Thursday, December 12, 2019

Sundqvist more than just a throw-in; he's become a revelation for the Blues

Forward returns to lineup in 4-2 win against Vegas with goal, assist, providing 
more than all-around, tenacious play; now an offensive factor in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- It was as if he didn't miss a beat, and thankfully for the Blues, they dodged a big bullet with Oskar Sundqvist, and did he ever make a difference upon his return to the lineup.

Once touted as the throw-in when the Blues acquired a first-round pick in 2017 (used to select Klim Kostin), which is what they were targeting when they traded Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick to Pittsburgh at the 2017 NHL Draft, Sundqvist has turned himself into quite the NHL player.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Oskar Sundqvist (70) returned for the Blues Thursday after missing six 
games with a lower-body injury, had a goal and assist in 4-2 win over Vegas.

He was 23 when the Blues acquired him, and it was more an acquisition as being no more than a depth player.

Throw that notion out the window, and if it wasn't evident when Sundqvist was an important member in helping the Blues win their first-ever Stanley Cup last season, his return Thursday in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in which Sundqvist provided a goal and an assist to spark the Blues and help them end their mini three-game losing streak was the icing on the cake that this guy is becoming quite an impact player.

Sundqvist, who set career highs in points (31), goals (14) and assists (17) last season playing in 74 games, can still do all those little things asked of him when he first arrived. He can still do all those things the Blues needed when he was playing sporadically, forecheck, play physical, chip pucks, use his stick to disrupt the opposition, kill penalties, be that shutdown player a fourth-line skater brings.

To heck with that. Sundqvist is now a guy coach Craig Berube can use anywhere in the lineup, in any situation, even scoring when needed.

In 27 games, he has 14 points (nine goals, five assists), has a shooting percentage of 19 percent, which is astounding and means he probably needs to shoot the puck more, and in his past 10 games, Sundqvist is a point per game player with 10 points (six goals, four assists).

Right now, it seems like he's demanding the puck, he's craving the puck, and he's doing things in an effective way with the puck. 

"I don't know. It feels like I'm in the right spots a lot of times," Sundqvist said. "At the same time, it's a really good job by the other guys to get the pucks there. Today, it was more a lucky goal. It was more a reaction when 'Petro' shot it there. I'm happy it went in."

Berube inserted Sundqvist onto a line with Jacob de la Rose and Mackenzie MacEachern, and that line was effective from the word go. MacEachern scored the first goal off Sundqvist's forecheck and finished de la Rose's pass, but Berube said Sundqvist makes any line he puts on him better.

Boy, did it ever in this game. 

This is a player that was in question of whether he would even make the Blues' roster out of training camp last season, and after getting belted by Washington's Tom Wilson in the preseason, it kept the Blues from sending Sundqvist to the American Hockey League.

But he re-dedicated himself with a different training regimen, changed his diet and it's shown up in his physical stature and has translated himself into quite the player. 

"He was excellent tonight," Berube said of Sundqvist. "Really provided just everything for us in my opinion.

"He just plays an aggressive game and he attacks. That’s his game. That’s what he does. He doesn’t quit. He wills his way to everywhere on the ice. He wills his way through traffic. He wills his way to the net. He just wills goals in. That’s what he does. He’s an effort-based player. ... He’s a dependable guy, dependable player."

Sundqvist's goal was well-timed. With the Blues leading 2-1, he was at the side of the net and redirected Alex Pietrangelo's shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game 2-2 in the second and fueled one of the Blues' most impressive periods of the season. They outshot Vegas 17-8 and turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

"I don't know what he did, but he was friggin' unbelievable," Blues forward Robert Thomas, who scored the fourth goal to make it 4-2, said of Sundqvist. "That was impressive. He started off for us and he really picked up the team tonight and a big part of the win was him. He really fueled all of us when we were down early and kept going the whole night."

Sundqvist had a play in the second period when he drove the puck into the Vegas zone from the right boards, cut to the middle and skirted past a Vegas defenseman before getting a shot off. That's the sign of a player feeling it, that's the look of a guy that is beaming with confidence and one that knows he can now make impactful plays in the offensive zone.

"I can't obviously try that everywhere on the ice," Sundqvist said. "That was one of those situations where you can try something like that. Even if you lose it, it's probably going to go down in their corner and we can get on the forecheck. Right now, it feels like everything's working out so far."

People can now more than ever understand why Berube was using Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen, dubbed the fourth line, in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston's potent line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. These guys were fearless, and Sundqvist epitomized that lack of fear, and playing more with confidence, hence why Blues general manager Doug Armstrong locked Sundqvist up with a four-year, $11 million ($2.75 million average annual value), a contract right now that looks like an absolute steal.

"He's been great, even before he got hurt, he had two goals in Tampa," Thomas said. "He's been on fire. Making such smart plays and using his feet and finding a way to get it in the net, it's been really fun to watch."

When he last played against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sundqvist scored twice in a 4-3 win on Nov. 27, before departing following a check in the offensive zone by Luke Schenn.

It would have been a tough blow had Sundqvist been out long-term, but the Blues dodged the proverbial bullet on this one, and they're glad to have the man they call 'Sunny' back in the battle.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (left) celebrates with Oskar Sundqvist after Sundqvist
scored in a 4-2 win over Vegas on Thursday.

"You never want to go down obviously," Sundqvist said. "You want to play every game and try to help the team. Last couple games have been tough to watch. I wanted to get back and try to help the team as much as possible.

"I think I was really worried that it was going to be something longer. I was obviously happy when we saw the MRI here in St. Louis that it wasn't going to be that bad. You never want to go down. You certainly don't want to be out long-term. I'm happy that I as able to play tonight and help the team."

Imagine it, now Berube can put Sundqvist on any line, at any given point.

"I really like his game," Berube said. 

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