The return of Blues hockey

Bradley Piros, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s finally October, a month sporting fans like myself wait around all summer for. Postseason baseball is just underway, the NBA is only two weeks out but today marks the long-awaited return of the NHL.

It’s a little bittersweet as a St. Louis sports fan right now. I just got done watching the Cardinals crash hard and miss out on the playoffs, while I also can’t forget last year when the Blues ripped my heart out by missing the playoffs too.

That season came down to the final game. All they had to do was beat the Colorado Avalanche, or at least take them to overtime. They failed to do so, losing 5-2, eliminating themselves from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Last year was absolutely disappointing, but I’m here to tell you why it’s finally the Blues’ time to win it all. After one of the most active trading periods, we have more depth than I’ve seen since being a fan as of 2012. Plus, we still have many skilled veterans, alongside young-hungry talent, and I think that combination can win us a cup this season.

Last season, starting center Brayden Schenn led the team with a 70-point season, scoring 28 and assisting on 42. He will return this year but might not have his starting spot locked down. That’s because of one of the most talked about summer signings, Ryan O’ Reilly.

Coming off his second-best season in the league, he looks to steal some of the spotlight, and maybe a spot on the starting lineup. Last year he played in all but one game for the Buffalo Sabres, having 24 goals and 37 assists tallied. If he were on the Blues last season, he would have been third in overall point leaders with 61.

On their right will no doubt be the teams leading goal scorer, my favorite player, none other than Vladimir Tarasenko. Second on the team in points with 66, he scored 33 goals and had 33 assists. Coming off his fourth straight 30-plus-goal season, the NHL ranked him No. 11 on the league’s top 20 wingers. The assistant captain, going into his seventh season, will have to have his best season yet, and solidify himself as one of the best players in the league if we have any hope in that trip to the finals.

Finishing out the top line of attack could be two players in my opinion. They could go with Jaden Schwartz, who is coming off of his second-best season as well, scoring 24 goals and assisted on 35 for a total of 59 points, third on the team. Last season, he was hurt down the stretch, and the team was noticeably struggling without his presence, leading the team to lose some crucial games.

Putting stats aside though, the Blues will probably go with their other assistant captain Alexander Steen. Fifth on the team in overall points, last season he scored only 15 goals but still assisted on 31. By no means was that one of his better seasons, as his career high was 33 goals in 2013-2014 season. Actually, it was his worst overall performance in five years, but he was battling an injury for some time, causing him to miss out on six games.

Those are the starting forwards, but the Blues have plenty of defensive depth as well. While we might not have the leagues best like Drew Doughty or Erik Karlson in the Pacific division, we still have many options to choose from.

Captain Alex Piethrangelo is coming off his best season after joining the league. Playing in 78 games last year, he scored 15 goals and assisted 39. Those numbers rank him fourth in point’s leaders for the team. This will be his 11th season as a Blue, as he’ll have to lead the way if this team wants to go far.

Also, in defense is the 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko, just an average guy with a 105-mph slap shot (also my second favorite player). While he didn’t really put that slap shot to work, only scoring six goals, he still had 29 assists. Not the most impressive stats for a defender, but he cements a defense full of big guys like Robert Bortuzzo, Jay Bouwmeester and Joel Edmundson, all being 6-foot-4 themselves.

I could go on and on talking about the depth of the team. New additions like Tyler Bozak from the Toronto Maple Leafs, is coming off a 43-point season with 11 goals. Working alongside Austin Matthews last season, he was fun to watch and is a great addition to this team.

Returning for the third and maybe final time to STL, is David Perron. Coming off his best season yet with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in his career. He only played in 70 games, because of how deep that team was, but still put in tremendous work scoring 16 goals and having a career high 50 assists. Those are terrific numbers for a second- or third-line guy.

Guys like St. Louis native Pat Maroon, (who has been seen practicing with the first line), look to have bounce back seasons and make things happen. He played 17 games last year for the New Jersey Devils, scoring only three goals, but has done way better in the past. In the 2016-2017 season he played in 81 games and scored 27 goals while assisting on 15.

Needless to say, offense shouldn’t be a problem. Last but certainly not least, is goaltending. When I say the whole season rests on the shoulders of one guy, I mean no other than Jake “the Snake” Allen. Last season he played in 59 games, while backup Carter Hutton played the remainder.

This is Allen’s sixth straight season with the Blues, but he’s in a little bit of a slump. Last season he made 1,462 saves but allowed a season low 252 goals. Posting 2.75 average goals allowed with a .913 overall save percentage, he’s definitely looking to do better this year. He posted his second-best season record going 56-27 but would still like to add to that win column.

If the Blues want to make it far this season, Allen along with the rest of the lineup, will have to step it up if they want to be having any type of parade this summer. I fully believe this is the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Blues open up their season with two home games. They’ll take on the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday night, and then the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. I have tickets for that one, and oh boy, I can’t wait for the return of Blues hockey.