Throughout the 2019-20 season, we’ve seen many young players step into the St. Louis Blues’ lineup and contribute. Most expected this to be the case, and it’s been great to see.
A reigning Cup champ with so many young players contributing is a big deal for the organization. The Blues’ depth is excellent, which is a tribute to the work done by general manager Doug Armstrong and the front office.
Now we can take a look at which young Blues players have the highest upside and who will really contribute in a top role on the club. This list will include players who are 25 years old and under, and those who haven’t already made a huge mark in the league.
Players like Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist are already a big part of the club. They aren’t players you look at and think about their upside. They already play like veterans.
5) Zach Sanford
Zach Sanford has been excellent over the last month or so. He’s up to 15 goals and seems to be hitting his stride already. The 25-year-old winger has played a 200-foot game this season and the goals have boosted his stock.
His ceiling is likely to be around where he is now with his overall style of play and roughly a 20-goal season. He fits with players like David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and other veterans on the team.
There was a lot said about Sanford earlier in the season when he wasn’t producing, and he’s quieted those folks down in the last month.
It’s clear that as long as he can produce some points and play a complete game, he will stay in the lineup. I say that because I know many fans wanted him watching from the press box.
Sanford earned his shot this season, and was a key player during the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins last season. He scored a goal in Game 7 and was a physical presence who fit in with O’Reilly during that series.
4) Sammy Blais
The first thing that I think of with Sammy Blais is his physicality. He is not afraid to throw his weight around and he’s skilled. He missed a good chunk of the 2019-20 season after undergoing surgery on his right wrist. Blais has struggled with injuries already in his NHL career, but he is a key player when healthy.
It’s hard to gauge how much offense Blais can bring, as he has 9 goals and 9 assists in 77 NHL games. I think, if he’s playing well enough to earn some time with Robert Thomas or O’Reilly, he would score more.
The Blues coaching staff clearly likes his physical style. He has 131 hits in 34 games this season and 239 hits in 77 career games.
He played a fairly large role in the 2019 Playoffs, playing 15 games. He only scored a goal and two assists but dished out 70 hits. It’s safe to say, if Blais can be physical and contribute some offense, he will be a key part of the team’s future. Ideally, he’ll reach 15-20 goals in a few seasons. He is only 23 years old, so there’s plenty of time.
3) Vince Dunn
Vince Dunn has been a very steady defenseman for the Blues this season. His offensive numbers might be a bit lower than they were in 2018-19, but he’s been excellent.
The 23-year-old moves the puck so well and plays with an edge, he isn’t afraid to drop the mitts. His puck-moving ability, combined with his skating and his edge are signs that he could be someone special on the blue line.
He has had multiple players paired with him this season, from Justin Faulk to Robert Bortuzzo, and Dunn’s game has stayed steady. He has 7 goals and 12 assists in 64 games; he’s played every single game this season.
He did score 12 goals and 23 assists in 78 games in 2018-19, but he still has time to reach those numbers. Overall, his game this season has been more consistent.
The Blues are going to need him for the stretch run, as they did last season. When he broke his jaw in the 2019 Playoffs, he was missed. The team was better at moving the puck up from the blue line and played more as a unit when he was healthy against the Bruins.
As for his upside, if he can reach the 30- to 45-point mark each season, then the Blues should be happy. It’s worth noting that his ice time is a bit down this season compared to last, so maybe once that number goes up, his offense will increase as well.
2) Jordan Kyrou
Jordan Kyrou was the Blues’ best prospect heading into this season. In 2018-19 he scored 16 goals and 27 assists in 47 games in San Antonio with the AHL club.
He’s here to stay and the 21-year-old forward has played 25 NHL games this season. He started the year in San Antonio and played 16 games, putting up 9 goals and 6 assists.
Kyrou is now coming into his own in the NHL, as he is starting to feel more comfortable under head coach Craig Berube. He’s scored a goal and two assists in the last three games, with four goals and four assists on the season. Since the Blues told him he’s in St. Louis to stay, he’s improved every night, not just by scoring but also by doing the little things.
His upside is pretty high, as he’s shown his playmaking ability in the AHL as well as in junior hockey before he was drafted. A reasonable ceiling for Kyrou could be somewhere around 20-25 goals and upwards of 40 assists. He has a real chance of being a very good NHL player.
1) Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas is a star in the making. He already looks like one of the best draft picks under general manager Doug Armstrong. The 20-year-old playmaker has pure skill; he can create scoring chances in his sleep. It hasn’t mattered who he’s playing with he just makes plays.
The only thing to worry about with Thomas is his health. He had trouble staying healthy in the playoffs last season but has been fine most of this season.
He played 70 games and scored 9 goals and 24 assists in the 2018-19 season. He’s outdone himself already in 2019-20, with 10 goals and 29 assists in 59 games. He also tallied five points in the last three games. On Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, he put up a goal and two assists.
The ceiling for Thomas is sky-high, as it looks like he could be a point-per-game player in the future. His average time on ice is 14:25; wait until he’s getting top-line minutes and his game will reach a new level.
The Blues have something special in Thomas. He’s the youngest player on this list and he is likely already the best. He’s going to get paid in the near future and, hopefully, the Blues can get a deal done.