The St. Louis Blues went into 2017-18 thinking they had a lot of depth on the blue line. That perception got put to the test, but Robert Bortuzzo stepped up reasonably well.
If you had told most St. Louis Blues fans that Robert Bortuzzo would set a personal record for ice time during his time in St. Louis, they’d have wondered what you were smoking. However, reality is often stranger than fiction.
The Blues went into the 2017-18 season thinking they had some good depth for their defensive unit. The plan was that Bortuzzo would be a third line defenseman and might be the odd man out on plenty of nights as the Blues looked to their future.
What ended up happening was the Blues had more injuries than anyone cared to dream of. By the end of the season, the team was without names like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson. Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo and even Jordan Schmaltz all ended up missing games throughout the year.
Bortuzzo was among that list, picking up some bumps and bruises during the season. However, for the most part his missed games were due to scratches. When given the opportunity to play more, he stepped up to the plate.
Final Grade: C+
It’s hard to fully pinpoint Bortz’ final grade.
On the positive side, as mentioned a few times, he really stepped up to the plate for those injured players.
On the negative side, Bortuzzo really is a third line defender. He turns the puck over in bad areas of the ice and his decision making is not always the best, but is also not nearly as bad as so many want to make it.
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Sticking with the turnover theme, he set a career high and that’s something you never want to do in negative stat. However, you do have to take into consideration the amount of games played.
Bortuzzo’s previous career high was 13 turnovers and he set that last season in 38 games played, which is a very high ratio. In 2017-18, he had 17 turnovers but did so over the course of 72 games. It’s about a drop from a turnover every other or third game to just one every five games.
Again, it cannot be said that Bortuzzo did not make some key mistakes over the season. Some were not forgivable and some were ones that people that do not like him will just latch onto. There was a good mix.
Going back to the positive side, Bortuzzo really put his body on the line for this team. He set a career high for blocked shots and it was not just due to playing in more games. In 72 games, Bortuzzo had 108 blocked shots, averaging 1.5 blocks per game. His previous high was 73 in 54 games, which is 1.35 blocks per game. It’s not a monumental difference on paper, but it makes a difference.
Bortuzzo was one of the few Blues that was unafraid to throw his weight around. 121 hits this past season shows that he can bang if he wants. Bortuzzo was ranked fourth on the team in hits and played the fewest games out of the top five players.
He also set career highs in goals and points. Bortuzzo had never scored more than three goals or more than 10 points. Interestingly, those highs did not come in the same season. This season, he had four goals and 13 points, setting new personal bests for both categories in one season.
Nobody is expecting Bortuzzo to carry any kind of offensive load, but you need your defenders to contribute in today’s NHL. If he could find a consistency in those numbers instead of it being an aberration, the Blues would truly benefit.
Still, the grade can’t go up too high because things still evened out a little bit. Despite doubling his Corsi and Fenwick numbers, the percentage barely went up for Corsi and the percentage actually went down for Fenwick. His defensive point shares went up by over a point, but despite his records for goals, his offensive point shares barely moved the needle meaning it was not of significant impact.
Nevertheless, Bortuzzo had a decent season. He exceeded expectation, mostly because we had him penciled in as a scratch for about half the season. He managed to take on the bulk of this season’s games and not only not have a drop off, but excel.
His skill set is limited enough to where you cannot get too excited if the Blues are forced to play him the same number of games in the future. However, proving that he can gives the team new confidence and an ace up their sleeve if any of the defensive prospects, like Schmaltz do not pan out.
How the Blues use Bortuzzo going forward is anyone’s guess. When you package everything together, he had an above average 2017-18 and that’s not too bad.