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October 1, 2013 | 8:43am ET
2013-14 Season Preview: St. Louis
By David Brown, TheFourthPeriod.com

The St. Louis Blues are coming off back-to-back playoff losses to the Los Angeles Kings. They are serious Stanley Cup contenders, but they have to get over the hump. Their team plays a similar style to the Kings; fast, physical and defensive. Head coach Ken Hitchcock enters his third season with the Blues.

The new divisional realignment might benefit the Blues after finishing last season with the third most points in the West, but having to face the Kings with the fourth seed because the top three seeds went to divisional winners. Now there are only two divisional winners for the respective conferences.

This season the Blues will have a few new faces on their top two lines. Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Magnus Paajarvi look to fill the holes that David Perron, Jamie Langenbrunner and Andy McDonald leave behind. Their blue line and goaltending depth remain the Blues’ strength. The Blues locked up Alex Pietrangelo for a seven-year, $45.5 million contract.

"We're excited to have Alex signed over the next seven years as he will continue be a key component of our franchise," said general manager Doug Armstrong. "He is an elite defenseman in this league and will be for years to come."

David Backes and T.J. Oshie will continue to lead the Blues up front. St. Louis is hoping that Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko can become premier top-six forwards and give them their needed scoring depth. One thing is for sure, with the likes of Backes, Oshie, Morrow and Chris Stewart up front, opposing teams better buckle their chinstraps when playing Hitchcock’s scrappy bunch.

If the Blues new depth up front can score enough goals, the Blues will be one of the last teams standing.

FORWARDS

The Blues top line will look similar to years past, Alex Steen, Backes and Oshie. The three combined for 21 goals last year in the lockout shortened season and hopefully will find the back of the net to improve on their 17th place finish in league scoring.

The Blues second and third lines will be very balanced. Schwartz will continue to grow and emerge to a two-way forward that can do it all and is slotted on an unconventional third line with Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund. Schwartz has scored 16 points in 52 career NHL games, but their head coach thinks he can take the next step.

Their second line has veterans Morrow and Roy, with Stewart. Stewart’s new center will be incoming veteran Roy, who scored 28 points last season playing for the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks.

Paajarvi will have to fight for ice time this season along with youngsters Dmitrii Jaskin and Ty Rattie chomping at the bit.

Key Losses: Perron, Langenbrunner, McDonald
Key Additions: Roy, Morrow, Paajarvi, Maxim Lapierre

Top 3 Forwards to Watch

Jaden Schwartz: Schwartz gets compared to American forwards Oshie and Zach Parise constantly and he’s finally entering his first full season in the NHL at 21 years old. This could be the season that he bursts into the league’s spotlight.

Derek Roy: Roy’s scoring numbers have gone down over the last couple years, but that could be due to the decline of the Buffalo Sabres. This could be the season that resurrects the center’s career.

Brenden Morrow: Morrow played for Hitchcock in Dallas and had a strong campaign last season after being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 14 points in 15 games.

DEFENSEMEN

There is very little concern over the Blues blue line led by Jay Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo. Last season the Blues acquired both Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold and they both answered the bell. The Blues top-seven defensemen are now all signed through 2014-15.

Pietrangelo enters his fourth season at just 23 years old and already has over 100 points under his belt. He’s a career plus-25 and playing with Bouwmeester for an entire season will only make his numbers go up higher.

Bouwmeester finally got out of the Calgary dumpster that was the Flames; he scored seven points in 14 games with the Blues last season and found himself with a positive plus/minus for the first time since his 2006-07 campaign with the Florida Panthers. He isn’t getting any younger at 30 years old and if somebody is looking to win now, Bouwmeester will have a sense of urgency to overcome their first round exit last season.

Key Losses: Kris Russell
Key Additions: --

Top 3 Defensemen to Watch

Kevin Shattenkirk: With the addition of Bouwmeester and the contract of Pietrangelo, the forgotten young star for the Blues in Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk scored 40-plus points in his first full NHL season and would’ve been on pace to do it again last year in the lockout season. Shattenkirk quietly remains a dangerous asset at 24 years old for the Blues.

Jay Bouwmeester: Bouwmeester never even broke the 30-point mark in Calgary, after breaking 40 points in three of his final four years in Florida. 30 points, 40 points…even a 50-point season might be in store for the Blues blue liner.

Jordon Leopold: The former Hobey Baker award winner once eclipsed 30 points in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres. Now that he is getting second pairing minutes with Shattenkirk, this could be a big time bounce back year.

GOALTENDING

The Blues have three goalies, injury prone Jaroslav Halak, playoff disappointment Brian Elliott and 23-year old Jake Allen.

The Blues will likely role with whoever is the hottest, and healthiest, throughout the season. And if they aren’t scoring goals, you know they have at least one to trade away for a goal scorer.

Halak reportedly lost weight in the offseason and is hoping for a bounce back year after playing just 16 games last season.

"Unfortunately, it's part of a lot of players' careers. You go through some adversity and it's only up to you how you deal with it. I know some guys who are not fortunate to come back from injury. Hopefully I'll be fortunate and come back and stay healthy. I want to prove to myself and I want to prove to everybody that I can play,” Halak recently told NHL.com.

"I feel good. I've worked hard. We'll see how it goes. I've been skating on the ice for [several] weeks. My body felt good, didn't give me any signs of being tired or anything. It's been perfect and we'll see how it goes."

The Blues will enter the season with Halak as the starter and Elliott the backup, but on a nightly basis the Blues goalie will be playing under pressure with two guys looking over his shoulder.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Blues are very good in close games because they have good special teams. Both areas of their game are always near top-10 in the league and their power play success hides a lot of their five-on-five scoring weaknesses.

The Blues will use third line center Berglund on their top power play unit and use first line left winger Steen on their second unit defensive pairing.

Their leader, Backes, plays 200 feet of hockey and makes for a great penalty killer. And then of course when you trust all six of your defensemen on the penalty kill, it’s easy to keep everybody fresh.

PREDICTION

3rd in West, 2nd in Central

The Blues will have to find scoring depth to go with their very deep blue line. If Halak can take the starting role and run with it all while staying fresh with starts from Brian Elliott, they will return to their 100-plus point season and then hopefully won’t see the Los Angeles Kings in the first round—or any round for that matter.

NHL realignment will put the Blues in an entire new division other than the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. They are no longer in a division with their rivals with the Detroit Red Wings, and maybe the fans will miss those games, but it certainly won’t hurt them in the standings.

The Predators finished second to last place in the West last season, but added a variety of new players this summer, including highly touted second overall pick Seth Jones.

The Colorado Avalanche joins the Blues in the new Central Divison. The Avs finished last place in the Western Conference last season, but have a new head coach, former goaltender Patrick Roy. Colorado drafted Nathan Mackinnon with the first pick in this summer’s draft.

The Blues will also play against the Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars. The Stars made a blockbuster trade this summer acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins.

St. Louis has three former Minnesota High School League superstars and they will return home frequently with new division rival, Minnesota Wild.

David Brown is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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