The Blues will hope that Brayden Schenn is the No. 1 center they’ve been struggling to find for years.
The St. Louis Blues surprised fans and media members alike on Friday night by making their latest attempt at acquiring a top-six center to aid the production of impact wingers like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri. The Blues dealt the 27th overall pick in the draft–which they had acquired from the Washington Capitals back in February for Kevin Shattenkirk–along with center Jori Lehtera and a conditional draft pick for Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn.
Schenn will be 26 years old in August, but he’s already played in the NHL over parts of eight different seasons, starting off with the Los Angeles Kings and then playing in Philadelphia for the last six years. He’s had 20-goal seasons in three of the past four campaigns, including 2016-17, when he had 25 goals and 30 assists over 79 games for the Flyers.
His acquisition eases some of the pressure on 31-year-old center Paul Stastny as he enters the final season of his four-year deal with the Blues. Stastny, who grew up in St. Louis, has been quite productive over the past three seasons and has elevated the production of players like Schwartz, David Perron, and Dmitrij Jaskin, but he’s been a disappointment in many fans’ eyes because he hasn’t matched the production he put up in Colorado. Stastny was expected to be the first-line center that put the Blues over the top, and he hasn’t really approached that status at all, failing to put up a single 50-plus-point season in St. Louis after doing it during every season where he played more than 50 games in Colorado.
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It is worth noting that the term “two-way player” isn’t used often when describing Schenn, and he’ll be quite different than many of the skilled defensive centers, such as Stastny and David Backes, that the Blues have been blessed with in recent years. He’s a minus-32 player for his career. He’ll certainly be able to make a positive impact on the Blues’ power play, which was their biggest weakness on special teams this past season, but he’s probably not going to be much help on the penalty kill.
The Blues are set to give the Blues their 2018 first-round pick, though it is top-10 protected and the Blues have the option to push the pick to 2019, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported Friday night. If they choose to do so, however, they’ll have to give the Flyers their third-rounder in 2020.
The Blues effectively are gambling on Schenn being able to assume the top center role for years to come, as they’ll miss out on an opportunity to boost their upper-echelon depth next season without a first-rounder.
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With that said, they suddenly bumped their center depth from less-than-stellar to very good on Friday night. Beyond Stastny and Kyle Brodziak, who are free agents at the end of the 2017-18 season, the Blues have Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, and Tage Thompson ready to push for top-nine center roles either this coming season or next year. Schenn and Vladimir Sobotka are signed through 2019-20, while Patrik Berglund is signing through 2021-22, meaning that the Blues will have at least six NHL centers for the foreseeable future.
Lehtera, who at times did some great things for the Blues as part of the beloved “STL” line with Tarasenko and Schwartz (or sometimes Alexander Steen), will seek a fresh start in Philadelphia after a very rough 2016-17 season in St. Louis. He posted career worsts in several categories, with 64 games played, seven goals, 15 assists, a minus-6 rating, and a 49.2 % faceoff percentage. It’s also worth noting that he hasn’t really been the same since undergoing ankle surgery in the summer of 2015. Quite frankly, it’s pretty amazing that Blues GM Doug Armstrong is getting another team to take on his $4.7 cap hit over the next two seasons.