It certainly doesn’t take a Scotty Bowman or Al Arbour to realize some of the obvious keys for the Blues to return to territory which used to be a given back in the glory days of the Bluenote. Of course those better days were spent by Blues fans not wondering if they would make the playoffs, but by guessing who their much-weaker first round opponent would be and what nights of the week home games one and two would fall on. But oh how I digress! Even Eric Lindros and his 19 concussions could tell you Brad Boyes needs to have a bounce-back season. I will speculate and venture to conclude Jorgen Pettersson (google him, you younger so-called Blues fans) knows fellow Swede Patrick Berglund must elevate his intensity in year three. Mike Keenan in his constant delusional state of mind could tell you David Backes can not continue to decrease his goal total a second straight season. The list moves on from David Perron to Erik Johnson to Jaroslav Halak, but in order to be truly successful, all forward lines and defensive pairings must be in complete harmony and sync. So let’s now focus on three “under the radar” players who will need to have an impact for this season to be considered successful.
1–Jay McClement. The 27-year old center was one of the most consistent Blues from start to finish last season. His job is one of the most difficult on the team (sorry Cam, but I did say “one of the most”). Having to go head to head against the other teams top line(s) on a nightly basis is without question a heavy challenge. Not to mention trying to kill off penalties when facing the likes of Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, the Sedin clones, and on and on. With that said, there are prime areas which McClement must observe and improve upon this season. Faceoffs are a main target. McClement ranked 57th in the league last season with a 49.6 faceoff percentage. Certainly not terrible considering he took the ninth most faceoffs in the NHL. But puck possession is the key and McClement must rise over the 50% mark to help his team gain an even bigger edge. To dive even a bit deeper within the faceoff category, McClement finished first overall in shorthanded faceoffs won. However, he cancelled out that impressive statistic by also losing the most shorthanded faceoffs in the league. Yes the Blues penalty kill did finish first. So maybe the shorthanded faceoff lost stat is overrated. But what’s not overstated is McClement’s play will be a major factor. Can he improve on his 11 goal total? Can he ramp that up to possibly 15 goals? To put into further perspective let’s compare him to Eric Belanger–very similar players. Belanger had 4 more goals, 12 more points, a much better faceoff win percentage (57.6% to McClement’s 49.6%) in 5 fewer games. Belanger also spent most of the season with a poor Minnesota Wild team. Again, McClement is a huge key to the Blues team. Here’s hoping he can boost his overall game that much more.
2–B.J. Crombeen. Here’s a guy who has shown he can actually score some goals. How many can we realistically expect from the 25-year old forward though? Crombeen netted seven last season in 79 games played with an average of 13 minutes ice time per game. The best way to gauge his level of play is to compare him with some other players who share the same skill set and environment. Cody McLeod of Colorado equaled Crombeen’s seven goals and had three more points in 5 fewer games with the same amount of ice time. Derek Dorsett of Columbus had four goals and 14 points in 28 fewer games. And yes, Jordin Tootoo (his name should never appear in a Blues column!) had one fewer goal and one more point in fewer games with less ice time. Crombeen certainly has more skill than Dorsett and Tootoo right? Here’s the bottom line–Crombeen needs to take better advantage of his ice time. He has great size and very strong hockey sense. He will find himself at times on lines with skilled players. There is no reason why Crombeen should not score more than seven goals. For crying out loud, if Ben Eager can somehow manage to push six past a red line, then B.J. can figure out a way to finish. He is a key component to a team built on youth and speed. Crombeen must offer the big body on a third line who can fight when need be, but more importantly, score some big goals on occasion.
3-Eric Brewer. The man many Blues fans love to hate. That attitude from a seemingly growing number of fans is as logical as Mel Gibson after a few drinks. Can we not lay off the captain for maybe three shifts? He is incredibly well respected in the Blues locker room by management, the coaching staff and all of the players. But let’s just talk about on the ice. Brewer will and should be looked upon to contain the other teams top forwards. He has the size, skating ability and recognition to accomplish this task. The captain just needs to focus more on his positional play and first pass. He has had a tendency to take himself out of position in the defensive zone in order to try and do too much. Whether to cover up for another teammate’s blown assignment or his own mistake, Brewer has undoubtedly made his share of errors. This season Brewer has an opportunity to correct these previous blunders. With Erik Johnson a year wiser (plus no more golf cart shenanigans) and Roman Polak steadily growing into a very solid defenseman, Brewer can simply play his game and focus on his own positional play. A sturdy, consistent season from the captain will equate to smooth and smart decisions in the defensive zone…and will lead to a creative transition game into the opponent’s offensive area. As several Blues players recently told me when asked the question–which player do you hope has a career year?–Eric Brewer was the emphatic answer.
So there you have it. Three players who can have a major influence on how this season shapes up. Let’s reflect back to this superbly and elegantly written column in March or April and see for ourselves how these players are performing. When all else fails, we can always blame the previously mentioned Mike Keenan for just being…..Mike Keenan.
About the Author
Written by Dave Frederick
Dave has spent more than 20 years covering the NHL for a variety of different media outlets. Most notably ESPN, Fox Sports and the National Hockey League.