(HockeyStL) -- It’s interesting to observe what changes occur with teams and players from one year to the next. Some changes are positive, others may be negative. Most changes require a catalyst of some kind.
In the world of sports, that catalyst is often money. Not always, but often players will perform better in the final year of their contract in order to sign a mega-deal the following offseason. The Blues have several players that are in the final year of their contracts, but none have shown as much improvement as forwards Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart.
Both Berglund and Stewart have been instrumental to the Blues’ team this year, after spending much of last season as seemingly invisible entities. Neither has been considered a consistent scorer in their career, but both know the importance of this season, and perhaps both have turned the corner.
Berglund, 24, is a player that was always touted highly. He was drafted by the team in the first round of the 2006 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and has spent the last five seasons in the NHL. He’s a player with great upside, but he has never used his body or his skills to put up consistent numbers. His first few years in the NHL were spent with players such as David Perron, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes, all who were young and were trying themselves to get a feel for the game. Berglund joined the Blues in the 2008-09 season and put up great numbers in his rookie season. With high hopes surrounding the following season, Berglund lost his consistency and nearly cut his previous point total in half. The past two seasons, Berglund has shown signs of being a top center, but he has also had points where has faced adversity.
Berglund came into this season slotted to play on a line with Stewart and Jaden Schwartz. Berglund and Stewart were not able to find much chemistry together, but lately both have been playing some of the best hockey of their careers.
Berglund has a point in his last three games, and has four goals in February. His point total for the season is now up to 10 (eight goals, two assists). His ability to find loose pucks has been present this season, as well as his positioning, specifically in front of the opponents’ net.
On Sunday, Berglund netted a goal that deflected off of him and into the net. His presence in front of the net is agitating to goaltenders and is leading to goals for him and his teammates. His all-around play has been much better this year, but must stay consistent as the team vies for a top spot in the Western Conference.
People always assumed Berglund would find a way to turn on his game, but the player most fans were worried about was Stewart.
At this point last season, Stewart’s name was heavily involved in trade talks. After being acquired by the Blues in the 2010-11 season Stewart was unstoppable. He had 23 points in 26 games for the Blues that season, and there was talk of Stewart being a potential 60-point player for the Blues in the following season. However, Stewart came into the season out of shape, and unable to find his explosive game. Head coach Ken Hitchcock tried everything to get Stewart going, including benching the power-forward, as well as trying Stewart on many different line combinations. Nothing worked. General Manager Doug Armstrong inked Stewart to a one-year ‘prove yourself’ deal in the offseason, and so far it has panned out for the team.
Despite the lockout, which wiped out nearly half of the season, Stewart found ways to get into shape. In the offseason, Stewart worked out in Toronto, and dropped nearly 20 pounds before playing hockey overseas during the lockout. Stewart came into camp anxious to prove that he was back to his old self, anticipating that a good year would mean a home with the Blues and a long-term contract when the year concluded. Stewart, like Berglund, is a strong, powerful forward that gets his chances in front of opponents’ net minders. Stewart was unwilling to go to the dirty areas of the ice last season, and it hurt him. It was the only way Stewart could score last year, as he was too slow to keep up with the rush of the Blues’ forwards many times. His point total at the end of last season was a miniscule 30, only seven points more than what he accumulated in 26 games with the Blues the year before. But this year it is a different Stewart.
With 20 pounds less to haul around, Stewart has been explosive on his skates this year. No longer does he have to just be a screen in front of the net. Now, he can join the Blues’ rush, and find better scoring angles on the ice. It is paying off for him as well. Stewart currently has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 15 games. Seven of those points have come in February, where Stewart has continued to impress. Stewart’s game this year is definitely one of a goal scorer, an element that was missing last year.
Many questions surround these two players. Both Berglund and Stewart can be two of the Blues’ most dangerous players when they are on their game, but their ability to be frustratingly inconsistent has left fans wondering if this is just a stretch of good before the bad. The play of both players has been elevated, and with their eyes set on a new contract, look for the consistency to remain.