Can Brad Boyes rebound this year?
This just in: The St. Louis Blues are an exciting team.
Sure they didn't make the playoffs last year, were a middle-of-the-road offensive squad, and failed to sign anyone of consequence in the off-season, but they only missed springtime hockey by five points, they are a young and growing team, and they didn't need to sign anyone: They traded for the man who turned playoff predictions upside down single-handedly last year.
They're victimized by playing in a tough Central division, but you can also look at that as making the Blues better. Sure they have to consistently go up against the Chicagos, Nashvilles, and Detroits (And the Columbuses too), but that makes them a tougher draw for every other team in the league.
After all, you can't become one of the best unless you can hang with the best, and the Blues have been trying to do just that the past few years.
With a tweak in net to solidfy their pairing between the pipes, a bright and hungry rookie blueliner, and a very deep and balanced scoring attack that won't blow you away, the Blues should have what it takes to lay claim to a playoff spot this year.
1) Ty Conklin appears in 30 games
The St. Louis Blues have the most competent backup goalie in the game. In fact, competent is an understatement. Ty Conklin is what Craig Anderson used to be, and that's a 1a starter. A little to old to be taking over full duties, but Conklin has enough talent and know-how to spell Jaroslav Halak for more than a few games and make sure he's well-rested. After all, Halak has never played beyond 65 games in a season (a number he'll need to pass if St. Louis wants to make it this year), so why let Conks waste away on the bench?
2) Halak wins between 30 and 33 games
It seems a little obvious given his start to the season, and while that won't realistically continue, Halak has been dropped into the perfect situation to lead him to success. St. Louis won't be relying on him solely to win games (much like Montreal did in last year's post-season—although a few of those performances this year will certainly help) and they also aren't a team that will get pushed around. Halak fits in perfectly with the system and brings the Blues success.
3) Boyes rebounds with 25 goals
One off-year and people were writing him off. While I don't think that he storms his way back to the lofty heights of previous years (76 goals over the two years before last year's depression) thanks in large part to the time-share going on in St. Louis, Boyes by no means is done. He's scored goals in bunches at every level, so it's not like he's an NHL aberration.
4) Alex Pietrangelo is among the top-two in Blues' scoring by defensemen
He's been re-assigned each of the past two seasons, but enough is enough. In 2008-09 his NHL stint was lengthened AND shortened by spare part Ryan Hollweg, leading to his return to the OHL. During last year's training camp, after dominating the OHL following his return and finishing with three assists during seven AHL playoff games, he was...returned again, and was a hulking, massive miss-fit. That is, if a physically dominating player with a superior level of intelligence to most of his competition is a miss-fit. I can't see how he's not hungry to prove that he belongs, and his offensive talent will rise to the top on this team.
5) Berglund and McDonald find chemistry
Both Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald suffered through down years last year; Berglund struggled through a sophomore slump, while McDonald saw his totals fall of a bit after a promising end to the 2008-09 season (although he still led the team in scoring). Pairing them together works out for St. Louis as both regain their scoring touch.
6) Eric Brewer plays in 65 games
Seriously. This will happen.
7) Cam Janssen scores a goal
Seriously? This probably won't.
8) The St. Louis Blues have five players with 100 penalty minutes
The Philadelphia Flyers are always handed that "tough team" mentality, but the Blues are pretty tough too. Four players reached the century mark in penalty minutes last year and one of Barrett Jackman or Erik Johnson could crack the century mark too this season.
9) The Blues penalty-kill is top-five again
I just realized that I've gone eight points without mentioning two of my three favorite players on the Blues (Berglund being the other): Jay McClement and T.J. Oshie. McClement is one of the top penalty-killing forwards in the league, while Oshie is developing into one as well, finishing the season third amongst Blues' forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice per game last year. On a team full of hard-working players their efforts stand out, but it's that team mentality that will give the Blues a top-five power play for the third-straight season.
10) Alexander Steen nets his first 50-point season
He hasn't been put in a situation too conducive to offense to open up the season (on a line with McClement and Brandon Crombeen), but he found a way to contribute in a timely fashion last season. Steen will do that again this year, and gradually earn a more offensive opportunity.
The Stretch (You should probably laugh): The Blues find a way to re-assign Pietrangelo to the OHL again. Following that, they make a move for another Toronto Maple Leaf, acquiring Jeff Finger. Finger goes on to have a career year and earns consideration for the Norris.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a contributor to Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can e-mail him at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.