Now that the Prospect Camp has wrapped up and most of the free agents have signed we can start to look forward to training camp and next season. With the trade of TJ Oshie and the departure of Barret Jackman among others, Coach Hitch and the Blues are going to have to shuffle the lines once again. I started this article with the thought of putting out what I thought the lines could be, but without seeing how the boys flow in camp how are we to say what would be good. So with that in mind I am going to put together lines how I would like to see them for the start of the season.
Fourth Line: Magnus Paajarvi, Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves
Gone are the days of a fourth line being the bruisers and low end talent of the league. Yes Reaves is physical but at times last season he looked like the fastest guy on the rink and while twelve points doesn't seem like much, he creates many chances for his line-mates with his physicality. Pairing him with a possible double digit goal scorer in Paajarvi and a very solid gritty center in Brodziak could propel this line to something more than just a breather line for the top players. In this league all four lines need to produce points and with this set up the Blues can have a fourth line that can score.
Third Line: Dmitrij Jaskin, Patrik Berglund, Troy Brouwer (Ty Rattie)
Brouwer played with Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom last year, so expecting another 40+ point season is unrealistic but he can make this line very dangerous. Berglund is a solid third line player and if people can't get that through their heads then they can hit ignore on all my comments. He is not the typical Sweedish player as far as skill but he plays the game the right way, he just needs to learn to shoot because he has a great shot. This is Jaskin's put up or shut up year. Like Berglund, Jaskin has a high end shot but just needs that confidence to shoot, although his penchant for wraparounds can probably take a step back. I threw Rattie on here to keep Brouwer fresh and to give the kid a real shot at producing at the top level without having to feel the pressure of an every night player for the first few months.
Second Line: Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, David Backes
This is where the tide of previous teams run by Hitchcock is turning, getting veterans off the top line and letting youth hold serve. Backes should never be on the top line again in his career, and I say that with all the love for a player I try to emulate in my game. Moving him to the wing also allows him to simplify his play and make him less responsible in the two way game. Stastny has to be more then a third line center like last season and putting him in a position to feed a scorer like Schwartz all year could build his confidence up which he seemed to lack a bit last season. Part of that could have also been the pressure of playing in his home city and having signed a large contract to play here. Schwartz is a star and could play anywhere but he seems more mature than his age and putting him with Stastny and Backes just seems right. Schwartz is not only a goal scorer, he is also a very gifted passer and if teams focus on stopping him he can get the puck to an open Stastny or Backes easily.
First Line: Alex Steen, Jori Lehtera, Vladimir Tarasenko
You can't break up Lehtera and Tarasenko and you can't avoid putting Tarasenko on the top line, so this was a no-brainer. These two guys have almost the same cerebral thoughts that remind me of another dynamic duo who played in St. Louis, Brett Hull and Adam Oates. To have the second coming of that duo and adding Steen, who has a little Brendan Shannahan in him, makes this line one of the most explosive a Blues team has had probably ever. All three players can shoot and pass equally well which makes it extremely difficult for a team to key on just one guy. This line has speed, skill, accuracy and a high percentage face off guy, not to mention every one of these players hustles back to play defense and could all fight for a Selke if they really wanted to. We could be witness to the greatest line combination in this teams history.
Pairing Three: Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm (Chris Butler)
I think the biggest surprise from last year was the play of Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm. Both have a physical style and Lindbohm was sneaky good offensively. While I normally don't like pairing two under experienced players together both of these guys got to play with some very solid defensemen last year and learned a lot. Butler is a nice option to slide in for an injury or a much needed break and the three all of different body and playing styles which will allow Hitch to mix and match depending on the teams they are playing.
Pairing Two: Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson
Your thinking why is Bo not with Petro right? Well this team needs a punch and Bouwmeester does not give that on the top pairing. Defensively he is solid but he just is not an offensive threat any more, if he ever was. Gunnarsson was not as bad as people made him out to be last year and I think allowing him to play with a defensive minded player like Bouwmeester will open up his game just a bit more. Both guys posted positive plus/minus ratings and that could only get better as the year progresses.
Pairing One: Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk
Some are going to ask why put all your scoring eggs in to one basket but I think if you can have a pairing that will push a unit forward together then you will have a greater chance of setting the edge early and then you can break it up as the game goes on. In the playoffs last year this team started off games very timidly but once the switch was made to this pairing you could see the flow open up. So why not start the game this way and dominate from the start? Yes it sounds too easy and your probably right but how scared would a team be to see this defensive pairing coming up the ice behind the top line?
This is tough in that Brian Elliott has been such a professional and an all around great guy for this team and city. I really can't see how don't let him start but I also can't see how you don't give the reins to Jake Allen. I can't and won't make a choice on this one, I will let Hitch lose his mind over this one, I will be happy either way. The hope I have is that they find a way to split the games in a way that both guys stay fresh and competitive.
This is just one guys opinion and yes I know there is no Steve Ott or Robby Fabbri here. What do you think? Do these lines make sense? What do you want to see? In the end, what helps us win the Cup?