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Cullen: Blues have loads of young talent, will it pay off?

Scott Cullen
9/20/2011 11:46:14 AM
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It may seem like it has been a long time in coming, and there's nothing to assure that this year is going to be better than years past, but the St. Louis Blue have been chock full of potential for quite some time and this may be the year they put it all together.

New captain David Backes is a rare breed, the only player in the league with 30 goals, 30 assists, a plus-30 rating and more than 90 penalty minutes last season, a feat that has been accomplished one other time since 2000-2001 (Alex Burrows in 2009-2010). Backes' value gets a further boost in leagues that give him right wing eligibility because it's not enough that he's producing at this level, but he does it (at least in terms of eligibility) at a shallow wing position.

After coming over from Colorado last year, Chris Stewart scored 15 goals in 26 games, forming a dangerous duo with Backes, as the two power forwards are a handful for opposing defencemen to handle physically. Stewart has scored 28 goals in each of the last two seasons, but that total would figure to be a disappointment this year, given his increased role with the Blues.

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak was positively underwhelming in his first season in St. Louis, posting a .910 save percentage. If Halak could put up numbers more along the lines of what he had in Montreal, that would go a long way towards getting the Blues into the playoffs and if he does it in 65-plus games, Halak could also be a 35-game winner.

Heady puck-moving defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk was traded to St. Louis part way through his rookie season and contributed 17 points in 26 games with the Blues. The 22-year-old will get power play time and his point production alone will make him appealing in most formats.

Like Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo scored 43 points last season, but Pietrangelo also finished with a plus-18 rating. Between the two of them, the Blues have quality puck-movers that can get the puck up the ice, giving the forwards opportunities to score.

Veteran Andy McDonald has shifted to the wing and has remained productive when he's been in the lineup, working well on a line with Backes and Stewart late last season. McDonald has had concussion problems, so that brings an element of risk, but he also played a career-high 20:02 per game last year, so he's an integral part of what the Blues are doing offensively.

Patrik Berglund experienced a nice bounceback in his third season following a flop of a sophomore campaign. With 31 points in the last 39 games of the season, Berglund started to approach the kind of production that is expected from a playmaking centre with his size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and skill.

One of the real wildcards on the St. Louis roster is T. J. Oshie, at one time a highly-touted young player. He's only 24-years-old, but hasn't been able to stay healthy and ran afoul of the Blues at one point down the stretch, getting suspended by the team for missing practice. Oshie is talented and plays with an enviable hard-nosed approach, but has yet to score 20 goals or 50 points in a season and that may not happen until Oshie proves he can stay healthy.

Though he's not a naturally gifted scorer, Alex Steen did finish with a career-high 51 points last season and even if that's not elite level production, on left wing it's enough to warrant selection in many leagues.

A concussion limited David Perron to just ten games last season and he still isn't expected to be ready for the start of this season, but the talented 23-year-old should be snatched up in deep leagues because he's a gifted offensive player with more upside than most late-round selections.

Aside from their young and promising bunch, the Blues have signed veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. They don't figure to be among the top six forwards, so they have limited appeal, but they're the kind of players that could be useful fill-ins during the season if they end up in more prominent roles.

The Blues have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, but have the talent to provide better results and if their young players go from potential to productive, the payoff should be a playoff berth.

NHL Depth Chart - St. Louis Blues

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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