The St. Louis Blues have a couple of new faces in their bottom six this season. Despite being just two games into the season, it’s clear that they have a more robust bottom six this season. The luxury they have is depth, as multiple players within the organization should be playing but aren’t. Their third line could be the second line on a number of teams in the league.
Despite the offseason being a quiet one overall, general manager Doug Armstrong made sure to keep the American Hockey League (AHL) team strong and keep their forward depth strong with veteran additions.
Toropchenko Being Healthy is Massive
Alexey Toropchenko wasn’t expected to be on the opening night roster after shoulder surgery over the summer. He was originally supposed to return in December or later, but he recovered well and has played each of the first two games this season. He brings exactly what the Blues need on the fourth line. His size, skating ability, and physicality have all been major positives in his young career.
A big reason why Klim Kostin wasn’t in the lineup in much of the 2021-22 season was due to the play of Toropchenko. He brings everything that the Blues want in a power forward, Kostin struggled with that role. Using his size and speed to his advantage is one of the best parts of Toropchenko’s game. He has that rare size, standing 6-foot-6 with unbelievable skating ability.
One of the main attributes of a fourth-line player is checking and he does that as well as anybody on the Blues roster. Only Ivan Barbashev throws harder hits than Toropchenko, and that’s saying something when you look at this roster. Above all things, Toropchenko is a major source of energy for the team when he is on the ice. It’s obvious that head coach Craig Berube and the Blues front office like Toropchenko and what he brings to the team, as they should.
Acciari Brings Veteran Presence
Replacing Tyler Bozak was one of the interesting tasks that faced Armstrong over the summer. He could have gone inside or outside of the organization with this move, but he decided to go outside. The Blues signed veteran center Noel Acciari to a one-year deal with an annual average value (AAV) of $1.25 million. The other options inside of the organization would have been Logan Brown, Nikita Alexandrov, or a host of other AHL options. They will likely have Brown on the wing at some point this season after he recovers from injury and Alexandrov showed flashes in the preseason.
As for Acciari, he’s played seven NHL seasons going into this season. He played four seasons with the Boston Bruins and three with the Florida Panthers. He’s been a part of some successful teams, including being a part of the Bruins 2019 Stanley Cup run before losing to the Blues. He was also a solid player for the Panthers team last season that won the Presidents’ Trophy. He brings a quality veteran presence to the fourth line on top of being solid in the faceoff circle.
I expect the Blues to use Acciari on the fourth line throughout the entire season with a mix of different wingers. They replaced Bozak with Acciari, who plays a similar style as he did. Another big factor for Acciari is that he blocks shots and throws hits often. He has three seasons with 100 or more hits, he just has to stay healthy. He is the mold for a fourth-line center in the Berube system, he plays a quality two-way game.
Third Line is a Perfect Match
The Blues’ third line could be the best in the entire league. Led by Barbashev and Brayden Schenn, this line combined for 51 goals last season. Of course, Jake Neighbours only played nine games, but he was able to score his first career goal in that span. Barbashev and Schenn didn’t play together for a ton of last season, but they were impactful regardless.
This line is the perfect combination of power and goal-scoring ability. None of these players are afraid to throw their weight around, racking up multiple hits per game. Berube has always had a line that he throws into any situation at any point of a game. For example, that line in the 2019 playoffs consisted of Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, and Alexander Steen. I think that this third line will be that one for Berube this season. Even when they’re not producing, they have a major impact on the performance in each game.
Through two games this season, Schenn already has four points in two games. While Barbashev and Neighbours each have a goal through two games. This line is as important as any for the Blues this season. They have the trust of Berube and the coaching staff, they bring so much to the team.
Although the Blues have a wacky schedule to start the season, playing just two games, the most important thing is that they are off to a 2-0-0 start. They will rely on their bottom six a lot this season to do a number of things. Don’t be surprised if Berube uses his bottom six more than ever before this season as the depth of his forward group immensely changes the strategy.
Ethan Carter has been writing at The Hockey Writers for over three years now. He also co-hosts The Blue Note Podcast for the Bleav Network, which covers the Blues and the NHL multiple times per week.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.