The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps underway, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the St. Louis Blues, who will play in the West Division.
Coach: Craig Berube (third season)
Last season: 42-19-10 (.662 points percentage); first place in Western Conference, lost to Vancouver Canucks in Western Conference First Round
1. Revamped defenseman group
The big acquisition was Torey Krug, who agreed to a seven-year contract Oct. 9, three days before Alex Pietrangelo signed a seven-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. Krug (5-foot-9, 186 pounds) doesn’t have Pietrangelo’s size (6-3, 210), but the Blues have more than enough size at defenseman with Colton Parayko (6-6, 230), Marco Scandella (6-3, 212), Carl Gunnarsson (6-2, 198) and Robert Bortuzzo (6-4, 216). Krug brings great production, especially on the power play; he has scored 160 power-play points (24 goals, 136 assists) in 523 NHL games.
2. Producing without Tarasenko
After Vladimir Tarasenko had shoulder surgery Oct. 29, 2019, causing him to miss the rest of the 2019-20 regular season, the Blues looked to other forwards to step up their scoring. They’ll likely do the same again this season with Tarasenko expected to be reevaluated in February after another shoulder surgery in September. Ryan O’Reilly led the Blues in scoring with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games last season. Expect O’Reilly and David Perron, who was second with 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games, to lead the way again.
3. Looking to leadership
The Blues are in good hands here. O’Reilly was named captain Dec. 23, replacing Pietrangelo, who had the role from 2016-20. The 29-year-old has shown leadership abilities on the ice, and he won the Selke Trophy voted as the best defensive forward in the NHL in 2018-19 and the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 games to help St. Louis win the Cup. Forward Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko and Parayko, also part of the 2019 Cup team, are alternate captains. Alexander Steen, who retired Dec. 17, was an alternate since the 2010-11 season.
Making the cut
There are openings on the forward lines with Tarasenko out and Steen retired. The Blues already have depth at left wing with Jaden Schwartz, Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais and Kyle Clifford, and they could add to that with Mike Hoffman, who signed a professional tryout contract Dec. 27. St. Louis has several centers, including Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, who also play wing. Right wing prospect Austin Poganski could also be considered.
Most intriguing addition
Hoffman could get a fresh start after scoring 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 69 games for the Florida Panthers last season. The 31-year-old can still negotiate with other teams while on the PTO, which expires at the end of training camp, but would be a good fit in St. Louis.
Biggest potential surprise
The Blues don’t expect Poganski to have the same role in St. Louis as he did for San Antonio of the American Hockey League, where he played on the top line. But the 24-year-old is a good penalty killer, and if he makes the roster out of training camp, he will provide depth on the third or fourth line.
Ready to break through
The Blues have spent a lot of time developing goalie Ville Husso, who they selected in the fourth round (No. 94) of the 2014 NHL Draft. The 25-year-old was 16-17-8 with a 2.56 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and four shutouts in 42 games for San Antonio last season. With the 56-game regular season, Husso will get an opportunity to take the onus off starter Jordan Binnington.
Thomas (C/RW; average draft position: 173.7) scored an NHL career-high 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 66 games last season. Thomas could be elevated to a consistent top-line role this season with Tarasenko (shoulder) expected to miss most of the season. The potential lineup placement with valuable forwards Schenn, Schwartz and/or Hoffman (professional tryout contract) coupled with Thomas’ rising career trajectory make him an intriguing final-round selection in standard 12-team leagues. — Rob Reese
Jaden Schwartz — Brayden Schenn — Robert Thomas
Mike Hoffman — Ryan O’Reilly — David Perron
Zach Sanford — Tyler Bozak — Sammy Blais
Kyle Clifford — Oskar Sundqvist — Ivan Barbashev
Torey Krug — Colton Parayko
Marco Scandella — Justin Faulk
Vince Dunn — Robert Bortuzzo