Bernie on the Blues: Zach Sanford Is Playing Great. But Will It Last?

I don’t know what to make of Zach Sanford’s jump into prominence that has him looking and playing like an emerging, increasingly confident power forward.

In his last nine games for the Blues since Jan. 11, Sanford has five goals, six assists and is plus 9. Sanford has also rocked opponents for 22 hits in his last six games.

With this dude playing like Chris Kreider, why would the Blues trade a first-round pick and a prospect Jordan Kyrou? to the NY Rangers for the real Chris Krieder?

That hypothetical trade was recently proposed by the respected Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic.

LeBrun wrote, in part:

“The Blues have other young forward prospects coming up the pipeline. I’m sure they would hate giving up the promising Kyrou, 21, but Kreider is such a nice fit with his playing style on the Blues, who are eager to defend their Stanley Cup title.”

The NHL Trade Deadline is Monday, Feb. 24.

Comments:

1. Much depends on a realistic return date for Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder surgery) who has been out since Oct. 24.

2. Kreider, who turns 29 in April, can test the market as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. In other words, he’s a rental. It’s believed that eight teams are willing to pay a considerable price to the Rangers to adopt Kreider for a short while.

3. I don’t want the Blues to part with Kyrou, who has a chance to develop into something special …

4. But the Blues have a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champion and …

5. Blues boss Doug Armstrong has expressed his admiration for his players’ hard work and intense competitiveness in defense of their title. Army seems open to the idea of rewarding his players — and give them a boost for the late-season run into the playoffs.

I doubt that Sanford’s performance is much of a factor in Armstrong’s thinking.

Having said that, Sanford’s presence on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron has given the Blues a powerhouse combination.

Let’s take a look, and all stats are based on 5-on-5 play, as presented by Natural Stat Trick.

Sanford has been on the line for 316 minutes of 5v5 play this season. As a unit Perron and O’Reilly and Sanford have outscored opponents 16-12 while controlling 54 percent of the shots on goal and 53 percent of the scoring chances.

Since Jan. 11 (nine games) O’Reilly and his two wingers have gone full metal jacket. They’ve outscored opponents 9-2, have owned 70 percent of the scoring chances, and have 73.3% of the high-danger scoring chances.

Sanford scored two goals in Tuesday’s 6-3 win over Carolina at Enterprise Center.

“I think the big thing for me is just confidence,” Sanford told reporters after the game. “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… 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.”

The Blues are happy to see Sanford tap into his significant potential.

Sanford is  6-4 and listed at 207 pounds. He was the 61st overall pick, by Washington, in the 2013 NHL Draft. When walk-year defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was traded to the Capitals at the deadline in 2017, Armstrong coveted Sanford.

But Sanford, 25, has been a frustrating young talent. (Not uncommon for young NHL players.) He has a tendency to make a positive impression by putting his talent and game together — only to regress and get pulled from the lineup. You never know what to expect;  Zach’s inconsistency can be bewildering.

However, if Sanford can stay focused and locked in … watch out. The big dude can play. He gave the Blues some bang in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring a goal with three assists and 18 hits in eight games. His goal finished off the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

There’s no reason to downgrade Sanford’s recent performance by dismissing it as a fluke. But until Sanford extends his outstanding play through a much longer stretch of games it’s fair to be skeptical. Hope is mixed with uncertainty.

And in case you’re wondering …

Sanford has been exceptional with O’Reilly and Perron — it’s obviously helpful to him — but he’s done some good things without them. In 145 minutes of Sanford playing at 5-on-5 on other lines, the Blues have outscored opponents 10-6.

On the other hand, Sanford has a 55.3 percent Corsi rating when lining up with O’Reilly and Perron this season. And when Sanford is spotted on other lines, his Corsi is well below average at 44 percent.

The best thing to do, for now, is to keep watching. Sanford is on a positive track. He’s been fun to watch. He’s growing into a much bigger role as a member of a thriving Blues’ line. But will this last? Is this a tease? I hope not. But that’s the question.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie