The St. Louis Blues discovered chemistry in training camp last year that led to breakout seasons for a trio of rising young forwards. Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera, and Vladimir Tarasenko comprised one of the best lines in all of the NHL this past season and came to be known as the “STL” line, a convenient moniker given their last names and the city in which they play. Off-season moves to the forward corps could see the line broken up when the 2015-16 season begins.
Tarasenko flashed brilliance in a more limited role during his two previous (abbreviated) seasons in St. Louis but his 37 goals during the 2014-15 season, many of them of the spectacular sort, put him directly in the NHL spotlight. His ability to take control of the puck and the manner in which he scored gave the Blues their first true game-changer in years.
His performance netted him a lucrative, 8-year, $60M contract, ensuring his talents will stay in St. Louis for the considerable future. Fans at the Scottrade Center will get to see more highlight-reel plays like the one above for the foreseeable future.
S is for Schwartz
That Tarasenko is a budding superstar is no doubt, but the guys around him were no slouches either. Schwartz had a career high in goals (28) and assists (35) and the 2010 1st Round draft pick should see a raise himself after his current, 2-year deal expires at the end of the upcoming season. Schwartz has the kind of speed and tenacity to make up for his smaller size, and his hand-eye coordination make him a threat to score from anywhere on the ice, as the Phoenix Coyotes learned last October when Schwartz notched the first of his two hat-tricks on the season.
Lehtera clicked with Tarasenko, in particular, right from the start of training camp, his first in the NHL, and had the pleasure of centering the STL line for much of the season. His contributions as a rookie (14 goals and 30 assists) saw the Blues extend his contract for another three years this Summer, ensuring that all three members of the line would be back on the ice for St. Louis, but whether they’ll skate together remains to be seen.
A question of health
The Blues gave then Free Agent Paul Stastny a 4-year, $28M deal to sign with St. Louis, his hometown, in July of 2014 after the center spent his previous 8 seasons with the Colorado Avelanche. While making top-line money, Stastny found himself relegated to third-line duty for much of the 2014-15 season after missing 8 games in the first month, mired in a slow start that didn’t see him coalesce into the star-caliber play-maker the Blues hoped (paid) for until later in the season. He finished with a respectable, while expensive, 14 goals and 30 assists, impressive considering he had Patrik Berglund on his wing for much of the year.
Stastny looks to play a more prominent role in the St. Louis offense for the upcoming season, and I think it should start by putting him on the team’s top scoring line with the team’s top scorer: Vladi Tarasenko. As Blues beat-writer Jeremy Rutherford mentioned in a Post-Dispatch article today, the potential emergence in camp of young wingers will play a part in determining line combinations, but I think Coach Hitchcock needs to put Tom Stillman’s money where the goals are and break up the STL line in camp to see if he can more evenly spread out the offense.
Projecting the lines
Changes made to the roster this off-season leave me suggesting the following forward lines. Let me know in the comments below what you think of my combos.
The top scoring line should be Alexander Steen, Stastny, and Tarasenko. These guys can light the lamp on a record pace and all three would enjoy career years on the score sheet.
The line of Schwartz, Lehtera, and David Backes, while filling a second scoring line role, would probably be the top penalty killing line and might possibly match up against opposing teams’ best scoring lines.
Probably the line most effected by the performance of youngsters in camp will be the the third scoring line. Berglund, newly accquired Troy Brouwer, and Dmitrij Jaskin give the Blues a huge line to bang around in the offensive zone and drive rival goaltenders crazy, though lack of speed could be a problem there.
Finally, Steve Ott, Kyle Brodzniak, and Ryan Reaves are probably a lock for the fourth line. The depth St. Louis offers on the wing should keep Ott out of the top nine this season, though with Hitchcock in charge anything’s possible.