The St. Louis Blues have this odd mixture of talent where they have depth, but feel like they’re relying on guys punching above their weight class. Sanford is one that needs to prove he’s worthy of the team’s faith in him.
It’s funny how cyclical things can be in life. Around a year ago, October 24, 2019 to be exact, I wrote an article discussing how Zach Sanford needed to be more than a role player for the St. Louis Blues.
Here we are, slightly more than 365 days later, and it’s the same discussion with a slight tweak. Nevertheless, the tweak needs to be rather large on his end.
It cannot be said that Sanford did not make improvements. He scored a career high in goals, assists and points.
He was a worthy player to be on the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20. Yet, it still feels like he’s hanging on more by the supposed chemistry he has with his linemates rather than talent alone.
No matter how you slice it, Sanford is currently a top-six forward. While he has done just about everything the team has asked of him, he still doesn’t feel like a top-six forward.
Sanford is no slouch in the physicality department, throwing over 100 hits last season. He’s not the enforcer type, even if we’re using 2020 enforcer standards.
Sanford is not really a defensive specialist that allows his linemates to push forward and seek out more goals. He has decent defensive metrics and his point shares have gone up the last two seasons, but you’d still count O’Reilly as more the defender out of the three of those players.
Sanford’s offense is taking baby steps, but he’s not really an offensive player at the NHL right now, if he’ll ever be. 16ish goals might be around what we should expect from him.
He can improve and has already done so from when the Blues first acquired him. Sanford is also still young, clocking in at 25 now and 26 by the time the new season begins, whenever that is.
However, from my vantage point, it’s hard not to feel like the Blues are relying too much on this chemistry idea to keep him on that line. Sanford is not a bad player that should be benched, but we’ve seen plenty of line shifting elsewhere but not as much with him.
In his defense, nobody is pounding on the door to replace him. Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin have more upside than Sanford, but they have not proven anything yet either. As much as fans love to say give the kids a chance, you cannot blindly put someone in a top-line type of role if the coaching staff doesn’t think they’re up for it yet.
While I, and perhaps others, do not think 30 points is enough to stay on the second line, the team seems to feel he fits there. That’s enough, but just for now.
Sanford needs to prove he belongs there. If you’re not going to score points, he needs to be more of a presence game in and out.
Not everyone will notice that, but enough people will to give the naysayers examples of why he belongs there.
On the flip side, the Blues need to be more willing to give someone else that spot if they earn it. St. Louis is not an offensive juggernaut, so if someone comes along to add more scoring punch to that top six, they need to be there.
Sanford also needs to get more comfortable playing with other guys. The Blues are at a point where you can’t coddle anyone.
Sanford can’t pal around with O’Reilly the entire time any more than the Blues can keep holding Robert Thomas‘ hand on the wing. Sanford needs to earn the second line or play elsewhere and Thomas needs to be a center.
We’ll see how it all plays out, but steps need to be taken rather quickly by Sanford to justify the team’s faith in him.