(HockeySTL) -- Typically, actions taken without a thought process deliver poor results. The Blues’ coaching staff has worked for long stretches of the season to rid rookie forward Dmitrij Jaskin of such pondering. They want Jaskin to just play, to let everything come naturally. Of late, that is exactly what the young skater is doing.
With four points in February, Jaskin has opened a lot of eyes to his skill. The 21-year-old rookie, who is also the youngest player on the Blues’ roster, has scored in back-to-back games and has been one of the team’s best forwards in the last week.
“I think he is just playing hard and playing simple,” said fellow forward T.J. Oshie. “I think before, he was doing a little too much letting the play come to him. Now, he’s moving the puck.”
Jaskin was recalled by the Blues on Dec. 17 after a rash of injuries. He was also promoted earlier in the season, but the team wasn’t willing to reserve a roster spot for the developing winger at that point. Since his most recent call-up, there has never been a consideration to send Jaskin back to the AHL. There may never be again.
“I think he’s just up to speed to where he is just playing hockey now,” said Hitchcock. “He’s not thinking. He’s just playing. When you start to get that feeling where things don’t take time to register, when you get past that, then it’s just read and react. That’s where he’s at now. Everything is just automatic.”
Jaskin, who is a native of Omsk, Russia, has had to modify his game significantly over the past few months to remain with the Blues. The club foresees Jaskin as a future top-six forward. For now, there isn’t such a role available to him. So, in order to stay in the lineup, Jaskin has to do more than just create offense. He has to consistently grind to piece together dominating shifts. Earlier in the season, it was a tough adjustment. But now, it looks as though Jaskin has performed the role his entire career.
“When he’s on his game, protecting the puck and forcing other guys to take it from him, that’s when he’s at his best,” said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson.
“The most important things are making a strong play in our zone and in their zone,” said Jaskin. “Don’t give the puck up; be strong on the walls; that’s probably the most important thing.”
But while he has modified other aspects of his game, the 2011 second-round pick is still producing the offense he was known for in the QMJHL. With eight goals, 12 points in 28 games, Jaskin has propelled himself to 7th amongst Blues players in goals, despite considerably less playing time. Of his eight tallies, half of them are game-winners.
“You see some of the stuff he does now is the same stuff he did as a 19-year-old junior player,” said Hitchcock. “I view him as a guy who is getting better and better every day. He has weight; he has size, 220 pounds and he’s coming at you with a lot of bulk. It’s good for us.”
The players are starting to see some resemblances to one of the most dangerous up-and-coming offensive talents in the league.
“You see that when (Vladimir) Tarasenko gets the puck, he wants to put it in the back of the net,” said Oshie. “‘Jask’ is getting that hunger. It’s great to see a young guy like that willing to go to the hard areas to score goals.”
“What you are seeing now is a player who is starting to emerge as an offensive threat with real weight and size,” Hitchcock added. “Now, all of a sudden, the game isn’t near as fast for him as when he first came up. Now, he’s starting to look like a really good offensive player.”
Jaskin’s emergence couldn’t come at a better time for the Blues, who have been searching for three lines of offense all season. Searching for a suitable winger to pair with their $7 million offseason addition, Paul Stastny, for much of the season, the Blues can now deliver some level of consistency.
“It seems like he’s getting comfortable on that line,” said Oshie. “They’re doing a great job of getting pucks deep and then cycling to wear down the other teams’ defense. They go to the net and once they do, it seems like ‘Jask’ just wants to score goals.
“That line has some great chemistry. They are fun to watch and certainly fun to follow on the ice after because they wear guys down.”
Jaskin played with Stastny earlier in the year, too, until the combination had to be broken up due to injuries to the forward corps. Anytime the two players are together, they reap the rewards.
“I think we found chemistry before (when we played a couple of games),” said Jaskin. “I’m really happy to get back on that line.”
Added Hitchcock: “Stastny’s line has great chemistry. They cycle the puck; they bring it off the wall; they do a heck of a job controlling it. They’ve got weight, size. Jaskin is playing outstanding.”
Jaskin may not have taken the quick route to the NHL, but he’s there now, nonetheless. It looks like in the not-too-distant future the league will realize it.
“To me, you can really screw young kids up,” said Hitchcock. “He’s having fun playing hockey. We’ve had him up and bounced him around because we really haven’t had a spot. Now we have a spot and we just want to keep it real simple.”