Moving to first base, and from leadoff to third in the Cardinals' batting order, makes Matt Carpenter one of 10 people to watch in St. Louis sports in 2017. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

One of the most anticipated events on the St. Louis sports calendar for 2017 is the Winter Classic matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Blues on Monday at Busch Stadium.

After that game, however, there will be 363 days left in 2017 – and over that span the question for the year is whether there will be more excitement or disappointment for St. Louis sports fans?

Can the Cardinals catch the Cubs? Will the Blues be able to repeat their playoff run from last year when they reached the Western Conference final? What will happen with the University of Missouri football and basketball teams? How will the Saint Louis U. Billikens fare?

The answers to those questions, and more, could well be determined by how well, or poorly, the following 10 people perform in 2017 – making them the 10 most important people to watch in St. Louis sports in the coming year (listed in alphabetical order):

Jake Allen – A goalie always plays an important role in determining how far a hockey team goes in the playoffs, and this year likely will be no different for the Blues. Allen is now the team’s number-one goalie, replacing the departed Brian Elliott, but has only started eight postseason games in his career, going 3-5. The Blues have to at least wonder if that lack of experience will be a factor in the team’s postseason fate. Another concern, at least to this point of the regular season, has been the difference between how well Allen has played at home and how poorly he has played on the road. Allen is 11-2-2 at home with a 2.15 goals against average but just 5-7-1 on the road, where he has allowed 3.29 goals a game.

Kim Anderson – It’s only Anderson’s third season as the head basketball coach at Missouri, his alma mater, but he could be coaching for his job the rest of the year. The Tigers have just five wins heading into SEC play after going 9-23 and 10-21 in Anderson’s first two seasons. Among the Tigers’ non-conference losses this season are games against North Carolina Central and Lipscomb – both at home. Missouri has never lost 20 or more games in three consecutive years, and it would seem to be unlikely Anderson could survive another similar finish.

Matt Carpenter – There are at least two reasons to include Carpenter on this list. One, he is expected to play regularly at first base for the first time in his career after bouncing around the infield the last couple of years, and he is projected to be the number-three hitter in the Cardinals’ lineup after being entrenched in the leadoff spot for much of his career. The second reason to watch Carpenter is that at age 31, and with Matt Holliday gone, he needs to become more of a leader among the team’s position players. Other than catcher Yadier Molina, Carpenter is now the longest-tenured everyday player on the Cardinals and he needs to become a positive influence on the team’s younger players, both on the field and handling off-the-field responsibilities.

Travis Ford – The results on the court are not as important this season for Travis Ford in his first year as the coach of the Saint Louis University Billikens as the wins he is getting in recruiting. Ford already has signed several well-regarded players who will join the program next fall, when Ford needs to guide the Billikens back to becoming an NCAA-tournament caliber team.

Dexter Fowler – He signed the most lucrative free-agent contract in Cardinals’ history, and now Fowler has to go out and prove he is worth the money. He needs to get on base and set the tone for the offense as he replaces Carpenter in the leadoff spot, but beyond on-field results, Fowler is being counted on to help change the culture in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. The prevailing belief is that the Cardinals have been too rigid in recent years, and Fowler hopefully will be able to inject more life into the team with his outgoing personality – something the team has lacked among its top everyday players since the departures of Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman.

Randal Grichuk – There are at least two players on the Cardinals heading into what could be a make-or-break season for their long-term future in St. Louis, and Grichuk is one of them. He will get a chance to be the team’s everyday left fielder, and he needs to show he is ready to handle that responsibility. Grichuk hit 24 homers last year even though he spent some time back in Triple A, but inconsistency has been his biggest problem. Now 25, and with nearly 1,000 major-league plate appearances behind him, it’s time for Grichuk to prove what kind of player he is and show whether or not the Cardinals can count on him for years to come. With top prospect Harrison Bader not far away from the majors, if Grichuk struggles this year, he might not get another chance.

Barry Odom –
Odom’s first season as the head football coach at Missouri did not go well. The Tigers’ four wins were their fewest since 2001, and attendance at home games dropped by an average of 13,000 a game. The Tigers failed to go to a bowl game for the second year in a row, the first time that has happened since 2001-02, Gary Pinkel’s first two seasons in Columbia. If Odom is going to lead Missouri to better results in 2017 the defense has to cut down the average of 38 points a game it allowed in the last eight games of 2016.

Alex Reyes –
One area where the Cardinals can be better than the Cubs in 2017 is in their starting rotation, and for that to happen Reyes needs to have a big year, potentially one which could earn him Rookie of the Year honors. He showed last September he is ready for the challenge and after years of being projected as one of the top prospects in baseball, Reyes should be ready to take that next step. Now more of a pitcher than a thrower, Reyes certainly will benefit from having Yadier Molina behind the plate and the influence of Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez constantly by his side.

Vladimir Tarasenko –
Unquestionably the most exciting athlete currently playing in St. Louis, Tarasenko already has established himself as one of those rare players who is worth the price of admission to a game all by himself. Going into every game there is no telling what Tarasenko will be able to accomplish. Known for his goal-scoring ability, Tarasenko has shown this year what coach Ken Hitchcock has believed for years, that Tarasenko can become one of the best all-around players in the NHL, and he should stay at that level for years to come.

Kolten Wong –
As is the case with Grichuk, this could be a make-or-break season for Wong. He has the support of Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak but is going to have to prove to manager Mike Matheny that he is an everyday player. Wong has to become the elite defensive player the Cardinals believe he can be, and be good enough offensively to stay in the lineup. Nobody on the Cardinals had a more frustrating season than Wong in 2016, and how he bounces back, and grows from that experience, will determine whether his name will continue to be floated in trade rumors or if he will become a fixture in the Cardinals’ lineup for the next several years.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains