Preseason Countdown: Have the St. Louis Blues Improved at Center This Offseason?

Apr 4, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Roy (15) during the second period against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The countdown is on.

With only a few weeks until the opening of training camp on September 11th, the offseason is winding down for the St. Louis Blues. Soon, the disappointment of last season’s collapse at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals will be washed away with the promise of what lies ahead for the Blues.

To date, the offseason has been an active one for Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong. After several busy months spent re-signing players within the organization, picking up some pieces on the open market and even swinging a few trades, the Blues roster is essentially set.

In fact, the only drama yet to be resolved this offseason is getting franchise defenseman Alex Pietrangelo re-signed. While some Blues fans are worried that a deal has not yet been completed, there seems to be little panic coming from the Blues organization.

While a hold out to start training camp is a possibility, there is little reason to believe that Pietrangelo won’t be in the starting lineup when the Blues start the season against Nashville on October 3rd.

When Pietrangelo and the Blues do come to terms on a deal, the team’s roster will be set heading into the 2013-2014 season.

Therefore, I decided to breakdown the Blues roster by position and analyze whether or not the Blues have improved this offseason on-paper. In this week’s edition, I will analyze the center position.

Jeremy Rutherford of the Post Dispatch made it clear to Blues fans that center was a position of want for the organization heading into the offseason. In fact, he went so far as to predict that the Blues would target both a top-six and bottom-six center when free agency started.

His prediction turned out to be true as the Blues signed centers Derek RoyMaxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin all to one-way contracts.

Roy fills the role of a top-six center. His primary skill is his playmaking ability, something the Blues have desperately lacked. Additionally, his on-ice vision paired with his ability to hold onto the puck and draw multiple defenders should  help boost the Blues offensive output this upcoming season.

On the other hand, Lapierre and Aucoin fit the bill as bottom-six centers. One would have to assume that Lapierre will fill Scott Nichol‘s role from season’s past as the primary fourth line center. While Chris Porter did a great job centering the CPR line down the stretch last season, he is better served on the wing (his natural position).

Apr 8, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Phoenix Coyotes center Antoine Vermette 50) is checked by Vancouver Canucks center Maxim Lapierre (40) during the third period at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Lapierre will to bring the elements of grit and agitation to the fourth line, which should pair well with the likes of Ryan ReavesVladimir SobotkaAdam Cracknell and Porter.

Aucoin’s role, on the other hand, is not as clear-cut. At best, Aucoin seems to be a candidate for press-box duty on most nights when the team is completely healthy. However, he is a great insurance policy to have, as there are always injuries that happen throughout the course of a season.

In addition to the three new centers on the roster, David Backes and Patrik Berglund project to play center as well. While neither player had a markedly bad campaign last season, both certainly have room to improve.

One should expect Backes to improve his offensive production this upcoming season.

It seemed obvious that the energy Backes put into the labor negotiations last year affected his play on the ice during his six goal campaign in 2013′s lockout-shortened season. However, even with a down year offensively, Backes still maintained his solid two-way play against other team’s top lines.

With a full offseason of training, it is not unreasonable to expect Backes to return to a level of play that has netted him two 30-goal seasons in the past.

Berglund should also be motivated heading into the season. This offseason, the restricted free agent was given a one-year contract. In fact, it was Berglund who asked for the one-year deal so that he could prove himself to the organization as a player worthy of a long-term deal.

It is no secret that players seem to play their best when money is on the line in a contract year. Hopefully, this will motivate Berglund to take his game to the next level that Blues fans know he is capable of.

With the moves made this offseason, the Blues depth chart at center will likely look something similar to this heading into training camp:

  • Roy
  • Backes
  • Berglund
  • Lapierre
  • Aucoin

All in all, it seems that the center position looks to be improved heading into the season. While it is true that the Blues still lack a top-flight center to anchor their offense, Roy will immediately become one of, if not the most skilled player on the team, and should improve the production of his line-mates.

Roy’s presence will also allow Backes and Berglund to slide down a slot on the depth chart, with Lapierre rounding out the fourth line.

Backes will still be paired against the opposing team’s top line for defensive reasons. However, Berglund should see more favorable matchups against other teams 2nd and 3rd lines, leading to a rise in offensive production.

What do you think? Have the Blue improved at the center position this offseason? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Topics: Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Derek Roy, Doug Armstrong, Keith Aucoin, Maxim Lapierre, NHL, Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues

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