Steen here, Stastny there and Backes where? Hitchcock has plenty of fun new options
The Blues' new acquisitions give Ken Hitchcock and his coaching staff a dangerous offensive group to work with next season.
The Blues gave Ken Hitchcock another offensive weapon to utilize in forward Paul Stastny.
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By Nate Latsch
ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong knows it will take some time for the Blues' new additions to mesh with the current roster and for coach Ken Hitchcock to find the right lineup combinations to make it all work.
But there is no denying Armstrong's excitement about the seemingly endless possibilities for St. Louis going into the 2014-15 season.
"I sort of feel like the grade-schooler, the kindergarten teacher," Armstrong said on a conference call Tuesday when discussing new acquisitions Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. "I'm throwing all the toys in the sandbox and letting the coaching staff figure out what they want to play with and how they want to use them. I think we have a lot of different options."
The Blues did plenty of experimenting with lineup combinations during the 2013-14 campaign, including moving David Backes and Patrik Berglund from center to the wing at times and moving Alexander Steen from wing to center.
After adding a pair of playmaking centers in Stastny and Lehtera, Backes and Berglund could move to wing spots on a more regular basis this winter or possibly permanently.
Armstrong sees a scenario where Stastny, now the highest paid Blues player (per average annual value), plays on the first line with Steen at left wing and Backes at right wing.
"That gives us quite a bit of strength on the wing and on the sides with Backes and then you have Berglund, (Vladimir) Sobotka and maybe (T.J.) Oshie as another line," the GM said.
Continuing Armstrong's train of thought, that could mean another line of young forwards Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko that would likely include Lehtera, the Blues' third-round draft pick in 2008, at center.
Tarasenko and Lehtera were linemates while playing for Novosibirsk Sibir in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League back in the 2011-12 seasons. There may already be some chemistry there.
Now how those potential three lines take the ice and divide up the minutes is another story, but it's easy to envision the Blues sending out three lines that have the potential to do some damage offensively.
"We're not your normally defined first, second, third line," Armstrong said. "We're more of a group of nine forwards, and I think our group of nine forwards is stronger today than it was yesterday."
The Blues averaged 2.9 goals per game last season, which ranked sixth in the NHL, but after a strong start to the 2013-14 campaign, they struggled to score down the stretch.
After January 1, the Blues scored 104 goals in their final 43 games. That figure ranked 23rd in the league. Their 2.42 goals per game over that stretch ranked 24th.
After February 1, the Blues averaged 2.17 goals per game, which ranked 26th. After March 1, their 2.17 goals per game ranked 28th.
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In eight games in April, when the Blues went 2-6, their 0.88 goals per game ranked last in the NHL.
Armstrong needed to make some changes this offseason and he did.
Stastny, the best center available in free agency, scored 71 or more points in three of his eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. He scored 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games last season and then had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in seven playoff games.
Lehtera will be making his NHL debut this season, but the Blues feel like they are getting him in the prime of his career at age 26, and that his success at the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2014 World Championships shows he is ready to step in and contribute at the NHL level.
He had a team-high 44 points (12 goals, 32 assists) in 48 regular season games for Sibir Novosibirsk last season and six points (six assists) in 10 postseason games. He helped Finland win the bronze medal at the Olympics and then the silver medal at the World Championships.
Armstrong also said Lehtera has played some wing at times, which further adds to the Blues' versatility with their group of forwards.
Hitchcock and his coaching staff will have a strong group to work with, even though it will take some time to figure out the right combinations.
"The coaches are going to have some options," Armstrong said. "It might take a little bit of time this year, the first few games, maybe the first 15 or 20 games, to find a constant rhythm and then find the right pairings."