Monday, November 6, 2017

Sundqvist setting into role with Blues

Center acquired from Penguins on June 23 has been 
responsible defensively, being asked to be more aggressive offensively

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Being the new kid on the block, Oskar Sundqvist simply wanted to A) fit in and B) do so by being a well-rounded player.

By doing that, the defensive side of the puck was a must for the new Blues center iceman, acquired June 23 at the NHL Draft in Chicago from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ryan Reaves and a 2017 first-round pick.

"It's a new team, new city, everything ... a new system," Sundqvist said. "I wanted to be sure that I got the defense right first."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) had arguably his best game since being
acquired from Pittsburgh against Toronto on Saturday.

For the most part, that hasn't been an issue. Sundqvist, 23, has centered the Blues third line in 13 of 14 games this season. He's at plus-1 on the season and has been asked to defend against top lines throughout and done so well. 

What would Blues coach Mike Yeo like to see more of? 

How about some more offense?

Through 13 games, Sundqvist has two assists, but in the game on Saturday against Toronto, a 6-4 victory, it may have arguably been the third line's best with Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin.

It was a game in which Sundqvist generated two solid scoring chances, including one playing on the second power play unit and was set up in the slot by Paul Stastny, which was saved by Frederik Andersen.

"Maybe I should have scored a goal on all those chances, but I think that was my best game and I created a lot of chances," Sundqvist said. "Now it's just that last little piece, get the puck in the net that's been missing. Just continue in the same (trek) as Saturday and hopefully I can get some pucks in the net."

Sundqvist, who played 14 minutes, 36 seconds Saturday, which was second-most on the season (he played 15:31 on opening night against the Penguins), won 71 percent of his faceoffs (10 of 14), recently has had a number of talks with Yeo, and the coach has reiterated the offensive position more than once. 

"I had some good talks with Mike about the offense," Sundqvist, who has one goal and five assists in 41 NHL games, said. "He's been on me almost every day. He said, 'I think it's you need to get this little switch in your head that you can do more (offensively) and risk a little bit more in the offensive zone' and stuff like that. I feel it starts coming now. All the talk by Mike about the offense, it feels like it's coming more and more."

"There's no question that he does [have offensive upside]," Yeo said. "We've seen glimpses of his offensive game, we've seen glimpses of setting up some offensive time, moving his feet, creating scoring chances. We believe that it's our job as coaches to push to find that and to see it more often."

It was evident in Sundqvist's game that he was more engaged in the offensive zone against the Maple Leafs. There's always been the knack for being a smooth and fast skater, but the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Sundqvist has been at his best when he and linemates are on the forecheck and creating turnovers, like they were on Saturday.

"Their game, for sure, has to be solid defensively," Yeo said. "When Sundqvist is on top of his game, his faceoffs are strong, that entire line when they're on top of their game, we know that we can trust them to play against top lines and be in good position. But you can't just defend in this league. You can't just all the time try to be in good position and play well in your own zone because there's too many offensive players. Eventually you're going to get burned, so the best way to defend and the best way to be solid and the best way to be trusted is to get into the offensive zone and spending time there and we've seen them do more of that lately. I think we've seen our fourth line do more of that lately, too. Obviously you look at the last couple weeks, early in the season there was a lot of talk about our third and fourth line and the lack of production. I think we've seen a shift there and that's a big part because they're getting in on the forecheck more frequently and they're getting the the offensive zone more frequently and with that, they're able to get to the net."

Sundqvist and Paajarvi have been paired quite a bit throughout the early portion of the season, but that third linemate seems to be a revolving door. Jaskin has settled in nicely and likes being the meat and potatoes guy.

"We had a really good forecheck game," Jaskin said. "We skated well, we (won) a lot of battles, so I think that was the key to our success. ... If you have no forecheck, you have no puck and you have no momentum. There's no battles. If you have it, it's all there and you have the energy from them. That's what we feed off of and that's why we were successful.

"I think it's pretty easy to get used to [playing with Sundqvist]. He's a skill guy, he skates well. He works hard. It's fun to play with him. You don't have to do any adjustments or anything like that. ... It's a new team for him, too. Everything's new. I think he's trying to settle in. That's what's happening. He's been playing well the last few games. He's getting more comfortable every game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Oskar Sundqvist (70) tries to knock in a loose puck in front of
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen on Saturday.

All Sundqvist wanted was the opportunity to play in the NHL. In two seasons with Pittsburgh, it was clear that wasn't going to be the case with the cupboard filled to capacity with talented center icemen, namely Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start with.

It's been a pleasant fit with the Blues missing center Patrik Berglund until at least mid-December with a dislocated shoulder.

"It's great to finally be on a team where you get to play consistently," Sundqvist said. "It was a tough center position there in Pittsburgh. They have some great centermen. We have great centermen here too with all four lines. We just need to keep going and it's great to be here so far.

"... These last games were a big step forward for my line and hopefully we can continue on that track."

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