The St. Louis Blues have a history of some very good coaches being behind their bench. Their current one seems to have a little more sense in how to use his younger players though.
On the eighth day of Bluesmas, my true Blues gave to me, a coach that understands how to utilize younger players, seven retired numbers, six goose eggs laid, five scorers scoring, fourth best defending, three reinforced skates, two great goaltenders and an Adidas sweater under the tree. The St. Louis Blues have had some great coaches, but their current one seems to get it just a little more.
Mike Yeo makes mistakes. He is a human being. He is not a perfect coach – the St. Louis Blues power play numbers and the power play numbers for any of his teams show that.
However, one of the interesting things we have seen under Yeo is a much better understanding of how and where to utilize the younger players. It is a far cry from what we used to get from Ken Hitchcock.
Some fans might be saying what does this have to do with the number eight. Nothing. Yes, these articles usually have to due with some numerical value, but there was no good nugget that had to do with the number eight. Also, these are my articles, so I’ll do what I want, nyah nyah nyah nyah boo boo.
Anyway, the issue here is where in the lineup you use younger players. Each coach throughout Blues history had their own way of handling it. The vast majority would bring them along very slowly. They would often play them in situations not befitting their future talents too.
As great a coach as Ken Hitchcock was, this was an area he definitely struggled with. We saw countless names come through the lineup and be misused.
Whether it is names like Rattie, Jaskin or any number of players that came through the system, Hitchcock had that old-school mentality. He would almost always squeeze them into the fourth line.
That is understandable given the number of minutes you want to play them. It’s not in the best interest of the team though.
It never made any sense to put guys you hope develop into goal scorers on the fourth line. Say what you will about the great energy the Blues have had on their fourth line lately, but goal scorers they are not.
They are energy guys and grinders. Their days of making slick passes and scoring goals are over or never existed.
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You’re not surrounding that young talent with the kind of player that will showcase what they do best. Yeo, so far, seems to be a little different.
He’s not handing out minutes to kids like candy at Halloween. He is putting them in positions that will let them succeed though.
Tage Thompson was a fantastic example. He played higher up in the lineup in his first four games, did not show well enough and got sent down.
When Thompson returned, he ws not relegated to the fourth line. He was put on the team’s second line. He was placed with a scorer and playmaker that could highlight his talents, not bury them.
Though it was only for one game, the line of Thompson, Stastny and Steen was the team’s best line against Calgary. They had jump and speed and cohesion.
On top of that, you had veteran guys that urged the kid on instead of stifling him. They wanted him to take a lead role, not defer to them simply because they have more years under their belt.
That is what you need from a coach and teammates. You have to give them the confidence to succeed and put them in situations where they will. If veteran fourth line players rarely score, you cannot expect a rookie to magically score with those players.
Not every rookie is Sydney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or Connor McDavid. They aren’t all able to jump onto the top line and score right away.
However, even those guys needed some help. Crosby had Mario Lemieux to help him along. He also had a coach that was willing to put him in the spotlight and not bury him until he paid his proverbial dues.
The game has changed and it is nice, love or hate Yeo, to have a coach that understands that. He gets that younger players don’t come along at a slower pace any more.
They are getting the kind of coaching at lower levels that they are ready at an earlier age. So, let them play in the top nine, where they will likely be for the rest of their career.
As said, Yeo is not perfect. I still don’t get what the team sees in Oskar Sundqvist, to keep him in the top nine. However, at least the rookie players have been placed in scenarios that are more likely to showcase their talents.