The St. Louis Blues have spent a lot of draft picks in recent years acquiring big, strong forwards. Since losing their star power forward, David Backes, in 2016; the team has invested a lot into that playing style. Some of their top prospects, like Tage Thompson, are very well balanced power forwards. During the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Blues went one step further, though. They traded away fan favorite Ryan Reaves, and in exchange got 23-year old Oskar Sundqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams also swapped some draft picks.
Oskar Sundqvist Could Be the Power Forward the St. Louis Blues Wanted
Sundqvist is a 23-year old who has been suppressed by the star-studded Penguins roster. He has only played in 28 NHL games since joining the professional scene in the 2015-16 season. Sundqvist started off his career with 18 NHL games, but was sent to the AHL shortly after. He struggled in the minors that season, and didn’t move back up to the NHL because of it. His 2015-16 struggles seemed to light a fire under Sundqvist though. In 2016-17, he had 46 points in 63 AHL games to start the season. His strong play was rewarded by the organization with ten more NHL games to end the season.
In his 28 NHL games, Sundqvist has only been able to muster up four points. Only one of these points was a goal. Clearly, he hasn’t been the strongest during his NHL time. It could be argued that this is because he hasn’t seen consistent NHL time. He’s been moved up and down between leagues multiple times during his career. For many players, it’s hard to get into a groove when you aren’t consistently staying with a team; especially at the NHL level. Sundqvist has also shown some inconsistencies personally. He’s seemed unmotivated, to an extent.
If he was willing to work harder on the ice, he would see a lot more time and very likely more points. Sundqvist stands at six feet tall, but weighs in at 209 pounds. He’s a big, strong forward and has a strong physical presence because of it. He has a good reach for his size, and a very impressive hockey IQ. He’s an ideal forward if he was able to capitalize on his skating potential. While he does have decent skating abilities, there is still room for improvement. He needs more power in his first step, and needs to keep that power in all of his strides. Sundqvist’s strength isn’t up for question, he’s clearly strong, he just doesn’t use it as much as he could.
The Blues seem to have a lot of faith in Sundqvist, and that could be very helpful for the young forward. He’s recently started working on becoming a center instead of a wing, and the Blues will want to continue promoting on that. Patrik Berglund was injured over the off-season, and won’t be able to play until roughly December. This should leave a spot at the fourth line center spot; but could also open up a hole on the third line wing. Sundqvist is ideal for either of these roles.
Where He’ll Play
If he’s centering the fourth line, he’s likely lining up with Kyle Brodziak and the Zach Sanford. These are two other big guys, who would fit nicely with Sundqvist. The line would be a strong, physical group; but they wouldn’t be completely useless in the way of point production. Sundqvist would see a lot of scoring chances with Sanford and Brodziak’s passing abilities. It’d be a similar line to what they were with Reaves, but with a lot more skating and scoring strength.
This doesn’t mean a wing spot on the third line would be any less effective. He’d likely be alongside Vladimir Sobotka on this line; which is a beautiful pairing if it worked out properly. Sobotka is a strong, fast center with few weaknesses. He’d be a great mentor for the young Sundqvist. He’d also be very helpful when it comes to promoting Sundqvist’s skating. While Sobotka and Sundqvist share a lot of similarities, Sobotka plays a much faster game. Sundqvist would have to push himself to keep up with the line. On the other wing would likely be Dmitrij Jaskin, who has consistently become a faster player as well. This line would help a lot in terms of improving Sundqvist’s weak spots; compared to the previous line would help encourage his current strengths. Either way, it seems like Sundqvist will be a nice fit in the Blues lineup.
The Blues Hopes for Sundqvist
The Blues have a lot of hope in Sundqvist. At only 23 he has a lot of potential. Immediately following the draft, Blues general manager Doug Armstorng repeatedly said, “[Sundqvist] is going to be in our lineup next year.” A few days later, on July 1, he said he wanted Sundqvist to step in right away in place of Berglund. He emphasized that Sundqvist would have to work for his spot though. The Blues have multiple offensive prospects who seem ready to make the jump. Ivan Barbashev and Sanford are the most likely to challenge Sundqvist’s spot this upcoming season, but there will be a few more to come in the next few years. Tage Thompson and Klim Kostin are both becoming more and more promising, and could see NHL ice time soon.
These up-and-comers are the biggest worries for Sundqvist in securing a roster spot. The Blues will likely have to send Barbashev and Sanford to the AHL in order to keep Sundqvist in the NHL. With how promising these two players are looking, it’s a bit of a risk. Sundqvist will have to produce for the Blues. His age makes him waiver eligible, and he would be claimed off waivers. This makes the team a bit more determined to smooth out Sundqvist’s rough edges. If he does successfully improve his skill set, he could be a major part of the Blues offense. Hopefully the worst case scenario is he takes a bit longer to fine tune these weaknesses.
The team will put a lot of effort into Sundqvist, but it all starts with his attitude. Overall, fans should expect Sundqvist to become a top nine forward within the next few years. He’s signed to a one-year deal, and becomes a restricted free agent next season. If he shows any signs of promise this season, he’ll be re-signed next year without question. He has to put in the effort though, and it starts with a good work ethic on and off the ice. Luckily, the Blues have a good history of motivating players and have had a good list of players come in and prove to be useful.