Depth for an NHL team isn’t just about having four solid lines. It’s also about the affiliate teams grooming the young guys and housing journeyman players. Clubs may think they have solid depth until adversity hits them. The St. Louis Blues have proven to have extensive depth with their recent wave of injuries and a suspension by continuing to win games.
General manager Doug Armstrong and his management team are clearly not trying to replace Vladimir Tarasenko. Fact is, they can’t. But they have prepared the organization for these types of unfortunate events. There was enough talent on the roster when Tarasenko was injured to move some guys around and still play a solid 60 minutes of hockey every game.
Then Alexander Steen got injured on Nov. 6 with a high-ankle sprain and won’t be re-evaluated until early December. More shifting needed to be made but no call-ups were necessary. The biggest loss with his injury was his veteran presence in the locker room.
Sammy Blais was placed on injured reserve after suffering a wrist injury on Nov. 19 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Subsequently, he’s undergone surgery and will be out at least 10 weeks.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they do. After Oscar Sundqvist scored two goals in the win against the Lightning on Nov. 27, he suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return to the game.
Sundqvist has already been placed on injured reserve, which is indicative of a major injury. Coach Craig Berube isn’t commenting on the extent of the injury until he undergoes some tests.
An Untimely Suspension
As if being down a few men wasn’t enough, Robert Bortuzzo was handed a four-game suspension for a cross check to Nashville Predators’ Viktor Arvidsson on Nov. 23. This is not Bortuzzo’s first offense of the sort. He’s been fined for a similar hit to New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson in October 2017 and suspended three games from an elbowing incident to Washington Capitals’ Michal Kempny in September 2018.
Not defending Bortuzzo’s actions in any way, but his timing couldn’t be any worse. Assumingly, Berube would put Carl Gunnarsson on with Alex Pietrangelo. That worked for the next two games until Gunnarsson got sick and had to be replaced for the Dallas Stars game on Nov. 29.
Blues Recall Klim Kostin and Sign Troy Brouwer
Following Sammy Blais’ injury, the Blues called up Klim Kostin from the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage to put on the fourth line with Jacob de la Rose and Mackenzie MacEachern. In two games and 16:10 of ice time, he had two shots on goal and two hits. One of those shots ended up in the net with an assist from Brayden Schenn as he scored his first NHL goal against the Predators on Nov. 23.
Unfortunately, Kostin suffered an injury to his right shoulder in his first game back with the Rampage and no reports have been published yet as to the severity of his injury.
Not to expend all of their young talent and help the team get through their injuries, the Blues signed veteran Troy Brouwer to a one-year, two-way contract on Nov. 20. Brouwer previously played for the Blues in the 2015-16 season where he helped the team make an appearance in the Western Conference Final for the first time in 15 years.
“I couldn’t be happier to be back with the Blues,” Brouwer told Chris Prinkert of stlouisblues.com. “It’s a great group of guys, a great organization and a great city and I am looking forward to helping the team compete for another Stanley Cup.”
More Call Ups from the Rampage
Forward Nathan Walker and defenseman Derrick Pouliot were recalled from the Rampage last week and debuted in Blues jerseys against the Stars on Nov. 29. Walker has dressed in 12 NHL games between the Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers and has 22 points in 20 games this season. Pouliot is more seasoned with 200 NHL games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks and leads the AHL in points for defenseman (18) this season.
Pouliot was paired with Justin Faulk to replace Gunnarsson and had one shot on goal and two hits in 10:36 of ice time in the Blues win over the Stars. Walker seemingly scored a goal until the Stars challenged an offside call and the goal was reversed.
Following Sundqvist’s injury, the Blues called up Austin Poganski from the Rampage to fill the empty roster spot. He may get the chance to play his first NHL game soon enough.
The whole organization has been affected by these injuries, scratches and moves. With the number of players called up and Kostin’s injury, the Rampage will have to scramble through the adversity to play solid in the AHL.
As the Blues continue playing through rough waters in the NHL, they manage to win games. With nine wins, two regulation-time losses and three overtime/shootout losses, the month of November hasn’t been so bad for an injury-riddled team. Hopefully Steen and Sundqvist will return in December, but as long as the top lines remain healthy, the Blues will keep winning.