Over the next week the staff at St. Louis Gametime will be grading the Blues in several positions. Today we start with the grades for the Blues top six forwards: Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri.
Fabbri came into this season as an unknown but he ended the season as one of the best Blues players this season. For me it wasn't the 18 goals and 19 assists during the regular season that impressed me, it was the consistency he displayed throughout the playoffs when other veteran players struggled. Fabbri recorded at least a goal and an assist in each of the three series and while he was a minus player against San Jose, he proved he was ready for the spotlight.
Fabbri's best stretch of playoff play was in the Dallas series when he notched 2 goals and 8 assists to put him near the top of the rookie scoring leaders in the playoffs. Fabbri also didn't shy away from the big hit either, he was often the one delivering them.
Now obviously being a rookie Fabbri was bound to struggle at times and he did go pointless in streaks a few times in the season. Fabbri twice went 5 games and twice went 4 games without points but for the most part he was a consistent contributor. Fabbri also had to deal with a bit of the injury bug and yet it didn't keep him from getting right back into the lineup. I am definitely looking forward to what Robby Fabbri will bring to the team next year.
HullandOates85 Grade: A
Blues fans were left wanting a little after Stastny's first year in St. Louis and it was pretty evident that Paul knew that. Coming to play for your hometown team can be a tough transition and adding an injury to that doesn't endear you to fans easily. Stastny upped the ante for his career in St. Louis with a strong season even with the injury. In 64 games, 10 less than he played in last year, Statsny put up 49 points which were 3 more than his final total last year. Playing with emerging star Robby Fabbri helped pad the assist totals and if one were to look forward to next year and a potential pairing with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, Stastny's numbers can go much higher.
Where Stastny's value was most evident this year, though, was in the faceoff circle. In the playoffs alone Stastny took 436 faceoffs, 2nd to Sydney Crosby, and won 58.5% of those draws. Stastny was trotted out in almost every situation, offensive, defensive, penalty kill, power play, late game; just to win the faceoff. Paul also produced points this year too, putting up his best playoff total in his career with 13 points. That doesn't scream star but for the Blues having multiple players producing was something they haven't had in recent years.
HullandOates85 Grade: A-
Vlad is the superstar this team has been lacking since the Golden Brett was leading the charge. He will one day challenge for the Rocket Richard trophy, he will win a Stanley Cup and he just became a daddy this year. You can't compare him to fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin because Vlad can get back and play defense, it may not be amazing defense but he busts his butt to get back in the zone to help; most of the time. Tarasenko upped his season goal total by 3 over last year to 40 for the first time in his career, but not his last. His 34 assists were impressive because it shows he can see the whole game and find open teammates, not just hogging the puck.
Once the playoffs rolled around he was already in killer mode, running with an 8 game point streak to end the regular season. Poor Chicago didn't even really know what hit them when Vladi came knocking, he put in 4 goals and 2 assists in the series and terrorized the Hawks defense. In the next round against Dallas the Stars keyed on Vlad a bit more and you could see the struggle in Game 1. Tarasenko would net 3 goals and 4 assists in the series but for the most part he was bottled up throughout. In round 3 it looked like he had hit his wall, no goals until the final game of the series and even than it was in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Valdi more than doubled his playoff point total from last year from 7 to 15 points and while his points per game dropped from 1.16 to .75 it was more due to the fact that he played triple the games this year than to a perceived lack of opportunities. Going into year two of his huge 8 year contract will put more pressure on Vladi but he is strong enough to handle it, lets just get to next year already.
HullandOates85 Grade: A-
Oh what could have been if not for a damn goal in practice and a weak ankle. Schwartz as primed for a breakout campaign this past season but one wrong step on the ice derailed that for just over 3 months. Even with the injury, though, Schwartz still showed flashes of what kind of player he could be for the Blues. in 33 regular season games he scored 8 goals and had 14 assists.
With a significant injury like the one Jaden suffered a bit of regression was bound to happen as his conditioning was not up to par with the rest of the team. Schwartz ended the regular season with just 1 point in his last 9 games after having a stretch of 8 points in 5 games. Against Chicago in the first round he was right back to his old self with 3 goals and 4 assists to help lead the Blues to the series win. While his +/- rating wasn't great, he was going up against the top lines in each series and in the playoffs those lines score.
A great sign for Schwartz and the Blues is that after scoring .5 points per game in the playoffs last year, he increased his per game total to .7 per game over the course of 20 games. Having a healthy Schwartz for a full season is definitely a key for the Blues next year.
HullandOates85 Grade: B+
Its really hard to be down on a player that is probably the best two way forward on the team and produced 52 points in 67 games but that is the case I have with Alex Steen. Look, the Steen trade was probably the best move made besides bringing Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis, and Alex has been nothing short of consistent foe the Blues. Over the course of the last three years Steen has averaged almost 70 games a year and 59 points in those games. Betcha Toronto would take that right about now huh.
Steen has also been a .47 points per game player in the playoffs the last 6 years but aside from the overtime winner against LA a few years back he just hasn't produced when it was needed. He has also been a party to a few scuffles late in games as well and that;s all well and good to protect your teammates but if you're a star player you just can't be taking game misconducts and run the risk of suspensions in the playoffs.
Steen did have a good series against Dallas with 3 goals and 5 assists but it was because he was able to use his speed and skills against like minded players. The heavier teams like Chicago and San Jose really wore Steen down and that was evident in the -4 rating and the 24 penalty minutes combined in those two series. I still feel like Alex Steen has a large role to play with the Blues but maybe we have started to see his peak and limitations.
HullandOates85 Grade: B
If ever there was a conundrum with the Blues it would be Jori Lehtera. Lehtera is a solid player who is in just his second year in the NHL yet he is playing top line minutes with the two best players on the Blues in Tarasenko and Schwartz and yet he can't score or rack up assists. In 79 games this year Jori scored just 9 goals and assisted on 2 which precipitated a 10 point drop in production from a year ago. But there is no denying that he has chemistry with Tarasenko and when you have that with a superstar you tend to get pulled in his wake. Unfortunately not everyone can be Jaromir Jagr to Mario Lemiuex.
Lehtera did pick things up in the playoffs with 3 goals and 6 assists and he was one of the dew Blues to pay well in the San Jose series scoring 2 goals against the Sharks. But for a player who is locked in at $4.7 million over the next three years you're going to need to see more than 9 goals in a season. It may be time to move Lehtera down a few lines but with his massive contract that is going to be hard to justify.
We do have to remember that this is just his second year in the NHL and he is still adjusting to playing the length of an NHL season as well as the minutes associated with a top line player so may be we shouldn't rush to judgement so quickly. But one thing is for sure, if Jori doesn't gain a step on the ice he is going to fall back pretty quickly.
HullandOates85 Grade: C
So as we can see the Blues have some solid players and some that need a little work but the top six is still a force to be reckoned with. Check back soon for the next segment of grades when we look at the bottom six forwards.