Our St. Louis Blues 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
The Cup defense quest was unsuccessful for the St. Louis Blues. They won the Central Division with a 42-19-10 record (94 points) but were dispatched by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. St. Louis wasn’t blowing anyone away offensively, sitting at 14th in GF/GP with 3.14, but they excel defensively, posting a 5th best GA/GP (2.68).
This defensive prowess is no surprise give the lineup this team iced. Led by former Blues Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and current Blues Colton Parayko, Robert Bortuzzo, Justin Faulk, Carl Gunnarsson, and Vince Dunn, the defense is strong point for this team. Even on forward, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz are competent to great defensive forwards that help push the agenda of team defense.
But this past offseason will be a tough one to swallow for the Blues universe. Longtime Blue, (now former) captain, and everybody’s favourite cousin Alex Pietrangelo was left unsigned and moved on to the Vegas Golden Knights. This left a massive hole in the team’s blueline, roster depth, and identity. Torey Krug was brought in before Pietrangelo officially signed elsewhere, putting the writing on the wall so to speak.
Krug has a bit of a different skillset than Pietrangelo does. Krug is a bit more offensive minded and dynamic, styling as a more puck moving defenseman, whereas Pietrangelo aimed to find a balance as a two-way defender. Their point totals in recent years are fairly similar, hovering in the 50-point range, so the team will have to look elsewhere on their roster for filling the defensive contributions of Alex Pietrangelo. Hopefully, Colton Parayko, Marco Scandella, and Justin Faulk will be able to step up more, Faulk especially after a disappointing first year in St. Louis.
One other difficulty the Blues will face is the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko, who will still be on the LTIR for a while after the season begins while he recovers from shoulder surgery. They managed alright without him in 2019-20, when he only played 10 games, but St. Louis will be needing to find a way to replace his offense to help maintain a positive goal differential. This one might be tricky for the team, but Robert Thomas is poised to step into a bigger role and build on his 42 points last season, as well as the potential for Klim Kostin and Jordan Kyrou to enter into the Blues’ lineup on a more regular basis.
St. Louis Blues Roster Overview
The Blues have a very solid group of forwards, and year-over-year the roster is largely the same. If they’re healthy, that is. And that will be a huge concern this upcoming year. They’re already going to be down Vladimir Tarasenko. Alexander Steen had to announce his retirement due to back injuries.
But, the rest of the group is mostly the same. Freshly named captain Ryan O’Reilly leads this group, both offensively and defensively. His 61 points gave him the team lead over David Perron’s 60. And, O’Reilly’s forward-leading Defensive Point Share (2.1), his 56.6% faceoff win percentage, positive possession metrics, and 69-22 takeaway to giveaway ratio indicate his importance defensively.
The aforementioned David Perron shouldered more of the offensive load in Tarasenko’s absence last season, going as far as scoring 9 game winning goals through the regular season. Perron and O’Reilly make a great complimentary pair and spent large portions of 2019-20 playing together, and it is expected for them to remain paired up in 2020-21.
Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz make a great and productive duo from the team’s second line, both having very similar statlines that put them in a high tier for their role.
Zach Sanford spent the most time with the Perron/O’Reilly duo last season, but with Robert Thomas growing into a 42 point player in 2019-20, I would see him getting a bigger role with the team. He only averaged 14:34 in ice time last season, indicating sheltered usage, so an opportunity to join the team’s first line and play with a responsible two-way forward in O’Reilly could be a great way to help him solidify all facets of his game.
With Alexander Steen retiring, the bottom 6 has another spot up for grabs. Tyler Bozak and Ivan Barbashev will fill the spots down the middle. Kyle Clifford was brought in to provide some physicality and a reliable depth option for the bottom 6. Sammy Blais looks to earn a more regular spot in the lineup. He played 40 games last season, but only had 13 points and averaged 12:35 in ice time per game. The roster this season gives him a chance to gain more ice time, if he can boost his offensive numbers a bit. Prospects Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin will also be given a clear shot to break into this roster for good. Kyrou has yet to find his game at the NHL level. But, his success at the junior and AHL level indicates that the speedy, scoring forward could be a valuable contributor in the right situation.
Torey Krug is heavily utilized for offensive play, as shown by his nearly 70% offensive zone start percentage (compared to 51.6 for Alex Pietrangelo). So, while the addition of Krug will give the Blues some more firepower and dynamism from the blueline, there will be a significant chunk of defensive utilization that the team now has to replace. Not to mention filling the void of losing a captain and leader of the defensive group.
Colton Parayko will likely become looked at to fill this space for the Blues. He is a more defensive-minded, physical defender but is not a complete offensive black hole, averaging around 30 points per season. Parayko and Krug are poised to be paired together for the most part. This could be great for both players, as they have completely different playstyles that would balance each other out well and help the other push the boundaries of their games. Parayko may get more chances to contribute offensively and Krug will have the opportunity to test his defensive game.
Justin Faulk is in need of a bounceback season. His first in St. Louis was a disappointment, especially after signing a new contract with an AAV of $6.5 million. Faulk had the worst season of his career offensively, recording only 16 points in 69 games. A far cry from someone who had hit 30+ points (even as high as 49) each of the last 6 seasons. The hope is once he settles in with the new team that he will rebound.
Marco Scandella, Carl Gunnarsson, and Vince Dunn (once resigned) will battle it out for the bottom 2 LD spots, while Robert Bortuzzo is now fairly cemented as the 3RD for St. Louis.
Jordan Binnington is the starter of this team and will face a heavy workload through 2020-21. Binnington was quite average in 2019-20, with a .912 SV%, 2.56 GAA, and 3.30 GSAA that place him in the bottom half of the league’s starters. Since St. Louis shipped out Jake Allen and did not bring in a backup to replace him, Ville Husso is the presumed backup for the Blues. Husso has spent parts of 4 seasons in the AHL but has not yet played a game in the NHL. I see this as a bit of a risky strategy, as we are still trying to get a gauge on how good Jordan Binnington actually is and if he struggles or becomes fatigued during the condensed schedule that is expected in 2020-21, St. Louis is not going to have a reliable option to take over. Though, the Blues have had good luck recently with unproven rookie goalies becoming absolutely dominant when they get their shot.
St. Louis Blues 2020-21 Prediction
1st – 3rd West Division
I lean towards St. Louis being on the bottom of this top tier in the West Division and more likely to finish 3rd. However, the Blues will be a force in this division and will feed on the California teams (less San Jose than the others) and Arizona for points.
That concludes our St. Louis Blues 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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