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Fantasy Puck Preview: St. Louis Blues

Scott Cullen
9/25/2008 11:42:37 AM
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The Blues are a team in transition and it's time for the next generation of young players to emerge into more prominent roles.

Before training camp was even underway, the St. Louis Blues were dealt a dose of bad news when rising star defenceman Erik Johnson blew out his knee.

But, Johnson was only one of the youngsters that the Blues were counting on this season.

Up front, the Blues will hope that Brad Boyes can continue to be a marskman after scoring 43 goals last season. Boyes may not match that total, but he's still the Blues' best offensive performer.

Veteran Paul Kariya stumbled down the stretch last year, scoring just four goals in 34 games after the All-Star break, so the 33-year-old is facing a crossroads season.

Picked up from the Ducks last season, Andy McDonald was reasonably productive, scoring 36 points in 49 games, but his minus-17 rating has to improve for him to hold fantasy appeal.

At one time, Keith Tkachuk was among the absolute best in fantasy hockey, a rare commodity who would score more than 40 goals and rack up more than 150 penalty minutes. Now, he's nearing the end of the line and, while his 27 goals and 58 points was still solid enough, he's no longer the penalty minute contributor that set him apart.

With Tkachuk and Kariya seemingly in decline, the Blues can look to the next generation, led by winger David Perron. In limited ice time as a rookie, Perron put up 27 points and a plus-16 rating. Expected to get more ice time this year, his plus-minus likely won't be as good, but Perron could double his point total.

David Backes has power forward potential, the kind that earned him an offer sheet from Vancouver in the summer after he scored 31 points and added 99 penalty minutes in 72 games. As the young Blues get bigger roles, Backes will see more action and his numbers will improve.

If Backes doesn't take the next step in his development, perhaps Lee Stempniak will rebound from a down season and regain his 27-goal form from 2006-2007.

A couple of rookies also figure into the mix for the Blues.

Swedish centre Patrik Berglund was a first-round pick in 2006 and gets compared to a young Mats Sundin. While he's not at that level, the long and lanky skilled centre has terrific long-term potential.

Hard-hitting T.J. Oshie will also get a regular role as a rookie after scoring 142 points in 128 games in three years at the University of North Dakota.

Both Berglund and Oshie have more potential for the future than they do right now, but could be in significant roles by season's end.

The blueline is wide open now that Johnson is out.

Steve Wagner has a chance to capitalize on the opportunity as a power play quarterback. After showing well in 24 games with the Blues last year, Wagner still qualifies as a rookie and could be a good late-round pickup in fantasy.

A couple of other veterans may be worth a look, including Barret Jackman, who has trouble staying healthy and hasn't scored more than 27 points in a season, but he does play with an edge which means his penalty minute numbers can help.

Eric Brewer has never lived up to his potential, never scoring 30 points and registering a positive plus-minus just once in his career but, given the Blues' lack of depth on defence, Brewer could get another opportunity.

One additional possibility could be 18-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, who has enough skill to fill in for Johnson, if the Blues deem him ready to handle the NHL grind at such a young age.

In goal, Manny Legace has put up nice numbers in St. Louis, but with the thinned out defence in front of him and newcomer Chris Mason capable of handling some of the workload, Legace is unlikely to get 65 starts again this year.




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