Throughout recent years, we have heard the term “buy in” with the St. Louis Blues probably more than any of us thought we would in our lifetimes. However, that was a big reason the team was able to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19.
One of the biggest examples of buy in during that season was Alex Steen. Steen was still under a lengthy contract, had clout with the team and felt he still had much to offer, even if his body was telling him differently.
Regardless of how any of us felt about him or his play, he would not have been outside his rights to say he would be of more benefit in the top nine. He did not do that and it ended up being one of the best things for the team.
Whether he accepted his new role willingly or whether Craig Berube gave him no choice is irrelevant. Steen ended up performing well in a fourth-line role and the team was better off for it.
What Steen’s acceptance did was set precedence for the rest of the team. There would be no whining and moaning. You did the job the team gave you to the best of your ability and if there was opportunity further up the lineup due to injury, you stepped up.
Going into 2021-22, the Blues have similar depth to their championship team. The makeup of the roster is different, but the style of play has returned as has the quality up and down the lineup. The Blues don’t wow you with talent, but they have so little drop off from line to line that it makes them a matchup nightmare.
Tyler Bozak is the key
They’re different men and play a different way, but Bozak is essentially this year’s version of Steen. If he accepts his role with this current team, the Blues have tons of options.
Once everyone is healthy, imagine a fourth line consisting of Barbashev, Bozak and Sundqvist. All are capable of winning faceoffs, so getting someone kicked out of the dot gives you no advantages.
All three guys can still score goals. All three are willing to get physical too.
While some may disagree, this fourth line could stand with many team’s third line and even some second lines around the league. Everyone is so taken with speed, but knowing where to be and when can be just as valuable.
Like Steen, if Bozak accepts the role of a fourth line player to start, he provides a really good example. When you’ve got younger guys like Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich and Jake Neighbours, who were not here in 2019, it shows them the team-first mentality that you need to win.
It is not as though Bozak will not get any time higher in the lineup. He prove during his time with Robert Thomas that he can play on the wing, so Bozak will probably be one of the first to move up should anyone get injured.
Additionally, as we saw with Steen, playing on the fourth line can keep Bozak fresher for the end of the season. The lower number of minutes during the regular season will allow him to have more legs when the hockey matters the most.
Bozak is going to be a big reason why this team ends up being successful. He’s not going to score like Kyrou or Vladimir Tarasenko.
He won’t pick up as many assists as Ryan O’Reilly or Brayden Schenn. It will be the voice in the locker room, the example set on the ice and the simple acceptance of a certain role within the team that will give other guys something to learn from.
Bozak won’t be your typical fourth liner, but that entire fourth line won’t be typical, which just makes it even harder for other teams to handle the Blues top to bottom.