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Previously a question mark, Ivan Barbashev is now a secret weapon for the Blues

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, I terribly mispronounced Ivan Barbashev’s name on the radio.

When the kid first came up in 2016, I had a two hour morning sports talk radio show on 590 The Fan KFNS. For the most part, it was great. But there were days where you were scrambling to fill 120 minutes of air time with something other than rambling. In addition to hosting and producing, I was selling the advertising for the show, but in truer terms, I couldn’t sell shit. At times, show prep wasn’t done. One day, I took a shot at saying the name. This is what came out ... “Ba-bat-shed.” Not my finest moment.

These days, I say it every day, because the 23-year-old Russian is doing something great each night for the Blues. As I brew the morning coffee, I look down at my beagle and say, “Did you see what Ivan “Bar-ba-shev!!” did last night? Then I watch highlights with my dog, and it’s not weird at all.

After a 30 game stint in the 2016-17 season where he scored 12 points while averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time, Barbashev struggled last season. In an additional 23 games, he only came up with 13 points, and couldn’t grasp Mike Yeo’s system or find success. He wasn’t even set to be a difference maker out of the gate in the 2017-18 season, finding himself on the outside looking in.

Something changed this season. Perhaps it was Yeo getting fired on Nov. 20, because 12 of Barbashev’s 13 goals have come after Craig Berube took over. Maybe it was the hard knocks of last season. It could have been the simple progression of a guy who broke into the league when he was just 21 years of age. A combination of all three is very feasible. No matter the reason, he’s found new life the past couple of months running and gunning on the fourth line.

The same fourth line that accounted for 6 of the 19 goals scored on this four game homestand, which the Blues won every game, including an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Maybe it’s the drop-off from Robby Fabbri, who has failed to find legs this season, especially under Berube. Barbashev is a fourth line center getting lots of time while Fabbri, another left-handed shot who broke into the league at a young age, has spent more time counting water bottles in the press box lately. In a wild season that has seen the Blues taste cellar and get a whiff of the penthouse, production has been needed at all times.

With injuries setting off alarms every week, young guns like Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, Zach Sanford, and Robert Thomas have needed to elevate their game in a short amount of time. When David Perron misses months, others must step up to pick up the slack. Barbashev and the fourth line have done just that.

He is a skillful player who doesn’t mind getting into the dirtier areas of the ice, and putting his body on the line. Imagine Fabbri, but take away a couple of the insurance polices needed in case of breakage. Barbashev is one of the fastest players, arguably the fastest, and also one of the smartest. He knows how to utilize every facet of his line.

On Monday night, he was playing with Sanford and Alexander Steen, who hasn’t taken the demotion to the bottom line lightly, really picking up his game. There was some instant chemistry between the three, as Sanford and Barbashev connected on a goal in the first period.

According to Rutherford, Barbashev scored the goal in front of his family, who had been delayed in getting to the United States due to visa problems. It was a nifty goal, as Sanford dished the puck from the corner to a lurking Barbashev next to the net, who buried a tough angle shot into the net.

The goal was his fourth in three games, as he enjoyed his first career hat trick against Detroit on Thursday. After spending part of the season in flux, Barbashev is starting to heat at the right time. If you would have told me he’d have 13 goals heading into the final stretch of games back in November, I would have drug-tested you on the spot. Of course, I could say that for a number of players during this entertaining yet emotionally turbulent season.

When I was asked on a hockey podcast last month which player I was most impressed with this season outside of the obvious play of Jordan Binnington, I brought up Barbashev. During the big eleven game win streak, I saw something in his game that left an impact. He wasn’t getting all the goals and points, but he was shooting more, getting in better position, and was just all over the place.

This is where I remind you that he’s just 23 years old and doing all of this on the FOURTH LINE. A place where teams used to stash their thugs and probably-nots together for their better players to rest. For the Blues, ever since Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall, and Ryan Reaves turned it into a force a few seasons ago, now the fourth line is a secret weapon stash for the rogues in blue. Other teams don’t see players like Barbashev and Sundqvist coming.

This is where I tell you Barbashev, Sundqvist, and Sanford have combined for 35 goals combined this year, and your jaw should drop to the floor, or at the very least, hang open wide enough for some drool to sneak out. The kids are alright.

At the charge is the fiery baby-faced young Russian who people call “Barbie.” In the course of a season, he’s gone from who knows what to a great asset that should grow in responsibility and minutes as the next few years arrive. I don’t want to see this kid on the fourth line next year. I want to see him get more minutes, more chances, and the ceiling stay above him.

Ivan Barbashev may have come into the 2018-19 season as an unknown, but he’s something else these days.

Radio show hosts should at least know how to say his name by now. I know I do. I say it every day. Just ask my dog.