and Joel Edmunson on the defensive; in addition to veteran goalies Jake Allen and Chad Johnson, the Blues just might have a chance.
While there is apparent work to be done on keeping the puck in the offensive zone, beating defensive maneuvers and capitalizing on power plays, the Blues have a strong set of players with potential to do big things this season. After coming so close in the final rounds of the past, why not St. Louis this year?