Column, Jakub Vrana, Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, St Louis Blues

Blues Weekly: Vrana, Penalty Kill, Buchnevich & More

The St. Louis Blues were officially eliminated from the 2023 NHL Playoffs after losing to the Boston Bruins on Sunday. This has been a long time coming. The Blues knew they were not a contender when they traded Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, but it only became official after their 77th game.

St. Louis Blues Weekly Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou
Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou (The Hockey Writers)

The Blues went 2-1-1 in four games last week, starting with a 6-5 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. Neither of these teams is built to win right now, which was evident with the defensive display on both sides. Justin Faulk had three points, and three other Blues players had two points. St. Louis went up 5-4, but Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes scored with 54 seconds left to send the game to overtime. However, Jakub Vrana won it for the Blues within the first 30 seconds.

The second game of the week was a 5-3 road win against the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the league’s worst teams, and the Blues finished the season series with a 3-1-0 record. Faulk had another terrific game, with two assists, while Brandon Saad played well against his former team, with a goal and an assist. The third game of the week was a loss to the Nashville Predators on the road. The Blues were dominated for most of this one, trailing 4-0 after the first two periods. They lost 6-1, with their only goal coming from defenseman Calle Rosen. The Blues went 0-for-4 on the power play and lost 75 percent of their faceoffs. This was a performance to forget.

The Blues lost in a shootout to the Bruins in their final game of the week. Matt Kessel, one of the Blues’ best defense prospects, made his NHL debut. He looked steady and calm and got a little over 15 minutes of ice time while being paired with Rosen. Kessel was a fifth-round pick in the 2020 Draft and played three seasons at UMass. He also played 81 games over the past two seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the Springfield Thunderbirds. He’ll be in the mix for a spot on the Blues’ roster in 2023-24, so they should keep him up for the final five games.

Vrana Producing Well Since Being Traded to the Blues

Vrana’s offensive output since being traded to the Blues has been terrific and has somehow overshadowed Jordan Kyrou‘s brilliant offensive season of 37 goals with five games to go. It’s not surprising to see production like this from Vrana, but it’s fun to watch. It’s understandable that the Detroit Red Wings and Vrana wanted to part ways, but they could have used him next season, and general manager Doug Armstrong looks smart for this one.

Jakub Vrana St. Louis Blues
Jakub Vrana, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

In 15 games with the Blues, Vrana has nine goals and three assists and has looked terrific on every line that head coach Craig Berube has put him on. He’s one of the best even-strength producers in the league, but he also has three power-play goals with St. Louis. Vrana produced well for Detroit but struggled to stay in the lineup due to unfortunate circumstances. He was in the NHL’s player assistance program for a few months this season, so he only played five games before the trade. The results have been promising, and he should be a big part of the team in 2023-24.

Blues’ Penalty Kill Has Been a Disaster

The Blues’ penalty kill has been a disaster, ranked 29th this season. The only teams behind them are the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, and Canucks. This comes after the 2021-22 season when the Blues ranked fifth. The blame has to lie on the penalty kill coaching and personnel, especially after trading O’Reilly and Ivan Barbashev, who both played on the penalty kill. They also don’t have a good defensive defenseman who can quarterback the unit.

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Over the last five games, the Blues’ penalty kill has surrendered 11 goals on 16 opportunities, making it very hard to compete and win games. The Predators rank 27th on the power play this season, but they went 2-for-4 against the Blues. The Blackhawks’ power play is ranked 29th but went 2-for-3 against the Blues. It goes on and on. The Blues need to spend part of this offseason figuring that out. Hiring a different coach to run the unit would be a good start.

Buchnevich & Thomas Held Out With Injuries

Since the win over the Canucks, both Pavel Buchnevich and Robert Thomas have been out with injuries. Given that the Blues are eliminated from the playoffs with five games left, holding them both out for the rest of the season would be a wise move and allow the team to give maximum opportunities to players like Jake Neighbours and Sammy Blais.

Pavel Buchnevich St. Louis Blues
Pavel Buchnevich, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Buchnevich and Thomas will be two of the most important forwards for the team in 2023-24. Thomas will be playing in the first season of his eight-year contract extension, while Buchnevich will be in the second to last season of his contract. Both have produced at a high level for the last two seasons; Buchnevich has 66 points in 59 games this season after a 30-goal season in 2021-22. Overall, he has 142 points in his first 132 games as a Blue, and he’s been terrific since the trade from the New York Rangers. Thomas’ production is down a bit this season, but he still has 63 points in 70 games. He’s been mostly healthy this season as well. The bottom line is that the Blues should rest them both to get ready for next season.

Blues’ Week Ahead

  • Tuesday: vs. Philadelphia Flyers (29-34-13, 71 points), 7 PM
  • Thursday: vs. New York Rangers (45-21-11, 101 points), 7 PM
  • Saturday: at Minnesota Wild (44-23-9, 97 points), 7 PM

The Blues will play three of their final five games this week before finishing the season with two games against the Dallas Stars. This week will also mark Tarasenko’s return to St. Louis for the first time since the trade to the Rangers. The team will finish the season series with the Minnesota Wild, who are currently first in the Central Division. Finally, the organization called up goaltender Vadim Zherenko under emergency conditions with the Thomas Greiss injury, which means there might be another NHL debut this week.

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