The St. Louis Blues are an interesting topic heading into the 2021-22 season. While hopes are still high about playoff possibilities, there is an odd amount of unknown regarding this current team.
First and foremost is whether Vladimir Tarasenko will still be wearing a Blues sweater when the puck drops on the new season. Most in the media give no glimmer or sliver of any chance of that happening.
Their reasoning is sound based on their sources. It still seems foolish to trade a potential 30-goal scorer for a pittance, but we will see.
Then, you have the more exciting aspects of the roster. Any time you get additions, fans love to imagine where they will slot into the lineup.
When you get guys that can put the puck in the net like Pavel Buchnevich or Brandon Saad, the excitement grows even more. However, each one of these players, and some that will be addressed, present a challenge to the coaching staff on how to properly construct the roster.
Some issues may boil down to playing time. Other issues may come from a center being forced to play on the wing or perhaps be on a lower line than their talent suggests.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the possibilities.
People who read this site regularly will know that I am part of the minority that wants and hopes Tarasenko will stay. The team lacked offense in 2021 and the two players they brought in basically wash out the losses of the two scorers they lost (Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman).
St. Louis needs the scoring potential that Tarasenko provides. Even if he’s only a 20-plus goal scorer, that’s still 20 more goals than you would have if you trade him for draft picks.
LW: Buchnevich C: Schenn RW: Tarasenko
LW: Saad C: O’Reilly RW: Perron
LW: Kostin C: Thomas RW: Kyrou
LW: Clifford C: Barbashev RW: Sundqvist
What I like about this lineup is that it offers depth and a good amount of balance.
Ideally, you’d have Thomas center Tarasenko and Buchnevich because he’s got the eagle eye for passes and would be less bothered by the wingers’ habit of roaming. However, Thomas may need a carrot of having to earn that top line this season instead of being handed it.
There is talk of Buchnevich being more comfortable on the right side, despite many websites listing him as a Left Wing. Tarasenko is listed as a Right Wing, but roams quite a bit, so it seems they would be reasonably interchangeable.
The third line is the most intriguing. Eventually the Blues will reach a point where Thomas needs to be in the top six or not, but for now they have the luxury of playing him on the third line if they want.
Klim Kostin gives you that big body that can go to the net and muck it up, but there’s still enough skill to score off the rush. Jordan Kyrou is a blazer and could easily get into the top six this season, but if the team has the depth for him to play the third line, where he won’t be exposed defensively, then why not?
This is also my preferred fourth line and the best solution for that trio. I’ve seen other websites and media members do their own roster predictions and, especially if Tarasenko is gone, the fourth line is barely an AHL line. If you can avoid that, so much the better.
Possible lineup with Tarasenko
LW: Schenn C: Thomas RW: Tarasenko/Buchnevich
LW: Saad/Tarasenko C: O’Reilly RW: Perron
LW: Barbashev/Saad C: Sundqvist RW: Kyrou
LW: Clifford C: Barbashev/Joshua RW: Sanford
Outside of the Tarasenko issue, one of the biggest problems the Blues may have is what to do with Thomas. If you want to give him those top-line minutes, you have to move Brayden Schenn to the wing. You’re just not going to play Schenn as your third line center at this point in his career.
Yet, as displayed, that causes issues elsewhere. Suddenly, a player you might want as your fourth line center could be playing on the third line instead.
Also, it seems unlikely the Blues would put Buchnevich anywhere other than the top line to start. Maybe you see other combinations during the season, but the team seems likely to give the new guy a leg up.
However, that brings up the question of what to do with Tarasenko. If he’s not on that top line, or line 1B, then where does he go?
If your goal is to restore his trade value, putting him on the third line may not give him enough minutes. It’s still a possibility if the relationships are damaged with guys on other lines. Still, I put Saad in this third line spot simply because all the interviews done after the trade made it seem as though he’d be the most willing to make the sacrifice.
The fourth line becomes a bit jumbled. Depending on who has to be on that third line, it changes your options. You could end up with a scenario where Dakota Joshua goes from an AHL call up to starting center.
This particular lineup is exactly why you’d love to have Tyler Bozak back. It gives you the freedom to move Schenn to a wing and not lose center depth. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely and is impossible as long as Tarasenko is still with the team since the Blues don’t have the cap space.
Possible lineup without Tarasenko
LW: Buchnevich C: Schenn RW: Kyrou
LW: Saad C: O’Reilly RW: Perron
LW: Sanford C: Thomas RW: Sundqvist
LW: Clifford C: Barbashev RW: MacEachern
There’s really not a ton wrong with this lineup other than a few things.
Firstly, even without Tarasenko, I just get the feeling the Blues are not going to give Kostin a look right away unless he has an unbelievable preseason. Hopefully I’m wrong about that.
The top six are good and Kyrou played his best alongside Schenn in 2021, before Tarasenko came back. The second line seems to be the one most likely set in a firmly pressed pencil, if not pen.
The third line is disappointing. All three players have their strengths and talents, but nobody feels like they would play well off the other. For all the playmaking ability of Thomas, who is going to finish on that line? Certainly not Sanford and Sundqvist will be coming off an injury and may miss the opening part of the season.
If Sunny isn’t on that line, maybe you slip Kostin in there? If not, your depth is next to zero.
Crazy lineup that certainly won’t happen
LW: Buchnevich C: Thomas RW: Kyrou
LW: Tarasenko C: O’Reilly RW: Perron
LW: Kostin C: Schenn RW: Saad
LW: Clifford/MacEachern/Sanford C: Sundqvist RW: Barbashev
To me, this one is just fun. Look at that top line and just imagine it. All three can skate with the best of them, turn on dimes and you have two shooters to go along with a guy that can pass it like nobody’s business.
We all assume Tarasenko won’t be around this coming season, but if he was, I’d love to see him paired with O’Reilly for a longer period of time. They tried it here and there over the last couple seasons, but regardless of any locker room turmoil, it would be interesting to see Tarasenko paired up with a true center like O’Reilly.
As previously stated, I don’t see any scenario where Schenn is on the third line. In a vacuum, this line has great potential too. All three are grinders with skill. All three will go to the net and all three can score without someone always needing to set them up.
Sunny and Barbashev are interchangeable for me. Put whichever up the middle that wants it and have the others get into the corners.
These are just a few of the possibilities for the Blues to put out there. The weird thing is that we really have no clue.
The preseason will decide a lot of it. Many assume Saad will be on that O’Reilly line, but the coaching staff may decide he has more chemistry with someone else.
Whether Tarasenko is around or not, or for how long, dictates a lot about who plays on what line too. If there’s no Tarasenko, you could easily have either Kyrou or Saad on that top line, which opens up spots on other lines.
For right now, it’s all fun and games. Once the season starts, it’s serious business.
St. Louis is in an odd spot where they have a good four lines to roll out if everyone stays healthy. 2021 showed us that rarely happens, so it’s a risk to take pieces away, but it may be a necessity.
It will definitely be an interesting start to 2021-22.