Alexei Toropchenko didn’t make his Blues’ debut until December 14th, and he didn’t stick on the roster until his return against the Ottawa Senators on March 8th. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, he became a welcome sight on the Blues’ fourth line. The very large winger, who stands at 6’6” and weighs 222 lbs, isn’t afraid to use his body to knock guys off of the puck or out of the play. He finished the regular season with two goals and the playoffs with two assists, but his scoring prowess is not what the coaching staff likes about him. In fact, it’s easy to find video clips of Craig Berube being impressed from literally day one with the team:
“You know exactly what you’re getting every time” is some of the best praise you’re going to get out of Berube, and he’s right. There’s a pattern to the praise as well; much of it comes from his tremendous speed with such a large frame.
“It’s a tough blow,” Armstrong said. “It’s one of those (injuries) where he could have potentially played with it and got injured again, then you’re looking at a four- to five-month surgery… We didn’t want to get into training camp, then all of a sudden on Nov. 1, it happens and he misses a whole year. We just thought it was prudent to get it taken care of now so it’s strong when he comes back and he doesn’t have to worry about it.”
Toropchenko’s absence isn’t something that the Blues want to see. Tyler Bozak, who is a UFA as of July 1st, is 36. His return has been very much up in the air, and part of that question has been due to Toropchenko’s play (a bulk of that question is due to age and term, but it was clear last year that Bozak’s presence is still a valuable one for the Blues). Toropchenko’s shoulder surgery and placement on LTIR may be a window of opportunity for Bozak to return to the lineup.
Even with the cap crunch it should be doable for the Blues to sign Bozak to a reasonable one-year deal if needed. It is also possible for the Blues to go to the well and sign a vet on a tryout deal a la James Neal last year. If whoever they sign goes Neal’s route to the AHL, he’d still be a valuable asset as a veteran presence; Neal is credited with much of the leadership needed to get the Springfield Thunderbirds to the AHL Calder Cup Final.
Of course, the solution for the Blues could be something as easy as rearranging the wings and boosting Logan Brown and Nathan Walker’s play time. If Bozak doesn’t return, either Brown or Toropchenko would be the de facto fourth line center unless the Blues bring someone on board. With Brown and Walker, it would give the Blues a prime incentive to re-sign pending UFA and fan favorite Dakota Joshua to a deal if they weren’t already looking to get that done.
Missing Toropchenko for at least the first two or two and a half months of the season is rough, but the Blues have plenty of internal, and some external, options to cover his absence.