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31 in 31

31 in 31

Inside look at St. Louis Blues

Addition of O'Reilly, improved forward depth fuel optimism

by Brett Amadon / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the St. Louis Blues.

The St. Louis Blues are optimistic after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.

"We always have high expectations, but given what [general manager Doug Armstrong] was capable of doing this summer, I would say that our expectations and excitement level is very high," coach Mike Yeo said.

 

[Blues 31 IN 31: 3 QuestionsTop prospectsFantasy breakdownBehind the Numbers]

 

One of the most active teams during the offseason, the Blues acquired center Ryan O'Reilly in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and added forward depth with the signings of free agents Patrick Maroon, David Perron and Tyler Bozak.

Video: 31 in 31: St. Louis Blues 2018-19 season preview

O'Reilly had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 81 games last season and should help on face-offs, where the Blues were 12th in the NHL at 50.6 percent; O'Reilly has won 58.3 percent of face-offs since 2015-16, second in the NHL behind center Antoine Vermette, who won 59.2 percent of his draws for the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks.

"[O'Reilly] does so many things so well and makes the players he plays with better, whether it's him winning face-offs or it's his attention to detail, both with and without the puck," said Yeo, who coached O'Reilly with Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. "Both ends of the ice he's going to help us an awful lot."

When training camp begins in September, O'Reilly is expected to play on the first line with Vladimir Tarasenko, who has led St. Louis in goals in each of the past four seasons.

"I think any centerman in the League would love to be playing with him," O'Reilly said. "He makes the game easy. You put the puck in an area for him and he's going to bury it."

Video: Looking at the Blues after acquiring O'Reilly, Bozak

Brayden Schenn is expected to be the second-line center, and Bozak, who had 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, figures to be the third-line center. The hope is that the Blues will balance out their scoring.

"I think that we're stronger now through center ice," Yeo said. "If you look at your top three as Schenn, O'Reilly and Bozak, we're very comfortable and confident that those guys can play against anybody."

One loss for St. Louis this offseason was goaltender Carter Hutton, who signed as a free agent with the Sabres. Hutton, who split time with Jake Allen last season and played 32 games, led the NHL with a 2.09 goals-against average and .931 save percentage (minimum 20 games).

The Blues signed goalie Chad Johnson to a one-year contract, but Yeo is hoping Allen, who was 27-25-3 with an NHL career-worst 2.75 GAA and .906 save percentage in 59 games last season, can regain his form from 2015-16 when he tied Ben Bishop and Martin Jones for second in the NHL with six shutouts and had a .920 save percentage.

"I expect [Allen] to have a great season," Yeo said. "You look at the age of him relative to starting goalies, he's still very young (28), still learning the position, and with that learning, you know, it's not necessarily the physical part, it's probably more the mental part."

Video: STL@COL: Allen lays out to rob Andrighetto in front

The Blues also are expecting to have forward Robby Fabbri back. He was medically cleared this offseason following his second ACL surgery and signed a one-year contract July 3. Fabbri has 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 123 NHL games and last played Feb. 4, 2017.

"I went and visited him down in Toronto and the work that he's put in was visible," Yeo said. "I believe from looking at him that he knows just how important of a year this is for him and his career.

"We're going to give him a chance to get in, get his feet wet, to play with good players. … We're adding a player in Robby Fabbri that … can come in and be as good as anybody."

Add the possibility of forward prospects Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou joining the mix, and the Blues could be poised for not just a return to the postseason, but a deep run.

"[St. Louis is] a team that's not too far off," O'Reilly said. "I don't think you come into the season expecting to be this great team. You have to earn it and it starts in camp and [with] jelling and coming in being ready to be the best team and earn the right to be the best team."

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