ST. LOUIS — Scott Mayfield now considers Denver his home but St. Louis was his hometown until he left to play junior hockey at age 16. So, coming back to face the Blues, as the Islanders did on Saturday night at Enterprise Center, and seeing how youth hockey has developed in the region still brings out strong feelings for the defenseman.
“St. Louis has come a long way and I think it has to do with a lot of the ex-Blues players and alumni going back and starting their families,” Mayfield said. “It’s pretty special that the whole culture has developed, due to the Blues, due to the alumni. They’re doing a good job of growing the game. It isn’t a hockey hotbed that you think of right away.”
The Islanders, winners of eight of nine, brought a season-high five-game game winning streak into their game against the Blues and were looking to match their longest winning streak since concluding 2016-17 with six wins in a row.
Mayfield said he attended some Blues’ games growing up — “It was expensive to get in” —but followed baseball much more closely as his family had Cardinals season tickets.
“I’d get taken out of school every opening day,” Mayfield said.
Saturday marked the 26-year-old Mayfield’s third game back in St. Louis — he had one assist as the Islanders split those first two games the previous two seasons — but he has returned an improved player from last season.
The 6-foot-5, 223-pound Mayfield entered Saturday with three goals and 11 assists — both already NHL career bests — and he has become one of the team’s most defensively-sound defensemen, using his big frame as a physical deterrent.
Saturday also marked Mayfield’s fifth game paired with offensively-gifted rookie Devon Toews, a strong skater and stickhandler, after the pair initially developed complementary chemistry for Bridgeport.
“He’s developed really well,” said Toews, whose first NHL goal was the overtime winner in Thursday night’s 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “He plays a really structured and solid game. That’s the coaches putting good structure in and Scotty knowing what to do.”
Toews added the duo communicates well and “I think we just understand each other’s capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Mayfield does have a role in Toews’ poised entry into the NHL.
“I think being the steady defenseman that he is, it’s allowing your partner to use his assets,” Trotz said. “Toews’ assets are his ability to skate and distribute the puck and move and Scotty is the big, strong defender with a really good stick and a physical element to his game. They complement each other.”
Mayfield struggled along with the rest of the Islanders defensively last season as the team allowed 293 goals, the most in the NHL since 2007. He had two goals and 10 assists in 47 games as he was slowed by a lower-body injury, though former general manager Garth Snow signed him to a five-year, $7.25-million extension that went into effect this season.
“I thought I could be a huge part of this team and that’s what I want,” Mayfield said. “I want to make sure I’m relied on, make sure I’m smart with the puck, not somebody they’re nervous to put out there. I want the trust.”
Mayfield said his family that still lives in St. Louis, including his aunt and uncle, along with his parents, who flew in from Denver, were in attendance on Saturday.
“I still have a lot of friends here,” Mayfield said. “It’s a great place to raise a family.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Anders Lee-Brock Nelson-Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier-Mathew Barzal-Josh Bailey
MIchael Dal Colle-Leo Komarov-Josh Ho-Sang
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy-Johnny Boychuk
Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Robin Lehner (10-6-3, 2.13 goals-against average, .929 save percentage)
Alexander Steen-Ryan O’Reilly-David Perron
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Robert Thomas
Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen (14-12-4, 3.03, .901)