The St. Louis Blues have high hopes for the coming season and much of those hopes hinges on the play of star player Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been the team’s top scorer and has put up impressive numbers over the past several years. However, what Tarasenko has not done is show any improvement. In scoring, he’s put up 37, 40 and 39 goals. He put up 36 assists in 2014-15, 34 assists the following year and then 36 assists again last year. His numbers are virtually identical.
At 25 years of age, the question is whether his present numbers are as good as they are going to get. Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that his development will likely hinge on coach Mike Yeo’s coaching success. Now entering his first full year as head coach, the scribe writes that it will be Yeo’s job to push him to that elite level. Much of that will be finding the perfect linemates for him, which the team has failed to do in the past. Jaden Schwartz is a good fit with Tarasenko on the opposite wing, but who will man the center position remains up in the air.
- Gordon, in the same piece, writes that newly acquired forward Brayden Schenn has much to prove this coming season. There are many questions surrounding whether he is a true center or just a scorer. The Blues, who acquired Schenn from Philadelphia for their 2017 first-round pick and veteran Jori Lehtera, is expected to be a top-six player, but he has not proven to be a dominant center in the league so far, struggling with faceoffs and his defense. Schenn has scored 45 goals over the past two seasons.
- Don’t expect the Blues to go after John Tavares if he becomes available. With Tarasenko tied up until 2022-23, the Blues will not want to offer a $10MM per year contract and have two huge contracts on their cap. Gordon compared the situation to the Chicago Blackhawks and how difficult a time they are having keeping their team afloat with their two superstars on the roster.
- Finally Gordon suggests the two players who could take that “next step” are likely to be centers Ivan Barbashev and Zachary Sanford. Barbashev, the team’s second-round pick in 2014. He scored five goals and 12 points in 30 games at the end of last year and also scored 19 goals for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. The 21-year-old center might be ready for a much bigger role next year. Gordon also feels that Sanford, a second-rounder in 2013, who the Blues acquired in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade, could take the next step. Between the Capitals and the Blues, he scored four goals in 39 games. The 22-year-old also tallied 11 goals for the AHL Hershey Bears.