Thursday, February 6, 2020

Sanford starting to get it, figuring out what's making his game consistent

Forward on career-high six-game point streak, playing confident in 
top six role, could help Blues rethink priorities as trade deadline looms 

ST. LOUIS -- The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and for the Blues, the conventional talk is that with the unknown of when Vladimir Tarasenko will return this season, if at all, they should be on the hunt to add to their group of top six forwards.

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider would fit the bill of someone who could slide in and bolster the Blues' chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions heading down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs but will come at a high cost, perhaps as much as a first-round pick and a top prospect.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Zach Sanford (12) has found a niche and consistent play with linemates
David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly.

Enter Zach Sanford into the equation, someone the Blues already employ and someone they've had ample amounts of patience with, knowing his raw size, skill and abilities to make a difference.

Sanford, who was part of the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals three years ago, was somewhat of an unknown commodity then, but someone the Blues always felt that if he could sustain a level of consistency, could make a difference in the every day lineup.

And with consistency comes confidence, and Sanford seems to be feasting off both attributes at the highest level currently and could help general manager Doug Armstrong reconsider his plans moving forward if he feels Sanford has finally gotten over his inconsistencies and if he feels the price for rentals are too high for his liking.

Regardless, Sanford has pitched his name into the hat of being Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron's permanent linemate. He heads into today's Central Division matchup with the Winnipeg Jets on a career-high six-game point streak (four goals, five assists) after scoring twice in his first multi-goal game in the NHL Tuesday of a 6-3 win over Carolina.

Sanford, who matched his career high in goals with eight in his 41st game (19 fewer than last season) and has already established a career-high in assists (13) and points (21) this season, knows consistency breeds confidence, and confidence breeds stats, and stats keeps those frustrated with his up-and-down play at bay and in the lineup.

"I think the big thing for me is just confidence," Sanford said. "I feel like I found my game and what makes me successful and what I need to do. I think I've gotten pretty confident in those things and have done a pretty good job at that. It's been fun the last few games and I just need to keep going.

"I've just been doing a good job of hanging onto pucks, getting in on the forecheck and playing physical. Especially on those games the last road trip. I was hitting a lot more than I have been. It definitely has helped out. I think me, DP and O'Ry have just been clicking lately. We've been reading off each other well and all working. It's been a lot of fun.

"It's sort of a mental checklist thing for me now. I've got my game dialed in and know what I need to do. When I can check those things off throughout after the game, I'm pretty happy."

At 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Sanford's always had the body to be that strong, physical power-forward type of player but too often would catch himself on the wrong side of pucks, not using his body enough and holding onto pucks and protecting them on the offensive zone. There would be good games sprinkled in with not so good ones and he would find himself on the outside working his way back in. But Blues coach Craig Berube and the assistants have done a good job of keeping Sanford's mental focus channeled in the right direction and preached patience.

"I think a big thing for me was mental," Sanford said. "I think 'Otter' [assistant coach Steve Ott] has done a really good job this year helping me what I need to do and how to stay focused and how to stay ready. ... Me and him both have a good idea. We talk about what makes me successful."

Sanford is also a plus-8 in his past six games and has seen his ice time climb as well. With Oskar Sundqvist out with a lower-body injury right now, Sanford has seen his penalty killing minutes increase as well.

"His confidence is really high right now for sure," Berube said of Sanford. "I think also you're seeing what we want to see or what his potential is. He's a big guy that's got great hands. When he wants to be, he's a strong guy and he's playing a strong, heavy game right now and his talent's coming through."

Sanford mentioned the fact that he needs to stay on top of himself to move his feet throughout games, and when he does that, it typically fuels the rest of his game in a positive direction. And that seems to be a challenge for all players in an ultra-fast league.

"I think the game's so fast now and players are so quick," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Myself included or if you're a bigger guy, if you don't move your feet, you're going to get yourself in trouble. He's a big guy and when he's skating well, moving his feet, he's more effective and I think that's what he's doing right now.

"... He's been really good for us. I think you see his game's come a long way. He's a big guy, strong on pucks, his hands are good and he's playing with two good players. He's making the most of his opportunity. He deserves everything he's getting right now. He's playing extremely well for us and has been for a long time, so it was nice to see him get a couple [Tuesday].

"I think confidence is everything. He's a good player and he knows it, but I think once you get a few points and get some chances and get a good opportunity, your confidence rises and I think those two guys he's playing with help him as well. ... He's skating extremely well right now, hard on pucks, wining lots of battles, scoring in front of the net. It's nice to see him get rewarded with some points and some goals and chip in."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
New York Rangers forward Greg McKegg (right) battles for a loose puck
with Blues forward Zach Sanford last month at Enerprise Center. 

Sanford, who scored the final Blues goal in the decisive Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last June, said his confidence is as high as its ever been. The Blues hope it continues down this path. After all, they invested a two-year, $3 million contract in the 25-year-old this past summer.

"I'd say so. We're creating a lot and I feel like I've been doing what I need to do pretty well," Sanford said. "All I've got to do is focus and keep it going.

"When I would have a bad game, I think a lot of it would be I wasn't moving my feet like I needed to. I think it was that Calgary game, even in the first 10 minutes, I had a pretty rough first 10. I think a big part of that I just wasn't getting my feet going on the breakouts, on the forecheck, everything. I think when I'm moving my feet and I'm getting in on the forecheck, I think it helps our line a lot."

The Blues can still go out and acquire a top-six forward, but having Sanford as a security blanket sure is more appealing than continued questions. Sanford can also be versatile and move up and down the lineup playing at this level. It would continue to fortify that solid foundation of depth the Blues have built.


  1. I really feel Berube has a lot to do with this. We’ve seen players like Sanford and Sundqvist really develop from fringe starters to core players. Sanford isn’t there yet, but he appears to be on his way. How many similar players did we see Hitchcock have who never grew or even regressed? Depth breeds championships, it has already netted one. The ability to grow unknowns into strong contributors in the salary cap era is paramount.

  2. Berube certainly has an affect on players. He worked with younger guys when he was in the minors here recently and knows patience is key and he sees the good in them. If he didn't, he wouldn't put the time and energy into them. He's always seen something in Sanford and looks like it's starting to pay off. But as has been the base in Sanford's career, we'll see if he can remain consistent.