Breaking Down the Forwards of the Powerhouse St. Louis Blues

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Breaking Down the Forwards of the Powerhouse St. Louis Blues
Graig Abel/Getty Images

Ask an expert to name the best team in the NHL, or to pick his Stanley Cup favourite, and the St. Louis Blues are a common choice. According to Oddschecker, the majority of bookmakers have the Blues behind only the Boston Bruins—a team with a much easier road in the playoffs—as a better bet to win the Stanley Cup.

What makes the Blues stand out from the NHL pack? The combination of new goalie Ryan Miller and a truly exceptional defence really don’t hurt, but it’s instructive to look at how well a no-name forward corps compares to the rest of the league.

We’ll look at two categories of five-on-five statistics: goals for and against, and unblocked shot attempts (“Fenwick”) for and against. The forwards are divided by five-on-five ice time, and their results are compared to players playing similar minutes leaguewide (“NHL Average”) and players on six extremely strong teams (Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Jose).

To make the numbers more readable, we’ve taken rate statistics and multiplied them by 82 games played and the median ice time in each group (e.g. for players in the 14- to 15-minute range, all totals are multiplied by 14.5 minutes for the purpose of fair comparison, regardless of the actual ice time of the individual).

All the data used here is courtesy of BehindtheNet.ca.

Projected totals for forwards playing 14-15 minutes per game
Player GF GA Goal +/- FF FA Fenwick +/-
Alexander Steen 63 47 16 884 697 187
David Backes 57 40 17 826 680 146
T.J. Oshie 58 35 23 806 697 109
Steve Ott 28 59 -31 699 966 -267
NHL Average 54 50 4 859 830 29
"Strong 6" 65 44 21 928 755 173

BehindtheNet.ca

Ben Nelms/Getty Images

The numbers here are heavily dependent on team, so Steve Ott’s terrible totals need to be considered in the context of playing for one of the NHL’s worst teams. The other three Blues players are all well clear of the NHL average numbers in both goal and Fenwick differential, with Alex Steen also surpassing the average of our strong six teams in terms of Fenwick. Despite lagging behind more famous names in point totals, it’s clear that the on-ice results in St. Louis are exceptional at the top end of the roster.

Projected totals for forwards playing 12-14 minutes per game
Player GF GA Goal +/- FF FA Fenwick +/-
Vladimir Tarasenko 61 31 31 857 617 240
Vladimir Sobotka 61 38 23 819 599 220
Jaden Schwartz 60 32 28 726 607 119
Patrik Berglund 53 34 19 744 681 64
NHL Average 44 43 1 745 724 21
"Strong 6" 50 36 14 806 677 129

BehindtheNet.ca

Tom Gannam/Getty Images

The totals here are really remarkable.

Vladimir Tarasenko is still relatively unknown leaguewide, but he’s posting monster results (albeit helped by a lot of shifts starting in the offensive zone). Meanwhile, 26-year-old Vladimir Sobotka has a strong case as the NHL’s most underrated player, simply because he isn’t rated by almost anyone. He’s starting more than half his non-neutral zone shifts at the defensive end of the rink, and St. Louis is still destroying the opposition with him on the ice; his totals are nearly double those averaged by players in similar minutes on our six strong teams.

It’s a mistake to fixate on the individual players here, since these are team numbers, but the Blues’ unheralded middle four forwards are just crushing it.

Projected totals for forwards playing 10-12 minutes per game
Player GF GA Goal +/- FF FA Fenwick +/-
Dmitrij Jaskin 17 17 0 592 532 60
Derek Roy 36 32 4 618 560 58
Brenden Morrow 38 28 10 531 575 -44
NHL Average 30 35 -5 591 590 0
"Strong 6" 32 30 2 601 577 23

BehindtheNet.ca

Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Again, we see strong totals.

The Blues’ shot results with Dmitrij Jaskin and Derek Roy on the ice are more than twice as good as even our strong six teams, and well clear of the NHL average. Brenden Morrow’s shot numbers are weaker and his plus/minus probably shouldn’t be trusted (last year goalies posted a 0.892 five-on-five save percentage when he was on the ice; this year that number is 0.933), but even so, this is a nice group.

Projected totals for forwards playing 8-10 minutes per game
Player GF GA Goal +/- FF FA Fenwick +/-
Magnus Paajarvi 25 30 -5 468 414 54
Ryan Reaves 25 20 5 404 421 -17
Maxim Lapierre 28 22 6 390 460 -69
Chris Porter 18 6 12 352 434 -82
NHL Average 21 25 -4 435 480 -45
"Strong 6" 19 23 -4 443 448 -6

BehindtheNet.ca

Interestingly, the Blues’ end-of-roster types really aren’t getting the job done any better than a bunch of random teams. Magnus Paajarvi’s doing well here, and Maxim Lapierre takes on a ton of defensive zone starts, but St. Louis isn’t counting on this group to outplay the opposition; the damage is done higher up the depth chart.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images

The takeaway here is that the Blues are typically regarded as a team that takes its strength up front from depth, and while that's true in the sense that the second- and third-line types outperform their equivalents on other NHL teams, it understates just how good the top end of the roster is.

David Backes and Alexander Steen are really exceptional players at even strength, and the entirety of the Blues' top six is extremely good compared to the league as a whole. It's not a surprise; St. Louis wouldn't be where it is without that strength, but it'd be nice to see those guys get the same kind of press that their flashier but less effective brethren in bigger markets or on more offence-oriented teams get.

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