After tossing around more radical ideas such as moving Jaden Schwartz or Robby Fabbri to center, the Blues will instead look at Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin at the position for now.
Last week, as it began to look more and more likely that Vladimir Sobotka would not return to the St. Louis Blues for the 2016-17 season, talk began about who would center the team’s third line, as Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera are really the Blues’ only pure centers at the moment.
The team utilized Jaden Schwartz at the position during the first couple days of training camp, and discussion ensued as to whether one of the team’s most valuable forwards should shift inside for the first time in his NHL career. Robby Fabbri, who was drafted as a center but scored 18 goals as a winger last year, was also brought up as an option to move inside. Instead, though, it sounds like the Blues will at least begin the season with more known quantities at center, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Jeremy Rutherford writes that the team will instead utilize Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin as options at center ice as the season begins.
Berglund is a natural center and has the size and skill set to fit perfectly at the position for a Ken Hitchcock-coached team. He’s big, plays great defense, and knows how to distribute the puck, so it should be a natural transition for him to move back to center ice. With that said, it’s easy to see how his offensive production might dip as he transitions back to center.
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He seemed to be much more comfortable shooting the puck from the wing, and it was reflected in his stats, as his .24 goals-per-game was his highest since collecting .35 per game in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. It’s also worth noting that while solid, Berglund isn’t exactly an elite face-off guy; he won a career-best 51.8 percent of his face-offs in 2015-16 while participating in a career-low 277 face-offs.
Jaskin is perhaps the more intriguing long-term project at center, though he doesn’t have a ton of experience at the position. He got a cameo at the position last November against the Los Angeles Kings, then centered the fourth line for a brief spell in late December as Kyle Brodziak dealt with an injury. He struggled in the face-off circle, winning just 8 of 28 face-offs (28.6 percent), but otherwise performed well in the role.
He’s a big, durable player who could fit very well at the position if he sharpens his face-off skills, and perhaps he’d be the Blues’ best long-term replacement for David Backes as a player who can dish out some physicality and stay strong in front of the net.
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Unlike Berglund, who has never played with as much overt physicality as you’d think a 6-foot-3, 217-pounder would, Jaskin has embraced his strength and plays with an edge. He collected 126 hits in 2015-16.
With that said, Jaskin hasn’t shown much of an ability to effectively dish out the puck during his early NHL career; he’s got just 15 assists in 139 career regular season games. It’s likely that he won’t get as many scoring opportunities playing at center ice, so he’s going to have to make himself more useful as a passer if he wants to be an effective center anywhere besides the fourth line.
One would think that Alexander Steen could also be an option down the road at center, seeing as he spent much of the season at the position last year and would be safer there as he returns from offseason shoulder surgery. But he hasn’t returned to full-contact drills yet, and it’s still unknown whether he’ll be ready for the beginning of the regular season yet.
Even if he is, Hitchcock has expressed a desire to try a line with Stastny as the center in between Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko, so he might not be an option at center ice right away.