Ken Hitchcock was an absolute revelation in his first season behind the Blues bench. The team responded to his hiring in early November by rattling off a 43-15-11 record for the remainder of the season en route to winning Hitch the Jack Adams Award.
Of course, the job wasn't done by Hitchcock alone. The Blues were one of just four teams to concede under 200 goals last season, letting in a paltry 165. The next closest to them were the Kings at 179.
The defence is young and active, led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. And having Wade Redden on board adds depth and a solid veteran presence. The forwards, too, showed great defensive poise with David Backes receiving a nomination for the Frank J. Selke Trophy and Alexander Steen playing great two-way hockey.
Can the Blues once again top the Central?
The Blues' offence should get an immediate boost whenever the team is able to add 2010 first-rounder Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian forward is viewed as one of the most skilled players outside the NHL and has performed well in the KHL this season keeping pace with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski. The 20-year-old Yaroslavl-native has already represented Russia at the Under-18, Under-20 and Men's World Championships.
Beyond Tarasenko, the Blues have skilled distributor Jaden Schwartz and also bolstered its blue line depth by grabbing USHL defender Jordan Schmaltz late in the first round in June.
The team's 2011 second-rounder Ty Rattie logged second-line minutes as part of Canada's 2013 World Junior team and has produced at roughly a point and a half per game for the WHL's Portland Winterhawks this season.
The Blues enter the season with a ton of confidence and momentum. Despite getting swept by the Kings in the second round of the playoffs, the team made the second round for the first time in a decade. The team posted its highest points total since winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2000 and the roster has not undergone any major changes, apart from the uncertainty of Carlo Colaiacovo re-signing.
Can Ken Hitchcock repeat the feat? He inherited a team that was already close to .500 (6-7 at the time) but got them to subscribe to a winning brand of two-way hockey. Will his presence continue to motivate the team for a full season, or was it simply the change that motivated the Blues?
A look at where Blues players went during the lockout:
Patrik Berglund (Vasteras, Swedish Elite), Ian Cole (Peoria, AHL), Matt D'Agostini (SC Riessersee, German League - T2), Jaroslav Halak (Lausitzer, German Elite), Joe Pavelski (Dinamo Minsk, KHL), Roman Polak (HC Vitkovice, Czech League), Kris Russell (Turku, Finnish Elite), Jaden Schwartz (Peoria, AHL), Vladimir Sobotka (Slavia Praha, Czech League), Alex Steen (MoDo, Swedish Elite), Chris Stewart (Eispiraten Crimmitschau, German League -T2), Vladimir Tarasenko (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL)