The St. Louis Blues denied a report earlier today that they had signed free agent forward Kyle Wellwood to a contract, but despite that denial general manager Doug Armstrong admitted the team has an interest in the player.
This is the second ex-KHL free agent the Blues have pursued this season. The team signed one-time 30-goal scorer Marek Svatos to a deal only to lose him on waivers to the Nashville Predators. Should the team sign Wellwood, they may find themselves in the same situation, as Wellwood will need to clear waivers to enter the NHL.
After the jump, a look at why the Blues are so desperate for help up front, and what Wellwood might be able to do for the team.
The Blues have had terrible injury trouble this season. Andy McDonald has been on injured reserve dating back to December, when he suffered a concussion after a collision with Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff. T.J. Oshie has been on the shelf even longer; he broke his angle back in November. David Perron has also been injured since a November hit from Joe Thornton. Call-up David Scatchard is also now on the injured list.
As a result, there have been some difficult choices to make in the line-up. In the Blues’ last game against Phoenix, Vladimir Sobotka led Blues forwards in even-strength ice-time. Sobotka split last season between the AHL and NHL, recording just 10 points in 61 major league games, though he’s been considerably better this year. Matt D’Agostini also finished in the top three; like Sobotka he spent time in the minors last season, and in 50 games split between St. Louis, Montreal and the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs managed just five points (he has 21 this season). The fourth line went almost completely unused, and it’s not hard to figure out why: T.J. Hensick may be the best player on the line (though he is minus-6 through five games), and he’s paired with 26 year-old Chris Porter (fresh off a 31-point season in the AHL) and enforcer Cam Janssen. Janssen played a whopping 2:42.
The Blues have tried other forwards too, but their choices aren’t especially compelling. Stefan Della Rovere, Adam Cracknell, Nicholas Drazenovic and Ryan Reaves have all been employed, but none of them have been especially impressive. They still have Graham Mink and David Spina in the AHL – they could be recalled, but needless to say the cupboard is pretty bare.
Whether Wellwood can help or not is another matter. Wellwood was cut by his KHL club last week after the team decided they were unsatisfied with his play, though in Wellwood’s defence his ice-time was quite limited. As it stands, Wellwood finishes his KHL stint with eight points, tied for 10th in scoring on Mytishchi Atlant with defenceman Jaroslav Obsut who did it in 11 fewer games.
Wellwood struggled to score last season with the Vancouver Canucks. He’s not an especially capable defensive forward, either – he can keep his head above water against depth players but he’s not a shutdown player. If I managed a team like Edmonton or New Jersey or the New York Islanders, I’d be calling the Blues to see if they wanted a forward. As it stands, St. Louis has lost four straight and are three points out of a playoff spot; they have games in hand but they’ll be life and death for the playoffs and they need to fix things quickly.