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2011-12 St. Louis Blues Preview

Last spring, the St. Louis Blues missed out on the playoffs 12.

St. Louis made 25 straight postseason appearances from 1979-2004, but the club has been in rebuild mode since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 campaign. At the start of last year, when the Blues opened with a 9-1-2 record, it seemed like the franchise's patience was finally going to pay off.

However, the fast start was quickly negated when the club was bit hard by the injury bug. St. Louis placed ninth in the NHL in man-games lost and finished the year 10 points out of a postseason berth in the West. Head coach Davis Payne hopes he has more healthy players to work with in his second full season as the Blues' bench boss.

The Blues are still a young team, but the addition of veteran forwards Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner this summer could help the organization turn the corner and get back to being a perennial playoff participant.

FORWARDS - Blues captain David Backes was one of just a handful of players that suited up for the club in all 82 games last season and he wound up turning in his best NHL season.

Backes, a 27-year-old centerman, has spent his entire career with the Blues since being selected in the second round of the 2003 draft. He matched a career-best with 31 goals in 2010-11 and also set a new personal mark with 62 points.

Backes and the Blues offense received a big boost after acquiring winger Chris Stewart from Colorado in a mid-season trade. Stewart, a 23-year-old power forward, potted 28 goals in just 62 combined games with the Avalanche and Blues last year, and he notched 15 goals and 23 points in his 26-game stint in St. Louis.

Andy McDonald is expected to play the left wing on a top line with Backes and Stewart. McDonald had a 34-goal, 85-point season with Anaheim back in 2005-06 and his 2010-11 had a chance to be his best season since then if not for the 24 games he missed due to injury. The 34-year-old finished last year with 20 goals and 30 assists over 58 games in 2010-11.

St. Louis could have a youthful second line made up of centerman Patrik Berglund and wingers David Perron and T.J. Oshie, although Perron's status for the start of the season is still cloudy due to a concussion suffered early last season. All three players are former first-round picks of the Blues.

Berglund, 23, managed to stay healthy in 2010-11 and recorded 22 goals and 30 assists over 81 games. Oshie and Perron, however, missed a total of 105 games between them.

The 24-year-old Oshie, who can also play center, skated in 49 games last year and registered 12 goals and 22 assists for the Blues.

Meanwhile, after notching 20 goals and 47 points in 82 games two years ago, Perron, 23, suffered through a lost year in 2010-11, playing in just 10 games before having his season cut short in November by a concussion. Perron joined the team towards the end of training camp, but he will still miss an undetermined amount of time to start the season.

With Perron out, Alex Steen could slide into the left wing slot on the second line. Steen, a first-round pick by Toronto in 2002, had the best point total of his career last season, notching 51 points (20g, 31a) in 72 games.

Arnott appears to be the obvious choice to center the third line with Langenbrunner on the right wing. Both players will be 36 years old at the start of the season and Arnott will celebrate his 37th birthday on October 11.

Arnott and Langenbrunner both started last season as teammates in New Jersey, but the players were dealt to Washington and Dallas, respectively, before the year ended. Arnott had 17 goals and 31 points in 73 combined games, while Langenbrunner had 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) in 70 games.

The Blues added another veteran centerman this summer when they signed Scott Nichol to a one-year deal. Nichol had just seven points (4g, 3a) in 56 games with San Jose last year, but he is also a superb faceoff man, who won 59.4- percent of his draws in 2010-11.

St. Louis is also giving former San Jose and Ottawa winger Jonathan Cheechoo a chance at redemption. Cheechoo has been on a downward spiral since scoring 56 goals for the Sharks back in 2005-06 and was given a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues this summer. He spent last season playing with San Jose's AHL affiliate in Worcester.

Another St. Louis forward to keep an eye on is right winger Matt D'Agostini, who had 25 points in 101 career games heading into last season before exploding for 46 points (21g, 25a) in 82 games with the Blues. However, the return of Oshie and the addition of Langenbrunner could eat into D'Agostini's minutes this year.

DEFENSE - The Blues have stockpiled young talent on the blue line over the last several years and that depth made it possible for GM Doug Armstrong to make the difficult decision to deal former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to Colorado.

In addition to landing Stewart, Johnson and forward Jay McClement also allowed Armstrong to acquire another blue-chip defensive prospect in Kevin Shattenkirk. Now, between Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues have two of the brightest young defensemen in the NHL.

Although Pietrangelo, 21, had his first full season in the NHL last year, he had played too many games with the Blues in previous years to be considered a rookie. Still, the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft was very impressive last year, recording 11 goals and 43 points in 79 games.

Shattenkirk, 22, also had 43 points (9g, 34a) in 72 combined games with Colorado and the Blues. That total led all NHL rookie defensemen.

Meanwhile, Barret Jackman, who was named the league's top rookie back in 2002-03, missed 22 games last season, but should form the top pairing with Pietrangelo this year. Jackman plays primarily a stay-at-home game, but he had 13 assists over his 60 games last season.

Like Jackman, Roman Polak is another shutdown defenseman who missed a sizeable portion of the Blues' 2010-11 campaign. Polak played in just 55 games and posted three goals and nine assists.

Carlo Colaiacovo fits into the club's top-four as a second offensive defensemen, although Shattenkirk could wind up replacing him in that role. The 28-year-old Colaiacovo finished with six goals and 20 assists in 65 games last year with the Blues.

Nikita Nikitin, a 25-year-old Russian, will also provide minutes at the back end and veteran Kent Huskins was signed this summer to provide depth.

GOALTENDING - After watching him turn in a magnificent postseason for Montreal in the spring of 2009, the Blues went out last summer and traded for goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Weeks after that trade, the Blues officially made Halak the club's No. 1 netminder with a four-year, $15 million deal.

The 26-year-old Czech netminder received mixed reviews during his first season in St. Louis. He finished with a 27-21-7 record and a solid 2.48 goals-against average while appearing in a career-high 57 games. Halak should be able to improve greatly on those numbers with a healthy team in front of him in 2011-12.

Ben Bishop is the tallest goaltender in NHL history at 6-foot-7 and he figures to have the inside track for the backup job over Brian Elliot. Bishop spent most of last season with the club's AHL affiliate in Peoria, but he did garner some starts when Halak was injured and posted a 3-4-0 mark and a 2.77 GAA.

Elliot, meanwhile, began the 2010-11 season in Ottawa before getting dealt to Colorado in February. The 26-year-old has compiled a 61-53-16 record over 142 NHL appearances.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Blues have to be geared up for a new season after a promising start in 2010-11 was derailed by injuries. The team has been loaded with potential since the lockout, and barring another star-crossed season, St. Louis will fight all year for one of the final postseason berths out West. The addition of Arnott, Langenbrunner and Nichol should help get this team to the next level, although a deep postseason run is probably too much to ask at this point.