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Despite coming off hand surgery and having just game of NHL playoff experience, the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko proved himself the team’s best offensive weapon in this year’s first-round series against Chicago. He pumped in a club-high four goals, in six games, before the Blues were bounced by the Blackhawks.
In the end, not enough players outside of Tarasenko created scoring opportunities or converted their chances.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong admitted recently that the issue “crystalized” a deficiency in the offense, and that’s why he’s seeking to add a point-producing forward before or after this week’s NHL draft.
“We don’t have the ability to score goals when we need goals scored and I don’t know why that is,” Armstrong said. “I don’t know if it’s player-related, system-related, but we’re going to dig through that. For two years in a row, we haven’t been able to find the knockout punch when it’s been necessary.
“I think this is the first year, though, I really believe we might have that internally in a guy like Tarasenko, that might be able to grow into that player — given one opportunity he can score a goal. We have to find a way to produce more goals at the appropriate time of year. We have to find a way to do that.”
The NHL draft is not the path for immediate help this offseason.
The Blues have nine selections this year, including their first-round pick at No. 21. They retained that selection by not advancing to the Western Conference finals or re-signing Ryan Miller, under conditions of their trade with Buffalo for the netminder.
“We were hoping to lose it,” Armstrong said. “We were hoping to go deep in the playoffs.”
While the Blues can expect to get a future impact player at No. 21, Armstrong doesn’t plan on that player wearing an NHL sweater for at least three seasons.
Thus, the more likely development is the Blues including the first-round pick in a trade for an established forward, because they see that as their best opportunity to win now.
Of the players on the club’s current top line, Alexander Steen (30 years old) and T.J. Oshie (27) are signed for three more years and David Backes (30) for two.
In fact Steen, Oshie, Backes and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards with contracts beyond 2014-15, although the Blues maintain the rights for several years for players such as Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
“When I look at Backes’ contract, Steen’s contract, Oshie’s contract ... I look at that as the window,” Armstrong said. “We can re-sign those players, but then again, those players are going to be 32, 33, 34 (years old) once they come up again and we’re going to need the next wave of players coming in to allow those players to gracefully go into support roles and other players take charge. So I would say we understand our window is now.”
If the Blues hang on to their first-round pick, expect them to continue to follow the “best-player-available” approach. And why not? It has worked well for them in the past.
In 2009, with puck-moving defensemen Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo already in the fold, the Blues took another offensive-minded blueliner in David Rundblad.
A year later at the 2010 draft, after selecting Schwartz at No. 14, the club was able to deal Rundblad to Ottawa for the No. 16 pick and used it on Tarasenko.
“We were able to trade Rundblad for Tarasenko because the pick held the test of time,” Armstrong said. “That’s why you pick the best available player.”
After the No. 21 selection, the Blues’ scheduled picks are Nos. 33, 52, 82, 110, 124, 172 and 202. Four of the picks were acquired in trades that sent David Perron to Edmonton, B.J. Crombeen to Tampa Bay, Kris Russell to Calgary and Wade Redden to Boston.
“I know sitting in our meetings, our guys are excited to have that many picks,” Armstrong said. “Usually what separates a great draft from a good draft are the players 1-2-3 ... after that, almost all the drafts are relatively equal. You can find players and we need to find some players.”
Particularly more players such as Tarasenko.