Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Switch to left wing beneficial for Berglund

Playing with Backes, Oshie, Swede feels 20-25 goals is not out of reach

ST. LOUIS -- To say putting up points was challenging for the majority of last season for Patrik Berglund is stating the obvious.

Berglund finished with 14 goals and 32 points in 78 regular season games, which is less than what the Blues needed from their big Swedish center despite a terrific regular season in which the Blues went 52-23-7.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (right) feels a change to left wing will improve not only his
offensive production but overall game.

But despite Berglund's third straight season scoring less than 20 goals, a lot of the offensive production he produced last season came due to a change in positions.

Berglund, 26, had known nothing but playing center for most of his hockey playing career. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock began playing the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Berglund on left wing towards the ladder part of last season. The move worked wonders.

"Last year I think when I played wing, I had my best games there actually," said Berglund, who will open there tonight when the Blues open the regular season against the New York Rangers. 

"Who knew that I could play there? I never even tried it before," Berglund added. "I've been a centerman all my life. I do enjoy it. It looks like I'm going to be playing there and I'm really excited to actually be playing (wing)."

Berglund, who signed a three-year, $11.1 million contract prior to the 2014 NHL Draft, will open the season on left wing with David Backes at center and T.J. Oshie on right wing.

For a center iceman, there were many nights Berglund was counted on to distribute the puck and of his 114 career assists, 56 of them came in two of his first three seasons. In the past three seasons, Berglund has a combined 45 assists, including 18 last season. That number is far below what is needed from a puck distributor.

So Hitchcock felt that by moving Berglund to the wing, it's an opportunity to utilize another big body and give the Backes line more weight and someone who can focus more on shooting the puck.

"He's very effective," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's got weight, he's got a heavy stick, he's got tenacity, he's got things that really can make him a good player. But there's going to be times when the faceoff's on the lefthand side and it's in our zone and if we don't win the draw, he's the low guy. He's going to have to carry that burden and responsibility, too."

Playing with Backes and Oshie, players who thrive by complementing one another, it takes a third wheel to make the group complete. 

"I think that's the great thing about the three of us," Backes said. "We've all played center in some capacity. Whoever's first back can play low, whoever's got the most energy can get in on the forecheck and you know the other guy's going to be responsible behind you. That's what makes a lot of lines successful. We definitely have that.

"He underestimates his size, his strength. We need to make sure he knows he's a 6-foot-3, 215-pound man that is a formidable force out there. When he plays like that, it's tough for anyone to stop."

Oshie, one of Berglund's best friends on the team, feels the chemistry is what will make the line formidable.

"I have a lot of chemistry with him, a lot of chemistry with Backs," Oshie said. "It's good when we get the puck in his hands right away because people can't take the puck from him. No matter how big they are, he's just as big or usually bigger. 

"He does a really good job of putting his body between the defenseman and the puck, which makes it hard to get away from. It's fun to play with him. I'm excited to get it going here."

With Berglund coming to camp in better condition this season, now there are three players that can handle multiple tasks in all zones, including playing some center.

"I think he's going to move in and out because I can tell you on faceoffs on the lefthand side, he's going to take those draws," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's going to have to play down there. 

"I think the way we're going to play that line, I don't think one player can absorb the down-low play. It's going to have to be shared. I've got three smart players who know how to share that responsibility. It's going to have to be shared because they're going to have a significant role on the hockey club to have success. They're going to do a lot of the heavy lifting."

And according to Berglund, a lot of heavy scoring. Berglund feels like his shot is better and his production is ready for improvement.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Playing with David Backes (42), should help Patrik Berglund
improve his scoring production for the Blues in 2014-15.

"I know I can score. Last year, I was shooting the puck. It just wasn't going in," Berglund said. "It wasn't good like that. Obviously you still need to score more goals. I see myself as a goal scorer; I am a goal scorer obviously. I want to be around 20, 25 (goals). That's where I should be. That's where I'm aiming to be.

"Every day I'm trying to work on both my shot and work on a few things that can help me get better on that spot. I like to be first on the forechecks and all that to kind of get after it. It makes me more alert more in the beginning of games. So far, so good."

Backes agreed.

"Bergie being on the left side, a big body that's shooting the puck better than I think he's ever shot it," he said. "He knows the responsibility we're going to have every single night. He's a guy that's in great shape now that can carry big minutes if needed. He's going to be a great complement to the two of us. The three of us are going to bind together, work out butts off and find success."

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