Sean Jeffries The Hockey Writers
Role Players Rolling Blues Into Playoffs
The St. Louis Blues have as deep a team as we’ve seen in years and the entire roster is making contributions. These are not always measurable by statistics or the scoreboard, but Blues role players keep all four forward line rolling and are making their mark. A big part of their success stems from a fourth line full of guys making their mark on a regular basis.
For much of his five-year NHL career, all with the St. Louis Blues, Ryan Reaves was the quintessential role player. A tough guy who’s averaged 7+ minutes per game, Reaves played near the bottom of line rotations, existing primarily as a checking-line type, a bruiser who would answer the call if a teammate got roughed up. Racking up penalty minutes is what a guy in his position is often known for, but Reaves has proven there’s more to his game.
Typically slotted on the “energy” line with Steve Ott and Marcel Goc, Reaves reached career highs in goals (6) and points (12) this year and in doing so increased his value as a role player and has proven his ability to “skate up a line.” He filled in admirably up and down the lineup when guys were hurt or a line needed that extra jump. In an era where many outside the game look to eliminate fighting, Reaves is showing the Blues there plenty more to his game than simply toughness. Don’t take liberties with his teammates though, because he can still drop the gloves with the best of them.
Goc was added to the Blues roster via trade with Pittsburgh in late January for Max Lapierre. At first glance this was little more than a swap of journeyman centers, but as a role player for the Blues Goc has become much more. Averaging more than 10 minutes a game, he’s become a steady presence not only between Reaves and Ott but on the St. Louis penalty kill as well. He’s one of the better fore-checkers on a team full of defensively skilled forwards.
While Goc has put up points in his career when asked to play more minutes, those days look to be behind him, but on a team as deep as the Blues are this year he’s been the consummate role player. With the addition of another veteran centerman, Olli Jokinen, Goc found himself battling for ice time and was a healthy scratch on more than one occasion since the trade deadline but over the last few games he’s proven himself to me as an integral part of Blues success and should roll into the playoffs as a regular on that fourth line.
Few players get under the skin of the opposition more frequently OR more effectively than Steve Ott. He’s been the whipping boy of many Blues fans since coming to St. Louis last season but has endeared himself to his fair share and has excelled as a role player this year. Ott plays all-out every shift. He’s always looking to make a hit and disrupt the other team’s flow as they try moving the puck up the ice. He’s known for his nearly continuous stream of chatter with the opposing team’s bench, always in the heads of his opponents.
Reliable and durable, Ott played in all but 4 games this season, despite ranking 3rd on the Blues in hits with 184. Like his linemates he’s not going to light up the scoreboard much, but he chipped in with 3 goals and 12 points in the regular season. Ott won the Stanley Cup while in Dallas with Ken Hitchcock and at this point in his career seems to be well suited as a role player making the most of fewer shifts than in his Stars days.
If Hitchcock continues to make use of his fourth line because they keep putting pressure on their opponents it’s going to be very difficult to play against the Blues in the playoffs. NHL on NBC color analyst Brian Engblom suggested in the Blues victory Saturday over their upcoming Round One opponent, Minnesota Wild, that St. Louis will [grind you into the ice] with their depth. These role players certainly relish the chance.
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