The defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues opened training camp today at the new Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights. The team does not have an overwhelming amount of questions facing their roster, as the Blues have returned every player that played a game in the 2019 playoffs with the exclusion of hometown hero Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Maroon did struggle offensively during his lone season in St. Louis, as he only recorded 28 points (10 G, 18 A) in 74 regular season games. Maroon then recorded seven points (3 G, 4 A) in the Blues 26 playoff games. Maroon may not have lit up the scoreboard, but he scored crucial game winning goals in the playoffs and was a big, force to be reckoned with physically all over the ice. But the question facing the Blues with his absence will be who can fill in his spot effectively during the 2019-20 season?
To dive into that question, we first have to look at the current Blues lineup. When completely healthy, the Blues forwards group will likely look like such:
Extras: Fabbri, MacEachern
To start the season, assuming the Blues keep the lines they used in the Stanley Cup Final in June, Sammy Blais likely fills in on that winger on the third line. Blais is of decent size at 6’2” 205 lbs. and has never been shy of throwing his weight around. In a small sample size, Blais recorded only four points in 32 regular season games last season with the Blues but recorded three points in 15 playoff games which included a goal in his playoff debut during Game 6 at Dallas in the second round. Blais showed serious improvement in the playoffs and between his physicality and offensive ability, likely inserts himself into the Blues starting lineup right away.
But then there is the curious case of Robby Fabbri. Several years ago, Fabbri appeared to possibly be an heir apparent to becoming a star for the Blues. The Blues selected him 21st overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Fabbri joined the club for the 2015-16 season. Fabbri scored his first career goal on opening night of the season and went on to record 37 points (18 G, 19 A) in 72 games as a 20-year-old. But it was in the playoffs of that season where Fabbri shined. The Blues ultimately finished the playoffs just two wins away from a Stanley Cup Final, and Fabbri recorded 15 points (4 G, 11 A) in 20 games, tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead.
Then in his second NHL season, Fabbri was on pace to surpass his previous season in point totals. Fabbri had recorded 29 points through 51 games, and even recorded his first career hat trick against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 28, 2016. But in a February game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Fabbri took an awkward angled hit from Carter Rowney near the Blues bench. His left knee was pinned up against the boards and immediately after the hit, Fabbri was visibly in an excruciating amount of pain; he had torn his ACL. Fabbri’s season had ended, and he returned for training camp the following season, a seemingly quick recovery. But during the preseason, Fabbri re-injured that left knee, and the Blues he announced he would miss the entirety of the 2017-18 season.
Fabbri remained with the Blues but his health, playing ability, and spot in the lineup remained in question heading into the 2018-19 season. Fabbri did not initially make his season debut until November, during the Blues 11th game of the season. Fabbri recorded an assist on the games opening goal, and then two games later scored his first goal of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes, a promising sign. But due to a struggling team and an abundance of hungry young forwards on the team, Fabbri’s playing time was limited, as he appeared in 32 regular season games total, scoring two goals and adding four assists in his time. Then due to Zach Sanford not initially having a great start to the first-round playoff series in Winnipeg, Fabbri was given his chance in the playoffs.
He played in games 4-6 against the Jets and was in the starting lineup heading into the Dallas series. Six minutes into Game 1, Fabbri buried a shot on the rush through the five hole of Ben Bishop to open the scoring in the series. However, that would be the only scoring Fabbri would contribute in the playoffs. He played in Game’s 1-6 of the second round but did not see anymore action until Game’s 2 & 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, which was due to Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev both being suspended one game on separate occasions. But since Fabbri played in those two Cup Final games, his name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup. Fabbri had spurts in the playoffs where it looked like he had regained his form, but at other times looked lackluster which eventually led to him being a healthy scratch again. He is fully healthy now, and if he can build upon last season and possibly get more playing time, Fabbri could provide an unforeseen spark to the Blues offense during the 2019-20 season.
Aside from Blais and Fabbri having big potential to fill in for Maroon’s spot, the Blues have another young gun who could crack the lineup rather often. That would be 25-year-old Mackenzie MacEachern. He was called up to the team last season amidst their regular season struggles, looking for a spark. Mac was a relative unknown player by Blues fans, as he was drafted in the second round by the team in 2012 and had spent his early twenties playing for Michigan State University and then in the AHL for the Chicago Wolves and San Antonio Rampage. MacEachern played 29 games with the Blues last season and recorded three goals which is the most goals between himself, Blais, and Fabbri. MacEachern has a similar play style to Blais, as he throws his big body around at will and also has the ability to score goals. Depending on his offseason improvement, he could potentially steal a few games played away from Blais or Fabbri, especially once injuries hit which we all know they do to every team throughout the course of a season. MacEachern is now on a one-way contract, meaning he will be with the Blues all season unless he passes through waivers, which either means another NHL team can claim him or he passes through waivers and goes back to San Antonio.
So, Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, and Mackenzie MacEachern represent the “in-house” options, meaning already on the roster guaranteed players, for the Blues to fill that third line winger spot. But down on the farm, the Blues have two solid rookie options. One would be Jordan Kyrou, former second round pick in 2016 who spent a brief time with the Blues last season. He played 16 games with the Blues but struggled to gain his footing at the NHL level. The 21-year-old recorded three points total and scored his lone goal in a 6-1 blowout loss against the Vancouver Canucks in December. Kyrou did finish out the 2018-19 season in the AHL strong, almost averaging a point per game after putting up 43 points (16 G, 27 A) in 47 games with the Rampage. The Blues are hoping he can take a jump this season and is able to adapt his game to the NHL level. If Kyrou reaches his ceiling, he could become a top two-line guy once he hits his prime but has to establish himself at the NHL level before we can worry about any of that.
There is another rookie yet to make his debut in St. Louis that has generated buzz throughout the St. Louis Blues organization. That would be 2017 1st rounder Klim Kostin. Kostin was taken by the Blues as a result of the Blues obtaining the 31st draft pick in the 2017 draft along with Oskar Sundqvist by dealing Ryan Reaves and a 2nd round pick to the Penguins. Kostin had giant upside heading into the draft, touted for his goal scoring ability. However, he was coming off a major shoulder injury which led to his falling in the draft. Kostin has spent both the last two seasons in San Antonio, where he has struggled to adapt to the North American style of hockey. Kostin has recorded only 52 points (16 G, 36 A) in 133 games with the Rampage. He also participated in the World Juniors for Russia in the past two seasons, and even captained the team last winter. Kostin put up solid numbers there over two tournaments, as he scored eight goals and tallied six assists in 12 games.
Kostin is incredibly similar to Pat Maroon in terms of body build, as both are 6’3”, but Maroon is eight pounds heavier than Kostin at 220 lbs. Kostin is also a physical player who plays with an edge and is not afraid to drop the mitts and get into the thick of things. But at the same time, Kostin has been noted by scouts as being a very smooth skater, having great balance, being fast for his size, and holding a decent deking ability. Kostin still has to prove he can score in the North American game, as 16 goals in 133 games is not going to wow any coaches or front office members of the Blues. Kostin will start the season in San Antonio but if he figures the game out and stays healthy, he could find himself making his NHL debut during the 2019-20 season, especially if those ahead of him do not perform up to par and when injuries hit as well.
The Blues’ Cup defense begins three weeks from today as they raise their first Stanley Cup banner in franchise history on opening night against the Washington Capitals on October 4th. The Blues return most of their roster, so chemistry would assumingly so not take long to build like it did during the roller coaster ride of last season. With Pat Maroon in Tampa, it will be interesting to see as the season goes along which of the players mentioned in this article will stick with the team and get the most playing time. It will all depend on chemistry as well, as the lines aforementioned in the article will not stay the same for too long. Regardless, we should see the five mentioned here in lineup at some point during the coming season. We shall see how it all plays out.