Thinking about the third line when the Blues don’t really have a first line is a bit problematic. It’s kind of like putting new tires on a car, but you’re not even sure if the engine is going to work. I really should be thinking about the engine, but man. I just can’t stop thinking about the tires.
So today I’m going to ignore the Blues first line woes and focus on the third line. Why the third line? Because it’s something that has bothered me for a while and it’s something I hope Davis Payne will address.
For years the NHL line structure was pretty simple. The first line was the top-3 forwards, the second line was the next best three and then came the third line. The third unit was made up of two-way forwards — defensive stoppers. The fourth line was a mix of grinders, goons and spare parts. Dubbed an energy line, this line was, and is, basically useless. In the post-lockout NHL, winning teams have relied on more skill guys. Six good forwards won’t get the job done anymore. The third line can’t simply be all about defense. And yet the Blues have been a slave to the old structure.
Under Andy Murray, who loathed numbering lines and instead used colors, the Blues followed the old structure. The energy line had Cam Janssen, Brad Winchester and whatever forward was being punished. It really served no purpose. The "third" line was meant to shut down the other teams' forwards. Murray played this group way too much — the Blues spent more time trying to prevent goals than trying to score them.
Steen, McClement and Oshie are the perfect combination of new and old. McClement is the best defensive forward in hockey, no matter what the Selke voters say. Dude is a beast on defense. And, he can score a little, too. He potted 12 goals in 2008-09 and 11 last season. That's not super special, but with his two-way skills, he needs to be on the third line.
I have been critical of young Oshie. For all the hype surrounding the golden-locked fan favorite, Oshie hasn't done much at the NHL level. But one thing he has done is play defense.
Right away in his career, Oshie became one of the Blues' top penalty killers. His speed and nose for the puck make him a solid defensive forward. On the right wing spot, he's a much more talented player than B.J. Crombeen.
Oshie also has the potential to score 20-30 goals. He scored 14 his rookie year and 18 his sophomore campaign. It's not unreasonable, given his talent, to see Oshie score 20-25 goals this season.
Alex Steen is the third piece of the puzzle. Last season Steen came from nowhere to score 24 goals in 68 games. He's got a great shot and was able to get seven power play goals. Steen had been a solid 15 goal player, so his output was surprising. But he's only 26, so it's not unreasonable to expect 2009-10 to have been a breakout season.
Steen also plays defense. He came to the Blues as a penalty killer and a solid two-way player.
The trio of Steen, Silent Jay, and Oshie put up a total of 53 goals and 71 assists for a total of 124 points. If Oshie continues to develop, the numbers could rise. Something like 60 goals, 85 assists is perfectly doable out of this unit.
And, again, they can all play defense. If Payne wants to try and shut down the Red Wings' top line, he can send out his new third line, and the unit will still stop them. If Payne wants to play straight up third line against third line—well, not many teams will have a third unit this talented.
Oshie, Steen and McClement can play the shutdown role or the scoring role. They can wear different hats and wear them well. Take out Steen or Oshie and the replacement is either Brad Winchester, who can't do anything, or Crombeen, who is better served on the fourth line.
The post-lockout NHL requires teams to roll out three lines that can score. With this new third line, the Blues can do just that without sacrificing defense. The Steen-McClement-Oshie line is the best of both worlds; I just hope the Blues and Davis Payne agree with me.