Back in 2014, the Blues were rolling along hoping they could win a Stanley Cup with the addition of a goalie. After the Olympics that year, they acquired Ryan Miller from Buffalo in a deal many thought would provide the missing piece to a champion.
Alas, the Blues lost to Chicago in the first round with Miller between the pipes, and he departed as a free agent. But there was another aspect to that trade that we tend to forget about. The Blues had signed the gifted Chris Stewart to a two year, $8.3 million deal before the season started. Stewart disappointed, and with a year and $4.2 million left on the contract, Doug Armstrong was able to pawn Stewart off on Buffalo in the Miller deal. That trade gave the Blues the cap room to sign Paul Stastny that off-season.
This off-season, Armstrong was able to remove another disappointing contract. After a rookie year in which he had fourteen goals, thirty assists and developed some chemistry with Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera signed a three year, $14.1 million extension that gives him $4.7 million next season and $5 million in 2018-2019. After signing the contract, Lehtera regressed and became a whipping boy for disgruntled Blues fans. Amazingly, the Blues were able to unload that albatross of a contract to Philadelphia. In giving up the 27th pick (acquired in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade to Washington), a first rounder next year and Lehtera, the Blues acquired talented forward Brayden Schenn.
The scouting report on the 25-year-old (he turns 26 on August 22) is promising. The Hockey News wrote:
Has good speed and hockey instincts, excellent scoring and two-way ability as well as a sneaky-fast wrist shot. Leads by example. Is feisty and ultra-competitive. Can also play all three forward positions at the NHL level.
Could stand to get a little stronger to better handle corner work in the NHL. Also needs to improve his consistency in order to maximize output. Must also avoid injuries, which is not easy due to his all-out style of play.”
While Schenn took a while to get going, his last two years have been solid. He’s scored a career high 26 goals and 59 points two years ago, and followed that up this past season with 25 goals and 55 points. This year Schenn tied for the NHL lead with seventeen power play goals. Remember, the Blues power play in the playoffs was a league worst 6.7%, so help on the power play is a necessity. Folks in Philadelphia believe that Schenn is better as a wing than a center, and that lack of consistency noted by THN is not only in the offensive zone, but defensively, as well.
Nobody should have a better read on Schenn’s ability and his capability to improve than Blues assistant Craig Berube, who was the head coach in Philadelphia in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. Perhaps Berube knows what it takes to unlock the talent Schenn showed to become the fifth pick in the 2009 draft.
While Schenn arrives, Ryan Reaves departs to Pittsburgh in exchange for career minor leaguer Oskar Sundqvist and the final pick of the first round, who turned out to be Klim Kostin. Before an injury plagued season, Kostin was thought of as a top ten pick. NHL Radio called him the steal of the draft. We won’t know for a couple of years, but the Reaves trade could be great.
With Reaves gone, Blues fourth line would seem to be headed for a different look next season. They’ve wanted to find ice time for Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin for several years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them flanking Kyle Brodziak.
The Blues will almost certainly look at Schenn initially as their number one center, between Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko. Stastny, in a contract year, would seem to fit between Robby Fabbri and perhaps Vladimir Sobotka. The third line will be a process. If this projection plays out, we know Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen will be on it. Mike Yeo plans to start camp with Zach Sanford at center. Could he center the third line? Could Ivan Barbashev return to the roster? Would they move Sobotka down? Does Nail Yakupov return? Does Sundqvist have a chance? There are lots of questions to be answered between now and September’s start of training camp.
Overall, the Blues continued a movement toward youth and skill over the weekend. Their two first round picks were committed to centers who have shown offensive creativity. The additions of Schenn and Sundqvist give the Blues two more potential centers that have been highly regarded in the past. And while the departure of Reaves means the loss of a fan favorite, it also signifies that the Blues are headed in a direction that most NHL teams are favoring, a direction that favors skill over toughness.
We don’t know how this will all work out, but at least the Blues were able to remove the Lehtera contract in exchange for a guy who, while he has contract similar to Lehtera’s, has been a much more accomplished scorer over the last couple of years and can be a top six center. At the end of the day, the Blues need another top six forward capable of scoring 25 goals, and they appear to have gotten that guy in Schenn.