The St. Louis Blues have shown the past two seasons just how dominate they can be. Finishing second and fourth in the Western Conference respectively, the Blues are back among the top teams in the NHL and have something to prove.
So looking into the next season, what are the top ten things to love about the 2013-14 St. Louis Blues?
Coach Ken Hitchcock has proven a lot of things since taking the job in St. Louis, but the most notable is that this is a team that can win. We don’t need major roster changes, we don’t need to rebuild anything, we just need to play our game. When Hitch took over in Dallas he had a very similar team. It took him four years before he won the cup there. Four years, think about that. We are two deep and Hitch has had much more success with our team and without players like Mike Modano. We are closer to a team that is capable of competing for the Stanley Cup than we have been in over 10 years. Get excited Blues fans, this could be our year.
What can you say about Jaden Schwartz that hasn’t already been thought of by Blues fans? He is strong on the puck, seems to be able to steal the puck from even the best puck carriers, and what a shot. I mean the kid has progressed into a first line guy after a brief stint at the end of 2012-13 and throughout the shortened 2013 season. His play is above and beyond what many expected of him and his professional demeanor will help him maintain. 2013-14 could be the year that Schwartz really finds his game in the NHL.
Tarasenko is going to be an elite player in the NHL and we saw glimpses of that this season. As his game adapts to the North American style he will be able to pick up more minutes and become a bigger part of this team. Coaching and management alike want to take the long term approach with Tarasenko despite what fans think is best for now. They understand the talent and skill of a young player like him and they want to develop him into a player that could become bigger than many expect. After getting a real taste of the NHL, Tarasenko is sure to come back stronger and more confident next season.
When the Blues acquired Jay Bouwmeester they acquired the missing part of their lineup. After adding JayBo to the back end, the Blues were able to make a mad rush to the end of the season jumping into the fourth spot in the West. While many fans would like to see more physical play from Bouwmeester, he uses his size and skill to his advantage. The added bonus of his less physical play is also his health which has allowed him to appear in over 600 consecutive games. With a healthy top pairing next season, the Blues defense may be competing as one of the best in the NHL.
When Tom Stillman became the majority owner of the St. Louis Blues, many wondered if he would have the funds to build the team up. While the St. Louis Blues are still losing money, Stillman sold off their AHL franchise to the Vancouver Canucks and has searched for ways to cut the budget. In doing so, he has made funds available for picking up players like Jay Bouwmeester. Hopefully, Stillman will keep his checkbook open this offseason and allow the Blues to maintain their core while adding in more offensive punch.
Fans who have watched the development of Jake Allen may have been worried before he got any time in the NHL. Allen was struggling in international play as well as in the AHL before getting a chance at the NHL level. When Allen finally got a chance to show what he was made of, he gave the St. Louis Blues the confidence that they were missing. While Allen is still years away from being a true starter at the NHL level, his skill has earned him a spot as the third goalie for the Blues perhaps opening up the option for a trade. As a restricted free agent this offseason, Armstrong will look to lock up Allen for years to come in order to give this team the depth it needs at the most important position. Should Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott falter at any point, we have the confidence of knowing Allen can lead this team.
Ty Rattie will most likely see most of his time in the AHL as a member of the Chicago Wolves, but who cares? After setting a record for the most playoff goals in the WHL, Rattie now needs to show his ability at the AHL level. Typically a player that had developed so well would be called up to the NHL, but Rattie’s size will be a concern when trying to make the roster. Still, Blues fans should be more than excited to see what Rattie can do on a bigger stage. Also, it is almost certain that Rattie will see some NHL time before the end of the season and may just prove that his size will not hold him back. With the ability to score goals and the hockey vision that the Blues are missing, Rattie is a major piece to the Blues’ puzzle.
T.J. Oshie had a slow regular season but seemed to wake up in the playoffs. While Oshie may not be a fit for the top line of the St. Louis Blues any longer, this will only help the team. If Hitchcock fits Oshie in on the second or third line, it will give an added punch to the Blues offensive ability. The right side of the ice is a log jam for the Blues, but Oshie will prove to be a great fit if not expected to be a major offensive player. On a second or third line he can give energy to a part of the team that has been lacking. Look for Oshie to step up his game in 2013-14.
No player has seen a greater improvement in play since Coach Ken Hitchcock’s arrival than Barret Jackman. Although Jackman’s role has changed and he is now on the third pairing, Jax has proven that his play is only getting better. Defensive defensemen are not expected to score goals, but don’t tell him that. In the playoffs Jax finally broke his streak and managed to net a very important goal against the Kings. Add to that his physical play in his own zone and Jackman is looking more like the player that won the Calder than ever before. It looks like 2013-14 could be a major year for Jackman.
One of the best parts of the 2013-14 season is going to be the new conference and division matchups for the St. Louis Blues. While more competitive teams are going to be joining St. Louis’ division, it is going to be a change for the better. With the Nashville Predators looking to rebuild, the Blackhawks coming off a huge season, the Stars failing to improve, the Avalanche failing to produce, and the Jets yet to make the impression they need to make, St. Louis may be able to increase their point production both on the scoreboard and in the standings. Seeing new teams will help the team develop in a better unit. Look for the Blues to try and capture their new division right out of the gate.
There are many reasons to love the St. Louis Blues in the 2013-14 NHL season, but these ten are some of the best in my opinion.
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LET’S GO BLUES!