The St. Louis Blues have had an impressive season so far, picking up right where they left off after a Stanley Cup Championship season. They are first in the Western Conference and have managed to cobble together an impressive 18-7-6 record, despite a rash of serious injuries to their star players, including top goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko.
But the past two games may have been something of a wakeup call. Before then, they’d skated along on low-danger chances and poor expected goal (xG) numbers, which we will discuss in due time, but it all came crashing to a halt when they were shutout 3-0 by Tristan Jarry and his teammates, then traveled home for an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the same time, the team’s top prospect, Jordan Kyrou, collected four goals, including a hat trick on Wednesday, for the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League (AHL). It is a stark contrast, one that makes the case for calling up Kyrou even more obvious.
The Blues Underwhelming Offense
The Blues have hardly been potent offensively this season. On the surface, they seem average. Their 3.0 goals per game are middle of the pack, ranked 14th in the league, and tied with the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, and Minnesota Wild. This number was boosted by Brayden Schenn, who has been in rare form since signing a contract extension early in the season. He’s already scored 14 goals, halfway to a career-high.
But a deeper look at the numbers shows that the Blues are not as strong as even their mediocre totals indicate. Of their 92 goals this season, 22 have come on the power play, tied for the sixth-highest total in the league. Remove them, and the Blues have just 70 goals in 31 games. But, if you subtract their empty-net goals (6), their short-handed goals (1), and their 3-on-3 overtime winners (5), they have just 58 goals at 5-on-5. In 31 games, that averages to 1.87 even-strength goals per game, which puts them in the bottom third of the league.
Begin to look at the Blues’ advanced metrics, and things look even grimmer. According to Corsica Hockey, St. Louis creates 2.69 xG every game. That ranks 25th in the league. But their xG/game at 5-on-5 drops even lower, to 1.97. That ranks 30th in the league, beating out only the Winnipeg Jets.
Of course, advanced statistics are not infallible, and several of the best teams in the league (including the division-leading Arizona Coyotes and the nearly unstoppable Colorado Avalanche) trail the Blues in 5-on-5 xG/game. But it is difficult to argue that they excel at creating goals. Moreover, with injuries to key forwards like Tarasenko, Oskar Sundqvist, and Sammy Blais, that struggle will likely continue.
With those struggles in mind, it would be a boon for the Blues if they had a dynamic playmaker and high-skill forward to call up from the AHL. Fortunately, they have just that in Kyrou.
Kyrou’s Strength is Blues’ Weakness
Entering the season, Kyrou was the Blues top prospect; however, he was also recovering from an ankle injury and missed training camp as a result. He was assigned to the Rampage but missed their first nine games as well. So it was to be expected that he might need some time to recuperate before returning to top form.
But it does not appear Kyrou was intent on waiting. In his first 16 games this season, he’s collected 15 points (9 goals, 6 assists), including the aforementioned hat trick on Wednesday against the Iowa Wild. He has been the picture of a dynamic goal scorer, and more importantly is able to create plays out of nothing, something few current Blues forwards can manage.
Kyrou provides many skills that would fit on any NHL roster, but some that the Blues desperately need. Corey Pronman, the Senior NHL Prospects Writer for The Athletic, sang his praises before the season, ranking him the best prospect in the Blues’ system and the only one to earn the distinction as a “high-end NHL prospect” (from ‘2019 NHL farm system rankings: No. 19 St. Louis Blues,’ The Athletic, 08/20/2019).
Kyrou is a dynamic player. He has the speed, skill and offensive intelligence to break open a shift. He has the high-end speed to skate with some of the faster NHL forwards. When you couple his speed with his very quick hands, he can generate controlled zone entries at a high rate in the NHL. He’s not all about the speed and dangles, as Kyrou is an excellent passer who makes difficult plays consistently. Kyrou has never been a highly physical player, but what I liked last season is that he was consistent in his effort level, even earning some penalty kill time.
Pronman also ranked Kyrou as the 22nd best prospect in the entire NHL, beating out higher-profile names like the Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina, as well as Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, two Philadelphia Flyers prospects drafted with the Blues’ first-round picks surrendered in the Brayden Schenn trade (from ‘Pronman: Top 124 NHL prospects entering the 2019-20 season,’ The Athletic, 9/12/19).
Farabee and Frost, beyond their ties to the Blues, are good analogies for what Kyrou might be. Both have made their NHL debuts this season and are a big part of the reason the Flyers are currently in a playoff spot. Farabee has 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) in 24 games, and Frost has collected two goals and two assists in his first ten games in the league.
Of course, Kyrou did debut last season, and got three points, including his first NHL goal, in 16 games. But he played for two different coaches, unable to establish trust with either, and got most of his opportunities in the first half of the season, when the Blues were performing like the worst team in the league. Fans who believe they have seen the best of what Kyrou can provide at the NHL level have another thing coming when he gets his next chance.
Hope on the Horizon?
The Blues are ravaged with injuries, and now it seems like another name will join the list: Zach Sanford. He left the Blues’ weekend game against the Maple Leafs with a lower-body injury and is uncertain going forward. At the same time, the Blues’ offense has disappeared, and even head coach Craig Berube has admitted that they need a spark. Could Kyrou’s door back to the NHL finally be opening?
Whether the call comes this weekend or the Blues drag their feet a little longer, it’s becoming increasingly harder to justify keeping Kyrou in the AHL. He has dominated that league with nearly a point per game for parts of two seasons (62 games). He deserves his chance, and the Blues need a player just like him. This puzzle should be solved before long.