At this time of year, every NHL team vying for a playoff berth assesses its roster with scrutiny. With the trade deadline less than a month away, teams that feel their roster is missing a needed item are running out of time to add it. For the St. Louis Blues, the narrative has been all season that the team needs to add on defense, especially on the left side. Marco Scandella has been a disappointment, Niko Mikkola is still developing and the team needs an immediate response to complete their top four, or so the narrative insists.
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Meanwhile, a player on the fringes of the roster argues he might be the answer they need. Jake Walman has been a prospect for the Blues for a long time but has never quite made it into a permanent role. However, with their play over the past few weeks, there is an argument that the team should stick to the solutions they have in-house rather than turning to an expensive commercial acquisition.
Long to come for Walman
The Blues drafted Walman in 2014, a draft that proved instrumental in building the current roster (they also drafted Ivan Barbashev, Ville Husso and Sammy Blais, whom they swapped for Pavel Buchnevich, the same year) . But unlike some of his compatriots from that draft year, whose stars were rising very quickly in the organization, Walman’s progression to the NHL took much longer. Despite a solid career at Providence College, he spent years in the American Hockey League, watching defensemen like Vince Dunn, Mikkola and others pass him by.
Finally, Walman started making his mark at the end of last season, playing 24 games at the NHL level and even making a playoff appearance. But again, heading into the season, his role in the team was far from guaranteed. Star prospect Scott Perunovich was finally healthy after a devastating shoulder injury last season. Mikkola continued to seek playing time. Scandella was still in the fold, along with Torey Krug. The left side of the Blues defense was packed, but head coach Craig Berube showed his confidence by starting Walman consistently early on. That is until Walman suffered his own setback with an upper body injury in early December.
Back before the deadline
Walman has returned to the lineup several times since his injury, but it took an injury to Scandella to open up a place for a more permanent role. And now that Walman has him, he doesn’t seem keen on letting him go. He’s played six games in a row and looked strong in every game. His goal in Friday night’s showdown was critical and showed his awareness and attacking skills, even when shorthanded (the Blues penalty had just ended, so the goal didn’t register as a goal). outnumbered). More importantly, Walman’s metrics portray a player who is strong defensively and maintains control of the puck, which is something the Blues definitely need more of.
Judging by those metrics, Walman excels at suppressing shots (Corsi against by 60 (AC/60) is a measure of how many shot attempts happen with him on the ice). The Blues are in the middle of the pack in the NHL in California, and an expanded role for Walman could help them head into the top 10. The team would be looking for size on the blue line, and at 6-foot-1. , Walman does not provide this. But size is not a measure of skill. He turned 26 last week, and if the Blues ever test exactly how high his ceiling is, it’s probably now or never. Will the team give him the chance to prove himself or will general manager Doug Armstrong keep trying to reshape the Blues defense?
A cheaper and safer option
One thing is certain: Walman is doing everything in his power to prove that he is the answer the Blues need. Now the decision is in the hands of Armstrong and Blues management. There are a number of options on the rental market for defensive aid. But trade-lease delays are costly, and the Blues need to recognize the mountain they’ll have to climb to beat the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights to make a serious playoff push this season. Walman is the cheaper and safer option, and keeping him in a permanent role could give them the chance to assess how integral he is to the team going forward.
Stephen Ground is a three-plus-year veteran at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltenders and the annual World Junior Championship. He is co-host of the Two Guys One Cup podcast, a Blues-focused hockey podcast.