Blues season preview: Tarasenkos health, presence provides boost

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the St. Louis Blues.

Coach: Craig Berube (fourth season)

Last season: 27-20-9; fourth in Honda West Division, lost to Colorado Avalanche in Stanley Cup First Round

3 KEYS

1. Tarasenko resolution

It appears forward Vladimir Tarasenko will begin the season with the Blues, despite requesting a trade May 25. How long he remains with St. Louis is uncertain, but if Tarasenko can remain healthy it would be a huge boost for the Blues. He’s played 34 games the past two seasons in part because of shoulder injuries and has had surgery three times on his left shoulder since the end of the 2017-18 season. Last season he scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 24 regular-season games and two goals in four Stanley Cup Playoff games.

2. Shoring up the defense

The Blues allowed 2.98 goals per game last season, which was 19th in the NHL and the most they’ve given up since they allowed 3.02 in 2006-07. They were outscored 20-7 in a four-game playoff loss to the Avalanche.

A healthy Colton Parayko, who missed 21 games with a back injury last season, will anchor a top-four defensemen group that includes Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Marco Scandella. They’ll have a new third pair following the retirement of Carl Gunnarsson and the loss of Vince Dunn to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Candidates include Jake Walman, Niko Mikkola, Robert Bortuzzo and Scott Perunovich, who was voted the 2020 Hobey Baker Award as the top men’s NCAA ice hockey player but missed last season with a left shoulder injury.

Video: St. Louis Blues 2021-22 Season Preview

3. Binnington bounce back

Goalie Jordan Binnington was 18-14-8 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 42 games last season, a dip in performance and consistency from his previous two seasons; he was 24-5-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage in 32 games and helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2018-19 and had 30 wins in 2019-20. St. Louis needs Binnington to be at a level closer to his first two NHL seasons to ensure success.

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

There will be openings on the bottom two forward lines, especially with Oskar Sundqvist expected to begin the season on long term injured reserve after surgery in March to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Klim Kostin, the No. 31 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, will get an opportunity after he scored 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 43 games with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou could land anywhere on the top three lines. Also in the mix are Kyle Clifford and Tyler Bozak, along with James Neal and Michael Frolik, each of whom is attending training camp on a professional tryout contract.

Most intriguing addition

The Blues signed forward Brandon Saad to a five-year contract July 29 after he scored 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in 44 regular-season games and eight points (seven goals, one assist) in 10 playoff games with the Avalanche last season. The Blues hope Saad can replace the production lost when forward Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year contract with the Seattle Kraken on July 28.

Biggest potential surprise

The Blues acquired forward Pavel Buchnevich in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 23 in anticipation of trading Tarasenko, but now there is the opportunity for the Russia-born wings to be linemates. Buchnevich should receive an uptick in opportunity and ice time, on the power play and the penalty kill, and could see his production increase after he scored an NHL career-high 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games last season.

Ready to break through

Kostin has played six NHL games in four seasons in North America since the Blues drafted him, including one assist in two games last season. But now could be the time the 22-year-old finally makes an impact. He’ll be given every opportunity to win a spot in a top-nine role.

Fantasy sleeper

Saad (fantasy average draft position: 168.3) was second on the Avalanche in goals (seven in 10 games) behind elite center Nathan MacKinnon (eight in 10 games) during the playoffs and brings valuable experience and late-round fantasy upside after signing with the Blues. He is a candidate to earn a spot on the left side of elite center Ryan O’Reilly at even strength. Saad scored 15 goals in 44 regular-season games (82-game pace of 27 goals) in 2020-21 and had scored at least 21 in five of his previous six seasons. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

David Perron — Ryan O’Reilly — Jordan Kyrou

Ivan BarbashevBrayden Schenn — Pavel Buchnevich

Brandon Saad — Robert Thomas — Vladimir Tarasenko

Klim Kostin — Tyler Bozak — Kyle Clifford

Torey Krug — Justin Faulk

Jake Walman — Colton Parayko

Marco Scandella — Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington

Ville Husso

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