Blues’ underrated Schenn acquisition looking like the greatest move of the NHL off-season

Thanks to a flurry of trade action around the 2017 NHL draft, the deal that brought Brayden Schenn to the Blues didn’t get as much coverage as it deserved. Through the early season, though, it appears to be the best acquisition of the summer.

There were several trades completed during the days surrounding the 2017 NHL draft. Some deals were minor, others major and more than a few grabbed headlines. Among those taking top billing were the moves of Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ and Chicago Blackhawks’ Artemi-Panarin-for-Brandon-Saad swap, Jordan Eberle’s trade to the New York Islanders and, shortly thereafter, the long-awaited Travis Hamonic deal, which saw the Islanders ship the defenseman to the Calgary Flames for a package of first- and second-round draft picks.

With all that, it was sometimes easy to forget — or at least gloss over — the fact that the St. Louis Blues had appeared to make one of more savvy trades of the off-season, bringing Brayden Schenn to town from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and a pair of first-round picks. But if anyone was sleeping on the deal during the off-season, Schenn has made it all but impossible to ignore with his performance thus far.

Through the early part of the season, Schenn has been nothing short of remarkable offensively for the Blues, who have shot to the top of the Western Conference and are challenging the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning for first place overall in the NHL. In his first 21 games in his new home, Schenn has scored eight goals and amassed 26 points. If Schenn were to continue this scoring pace through the entire campaign, he would end up with 31 goals and 102 points, smashing his previous career-bests of 26 goals and 59 points.

We’ve seen Schenn do something similar to this before. During the tail end of the 2015-16 campaign, Schenn appeared to be on the verge of a major breakout. Even though he had previously been a consistent contributor in Philadelphia, the belief was the Flyers had a scoring star on their hands in Schenn and he was starting to play the part when he posted an outstanding 19 goals and 44 points across his final 46 games. Better yet, from Jan. 1, 2016, through to the end of the 2015-16 regular season, Schenn was the sixth-highest scoring player in the league, posting the 11th-best goal total.

It’s not just that Schenn is scoring for the Blues, though. He has been playing with speed and physicality, he’s driving play at a tremendous rate and earning a spot on the Blues’ special-team units. And as much as his performance is impressing on an individual level, its impact on Jaden Schwartz has made it all the more incredible, particularly as the two have formed one of the league’s top offensive duos.

In fact, when it comes to top pairs in the league this season, very few have been as effective playing together as Schenn and Schwartz. Yes, there’s the Lightning’s 1-2 punch of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who are first and second in NHL scoring with 35 points and 33 points, respectively, but save for the Tampa Bay duo, Schenn and Schwartz are the next-best thing going with twin 26-point campaigns through 21 games. In Schwartz’s case, his 10 goals put him on pace to flirt with a 40-goal campaign and 100-plus points by season’s end, likewise surpassing previous career-bests of 28 goals and 63 points.

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Schenn’s addition to the Blues’ lineup is more impactful still when you include Vladimir Tarasenko, who has rounded out the Schenn-Schwartz line. Few units have been as effective as the Blues’ top line.

According to Corsica, St. Louis’ trio of Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko is one of 40 lines to skate at least 100 minutes together at 5-on-5, and the results with that combination on the ice are scary for the opposition. As a line, the Blues’ top three forwards boast the second-best Corsi for percentage among qualifying lines (60.2 percent); the third-best Corsi for percentage relative to the rest of their team (10.5 percent); have combined for 12 goals, the fifth-best mark; and have a goals for percentage of 75 percent, the second-best rate among all lines to skate 100 minutes at five-a-side. In almost every metric, the Schenn-Schwartz-Tarasenko unit is a juggernaut, a force to be reckoned with that has helped drive St. Louis to early success this season.

What makes this all the more frightening for those Western Conference rivals who’ve been bludgeoned by the Blues’ top line is that there’s no reason to believe the trio is going to slow down all that much. Schenn is shooting at a rate commensurate with his career average and exactly on par with what he managed across a full campaign last season. Schwartz’s shooting percentage is up a healthy amount and will surely dip, but he’s still a sure threat for 30 goals this season. Meanwhile, Tarasenko is, well, Tarasenko. He’s become one of the most consistent goal-scoring threats in the league, and, centered by Schenn, he, too, looks primed to reach or challenge for new career-best totals.

If the line continues to click as it has, there’s no reason to believe this can’t be a go-to for coach Mike Yeo well into the future, either. Schenn still has two more seasons remaining on his deal, Schwartz three additional campaigns and Tarasenko is locked up until the end of the 2022-23 season. 

So, while Schenn landing in St. Louis may not have been the standout trade from draft weekend or the off-season swap that got the most ink in the weeks leading up to the season, it’s undoubtedly the one having the greatest impact through the early part of the campaign and one that appears as though it will change the face of the Blues’ attack for years to come.

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