(HockeySTL)-- The path to the NHL has been a frustrating, inconsistent one for Dmitrij Jaskin and is still not nearing an imminent conclusion.
At the end of last season, the 21-year-old was expected to be on the Blues’ opening night roster. The expectation was more of a promise as the forward was considered ready to play a prominent role this season. And the Blues were sincere with their expectations.
“Jaskin is going to have a job to lose,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong at the end of last season. “It’s not for him to gain. I don’t know if I told the coach that, but you can tell him. He has a job on this roster and it’s his job to take that and expand it.”
Heading into the offseason, that’s what Jaskin believed. He played in 18 games with the Blues last season and was sitting near the top of the club’s depth chart after a successful 29-point AHL campaign.
But things changed in the offseason when the Blues brought in depth. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said Jaskin did everything he could to earn a spot out of training camp, but logistics led to his AHL assignment.
As breaks go, it was a bad one for Jaskin.
“Look, out of training camp, he deserved to be on the team,” Hitchcock said. “But he went down to the American League with a great attitude. If you put everything into perspective, he deserved to be on the 20-man roster.”
Jaskin was upset with the demotion, but took it in stride, knowing he would eventually get an opportunity.
“You have to use it as motivation,” Jaskin said. “You can’t get frustrated or disappointed or something like that, you just have to use it later on as motivation. “
The former second round pick didn’t have to wait long before being recalled as injuries and illness decimated the parent club. He has been rejoined with the Blues since Oct. 24, the same day the team placed Paul Stastny on IR. Stastny has been out for the last seven games and Jaskin has suited up for five of them. The Russian forward has one point, a goal, since his promotion, but consistency has been lacking.
“'Jask’ had a very good (first) game against Chicago,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He didn’t play that great against Anaheim. You have to make the most of your opportunities.”
With Stastny nearing a return, perhaps as soon as Thursday, it is likely that Jaskin’s NHL stint is nearing its conclusion and due to the inconsistency, it is hard to evaluate whether or not a favorable impression was made.
“Consistency for young people builds trust from the coaching staff,” Hitchcock said. “There is an outward trust on ‘Jask’ but he’s got to play the way he did against Chicago in order for him to stay in the lineup and be effective so he can gain some of those minutes he needs for maturity.”
In the Blues’ two previous games, Jaskin didn’t get those minutes. The forward was a healthy scratch against New York on Monday and played just over 14 minutes against New Jersey on Tuesday, albeit it was the most time he’s had on the ice this season.
Jaskin hasn’t been lacking effort or desire. He has been all over the lineup, yearning for more opportunity and consistency. His second career goal came when he was partnered with Patrik Berglund and Joakim Lindstrom. For a few games, it seemed as though it was clicking. But Hitchcock didn’t want to build a line around the comfort level of a young player.
“You have to play well to make a line go,” Hitchcock said. “You can’t just go on a line and say: ‘OK, keep this together and we will start figuring it out.’ That’s not the way it works, especially with a young guy.”
The youngster has yet to find his niche at the NHL level and it’s hard for Hitchcock to give a young player like Jaskin more ice time when there are inconsistencies in his game. Jaskin says he hasn’t had a difficult time adjusting to the Blues’ system, but his NHL production is miniscule, with just three points in 23 NHL games.
“You want to improve everything every day,” Jaskin said. “Just working on the basic stuff like skating, shooting, the game play. Especially here you don’t really have time to practice too much because the games (are played) all the time. Still, you just try to get comfortable and play the game and stay in the game.”
Jaskin was adamant that he wasn’t uncomfortable with the increased role and tougher league, pointing out that the Blues’ system is similar to that of the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ AHL affiliate team with which Jaskin has spent 46 games with over the past two seasons. Yet, he has realized how much tougher it is to play within that system at the NHL level.
“The guys are way smarter here,” Jaskin said. “They don’t really rush the passing or stuff like that. They know where to pass and almost every time pass is tape-to-tape. That’s probably the biggest difference. I don’t think it is a big difference. They are just a little bit faster and stronger.”
Those differences can make or break a player’s career. Jaskin is still a budding player, clinging to every opportunity he gets. When this one concludes, there will be more. The Blues have been patient with Jaskin and both parties hope the frustration aspect of the journey is soon to become a thing of the past.
“One thing I want to guard against as an organization is not putting players in a position to succeed,” said Armstrong. “That’s not good for the development. That’s not good for the franchise. Patience is something you have to show but we have to give them the opportunity.”