The St. Louis Blues didn’t make many roster changes this offseason following another disappointing first-round playoff exit, but their one major move could have a significant impact on their top line.
The trade of T.J. Oshie to the Washington Capitals for Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round draft pick broke up the Blues’ productive first line that paired the right winger with center David Backes and left winger Alexander Steen.
Those three players all finished among the top five scorers on the Blues last season and led all St. Louis forwards in ice time.
That trio accounted for three goals and four assists in the Blues’ 5-2 split-squad preseason victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
“The line played good today,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters. “They were good. Patient when they should be patient. Smart with the puck. They don’t give it away easily. They played well. They played hard today too, which is a good sign. They didn’t just cheat; they played hard.”
Tarasenko and Steen each had a goal and two assists in the victory. Stastny added a goal but later left the game briefly because he had to get stitches after getting hit with a stick.
“We’ve been talking a lot during camp, too, and everybody is pretty comfortable with each other,” Steen said. “We lost Stas there for a little bit there in the second. I thought we looked good. We found each other in really good areas. We didn’t spend much time in our own zone. Felt good.”
Tarasenko echoed those sentiments.
“I’m really happy to play with those guys,” he said. “We were talking a lot about our plays. This is only the first game. It’s really nice to feel we have some chemistry with each other and hope we can keep it longer.”
Tarasenko was the Blues’ leading scorer a year ago, netting 37 goals and tacking up 73 points in 77 games, but he ranked sixth among the team’s forwards in average ice time at 17 minutes and 37 seconds while playing primarily on the team’s second line.
He was right behind Stastny, the Blues’ big free agent signing last summer, who averaged 17:38 but spent much of the season centering the team’s third line, with Backes and Jori Lehtera manning the top two.
Stastny’s scoring output in his first season in St. Louis — 16 goals and 30 assists for 46 points — ranked among the fewest of his nine-year NHL career. He’s more of a distributor than a goal scorer, but was paired with lesser skilled wingers in his third-line role.
If the Blues continue to use Stastny to center Steen and Tarasenko, it could give the team’s top two scorers even more of a chance to impact games.
Steen finished second behind Tarasenko in scoring last season. He had 24 goals and 40 assists for 64 points, which established a new career high. He had 33 goals and 62 points in 68 games the previous season.
It’s still early obviously, and Hitchcock could go with another trio as his top line, but Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko could give the veteran coach more firepower on his first line than he’s had in his any of his previous seasons with the Blues.
Those three will have to do their share of dirty work defensively also, but the added ice time for Stastny and Tarasenko could make the NHL’s fifth-highest scoring team last season, at 2.9 goals per game, even more dangerous offensively this winter.