A young team on the rise, with a dash of veteran savvy to lead the way, the St. Louis Blues will be a team to watch in 2009-2010, both for increased expectations on the ice and, not coincidentally, improved fantasy value for their individual players.
An offensive leader for the Blues, 27-year-old Brad Boyes has tallied 76 goals while playing every game over the last two seasons. The 27-year-old is in his prime, so that kind of production ought to continue, but his value would increase if he was significantly better than last year's minus-20.
Part of the reason for Boyes' minus trouble is that he scores a lot (35 points last season) on the power play and his linemates, Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya, aren't exactly defensive stalwarts either.
McDonald was hampered by injury last season, playing only 46 games, but put up 44 points (and a minus-13) in those games. He's been a point-per-game scorer before, so if he can stay healthy, 32-year-old McDonald could still be a productive playmaker.
Kariya's season was even more affected by injury, as he only got into 11 regular season games, yet notched 15 points as the Blues power play was clicking early in the year. Kariya's game appeared to be declining before last season, but he may have another productive year left in him playing alongside McDonald and Boyes.
The Blues have a number of young players on the rise, including David Perron, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie.
Perron is tremendous with the puck, showing creativity and soft hands, so he has offensive upside and, perhaps just as importantly, he's been a double-digit plus player in each of his first two seasons, which should ensure that he continues to get quality ice time.
Berglund may have the highest ceiling as a scorer, as he has a tremendous mix of size and skill and stepped right into the lineup to play a surprisingly well-rounded game as a rookie.
Oshie, the senior member of this trio at 22 years of age, has star potential, but only if he can stay on the ice. Part of Oshie's charm, aside from his skill level, is that he plays a relentless, hard-hitting game that can result in injuries.
The Blues have a couple of other forwards that warrant interest, particularly because they add penalty minutes to their production. One-time fantasy stud Keith Tkachuk is nearing the end of the line, but still scored 25 goals (14 on the power play) last season. Last year's 61 penalty minutes represented the second-lowest mark of Tkachuk's career, so maybe there are signs he's mellowing.
A Blues forward who may need to mellow a bit is power forward David Backes, who broke through in his third season with 31 goals and 54 points while adding 165 penalty minutes. Backes doesn't scrap enough to keep putting up those penalty minute totals, but he was the only 30-goal scorer in the league last season to finish with more than 150 penalty minutes, so he provides obvious fantasy value.
While the Blues' crop of forwards is deep and talented, the defence isn't quite so advanced. Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in 2006, enjoyed a strong rookie campaign in 2007-2008, then missed all of last season with a knee injury. He has size, skill and opportunity just waiting for him in St. Louis.
If there's another Blues defenceman worthy of fantasy interest, it would be Carlo Colaiacovo, who went from perpetually-injured fringe player with the Maple Leafs to valuable power play quarterback in St. Louis, scoring 29 points (19 on the PP) in 63 games with the Blues. Johnson's return, and a deep group of forwards could cut into Colaiacovo's production, but the 26-year-old showed enough last year to warrant consideration.
The goaltending appears to be in the hands of Chris Mason, who took over from Manny Legace last season and ended up starting a career-high 51 games as he led the Blues to the postseason. With an improving team in front of him, Mason should be even better this season.
Of course, the last time Mason was in such a position (2007-2008 with Nashville), he slumped and ended up losing the starting job. If that happens in St. Louis, the Blues can turn to Ty Conklin, who performed well in a career-high 40 games with the Red Wings last season.