(HockeySTL)-- When David Perron took the ice at Scottrade Center on Thursday night, his No. 57 was familiar, but his jersey was not. The night was full of mixed emotions as it was the first time Perron had played at Scottrade Center since being traded by St. Louis.
It has been about six months since the Blues sent the homegrown Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round draft pick, but it was still a weird feeling for fans to see the forward emerge from the tunnel opposite the Blues’ bench on Thursday.
Perron was traded because the team needed to relieve themselves of some cap space, as well as put an emphasis on improving other areas of their team.
Following the trade of Perron, the Blues signed playmaking center Derek Roy and were able to re-sign some of their other players, including defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
“David’s a good player, he’s a strong player but we needed a different position,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We needed a player who could make other players better and Derek has 40 points. He’s done the job that we wanted to do.”
The Blues took into consideration their depth before they made the Perron transaction, and they felt that it was strongest at the forward position. Perron was deemed expendable.
“There were two things talked about,” explained Hitchcock. “One was moving (Vladimir) Sobotka into the center and acquiring a player who could make plays. We got that in Derek. But in order to do that, we had to move somebody. We looked at our depth and that’s where our depth is.”
With the absence of Perron, other players had to step up and fill the void left by the scoring forward, who had three seasons of 40-plus points in his career with the Blues. The team took a gamble, choosing to grow from within, and gave youngsters Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko a big opportunity.
Schwartz and Tarasenko have stepped up in a big way for the Blues, allowing general manager Doug Armstrong to look back on the Perron trade and never question the decision he made.
Ironically, the two ‘kids’ who were called upon to fill the void left by Perron combined for three goals Thursday. Both Schwartz and Tarasenko reached the 20-goal plateau, as well.
“I think we expected this to happen,” said Hitchcock. “David got traded for a positional player. We needed for Schwartz and Tarasenko to take David’s minutes as wingers. We wanted to get, obviously, a player like Derek. We wanted a center, we needed a playmaking center. The risk we took was that the two kids could take David’s minutes and they have.”
But the Blues were admittedly a bit concerned when they made the trade. They weren’t certain that Schwartz and Tarasenko could handle the heavy load so soon in their careers. Schwartz joined the Blues towards the end of the 2011-12 season, Tarasenko a year later. Both just recently surpassed the 100-game mark. It was a risky move for a club that was fighting to become a contender.
“I’ve seen it go both ways,” Hitchcock said. “One of the things that helps those kids is the atmosphere that they are working under. I don’t think either one of them lets the success go to their heads and I don’t think this is a group that is going to allow them to do that stuff. I think the group has really kept them grounded."
“The leaders have created this atmosphere. It is pretty tough to have a high opinion of yourself and work in this atmosphere. You get put in your place quickly, even coaches.”
So, with Perron moved and Roy signed, the Blues had arguably the deepest team in the NHL.
After Thursday’s game, Tarasenko and Schwartz have combined for 92 points. Schwartz has tallied 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists), and Tarasenko has 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists). Perron has 47 points this season with the Oilers as he’s taken on a leadership role with the group. But the trade has worked in the Blues’ favor.
Schwartz and Tarasenko have thrived in the improbable situation that they were handed. Their success is because of their quick learning and ability comprehend what it takes to play in the NHL.
"I don’t really know the exact reasons for the trade, but we just wanted to come in and do our job,” Schwartz said. “If we are playing more, that means we have to produce and play responsible. Just comes with playing more. You have more of a role so you have to do your job, just go out there and play hard and have fun.”
And have fun, they have. The Blues now have 97 points, and are on pace to claim the franchise’s second Presidents Trophy, and hopefully its first Stanley Cup. The team’s success and the contributions made by both players aren’t just a coincidence, and that’s not lost on their teammates.
“I think you saw glimpses of it during the lockout season,” said Blues captain David Backes. “It’s a shorter abbreviated sprint and they were able to take that next step. When it became a reality, we were able to save some salary cap and add some more pieces. Those guys’ performances are a big reason for where we are now.”
“I was still trying to score goals in college and not scoring 20 at their age. It’s impressive what they’ve done but they’ve worked for it. It hasn’t come easy for them.”
Backes knows the importance of young players like Schwartz and Tarasenko down the stretch. Young, inexperienced players can have a large impact in the playoffs, and the Blues are hoping that it happens with these two this postseason.
“If you look at past Stanley Cup teams, they’ve had young guys step up and those young guys are stepping up for us and hopefully that leads to a similar result,” said Backes.
And both players know what the team expects from them, and that expectations are indeed high. Neither could have ever imagined it would work out the way it did, that they would be asked to have an immediate impact on a Cup-contending team. However, both welcome it.
“It’s nice. I wanted a bigger role. I made sure I worked hard and when I got more ice time I wanted to make the most of it,” said Schwartz. “So far it’s been fun. I don’t know if they traded ‘Perry’ for us to move up, but so far it’s been good. But we both know we’ve got more to give.”
A Stanley Cup isn’t out of the question, in fact, it is a very real possibility.
“You don’t really think about that,” Schwartz said. “Obviously that is your goal. You just want to play a lot and prove yourself and be a big part of the team. Obviously it’s working out that way.”