Rookie Jaskin gives Blues a boost

ST. LOUIS — Dmitrij Jaskin wasn’t sure what happened.

The Blues’ rookie winger had poked the puck ahead along the boards on the right side and was closing in on Arizona goalie Mike Smith. He knew there was a defending approaching. He didn’t have time to get to his forehand, so he flipped a backhanded shot toward the net and just hoped for the best.

“I didn’t see it until I went behind the net,” Jaskin said. “It was a good surprise for me.”

It was a good surprise for arguably the Blues’ biggest surprise this season.

Jaskin’s shot eluded Smith midway through the second period and gave the Blues a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the rookie was “outstanding” against the Coyotes.

“He’s just up to speed where he is just playing hockey now, he’s not thinking,” Hitchcock said. “When you start to get that feeling where things take time to register, once you get past that it’s just read and react. I think that’s exactly where he is now — everything is just automatic.

“You see some of the stuff he does now is the same stuff he did as a 19-year-old junior player. I view him as a guy who is getting better and better. He’s got weight, he’s got size. He’s coming at you with a lot of bulk. It’s good for us.”

Jaskin’s goal was his seventh of the season and his fourth game-winner, which tied Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz and is one behind leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead.

The rookie winger from Russia, a second-round pick (No. 41 overall) in 2011, now has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 27 games this season after contributing just two points (one goal, one assists) in 18 games a year ago.

“Obviously a huge goal today,” Blues forward Alexander Steen said of Jaskin. “It was a big effort. He almost had it a few seconds before that, he had a good chance too. He’s a big body. He’s been working hard. It’s fun to see. He’s playing great for us.”

Jaskin played just two games during the 2012-13 season, his first experience in the NHL, and then 18 last season as he shuttled between in and out of the lineup with the Blues and then back and forth between St. Louis and the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.

Now he looks like a player who is here to stay.

The 21-year-old has become a regular in the lineup after proving to be a player who can play with weight — he’s certainly not afraid to throw his body around as his 75 hits rank fourth on the club despite playing 20 games less than most of his teammates — as well as protect the puck and make plays.

Jaskin has also found some chemistry on the Blues’ third line with playmaking center Paul Stastny, the team’s big free agent acquisition last summer, and with center-turned-left winger Patrik Berglund.

“It seems like he’s getting comfortable on that line,” Blues right winger T.J. Oshie said. “They are doing a great job down low of getting pucks deep and then cycling and wearing down the other team’s defense before they start going to the net and once they do it seems like Jask just wants to score goals. You see when Tarasenko gets the puck he wants to put it in the back of the net and it seems like Jask is getting that hunger. It’s great to see a young guy like that that is willing to go into the hard areas to score goals.”

Those contributions have been key for the Blues (35-15-4, 74 points), who travel to play the Tampa Bay Lightning (34-16-6, 74 points) Thursday night at Amalie Arena, and Jaskin has been playing better as the season has gone on. Tuesday’s goal was his third in six games so far in February.

Jaskin said following the win over the Coyotes that he has been gaining confidence over time and has benefitted from playing with Stastny and Berglund.

Oshie attributed Jaskin’s recent success to something else.

“I think he’s just playing hard and playing simple,” Oshie said. “I think before he was doing a little bit too much kind of letting the play come to him. Now he’s moving the puck, getting open. That line has some good chemistry and they are fun to watch and they are definitely fun to follow up on the ice after because they wear guys down.”

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com


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