Blues fans have been awaiting the arrival of Ivan Barbashev since he was drafted 33rd overall in 2014, but for many, the circumstances may leave something to be desired.
Barbashev was recalled this morning from the Chicago Wolves and will make his NHL debut this evening in Minnesota. Though there was initial speculation that he would take a spot on a scoring line, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock ultimately decided to slot him into the fourth line spot that opened up due to Kyle Brodziak’s foot injury.
Ryan Reaves, who has been a constant presence on that effective line all season, said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Barbashev.
“We’ll find out. I’ve never played with him. I’ve only seen little flashes of him in camp, so we’ll see. We’ll see what he brings up here.”
Reaves and linemate Scottie Upshall will be shouldering the responsibility of bringing Barbashev along, and he sounded up to the task.
“Me and Uppy are going to have to help him along the way,” said Reaves. “It’s a new animal for him, so as long as we help him and he sticks to kind of a fourth line plan, I think he’ll be good.”
Barbashev himself sounded up to the challenge, mentioning he had played on AHL Chicago’s fourth line for “most of” last year.
“I know Scottie and Reavo, the way they’ve been playing, I just gotta play the same way. We’re just gonna play hard,” Barbashev said, seeming eager to step in to the lineup in any spot that was open to him.
In Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Reaves, Brodziak, and Upshall all exceeded ten minutes of ice time. Brodziak and Upshall each exceeded 13, even though Brodziak was injured early in the second period. Reaves and Upshall each scored, highlighting the line’s recent success.
“Obviously the line’s played great all year, especially lately, so I think a lot of the leadership of the line falls on Uppy and Reavo,” Ken Hitchcock said. “I think those two guys have to help Barby through the first game.”
While he offered effusive praise for Barbashev as well as the others, Hitchcock did seem to suggest that his arrival would create limitations in that line’s play.
“He’s earned the right to come up, but it’s not gonna have the same role as it did with Brodziak,” said Hitchcock. “We really used it as a secondary checking line, and we’re not really sure what Barby’s got other than the fact that he was a great player and has had a great season in the AHL. So we’ll see where it is and we’ll adjust accordingly.”
Whatever their use in this evening’s game, Ivan Barbashev is excited for his NHL debut and will have veteran leadership that will guide him through it. His role will certainly evolve with that guidance, and Hitchcock is ready to let that happen.
“You’ve got one excited player,” he said, “and two guys that are excited to take him under their wing and teach him how they want that line to play.”
Barbashev is likely to learn quickly. The question will be whether Blues fans, and more importantly Blues coaches, have the patience to allow him.