Friday, September 30, 2016

Blue line baby boomers help Blues top Stars 4-1

Young defensemen Parayko, Lindbohm, Schmaltz 
all score, give organization glimpse of what lies ahead

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have always maintained that their organizational depth on the blue line is something that will have them set for now and in the future.

A number of them were on full display Friday in the fourth preseason game against the Dallas Stars, and all of them contributed in a 4-1 victory at Scottrade Center.

Colton Parayko, Jordan Schmaltz and Petteri Lindbohm all scored power play goals as the Blues' power play (3-for-5) and penalty kill (6-for-7) were on full display.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Colton Parayko (right) celebrates with teammates Chris
Butler and Patrik Berglund after scoring Friday in a 4-1 win against Dallas.

And the baby boomers offered a glimpse to management and the coaching staff that they'll be in good hands now and in the future.

"Seriously, it's pretty fun to watch actually," said Parayko, playing his first game after representing Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. "Obviously it's a great group of guys. It's fun coming back to camp because it makes everyone push for a job. It makes even veterans and obviously myself being here for one year come in and work hard. It's an honor to play here and you've got to come prepared every night for sure."

Parayko and Joel Edmundson burst onto the scene as rookies last season, and in their place this year could be Schmaltz, the Blues' first-round pick in 2012.

"I think every day, you just try to get better," Schmaltz said. "I think as more preseason games go on, the more you play, the more comfortable you get and you start to feel like yourself out there. 

"... I kind of control my own destiny. You can't have a bad day in this league, especially a guy in my position. So I just try to take it day by day. Every day I feel better, I'm making more of my plays, just trying to go from there."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock certainly notices.

"We're deep, we're really deep," Hitchcock said. "Some teams ... this is the time you talk like you're deep, but we're deep. The players that are playing are contributing during the games; they're not hanging on. We're really deep. We've got a lot of good players playing back there right now. Our top two minute-munchers (Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester) aren't even here. We're pretty deep, boy."

"I think what we have is we have young, skill defensemen. Schmaltz runs a power play, Lindbohm plays on a power play, (Vince) Dunn runs a power play, (Jake) Walman runs a power play. We're deep on skilled defensemen. We've got a lot of guys that ... Parayko, (Kevin) Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, that's where we're deep. Everybody's got defensemen that you can bang it off the glass, rim it down, clear the front of the net, everybody's got those players. We have a lot of players who can make a play and can transition a puck and can carry the puck and skate the puck, have vision, make plays. We've got a lot of those guys. We're deep that way.

"A guy that's really underrated that way is a guy like Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo can get you out of the ditch a lot. He did it when he plays. He's a good player. We have an abundance of people that can move with the puck and move the puck, which gives you the depth. I think it allowed us to be competitive last year when all the forwards got hurt and everybody went down and it's looking like it's going to be our depth again this year."

Jason Spezza scored for Dallas, which led 1-0 before Parayko's bomb from the top of the right circle tied the game 1-1 when he buried the shot through Kari Lehtonen with 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the first.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) checks a Stars player during
Friday's 4-1 Blues preseason victory.

Schmaltz and Dmitrij Jaskin scored goals 55 seconds apart in the second to give the Blues a 3-1 lead.

Schmaltz stepped into a Jori Lehtera pass in the right circle at 9:24 and Jaskin followed up Ty Rattie's alert individual play at 10:19, and Lindbohm concluded the scoring with a power play goal from the high slot 12:22 into the third. 

Jake Allen played two periods and stopped 15 of 16 shots before Pheonix Copley finished it off with an eight-save third period.

The Blues (3-1-0) will play at Chicago Saturday at 7:30 p.m., a game that will be shown on NHL Network.

Doug Armstrong: Sobotka wants to come back to Blues this season

GM was led to believe he would return, leaves door open; not for long though

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Hold on to your chinstraps. The Vladimir Sobotka drama series hasn't been completely closed for this year.

At least for the time being, but it's not wipe open either. But this is one soap opera that continues to have the most interesting twists and turns.
Doug Armstrong

It's known that Vladimir Sobotka reported to the KHL and Avangard Omsk earlier this week after there was a failed agreement to exercise the out-clause in his initial three-year contract signed in 2014. But according to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who addressed the media Friday evening before the Blues' preseason game against the Dallas Stars fresh from returning from Toronto where Team Canada won the World Cup of Hockey, Sobotka wants to come back to the NHL and the Blues.

So much so, that Sobotka, who has one year remaining on his KHL contract, left his family, including an infant child, back in the Czech Republic in hopes of at least attempting to return to the NHL this season.

"Strange enough, he's gone back to the KHL, but he's left his family in Prague and he's still working on trying to get out of his deal there," Armstrong said. "It was complicated, more complicated as I found out when we got into Toronto and met with him directly. 

"The cold notes version is he signed a deal there, the (Russian) Ruble crashed, they renegotiated and from my understanding is they told him no problem, sign this and took the out-clause out. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. It's been a difficult one. I know he's not happy with how it's gone on. I don't want to say he's not happy playing there, but I know he wants to play in the NHL. He had a tough ending to the season last year with an injury that got him to look at things a little bit differently. He still wants to come back to the NHL, he's still trying to get out of that contract there. It's been very tough on him. It's certainly been tough on our fans. It's something I've tried not to talk about. I don't want to not answer the questions when they're asked. It's sort of growing a life of its own now. I don't need to put a timeline on it because we're not playing for a couple weeks if he needs more time to see if he can get out of it, but at some point, they're probably at 25 percent into their schedule now. And it's just an economic situation."

What it boils down to is this: it's been reported that if Sobotka gets out of the final year of his deal, Omsk reportedly wants him to pay 2/3 of what he has remaining of his $4 million deal, which pretty much amounts to what he would play for in the one-year, $2.725 arbitration-awarded contract here, so in essence, play for free.

"There's a dollar value that they want and there's a dollar value he doesn't want to pay and at some point if they can find a middle ground ... what we're trying to do is tell him it's an investment in his future," Armstrong said. "For any free agent, not just him, it's a great time to be entering a free agent year. There's 30 years, next year, there's 31. Everyone's losing one player off their roster that they would not want to lose because of the expansion draft and he'll be 30 years old. It's a great time for him to come back, but as I said to him, 'It's easy for me to spend your money. Like, you just pay it,' but it's not my money. 

"I understand it's a difficult decision, and I feel for the player because he ... probably in hindsight, we should have been able to find a deal and kept him here. I think he feels that way, too. But that's water under the bridge now. I'm not worried about that. I'd love to have him back here. He's a good kid, he's a good man and he's a good player, but our team was very competitive the two years he wasn't here. This team went farther than they'd gone in 15 years last year without him here. I'd love to have him back; he's a good player, but like it was with an injured player, you just have to move forward. If he comes back, that's great. If he doesn't, we're ready to move forward."

Armstrong was under the impression that Sobotka was coming back, and that whether he would or not, had no bearing on whether the Blues could resign any one of their own free agents that left.

"Talking to the agent, it was 100 percent he was coming back," Armstrong said. "So I just proceeded that it was 100 percent he was coming back. They were working on the details. Dealing with the KHL, it must be difficult. I don't have to deal with them very often and it's something that went from 100 percent to 90 to 80 to 50/50. So now we're going to have to find out. It's more he has to find out for himself now. He and his girlfriend just had a baby. He wants to probably do what's right for his family. But he left for money. That was the reason he left was to make more money. So probably if you're leaving for money, how much money do you really want to give back if that was the mindset. 

"I feel for him because I know it's tearing at him. We're both a little tired of talking about it. I don't want to say embarrassed, but it's not something that he wants to deal with and we want to deal with. If he can get out of it, great. If he can't, at least it will be behind us and we can worry about it next year."

Armstrong won't wait long. There will be a cut-off point which they will not want to waste the year they have Sobotka under control. Maybe if the Blues could negotiate an extension with Sobotka, the decision would be easier to try and get out of the contract. But with one year remaining until free agency, the Blues can't negotiate with Sobotka on an extension until Jan. 1.

"No. There will be a point where we'll just say we'll have that year and we'll toll another year," Armstrong said. "Part of the issue is because it's a one-year contract, we can't negotiate with him until Jan. 1st. If we could do a deal now, it would make his decision a lot easier, but we can't do a deal now. There's risk of injury, there's all sorts of things that have to run through his head ... he's got to come up with the idea that the payment is worth an investment. I can't make that decision for him. He has to make it. I told him regardless of how this turns out, 'it doesn't change who you are and what we think of you. We'll take you back when the time is right.' We think the time is right now for our team. 'We have a coach that highly believes in you and you're a better player because he went to the KHL.' He went from a bottom six forward to a top six forward there. I think his offense is going to be greater when he gets back. I think there's a whole host of reasons to come. But again, it's not my money either."

And the Blues will not, nor can they, pay the money for Sobotka, 29, to get out of the contract.

"There's nothing we can do about that," Armstrong said. "That's circumvention and hefty fines Even it it wasn't, we didn't really create this situation. He left. If he wants to get out of it, he can pay the freight."

Depends on what happens, the Blues for the time being have that extra $2.725 million on their cap if they choose to use it. But they would like Sobotka back at some point, whether it's now or later.

"On July 1st, we sent him a letter and the league stating that we had the right to toll his contract if we so chose," Armstrong said. "Everybody was aware of it. There wasn't a player out there that made us want to not assume the risk of him coming back. We really thought he was coming back here. When it got into August and early September, you're feeling things were changing. But right now, trade talks are happening. If something happened tonight, then we would just say, 'Stay in Russia for a year.' I don't see that going to happen because it hasn't happened yet, but the players that left here via free agency, it wasn't over economics, it was over term. Having $2.7 million it wasn't like we were that far apart on dollars, it was more on term anyways. And then you look at the free agent market this summer, if you look at the players that signed, I'm not sure there was a player that as going to fill that role that excited us."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Sobotka, according to Blues GM Doug
Armstrong, would like to return to St. Louis this
season.

So what does Armstrong want to do with that extra money?

"Oh, I want to spend it," he said laughing. "I met with Mr. (Tom) Stillman and he asked that question, too. What we present to the ownership, we present a budget and we'll fill in the names later. They've given us the ability to the upper limit of the salary cap. We're not going to do it just for the sake of doing it, and if there's a right player, whether it's Sobotka or a replacement from another team, we'll certainly look at doing it, but this ownership group has from Day 1 never said the budget is the reason we're not going to be competitive."

With Jaden Schwartz lost for the month of October, Armstrong was asked if there was a need to make something happen now.

"The next 10 days are going to tell us quite a bit, too," Armstrong said. "We brought in (Landon) Ferraro and (Ty) Rattie and I thought we were really heavy going into our camp this year. Now that's opened some things up. The Sobotka opened some situations up. Obviously Schwartz has opened things up. Now the pro tryouts went from to get us through to when the World Cup ended to who wants to earn a job. We saw what Uppy did last year. He earned a job and he kept swatting guys away saying, 'No, no, I want to keep it.' The jobs are there and even for guys inside our own group now, a guy like Rattie, a guy like (Dmitrij) Jaskin. Jaskin's certainly on the team now; the contract dictates that, our thoughts of him. Ferraro and Rattie are two guys that are really pushing for a spot now that there's more spots open. I love competition. I think it beings out the best in the players."

Stay tuned.

Schwartz injury opens door for others

Agostino, Blais, Galiardi, others will get shot to fill time vacated by Blues 
left wing; six placed on waivers; Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester to get time off

By Louie Korac
NHL.com Correspondent
ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz will miss at least four weeks after the St. Louis Blues left wing injured his left elbow at practice on Thursday.

Coach Ken Hitchcock said Schwartz was injured during a drill and got tangled up with teammate Alexander Steen and initial x-rays indicated nothing serious, but a subsequent MRI indicated something.

"It's not bad news. It could have been a lot worse," Hitchcock said. "It's four weeks and we've got two weeks of training camp left, so it's not that many games. You get an injury like that, it could be nothing and it could be surgery. You don't know until you get into that type of injury. 

"We'll deal with it. It's a little bit of time in October and we've still got two full weeks of training camp before we're playing our first game, so we've already bought a lot of time into it. It's not nothing we can't make an adjustment for. That's the one position where we've got a lot of depth. We've got a lot of guys vying for wing positions." 

It's the second time in as many seasons Schwartz, who signed a five-year, $26.75 million contract last summer, will miss games due to injury to begin a season; he missed the first 49 games last season with a fractured left ankle.

Schwartz left the rink Thursday feeling like the injury wasn't going to keep him out long, and Hitchcock initially indicated that Schwartz would only likely miss weekend preseason games against the Dallas Stars on Friday and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.

"I talked to him [Thursday] morning and he was so excited to get this going and play some hockey for real and that happens," teammate Patrik Berglund said of Schwartz. "I feel bad for him, but the only thing he can do now is focus on taking care of that injury and coming back as soon as possible.

"It's terrible, it's awful. He's going to be missing the beginning of the season again. Obviously with what he went through last year, it's obviously a tough break for him. Hopefully he can get rehab in and come back as soon as he can."

Schwartz's short-term injury opens the door for players like Kenny Agostino, who has a two-way contract, and T.J. Galiardi, who is in camp on a professional tryout.

"Agostino, Galiardi, Magnus (Paajarvi), (Samuel) Blais, a lot of guys," Hitchcock said. "It opens up the door for, on a short-term basis, for quite a few guys. It happens to be the position that guys have had great camps. They've surprised us. Now as teams start to pare down, we'll get a better read on the temperature. The temperature of the practice [Thursday] was way up. It was really revealing for us who could keep up and who couldn't and we're going to see some games get that way too next week." 

Agostino, selected in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 NHL Draft, has six points (two goals, four assists) in two preseason games and will be in the lineup when the Blues host the Stars Friday; he had 23 goals and 34 assists in 65 games for Stockton of the American Hockey League last season.

"I'm just concerned about having a good day every day, putting together some good days here," Agostino said. "It's unfortunate, but I'm just focused on the morning skate and having a good game tonight. I'm kind of just taking it day-by-day. That's all you can do at this point.

"So far I'm happy with the start, but it's just a start. I have a long way to go here. I'm just trying to get better every day here really. ... It didn't seem to work out with Calgary in terms of an opportunity. But whenever you come to an organization, you have a fresh start, a chance to create your own identity and that's what I'm trying to do here."

* Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester will get time off -- Fresh off winning the World Cup of Hockey with Team Canada, Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester will arrive in St. Louis sometime this weekend, but expect neither on the ice in the near future.

"Shut them down," Hitchcock said. "More than a couple days. Shut them down and we'll talk it through them. We're not forcing them on the ice. If conditioning is the problem for them, then we're in real tough shape because that tournament was played at a higher speed than any game that's going to get played at right now.

"... You're cheering because you're Canadian, you're cheering because Doug (Armstrong's) there, and you're really cheering because those two guys are there," Hitchcock said. "This allows those guys to start coming back sometime today and get even more days rest and stuff like that. They've played a lot of hockey. ... Rest is the weapon and we're going to use it every chance we get."

* Blues place seven on waivers -- The Blues placed forwards Jordan Caron, Danny Kristo, Andrew Agozzino and Alex Friesen and defensemen Chris Butler, Brad Hunt and Morgan Ellis on waivers for the purpose of assigning them to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. 

The Wolves' camp opens Monday.

* Tonight's lineup -- The Blues, who are 2-1-0 in the preseason, will play the following lineup against the Stars (7 p.m.).

Jori Lehtera-Paul Stastny-Scottie Upshall

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie

Kenny Agostino-Dmitrij Jaskin-Magnus Paajarvi

Samuel Blais-Ivan Barbashev-T.J. Galiardi

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Petteri Lindbohm-Robert Bortuzzo

Chris Butler-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen and Pheonix Copley

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rattie gets best crack to stick in NHL

2011 second-round pick to be given every chance at making 
opening-night roster; one-way contract doesn't change mindset

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- From the moment the Blues drafted him in the second round in 2011, Ty Rattie has been labeled as one of up-and-coming prospects in the organization.

Rattie had the numbers; he had back-to-back seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 2011 and 2012 with 57 and 48 goals, respectively, to go with 64 and 62 assists.

Rattie's numbers with the Chicago Wolves have been solid as well; he put up 31 goals his rookie season in 2014 with the Wolves, leading the team. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
2011 second round pick Ty Rattie has best chance of making
opening night roster with the Blues this season.

But Rattie, 23, hasn't been able to crack the Blues' lineup full time as of yet. He's either been beaten out, or the Blues have been stocked with veterans with no roster space available. It's been a patient process for Rattie, who's been recalled multiple times the past three seasons.

"It's not easy sometimes," Rattie said at camp on Thursday. "At the same time, the St. Louis Blues have been a Stanley Cup contender ever since I got drafted here. It's a part of the process and you keep working and hopefully this year comes full circle for me."

It's come full circle, and Rattie, who signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $650,000, his first one-way contract of his career, will have the best chance of his young career to make his presence felt with the Blues this season.

Will it change the approach for Rattie, who has four goals and four assists in 26 NHL games?

"Not really," he said. "I think a one-way's nice to have, but that doesn't guarantee you anything. I haven't been told anything, so my mindset's the same as always. Come in here, push for a spot and push to help out the team every single night. Mindset's the same and you can't let the contract change that.

"Obviously it's a bit of a different feeling. A couple veterans have moved on and you see there's a couple openings this year that maybe in the at there hasn't been. It's exciting. I feel good. This is the best I've felt as an NHL player. I just need to prove to everyone, prove to the coaching staff that I can be here full time."

Coach Ken Hitchcock is giving the 6-foot, 190-pound Rattie every opportunity this go-round.

"This is the best opportunity he's ever going to have," Hitchcock said of Rattie. "He's got to take advantage of it. He's had two good exhibition games so far, it's put him in a position to keep playing and we're really hopeful he takes advantage of it. To me, it's not what he does with the puck, it's going to be his play away from the puck that determines if he makes the team or not. He's in a great situation. He's got a great opportunity, there's a spot there. He's got NHL skill, he's got NHL top skill. Can he sustain the work ethic and the determination and the focus away from the puck to keep this thing going because if he does, he's got a real good chance of making the hockey club.

"The progression's been gradual. Before he was a depth player. Now we're looking at, 'Are you going to help us win hockey games?' If he keeps playing the way he's playing, he's going to be in the mix here. Can you sustain it now because training camp's a long period of time? He's got to have a real good focus and if he keeps that focus up, if he keeps that energy up, he's going to really push for a spot because he's able to play the game at a high level and because he's got skill, he's got great finish. The puck follows him around the ice. He gets points for you. It's going to really add to our team. It's him, it's (Kenny) Agostino, it's (Samuel) Blais, it's (Magnus) Paajarvi. These are guys that, man, they can make our team be a little bit different here, quite a bit different and really be one of those teams where we're dangerous right throughout our lineup if they can make the grade."

The Blues have placed their faith in younger players to have an impact on the 2016-17 team, and Rattie is one being asked to step to the plate and offer up his share of the contributions.

"Obviously it's a different feel without players like Backes, Elliott and Brouwer here, but it's still a very good team, a team with expectations of winning a Stanley Cup every year," Rattie said. "I want to be a part of that. Us young guys, it's cool to be here together. We've come up and were drafted together. It's nice to be relied on a little bit. We've just got to show that they're putting the pressure on the right people.

"Every game I played before, I got more and more confident. I think confidence is the biggest part of this game, telling yourself you can be here, telling yourself you can play with these guys. Every time I came up, I got more and more confident. I'm confident around the boys and stuff. It's nice. I feel comfortable now. It's proving that I can be here and contribute every night."

(9-30-16) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Schwartz injured in scrimmage; Tarasenko 
returns; Friday's lineup; five more cuts bring roster to 48

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Left wing Jaden Schwartz left practice early Thursday after a collision during a scrimmage at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz was seen shaking his wrist as he departed.

But Hitchcock didn't seem overly concerned that Schwartz, who signed a new five-year contract over the summer, would miss any significant time.

"He's fine," Hitchcock said. "He'll need a couple days off, but he's a lot like (Robby) Fabbri. He's not going to skate this weekend in any of the games, but we'll be ready to go next week with him.

"Day to day, so we'll be fine. ... It's training camp. It happens. It's just part of what goes on. You hope it's not serious and it's not serious. That's a good sign."

A good sign that it's not serious came in the lightheartedness of teammate Vladimir Tarasenko. Teammates don't normally joke about injuries, but a good indication came from Tarasenko.

"What happened? I think he just don't like practice," Tarasenko joked. "Me and Jori was like, 'Hey, we have a smart linemate.' I don't know what's really happened, so I can't talk now."

As for Fabbri, who's nursing an upper-body injury of his own, he missed practice again but is not expected to miss more than the weekend.

"He skated today, but we'll keep him out through the weekend here and continue to work with him," Hitchcock said. "Same with (Vince) Dunn, same with (Tommy) Vannelli. They all skated this morning. They're all getting close to being ready to play. I think we'll hold them out until they're 100 percent before we put them in to evaluate."

* Tarasenko back from World Cup -- Tarasenko was on the ice with the Blues for the first time since representing Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey.

Russia advanced to the semifinals and lost to Canada 5-3.

"It's hard to talk about it right now," Tarasenko said. "We played two good periods and something was wrong in the third period, but they have a really good team. So, we lose to a good team. Of course we are all disappointed. It's hard to talk about it right now."

Tarasenko, who led the Blues last season in goals (40) and points (74), both career highs, said he enjoyed his time in Toronto.

"Probably the atmosphere in the Russian locker room. It's really cool when you can meet your old friends and you know everybody there," Tarasenko said. "There's Russian language everywhere, Russian music. I think we have great team spirit and great atmosphere."

But now Tarasenko is focused on improving the Blues' stance after advancing to the Western Conference Final last season after a good offseason.

"It was good. Short. I have a lot of stuff in my hometown and World Cup, it was a good experience for me," Tarasenko said. "I'm happy to be here."

"I practiced with the national team for a while and then practiced with my hometown team and just by myself. So it was a long practice period, so now finally games start."

* More cuts -- The Blues reduced their roster by four from 52 to 48 when they assigned forwards Jacob Doty, Mackenzie MacEachern and Justin Selman along with goalie Ville Husso to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and released center Yan Stastny from his professional tryout.

The Blues practiced with 37 players Thursday and also held out forwards Andrew Agozzino, Danny Kristo, Jordan Caron and Alex Friesen along with goalie Luke Opilka, who's recovering from off-season hip surgery.

*Friday's lineup -- The Blues have released their lineup for Friday's home preseason game against the Dallas Stars, the Blues' fourth preseason game (2-1-0).

Here's the lineup:

Jori Lehtera-Paul Stastny-Scottie Upshall

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie

Kenny Agostino-Dmitrij Jaskin-Magnus Paajarvi

Samuel Blais-Ivan Barbashev-T.J. Galiardi

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Petteri Lindbohm-Robert Bortuzzo

Chris Butler-Jordan Schmaltz

Jake Allen and Pheonix Copley

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

(9-29-16) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Berglund back with the Blues, to work in familiar 
position; Sobotka to remain in KHL; cuts trim Blues roster

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund stepped onto the Scottrade Center upbeat and with jump in his step.

Fresh off a stint of representing Team Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey, Berglund, who was in St. Louis working out and skating before getting a last-minute recall from Team Sweden, was ready to put two feet forward to help the Blues prepare for the season.

And what coach Ken Hitchcock saw at practice Wednesday was encouraging.

"'Bergy' looks fit, he looks energized, he looks really good right now," Hitchcock said. "He looked good skating with the guys before he went to the World Cup. He's come back energized from World Cup. He looks really good right now."

Berglund, who had 10 goals and five assists in 42 games past season after coming off of off-season shoulder surgery, said while the experience was good for him to go to Toronto, it was not the easiest either.

Being a late recall due to an injury to Rikard Rakell, Berglund had a lot of catching up to do.

"It's a fun experience, but it was also kind of a little bit of bad timing," Berglund said. "Only a couple days before the real tournament starts and I hadn't really done anything. ... It was just overall a really hard adjustment to fly there at that time.

"I understood the situation and tried to deal with it as good as I could, but it was hard to get there and try to perform when it was this early into the season. ... I did what I could. It was really a great team, great dudes, good players, a cool tournament. It's awesome that they have this now, but just for me, it's hard to get into it that quick."

Hitchcock understands the dilemma Berglund dealt with.

"It's like trying to catch a moving car," Hitchcock said. "I think it was hard for him. He played awfully well, but you don't know if you're feeling part of it. You go there to be a depth player, you're not playing and then all of the sudden, you're walking in and the game's going 100 miles an hour. I thought once he got in, he earned the right to stay in." 

With the news of Vladimir Sobotka staying with Avangard Omsk for the final season of his three-year contract, Berglund is bracing to get back to the position that he's played by trade to help alleviate the potential void.

"I've been playing center my whole life basically," Berglund said. "I'd like to be there. ... I feel like it's a better position for me because I can kind of move around and keep my speed and read the plays. I like to be on the dot, taking faceoffs and so on. ... I'm comfortable at that position."

Hitchcock said it'll be an open evaluation.

"I can tell you right now, both (Berglund) and (Dmitrij) Jaskin are going to play a ton," Hitchcock said. "They've got to get ready to play a lot of hockey here in the next little while. They're both going to play a ton. We want to see which guy looks better at center and which guy looks better on the wing, but we're going to play them both at center ice and see how they look."

* Sobotka to remain in KHL -- The long and arduous conclusion to the Vladimir Sobotka saga has come to an end, and after much speculation that Sobotka would return to the Blues after a two-year hiatus, he will remain in Omsk after all.

After posting video of him arriving at their facility and photos of Sobotka arriving at the airport and in his Russian gear, in the end, Sobotka was not able to get out of the final year of the three-year, $11-12 million contract he initially signed in 2014.

It's been reported that a clause in Sobotka's Russian contract said that he would have to pay 2/3 of the remaining salary (roughly $2.6-$2.7 million) of what is owed to him for the final year. So in essence, Sobotka would have played for the Blues for free this season (he has a one-year, salary-arbitration awarded $2.725 million). 

After making it known multiple times that Sobotka was expected to arrive in St. Louis and his desire was to return to the Blues through agent Petr Svoboda, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is now left with an extra $2.7 million the club had been saving for cap purposes in case the 29-year-old Sobotka arrived.

But the Blues were prepared for this scenario, according to Hitchcock.

"We knew going into camp that this was a possibility and ... I've learned over time to never coach hoping people come back; it's like an injured player," Hitchcock said. "So we moved on and we started preparing from the first day of training camp that he was not going to be here, so we had already moved on as a staff. We treated that if he ever did come here, it would be bonus only, but we've already moved on and looked at other scenarios that we were well aware of, and to the point where even the free agents that came in to camp were brought in for that specific reason. We wanted to be on the safe side of anticipation and that's exactly what turned out, so we were more than ready for it."

* Cuts trim roster by three -- The Blues trimmed their roster by three after sending forwards Filip Helt (Sarnia Sting), Jordan Kyrou (Sarnia Sting) and Adam Musil (Red Deer Rebels) to their junior teams.

With the cuts, the Blues' roster is down to 53 players and more cuts were projected Wednesday night but were not announced and could come as early as Thursday morning.

Hitchcock said after practice that Thursday would mark the first full hockey practice when the coaches begin to assemble the team rather than simply making cuts.

"I'm looking forward to putting scrimmages together," Hitchcock said. "It'll be fun tomorrow. It'll be a lot of game-like situations and shift-like length, so it'll be good, a real good evaluation. ... We'll have 37, we'll take that through the weekend. Our next cutdown will be on Sunday."

Forwards David Perron and Robby Fabbri (upper-body injuries) were left out of practice Wednesday but the expectation was they would be available Thursday.

"The only two players that aren't participating right now are (Vince) Dunn and (Tommy) Vannelli," Hitchcock said.

One player making headway is forward Kenny Agostino, a Calgary Flames draft pick who the Blues signed to a one-year, two-way contract this past summer.

Agostino has played in two preseason games and has six points, including a five-point game (two goals, three assists) against Columbus on Sunday.

"We didn't know anything about Agostino," Hitchcock said. "He's had a big camp. Now the challenge is now the big boys are all here. Can he keep it up? But he's had a big camp. He's more than held his own."

Agostino, 24, had 23 goals and 34 assists in 65 games for the Flames' AHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif.

"They jump out at you," Hitchcock said of Agostino's numbers. "Does that transfer over into being a top-nine forward in the NHL? We'll see. There's a lot of guys that come out of the A are his age and are ready to play. He's made a good account, but now everybody's cutting down. Now you see numbers going down. When you get into the 30s, now we're going from making cuts to picking the team and we're now in picking the team mode. Now we're starting to look at how is this gonna move us into what type of lineup we're going to have? Starting tomorrow, that's what we do. The whole thing's changed from who do we release to now who do we keep?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hutton shines in Blues' 3-1 preseason loss to Stars

Goalie makes 21 saves, transitions puck well; Hitchcock impressed

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- The Blues' 3-1 preseason loss to the Dallas Stars on Monday didn't bring to the forefront anyone that needed to make an impression.

But the Blues, who dropped to 2-1 on the preseason, did find out that the backup goalie they signed for starter Jake Allen is more than capable of being a solid backstop.

Carter Hutton got the start for the Blues and impressed. He allowed two goals in the two periods he played but made a number of quality saves after playing the final 20 minutes of the Blues' 7-3 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Eric Nystrom (right) pursues Stars defenseman John
Klingberg during preseason action Monday in Dallas.

Hutton was aggressive with shooters, blockering away shots to corners and not leaving big rebounds, and his penchant for keeping the play going smoothly for the defensemen is something the Blues can take advantage of. 

"You never want to leave down 2-1, but all things being the way they are, I thought (the Stars) came out pretty strong in the first period," Hutton said. "It was a lot of work obviously. They had some guys in the lineup, had some good chances. For me, it's the same thing, just try to build towards each day kind of as a building block, work towards the regular season but for the most part, I felt pretty good. Some things to build on, some things to feel good about."

Along with Jake Allen, the Blues now have two goalies that will want to keep the puck moving and keep plays flowing smoothly for easier transition.

"I like the way he moves the puck," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Hutton. "Smart, a step ahead of the play. He's really sound and solid. He's had a great camp and he's played well in the scrimmages, he's played well in the games. That's a great sign.

"He was our best player today. First period, we were outplayed. Looked like we still had legs on the bus. But I thought he was really good. He played great the whole game. That's a real good sign. That's the best sign from tonight."


"I get out there and handle the puck," Hutton said. "I try to be like a third defenseman back there. 

"Early on for me, it's the feel, play pucks. I think with the d-men, too, you're just ironing things out right now." 

The best news for the Blues in the first period was the play of Hutton, who made 11 saves despite allowing a late first-period goal to the Stars' Patrik Nemeth.

Hutton made a number of nice saves but couldn't get to Nemeth's shot from the slot, one that beat the Blues goalie high under the cross bar with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining.

The Blues played better in the second period and attacked the offensive zone with some more authority, but came out down 2-1.

Shattenkirk's third goal in two games, a power play goal 5:34 into the second, tied the game 1-1. It came off Kenny Agostino's pass to the left circle, and Shattenkirk whistled a wrist shot short side past Kari Lehtonen, who was screened on the play by Magnus Paajarvi.

The Blues took a number of penalties, and the sixth finally hurt when Glenn Gawdin took an offensive zone cross checking penalty that resulted in Jiri Hudler's goal.

Hudler scored with 1:03 left in the period, redirecting Jason Spezza's shot/pass up over Hutton. The Blues had killed off five straight minors to that point.

Hutton stopped 21 of 23 shots before giving way to Ville Husso in the third.

Lehtonen, who made nine saves on 10 shots, was replaced with 9:10 remaining in the second by Maxime Legace.

The Stars put the game away when Patrick Eaves took advantage of a 2-on-0 off a feather pass from Mattias Janmark with 4:06 to play, giving Husso no chance to make the save. Ryan Reaves' pass to defenseman Mike Weber was too tough to handle, the puck squirted past Weber and the speedy Stars were off to the races.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Kyle Brodziak (right) and Stars' Gemel Smith fight for a loose
puck during Dallas' 3-1 preseason victory over St. Louis Monday night.

"They outskated us in the first and then the second and third periods, we were probably even," Hitchcock said. "I liked some guys' battle level and stuff in the second and third. I didn't like anything we did in the first, but I liked the things we did in the second and third; we did a good job. 

"Evaluation continues. We had some people that were really good yesterday and probably dropped off a little bit today. That's what training camp's for."

The Blues will make more cuts on Tuesday and Wednesday before Hitchcock said they will get a feel for what a more polished roster will look like.

Hitchcock did say those left that played in the World Cup of Hockey, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund and Colton Parayko along with Dmitrij Jaskin will be full participants in camp by Thursday.