For the St. Louis Blues and their fans, the past couple of seasons have been filled with setbacks for a team that made a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 which ended with the team winning their franchise’s first Cup in their 55 year history.
Craig Berube’s takeover of the team during the 2019 season and the emergence of Jordan Binnington were two of the key pieces that helped the Blues really takeoff and spark that team to achieve their glory.
In the two seasons since however, with expectations for the team to keep competing at the highest levels, they have not been anything better than just mediocre. With back to back first round exits, expectations for this team were taped to start the season but after jumping out to a 5-0 record to start the season, the league started to take notice once again.
Since March 28, the Blues are 9-0-1 in their past 10 games keeping them level on points with the Minnesota Wild, who have also had a fantastic season, for second in the Central Division. While it might be a Herculean task to take the Colorado Avalanche from the top spot in the division, with the Avs holding a 16 point lead and only nine games to play they have the top spot locked up.
St. Louis’ recent run however has guaranteed them a spot in the 2022 playoffs, as they took down the Minnesota Wild 6-5 in OT carrying an eight game win streak on their backs.
The Blues resurgence as a force in the Central Division is being led by some familiar names including captain Ryan O’Reilly and the perennial 30 goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues have also cultivated a young core of players that will take them into the future.
While Tarasenko currently leads the team in points with 73 points, a very decent return for a player who has struggled to stay healthy for the past two seasons, playing in a combined 34 games altogether, his re-addition to the squad has surely given the team the extra jolt they’ve needed.
Couple Tarasenko’s fantastic season with the emergence of four core forwards, that being Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich and Ivan Barbeshev, having breakout campaigns (all of whom are aged 26 or under) that could spell a recipe for current and potential future success in Missouri.
The first players to highlight from the this young core would be the two young Canadian’s that are currently just a couple of points behind Tarasenko for the team lead in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.
Robert Thomas was a former 20th overall pick of the Blues back in 2017, and the 22 year old from Aurora, ON is started to show his talents in the NHL. Injuries caused Thomas to only suit up 33 times last season for the Blues as his production took a major dip as he was only able to muster three goals and 12 points in the limited action he saw.
This season however, Rob Thomas has already bettered his previous highs in goals of 10 and points at 42 when he was starting to breakthrough during the COVID-19 shortened 2019-2020 season. His 18 goals and 72 points are starting to look like the numbers that St. Louis banked on him putting up when they drafted the 6 foot playmaking center. Pretty remarkable stats for the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty.
Another Canadian export is the emergence of Jordan Kyrou, the former second round pick by the Blues back in 2016. He has found elite chemistry playing alongside the likes of Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev.
Following the game against the Sabres the gap between Tarasenko and Thomas as compared to Kyrou started to widen, but after the pair put up five points in Buffalo, the point charts are starting to widen. Nevertheless Kyrou has had a remarkable season playing on the team’s second or third line.
Kyrou’s 23 goals and 65 points have finally given the young Canadian the breakout he’s been vying for and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Blues who desperately needed secondary scoring from other players on top of their old guard forwards of Tarasenko, Schenn and O’Reilly.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kyrou’s emergence this season has also coupled with strong seasons from new linemates Ivan Barbashev and the aforementioned Schenn. In Barbashev, the Blues have also found the chemistry with his linemates as he has doubled his career high in goals (24) and points (54) while also rebounding from a pretty forgettable 2020-21 season.
Accquiring 26 year old Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in the offseason for a struggling Sammy Blais and a 2022 second round pick might be looked back on as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history by the time it is all said and done.
Buchnevich has slotted in perfectly on the Blues top line alongside Thomas and Tarasenko and he continues to prove game after game why he deserves the big minutes. While it may not come as a complete surprise to many that he is producing at an elite level currently, his time in the Big Apple was spent primarily on the teams second line but he was slowly improving his game to becoming one of the team’s most important pieces moving forward.
Cap space would seem to have been an issue with the Rangers however as the Russian carries a $5.8 million cap hit until he becomes a UFA in 2025 after GM Doug Armstrong locked him up to a four year deal in the Summer. During his time with the Rangers he steadily improved his point totals while also becoming a play driving winger who has an excellent two-way ability, making him a very valuable asset.
It should come as no surprise that he too is also having a breakout season putting up 27 goals and 68 points on the season, surpassing both career highs set during his time in New York.
St. Louis is also no stranger to surprise goaltending heroics after they saw Jordan Binnington’s rise from an ECHL prospect to shouldering the load of the team en route to their first ever Stanley Cup in 2019.
While the few seasons since that run haven’t been the strongest for Binnington, the Blues now have another goalie who has taken the mantle of starter and isn’t looking to relinquish that title for the near future.
Ville Husso is a former fourth round pick of the Blues in 2014 as he has spent his time bouncing up and down the ECHL and AHL for most of his career, while also spending time back in Finland’s Liiga with HIFK.
Husso got his shot in the NHL last season as he was called up to play backup for Binnington and had lukewarm stats after his first season in the NHL posting a record of 9-6-1 and a .893 save percentage were commendable for the 27 year old.
This season, however, as it looked like Binnington was going to return to form, especially as the team jumped out to a 4-0 start, it slowly started to crumble for the former Calder winner. As Binnington’s numbers had started to fall more and more trust was put into the Finn, especially with saves like this.
Following the win over the Wild, Husso now sports a 24-6-5 record with a 2.37 GAA and a .925 save percentage as he has been instrumental in the Blues recent eight game win streak as he has suited up and won all six games he’s featured in during this stretch.
With all of these pieces in place, as well as a defence corps that play very physical, all of these pieces gelling together could not have come at a better time in the season as the push for the playoffs and future success is dependent with every passing game and the Blues have been showing for well over a month that they will be a force to be reckoned with when the postseason begins.