The St. Louis Blues are cruising right along to start the 2017-18 season. Even with significant lineup casualties, they’ve thrived. Now they must think about life when players return.
The St. Louis Blues have some decisions to make in the next month or so, maybe less. The word going around is that Patrik Berglund is on the cusp of returning.
As long as he is fully healthy and not rushing back to try and claim a roster spot out of some misguided fear, that’s a positive thing. The Blues could definitely use his skill.
The worry is whether he is truly ready though. The timetable had the return coming around Christmas or just after the new year. Now, we are looking a full month ahead of schedule. Hopefully nobody is rushing anything.
We’ve already talked about the larger scale issues that might pop up with Berglund’s return. However, there is the simple matter of who plays on which line.
Line combinations are always difficult, because coaches see different things than fans do. There is also the question of whether you simply want to insert Berglund somewhere simple or break up one of the top two lines and have someone move down to create more depth.
Let’s delve into some of these questions. As usual, we’ll go with lines we’d like to see and ones that are more likely.
Lines We’d Like
Line 1: Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko
Line 2: Patrik Berglund, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen
Line 3: Magnus Paajarvi, Vladimir Sobotka, Dmitirj Jaskin
Line 4: Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Chris Thorburn/Oskar Sundqvist
Clearly the top line stays the same until teams figure out a way to stop it. Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz are tied for fourth in the league in scoring as of writing this. Vladimir Tarasenko is in one of his quiet periods, but he’s getting good looks and is going to go on a run. He does have 10 goals and 22 points right now too. No need to break up this line until you are forced to.
The second line is where we get interesting. Chemistry-wise, there is not much reason to take Vladimir Sobotka off there. He’s fit in pretty well overall. He’s not a second line player for the long
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haul though and the other two players can elevate Berglund to that level. I like the idea of taking the center position away from Berglund, because he just seems more at ease when the team has had him on the wing.
The third line is still the third line. I like having Sobotka at center because he’s good (or was) at faceoffs. It also gives an excuse to remove Oskar Sundqvist from that role. I think a Sobotka/Jaskin combination could be decent and we’ve seen a few signs of life out of Jaskin lately. Magnus Paajarvi has returned to his ghostly role, so maybe a little switch would spur him.
The fourth line almost always has to include Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak. They just work so well together. The sad part is I’m actually willing to include Chris Thorburn on here just to limit Sundqvist’s playing time until he actually shows us something.
Lines We Are More Likely To See
Line 1: Schwartz, Schenn, Tarasenko
Line 2: Sobotka, Stastny, Steen
Line 3: Paajarvi, Sundqvist, Berglund
Line 4: Upshall, Brodziak, Jaskin/Thorburn
Again, the top line stays the same. Other than the odd experiment, the Blues have stuck with this line because it has worked. Why deviate now?
The second line likely stays the same. I think the Blues won’t want to rush Berlund back into a high-pressure situation. They also seem to like the chemistry between that current trio.
The Blues, for whatever reason, are adamant about keeping Sudqvist in that center role. He does not seem to have earned it, but it is what it is. So, Berglund would slide into a wing role on that line and bump Jaskin down.
Fans have soured on Jaskin quite a bit and rightfully so. However, he does not seem suited for fourth line duty either. He has the skills and can give you some quality minutes, but he doesn’t bring that hard energy shift after shift nor is he a great defensive presence. You need those qualities in fourth line players, but if the Blues go with the other lines, this is the only spot for him.
There are other possibilities of course. Berglund could actually take Steen’s spot and move him down to the third line. That would benefit the third line more, but isn’t exactly fair to Steen who has been a workhorse.
You could also move Paajarvi to the fourth line and have a big-bodied third line. That would have Berglund, Sundqvist and Jaskin. That’s a bit risky since they are all streaky and can appear lazy to the untrained eye at times. They could also bring out the best in the other.
We are closer to finding out what pairs and trios are utilized than not though. Berglund is on the Canadian trip and while he won’t play, that means he’s close. At this point, I’d be surprised if he does not play in one of the Thanksgiving weekend games. Then we’ll see what Mike Yeo has cooked up.