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Examining the Blues bottom six options

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Does bringing back a similar roster mean utilizing the same lineup?

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After winning their first Stanley Cup a few months ago, the St. Louis Blues are just about set to defend their title. This will likely mean an almost identical lineup as well but the bottom-six could complicate things.

In fact, the Blues have a lot of options to help provide depth. Their top-six is set and will look very identical to what the team put out last season, save for the second-line left-wing position. The bottom six, however, has the chance to look a bit different than it did. There are plenty of players fighting for a consistent role, which could make for a mix-matched bottom two lines.

Centers

The Blues depth at center isn’t much when you look at who is typically utilized at the position. While the team has many centers listed, only a few are actually used. In total, the Blues have nine players on their roster that are listed as centers.

Looking back at the last game the team played, the most frequent lines were centered by Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and Ivan Barbashev. It’s likely that all four are set to stay in the middle next season, causing little concern when it comes to the center position.

Ivan Barbashev

Last Season: 80 GP, 14 G & 12 A
2019 Playoffs: 25 GP, 3 G & 3 A

After what felt like the longest time, the Blues and Barbashev finally agreed on a two-year contract. The numbers don’t jump off the page for Barbashev, though. He collected two points in his first six games of the season. His first goal came in his seventh game. Another point didn’t appear until the 13th game of the year.

The potential is still there for Barbashev. His 14 goals are an encouraging sign for the team. And he could get even better at just 23-years-old. He showed off this potential in the last 10 games of the season, when he netted an impressive seven points. He also found a perfect role with the team in the playoffs serving as a great physical presence. Through the post-season, he led all skaters with 87 hits.

Barbashev also held a prominent role on the Blues penalty-kill. He was fourth on the team in ice time when down a man. So while the point totals may not be where one expected the second-rounder to be, his versatility has been a key component for the Blues. With the new deal in place, Barbashev certainly has solidified a spot on the roster.

Tyler Bozak

Last Season: 72 GP, 13 G & 25 A
2019 Playoffs: 26 GP, 5 G 7 8 A

The long-time Maple Leaf made headlines when he mentioned coming to St. Louis with the sole goal of winning a Cup. Sixth on the team in points, Bozak helped make that dream become a reality. Fans won’t forget his role in Pat Maroon’s double-overtime winner that sent the Blues past the Dallas Stars.

Known for his excellence at the face-off dot, his 54.03 percentage in the playoffs was second on the team. It was also among the best when looking at the rest of the league. Now his regular season offense may have left a little more to be desired.

Bozak’s 38 points were less than the 43 he totaled in his last season with the Leafs. Missing 10 games with a concussion played a role in that. He did knock in two more goals than last season, however. Though, far from his career-high of 23 he set back in 2014-15. But, he was a solid addition to the Blues center depth and will likely hold that position again this upcoming season.

Wingers

The Blues have a lot more to offer when it comes to both left and right wing. Many players on their roster have shown the ability to be adaptable in the lineup. And versatility is a huge quality to remain on an NHL roster.

With the center positions taken up by Barbashev and Bozak, the Blues will have five wing positions open for next season. The issue is, they have far more than five players deserving of a spot. And it’s clear the team is trending younger as most players available to them are under the age of 23.

Left Wing

Zach Sanford: 60 GP, 8 G & 12 A
2019 Playoffs: 8 GP, 1 G & 3 A

Sanford was one of the biggest feel-good stories to come out of last season. He lost his father in September, just before the start of what was likely to be his breakout season into the NHL. This was, obviously, devastating but seeing Sanford earn a regular NHL role over the course of the season, then winning the Stanley Cup, made for a great silver lining.

It didn’t come right away, though. He started the season in the AHL, playing in four games. But after being recalled on October 16th, Sanford finally got the chance he had long awaited. He would end up playing three other games in the AHL, but the 60 games in the NHL were all that mattered.

Sanford had a solid year, tallying eight goals and 12 assists. His previous career high in points had been five. He shattered that last season. While he only had one goal in the postseason, it came during the final game of the playoffs. It didn’t matter that it was the fourth goal of the game. Sanford got to have his moment on the biggest stage.

Alexander Steen: 65 GP, 10 G & 17 A
2019 Playoffs: 26 GP, 2 G & 3 A

Every team has a veteran that is clearly on the back-half of his career and sticks around to provide leadership. That is the role that Steen serves for the Blues. He again served as the team’s assistant captain last year, while also continuing the gradual decline his career has been on in recent years. After many years of bottom-six play, Steen finally fell to the team’s fourth line last season. While there, he provided a great boost to players like Barbashev, Sanford, and Sundqvist, though.

The numbers likely aren’t going to jump back up for Steen. He has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $5.75M. The Blues will likely let him ride out the rest of that contract at the bottom of the lineup, to many fans dismay. With that said, the incoming youth could very easily compromise Steen’s role. While players like Kyrou and Blais haven’t earned a consistent role yet, they’re definitely soon to break through. When they do, Steen could become the odd-man-out.

Klim Kostin

San Antonio Rampage: 66 GP, 10 G & 14 A
WJC-20 Russia: 7 GP, 3 G & 3 A
International-Jr Russia: 8 GP, 4 G & 5 A

Kostin is an odd situation to predict. He has shown the offensive upside he possesses during international play among his age group. He has 44 points in 46 games for Russia’s various national teams (17U, 18U, 20U). That’s almost a point-per-game pace.

However, the same hasn’t shown at the AHL level. One thing to keep in mind, though, is Kostin appeared in the AHL at a very young age. He headed right to the Rampage after being drafted in 2017.

In his first AHL season, the 2017-18 campaign, Kostin tallied 28 points in 67 games. Kostin was 18-years-old during most of that rookie season, which makes the low scoring a bit easier to stomach. With that said, Kostin was one of only three 18-year-olds to play over 10 AHL games that year. He scored the lowest among the group.

The disappointing AHL statistics continued last season, when Kostin tallied 24 points in 66 games. He also recorded 102 penalty minutes, tying him for 18th-highest in the league.

At 20-years-old, there’s plenty of time for Kostin to improve him game. He clearly has a strong skill set. With a strong start to the 2019-20 AHL season, he may get a chance to showcase that in the NHL if injuries become a factor for St. Louis.

Robby Fabbri: 32 GP, 2 G & 4 A
2019 Playoffs: 10 GP, 1 G

Luck has not been on Fabbri’s side. He has experienced back-to-back ACL injuries during his young career. It could be his last chance to make an impact after signing to a one year contract early in the offseason. The Blues have a lot of talent in the pipeline behind Fabbri.

This season was going to Fabbri’s first completely injury free. His lackluster performances saw him frequently out of the lineup, however. He appeared in three AHL games during the season, though it was due to a groin injury he had suffered.

Fabbri has shown the ability to have an impressive shot. Like many young players, he tore up the OHL during his junior career. He posted 171 points in 147 games. He also netted 18 goals during his rookie season with the Blues. But the lack of playing time due to injuries has hurt him and possibly his confidence.

Unless Fabbri has a good showing in training camp, he could see himself on the outside looking in once again this upcoming season.

Right Wing

Oskar Sundqvist: 74 GP, 14 G &17 A
2019 Playoffs: 25 GP, 4 G & 5 A

Sundqvist was one of the biggest surprises on the Blues roster. Playing full time in the NHL, he shattered career-highs in every single category. Known positionally as a center , Sundqvist has found more of a home on the wing. He was also a part of a dynamic penalty kill.

The question, of course, will be if he is able to repeat his breakout season. He became a vital part of the Blues lineup, despite not making his season debut until late October. With his ability to play in all situations, it would not be a surprise to see Sundqvist put up similar numbers. Him and Barbashev formed an admirable duo together. The two will almost certainly see more time together going forward.

It’s hard to not pencil Sundqvist into the lineup permanently. He’s versatile enough to move to the center position as well if the team needs him to. Things would have to go very wrong for him to start the year.

Sammy Blais: 32 GP, 2 G & 2 A
San Antonio Rampage: 26 GP, 8 G & 10 A
2019 Playoffs: 15 GP, 1 G & 2 A

Blais has been in a familiar spot the last few seasons, on the outside looking in. He has cracked the opening-night lineup the last two seasons. But he has failed to remain a constant in that lineup. He may have that same trouble again this season.

With the Blues bringing back almost an identical roster, there aren’t many spots available to a young player like Blais. He does have something going for him, though. When Blais got the chance to play in the postseason, he did not waste that opportunity.

The playoffs showed that Blais can be a quality asset to the Blues. Whether that is his physicality or the ability to unleash a booming shot. He dished out 70 hits during the postseason run, the fourth highest on the team.

To become a consistent part of the regular season roster, Blais has to show that same ability he had in the postseason. It was hard for him to gain traction constantly being in and out of the lineup. But that playoff run showed the Blues what Blais is capable of. It’s about doing the same in the regular season.

Robert Thomas: 70 GP, 9 G & 24 A
2019 Playoffs: 21 GP, 1 G & 5 A

Thomas have won on every stage he has played on during his young hockey career. So is it safe to say the Blues won because Thomas was on the team? Well, not exactly. He struggled in his first eight games this season. The Blues had a big decision to make because playing a ninth game would burn the first year of his contract.

Ultimately, the team stuck with Thomas and he proved them right as he would find more consistency in his game. His best month came in March when he posted 12 points in 15 games. But his biggest moment came in the second round of the playoffs.

Everyone remembers the role he played in Maroon’s double overtime game-winner. That third line was one of the best during the Stanley Cup run. But it became clear in the third round that Thomas was nursing an injury. He began missing practices and would end up missing most of the final round.

Despite all of that, Thomas showed the Blues that they were right to keep him in the NHL. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Thomas jump into the mix for a top-six role. He has certainly shown the Blues what he is capable of.

Jordan Kyrou: 16 GP, 1 G & 2 A
San Antonio Rampage: 47 GP, 16 G & 27 A

Before Barbashev signed his new contract, Kyrou had one of the best chances at making the Blues roster. He may have to wait a bit longer now. He did get a chance this past season, making the team out of camp. Kyrou did little to show he belonged, posting one point in nine games

Kyrou had found a groove at the AHL level with seven points in the four games leading to his second call-up. He would record his first NHL goal, but found himself back in the AHL after just two games. Before his third call-up, Kyrou had 15 points in nine games. He only posted one point in the five NHL games he was given, however. At a time the Blues were struggling, Kyrou once again failed to make an impact.

Like Blais previously, Kyrou will have a lot to prove coming into training camp and preseason play. He led the team in points last preseason, but failed to make an impact at the NHL level. A knee injury in mid-June took away an opportunity for Kyrou to be one of the “black aces” for the Blues in the playoffs. He is expected to be ready for training camp, though.

His 43 points in 47 AHL games will put him in a good position to fight for a roster spot. It is a matter of if he heals properly from the knee injury. If Kyrou has another impressive preseason, he might make it a tough decision to keep him off the Blues roster.