I try not to hold any grudges but I was ready to be disappointed with Sammy Blais.
Of course, it isn’t his fault that he was the main return of the trade that sent the underappreciated Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues, but I remain vexed by that trade. Truth be told, I am becoming more and more vexed by the decisions general manager Chris Drury is making, but these are strange and vexing times. With the rebuild behind us, we have officially entered the voice-cracking, hirsute teenage years of these new New York Rangers.
But that is another story for another time. Now, let’s talk about Sammy.
In seven games, Blais has no goals, three assists, 15 PIM, and 22 hits averaging 13:02 TOI/GP in all situations. All three of his helpers have been primary and have come at 5-on-5 — which we all know makes them delicious — and are the byproduct of some nifty plays he has made with the puck. And that, to me, has been the best surprise thus far. Blais can make plays. He’s also fourth on the team in Goals Above Replacement with 1.4 according to Evolving Hockey.
I don’t always love the decisions he makes on the puck but I do love that when push comes to shove he drives to the net and protects it. He knows when to keep it simple — most of the time. He also makes some decisions that are less than ideal. Plays that you don’t want to see a 25-year-old player making.
Sure, he’s already taken a few frustrating penalties and has been pretty quiet over the past few games but I was expecting that. I was expecting him to be a third-line winger who took the body and did Brendan Lemieux things better than Brendan Lemieux. Or something like that.
Sammy Blais is a slightly below average player without much upside on either end of the ice pic.twitter.com/sAteRDwRcP— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) July 23, 2021
I wasn’t expecting Blais to be impactful in a few games so early. But I guess that style of play comes hand-in-hand with players of his archetype. Some nights, the intangibles are conspicuous and playing hockey like you are falling down a flight of stairs works. Other nights, the Rangers shut out the Blue Jackets 4-0 and Blais has 9:04 TOI at 5-on-5 and finishes the game with two hits, six penalty minutes, and three drawn penalties. And then other nights, you forget Blais is in the lineup or are only reminded when he takes a penalty.
Before we get all bananas in pajamas here, it’s been seven games for Blais and eight games for the Rangers. It’s too early to get silly but, let’s be honest, we all love to get a little bit silly in the first few weeks of the season. It’s nice to see him doing things that play a part — however small that part may be — in the Rangers winning hockey games.
Essentially, this story could be boiled down to accepting the truth that you can hate the trade that brought Blais to the Rangers but still like what he brings to the team. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s also okay to be optimistic about what we’ve seen from Blais after expressing skepticism and/or cynicism. Remember, it’s the early stages of the season. It’s time to have fun figuring out what the Rangers have and what they are capable of.
Blais’ first half dozen games or so have been, overall, pretty good. For now, that’s good enough.
All data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com unless otherwise noted.