Over the weekend, we may have finally seen some real reason to be optimistic for the Blues' future. In the NHL's YoungStars Game, the Blues had two players participating
, and both showed well for themselves.
Don't get me wrong; there have been plenty of reasons to be optimistic before now, but if you really want a glimpse of what the future of St. Louis hockey may look like, this was as good as it gets.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the YoungStars game, it's basically just a smaller, kiddie version of the regular All-Star Game. Okay, maybe kiddie isn't the right word here. What you have, though, is two teams, one composed of the best and brightest rookies in the league, and one composed of their sophomore counterparts.
Remember back in gym class, when you would split up by class, then get your ass handed to you in flag football by the juniors, and afterward you would try to hold your shattered collarbone together long enough to get to the nurse's office, while they hung out and smoked and impressed your girlfriend with dirty teenage mustaches, which you could totally grow, it was just that your hair was blond, so nobody noticed, but it was still there, damn it, and just because you barely had any body hair didn't mean you weren't just as much of a man as the rest of those neanderthals, in fact I'll bet none of them have any idea where to find a clitoris, either, but I looked in my anatomy book and I'm pretty sure that I can find it, and then it won't matter if I have a fucking mustache, 'cause I'll be able to...
Whoa. Where the hell am I? Did everything just go bright red for a second there? Huh, that's weird.
So anyway, I was saying that the YoungStars game is kind of like gym class. Freshmen against sophomores. The Blues had one player on each team, Patrik Berglund
for the freshman squad, and David Perron
for the sophomore team.
Both contributed to their team's respective effort; Berglund scored two goals and added an assist for the victorious freshmen, for a total of three points, while Perron added an assist of his own for the sophomores.
In a way, it was pretty indicative of each player's game; Berglund is fast becoming an all-around threat every time he touches the puck, and Perron, while not putting a whole lot of pucks in the net, is proving to be a playmaker par excellence. Perron, in fact, is beginning to remind me quite a bit of another Blues forward, one who is currently out for the season with a hip injury, Paul Kariya. Perron probably doesn't have the raw speed of a young Kariya, who at his best could probably have given Scott Niedermeyer a run for his money, but Perron does have that same sort of mentality and the vision on the ice to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Also much like Kariya, I would like to see Perron take the shot himself a little more often when it's there, but I'm certainly not going to complain about what the kid has contributed this season.
As for Berglund, I don't think I could possibly be much more impressed with his performance in his rookie season. He's played in 41 games this year, and has netted fourteen goals to go along with sixteen assists, for a total of 30 points. (Incidentally, 30 is exactly Perron's point total as well, but he's gotten his a little bit differently, with only five goals and 25 assists. Take the shot, David!)
Even more impressive, Berglund is the only Blues player in double digits on the plus side of the +/- ledger. Add up all the other pluses for the Blues, and you get +9; Berglund alone is a +14. It's been an ugly season for the Blues in a lot of ways, with injuries all over the place again this year, but Berglund has been a godsend. Plus, and I'm just putting this out there, kid's pretty good-looking, too. Sort of an Owen Wilson thing going on, except without the broken nose.
It's been really tough to follow the Blues this season. This was supposed to be the year that John Davidson's vision of the future started to break through; instead, the season was torpedoed before it even began, with Erik Johnson, the Blues' young beast of a defenseman, ripping up his knee stepping out of a golf cart. You want proof that the Blues are not a lucky franchise? Just reread that last sentence.The injuries have piled up on top of that one, with Andy McDonald missing the last two months with a fractured ankle, Kariya's season ending early with the hip issue, and at least half a dozen other "lower body" injuries, most of them happening to Manny Legace.
But there is a definite light at the end of the tunnel, and it was brightly on display this weekend. The Blues have a terrific trio of young forwards, with T.J. Oshie
joining Berglund and Perron to form a talented troika of tenacious, um, shoot. I can't think of another word beginning with the letter T that fits here. Oh well. The oldest of this group is Oshie, who just turned 22 two days before Christmas; both Berglund and Perron are only 20 years old. That's not just young, that's really, really young.
Oshie himself has struggled with some injuries this season, but has still contributed twelve points (five goals, seven assists), in the 22 games he has played. He fits more the role of an elusive, pass-first playmaking forward, being a bit undersized at only five-feet, eleven-inches tall, but has shown the ability to take it to the net at times already. Oh, and remember how I was saying all the Blues players in the plus range not named Berglund combine only for a +9? Well, Oshie counts for six of those.
Add in guys like David Backes, who is starting to really come in to his own, and Brad Boyes, who would be a huge asset with his goal scoring ability if he would just stop giving the damned puck away, and the Blues have a serious haul of youngish talent. Of course, that doesn't even include the player who may be the best of the bunch, Johnson. Sadly, he won't be a factor this season. It's a real shame, too, after he looked every bit the future star the Blues believed him to be when they made him the first overall pick in the draft a couple of years ago.
In fact, the only real gap in the Blues' emerging talent pool is in the goal-tending area. Marek Schwartz, who was hyped as the next Dominic Hasek, failed to develop and is now off playing somewhere in the wilds of Alaska. (Actually, scratch that. It appears that Schwartz has taken his pads and gone home
. Credit for the link to SBNation's great Blues blog, St. Louis Game Time
.) Jason Bacashihua and Chris Beckford-Tseu are a couple of other names you don't hear much 'round these parts anymore, despite being once thought of as sure things to jump up and contribute.
That really leaves only Ben Bishop as the Great White Hope to cure the Blues' goalie woes. Bishop has been good this year in Peoria, but not great, and while I thought his brief stint here in St. Louis was at least promising, he clearly isn't ready to come in and dominate at the NHL level. I still have plenty of hope for the young man, as his size and quickness should translate, but when the franchise is pinning all its hopes for possibly the most important position on the ice on one kid, you have to be at least a little concerned.
Nonetheless, outside of goalie, the Blues have what looks like a dynamite young core for years to come. There's more talent in the pipeline, too; we all got a look at Alex Pietrangelo early in the season, and I came away excited about his long-term potential. Whether or not this current pool of talent will be the batch that finally manages to end the Blues' misery and bring Lord Stanley's Cup to St. Louis is anybody's guess. At the very least, though, the future of hockey here looks pretty good from where I'm sitting.
Oh, and one other thing. Is it just me, or does David Perron look an awful lot like Annie Lennox? You be the judge!