If Forrest Gump were a St. Louis Blues fan, he would sum up this team with his most fundamental logic: "The Blues are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."
After exceeding all expectations by flirting with the Presidents' Trophy in the 2011-12 season, they followed up with an uninspired lockout shortened season and another first-round defeat in the playoffs. Fortunately, the Blues were able to avoid a lengthy holdout by signing Alex Pietrangelo to a long-term deal in early September, as the looming cloud of the star blueliner's absence was a growing concern over the course of the summer.
Coach Ken Hitchcock preaches a "team first" mentality and the team has bought into that. So much, that it seems the forwards are all interchangeable and predisposed to making one too many passes. This team has offensively gifted players in David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund. They also have stars in the making with Vladimir Tarasenko, Dimitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie. But as for draft day, the Blues simply do not have that one standout forward that fantasy owners covet.
The goaltending situation is even more of a guessing game. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have been on the "hot-hand" merry-go-round under Hitchcock. Throw in rookie Jake Allen, who did a more than admirable job filling in for the oft-injured Halak, and you get a situation muddier that the mighty Mississippi itself.
The Big Guns
Chris Stewart (RW): Stewart used a grueling offseason training regimen to show up in the best shape of his life last year and it paid off as he led the team in goals and was a force in front of the net. That earned him a two-year contract extension and the Blues believe he can put up numbers similar to what he had in 2009-10 (28 goals 36 assists), which would make him a legitimate top power forward. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound winger gets time on the first power-play unit and led St. Louis in that category as well. And he isn't afraid to mix it up, so he can help you rack up penalty minutes, too. We like him this year. You should, too.
David Backes (C): Backes had a dismal lockout-shortened season last year. The two-time 30-goal scorer mustered only six tallies which amounts to just 10 goals in a full season. But a bounce back season in the forecast. The addition of Maxim Lapierre should allow Backes to focus more on offense and less on defending the other team's top scorers. And the Blues also added center Derek Roy, which has sparked talk of moving Backes to the wing. That could spell multi-position eligibility for a rejuvenated Backes and a return to consistency in all of the fantasy categories.
Alex Pietrangelo (D): Pietrangelo saw a dip in production during last year's lockout-shortened season. After posting career highs in goals and assists in 2011-12 and talk of many future Norris trophies, the 23-year-old delivered just 24 points in 47 games and saw a dramatic drop off in power-play production. But we're giving him a mulligan for that and fully expect him to return to numbers similar to his 51-point breakout two years ago. He remains a top-five defenseman in the fantasy game and a cornerstone to the Blues and your fantasy squad.
On the Rise
Jaden Schwartz (LW): Schwartz got off to a slow start in his first full season in St. Louis, posting only three points in his first 19 games. But the speedy playmaker showed why the Blues selected him 14th overall in 2010 as he picked things up and closed out the season by scoring 10 points in his last 26 games. If he can build on that finish, he could break out for 15 to 20 goals and 35 to 40 points overall. He is worth taking a flyer at the end of the draft now that he has that first season under his belt.
Vladimir Tarasenko (RW): Tarasenko came out of the gates like a barn on fire by posting 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his first eight games and it looked like the start of a potential rookie-of-the-year campaign. That was until Colorado's Mark Olver knocked him out cold with a wicked hit on Feb 20. Tarasenko missed the next ten games and only mustered nine more points after his strong start. The kid has a nose for the puck, great skating skills and showed the ability to finish plays. Look for the 21-year-old phenom to improve on last year's numbers now that he has had a taste of North American style hockey. He could be a great sleeper pick, but don't wait on him too long. The potential for a 60-point season will lure many fantasy suitors.
Two to Watch
Jay Bouwmeester (D): This will be Bouwmeester's first full season in a Blues jersey. St. Louis sent Calgary a first-round pick at the deadline last year to get the slick-skating, former third-overall pick. The well-rounded defenseman immediately fit right in, scoring a goal and adding six assists in 14 regular-season games, and taking the puck-moving pressure off the Blues' other defenders. St. Louis' top-six defensemen are pretty strong, so Bouwmeester should not have to carry the group like he forced to do in Calgary. And he could average about 23 minutes of ice time and put up about 40 points and a plus-30 if the pace he was on last year carries over to this season. There's finally good fantasy value for JBo this season.
Derek Roy (C): The Blues were looking for a top-line center when they signed Roy to a one-year contract in the offseason and they hope they have found their man. He is an experienced playmaker who averaged 25 goals from 2005-2012 in Buffalo and has also averaged about 40 assists each year of his career. At 30, Roy still has plenty of game left and leaving the soap opera setting of Vancouver for a much more stable situation in St. Louis will probably help as well. Roy could be considered a top-25 center for the Blues who have a lot of talent around him.
T.J. Oshie (RW): Fantasy owners are still waiting for Oshie to have that breakout season worthy of a top-25 pick. He has all the tools, but unfortunately, 2012-13 turned out to be another injury-shortened season for the winger. The 26-year-old Oshie still has a lot of upside potential. But at this point in his five-year career, he has proven to be no more than a solid 20-goal, 30-assist player, which is worth a late mid third to fourth round pick in large leagues. And if he continues to plays with reckless abandon, his upside may never be realized. Draft him, but be sure to have a safety net for the inevitable injuries.
Patrik Berglund (C): Berglund's past season could best be described as inconsistent and one dimensional, at least in fantasy terms. His 17 goals ranked 17th in the league which puts him in the second tier of NHL goal scorers. But his inconsistency and mere eight assists make him a difficult daily play. He led the league is shooting percentage at 23 percent, but the goals come in serious bunches and the dry spells in between are hard to swallow. The sixth-year center signed a one-year contract by his choice, thinking that it will be an incentive for him to take his game to the next level. We hope so. There's plenty of potential there, but it has been a long time coming.
Jaroslav Halak (G): Halak entered last season as the No. 1 goalie in St. Louis after sharing the Jennings trophy with Brian Elliott the previous season. But that is where the excitement stopped for Halak, whose struggled out of the gate and then had his season cut short by a groin injury suffered in early April. He didn't play another game after that and posted a pedestrian 6-5-1 record to go along with a 2.14 GAA and .899 save percentage on the year. Expect Halak to be the de-facto number one to start the season due to his contract. However, the leash will be short and with the Blues' glut of goaltending talent, Halak could lose his spot as top dog or he could be traded for needed depth on the blue line. Weigh the risks come draft day.
Dimitrij Jaskin (RW): There was a lot of hype surrounding Jaskin when he was called up in April. The 20-year-old Russian winger had posted huge numbers (46 goals, 53 assists) in 51 games in the QMJHL. The Blues struggled offensively last season which provides some hope that Jaskin could make the team based on potential alone. Keep an eye on him in the preseason-- he's worth a late sleeper pick if he starts the season with St. Louis.
Ty Rattie (RW): Rattie is a top prospect in the Blues' organization and he has backed that up by piling up 231 points in his last two WHL seasons. He is lacking size at 5-11 and 170 and will need to bulk up before attempting to make the transition to the NHL. There have been countless small players that have gone on to have huge NHL careers and Rattie has the skills to do the same. It just won't happen this season.
Joel Edmundson (D): The third of three picks the Blues had in the second round of the 2011 draft, Edmundson had an up and down season last year. He did manage to end the season on a high note. After being traded mid-season he closed out with 17 points in 34 games to go along with a plus-9 rating. At 6-foot-4, 207 pounds he plays a physical game, amassing 141 PIM last season. It's unlikely he makes the squad out of training camp because St. Louis is pretty set defensively. But if he continues to impress, one of those veteran defensemen could become a bargaining chip at the trade deadline.