Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeling healthy, Ott hopes to provide offensive punch

Off-season abdominal surgery has veteran feeling 
100 percent, determined after getting new contract with Blues

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- By his own admission, it's been quite the challenging year for Steve Ott.

A trade to the Blues from the last-place Buffalo Sabres last season near the NHL trade deadline although may have invoked some emotional feelings after having spent nearly two seasons as Sabres captain, invigorated the competitive juices again for the forward. Going from playing out the season to Stanley Cup aspirations can do that.

But a nagging abdominal injury progressively got worse for the 32-year-old Ott, and heading into a summer of unrestricted free agency, it was not the right time to mix surgery while marketing for a new contract.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Steve Ott (middle) moves the puck away from Dallas' Vern Fiddler (36) and
Brenden Dillon (4) in a game last season.

But Ott, who had three assists in 23 regular season games with the Blues and two assists in six playoff games, was one of the team's most consistent forwards during a six-game playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs according to coach Ken Hitchcock. He fought and played through an injury that hampered any potential offensive success.

"When that kind of half-goes, that last push-off really hurts you," Ott said Thursday at an informal team skate. "My biggest thing was shooting the puck. When I (would) bear down on a shot, the torquing ... the strength of a hockey player obviously is in the core, and that torquing movement was not right. It bothered me, but there's no excuses. I battled through it before. It's no different. 

"You play 82 games on the sheet, you play 82 games. Everybody in here ... if you don't have a bump or bruise, there's something wrong with you or you're not playing the right way."

But Ott stood through the times of the challenge and now is reaping the rewards of patience and perseverance. The injury, which is something that has been bothersome in the past, was corrected with surgery. Initially not part of the Blues' plans moving forward in the off-season, Ott signed a two-year, $5.2 million contract in light of Vladimir Sobotka's surprising departure to the KHL and Ott most recently found out that his wife of more than a year, Erika, is expecting the couple's first child, a son. Ott also has a seven-year-old daughter that will join big sister at the end of February.

"I'm very blessed to have a seven-year-old daughter. She's my world and now to have a son on the way, it's a complete different element," Ott said. "You just continue to wish to be on the right path in life. Things are really good away from the rink and it makes you real comfortable to just come to the rink, put your sweater on and be a part of the boys."

It's precisely what Ott has done. He came to St. Louis three weeks before the opening of training camp to take part in informal skates with other players, including veterans Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Jordan Leopold and other prospects.

"I've put in a real good summer with the trainer and training partner," Ott said. "That's all you can ask for is to prepare as well as you possibly can coming into camp. To say that I'm 100 percent would be an understatement in physicality, strength and (I feel) healed up.

"For me, I don't think you can put a price tag on being comfortable in your surroundings and in your area. I guess you can say when I got here (following the trade from Buffalo), you never want to step on anybody's toes. You don't want to feel like you didn't earn it yet because the team put a lot into last year and then you come in and it's a tough situation. For myself to come in, be comfortable with the boys already, get settled in my house, my living arrangements with my wife, all those things ... you can't put a price tag on feeling comfortable and heading into a season wanting to have success."

Now feeling 100 percent, Ott feels like he can contribute some offensive numbers for a Blues team that relies on balance throughout the lineup. Ott, who had 41 goals in back to back seasons with the Dallas Stars (19 in 2008-09 and 22 in 2009-10), will battle for a third- or fourth-line center role on a team suddenly deep down the middle. But Ott's versatility can also see him get minutes on the wing, if necessary, and see him pop up and down the lineup.

Of his 103 career goals, 75 came from 2007-2012.

"I would probably be the most disappointed not to come in here and help contribute the way I know I can and should and expect out of myself," said Ott, who has 267 points in 696 regular season games. "That was probably the hardest thing, not being able to contribute the way I have my whole career. I expect that out of myself and that's why I challenged myself this summer to put in a good work ethic and everything else to be prepared for this chance again. I have no doubts in my game and where I'm at, where I stand so I'm ready to go.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After off-season surgery to correct an abdominal injury, Steve
Ott feels 100 percent and in a good place with the Blues. 

"It's been a very productive summer. It was an easy decision for myself (to come back to St. Louis). Going through the process for myself was a little hard to handle at times, the whole unrestricted thing, but you know what, I couldn't be happier. That weekend, we flew down here to find residence. Everything's falling into place. Now, we have 20 days or so before camp even opens. Just get ready and feel comfortable and ready to go."

Ott said the goals for he and his Blues teammates remain the same. Changing and improving the results is the challenge that lies ahead.

"You have to put that work in," Ott said. "It's non-stop, continuing to grab confidence from the good points of last season, the strong points of last season. Those negatives have to turn to results. 

"It would be an understatement to say that we're not a Cup-contending team. That's where our mindset is. Anything else is failure to us. I think that's the mindset you open with when everybody shows up at Day 1 of camp to the end of the season. That's the one goal and only goal. When you have a team put together like the one we have and with the additions, that goal is reality."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blues fans pack Ballpark Village for Ice Breaker event

Players overwhelmed as team unveils new uniforms, 
introduce Stastny to packed crowd at FOX Sports Midwest Live!

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- They were packed in like sardines on a sweltering day outside that grew by the second inside the confines of FOX Sports Midwest Live!

But for the 4,000-plus blue and gold-clad fans toting the Bluenote on jerseys, t-shirts, buttons, hats, earrings, socks, shoes and the like, Monday's Ice Breaker event to introduce the Blues' newest acquisition in Paul Stastny, plus the unveiling of the team's new jerseys was more than a rousing success.

Which poses the easiest question of all Blues fans all want to know: Is it October yet?
Blues players (from left to right) Paul Stastny, Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie,
Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes sport the new uniforms the team
unveiled Monday night at Ballpark Village.

Despite the 100-degree heat that's engulfed St. Louis in the past week, Blues fans are already thinking winter months and the 2014-15 hockey season. FOX Sports Midwest Live! inside Ballpark Village overwhelmed and entertained and brought out multiple chants of "Let's Go Blues!" And when the main attractions took the stage, even they were awe-struck by what defenseman Barret Jackman called "a sea of blue and gold."

"It was a lot more than I expected," Jackman said. "I've been down here to check out Ballpark Village after a Cardinal game. To walk in here and see a sea of blue and gold, it's pretty special. You're still (weeks) away from training camp, but people are as excited now as they were in the playoffs last year.

"You come to an event like this, the adrenaline starts rushing and we look forward to getting on the ice and making it count."

Despite three straight disappointing and short postseason runs following impressive regular season runs, excitement continues to run rampant for the Blues and their fans. Management -- with ownership's blessing -- went out and signed Stastny, the biggest prize as far as free agents centers that were on the market. General manager Doug Armstrong also was able to bring in Jori Lehtera, the team's third round pick in 2008, as well as sign Joakim Lindstrom, former first round pick Peter Mueller and traded for puck-moving defenseman Carl Gunnarsson.

"I'm really excited about the fan anticipation this season," Armstrong said. "I'm the same way. I can't wait for the end of September and October to get on the ice. It's great to see the fans buying into the program and what we're trying to accomplish here. It makes us work that much harder trying to please them accomplish those goals we've reserved for the season.

"These are great hockey fans. We're excited to have Paul, we're excited to have all the returning players coming back. It's a difficult league to win in and all we want to do is give ourselves that opportunity and I think we have."

Blues radio voice Chris Kerber emceed the event and brought on original Blues Bobby Plager and Jimmy Roberts to kick things off after the Charles Glenn Band got everyone in a festive mood. Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock followed Plager and Roberts and perhaps arguably the greatest Blue of all time, Brett Hull, stepped on stage before today's crop of stars, which also included captain David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, capped the evening.

"It was amazing how many people showed up and how many people they could fit in the space they have here," Oshie said. "Seeing every little video, you kind of get chills thinking about the season, thinking about the things we're capable of doing here."

Backes agreed.

"They were packed in there," he said of the fans. "I don't know if they could squeeze more in there. Great to see the turnout with the weather and how hot it was in that building, you can tell the passion the fans have. The guys on the team, I can tell you, are just as excited. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We're excited for it, we're re-energized after the summer. We're not satisfied with how (last) year ended. We've got another great opportunity lying ahead of us.

"I've done a lot of public appearances ... I don't know if I've seen one that energetic, that excited and that many people packed into a smaller area like that. It really shows that it's August 25th or whatever it is, but those people are as excited as anyone to get the season going and making sure that we're ready to play and they're ready to go to the rink and cheer us on."

As for the new uniforms? The Blues didn't change too much from last year's version. It's a more of a retro look from the 1980's and '90's. The biggest change came in the form of the team's colors presented in stripes across the shoulders, bottoms of sleeves and jerseys as well as socks.

Socks?

"I think they look good. I didn't know exactly what they were going to go with, but me and 'Petro' put them on with full gear the other day and the socks were really cool," Oshie said. "With the socks, they look really sharp. 

"I was hoping they were going to go back to the baby blue ones (from the the 1970's and mid-'80's), but they look good when you're in full gear." 
A standing room-only crowd of 4,000-plus fans attended the Icebreaker
event for the Blues to unveil new uniforms and introduce Paul Stastny.

Oshie, however, is in the minority -- as in only one -- when it came to the opinions regarding uniforms of the mid-to-late 1990's.

"I wanted the red, but apparently, no one likes that red," Oshie said with a grin.

So when players report for training camp Sept. 17, Blues fans will be geared up for what should be another successful regular season run that they hope culminates into a deep playoff push. 

"It's been since (1967) ... do the math," Backes said. "That's 47 going on 48 years of people yearning and desiring for that big, silver trophy. 

"We've got a group of guys that that's a realistic expectation. Now we've got to go out there, do the work and win games and make sure we're playing deep in the playoffs." 

Ownership and management have fortified the goods. It's on the players to fulfill the goals.

"It shows how far they're willing to go and how bad they want to win," Oshie said of ownership's commitment. "They've done a pretty good job of getting the right guys in the locker room. As far as a playoff player goes, we want (No.) 26 (Stastny) in our corner."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Home sweet home

Blues bring Stastny, Butler back to grass roots with surprise visit to Chaminade 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The 800 or so Chaminade Preparatory High School students were asked to convene inside the Skip Viragh Center for what was supposed to be an the kickoff to the new school year Monday morning.

Little did the students know they would be getting some surprise visitors along the way.

A bit of a Blues flavor invaded the scene, with radio voice Chris Kerber first introducing general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock for a little question and answer session to help kick off the Blues' season.
Paul Stastny is all smiles after donning a Blues
jersey for the first time Monday morning at an
introduction at Stastny's alma mater, Chaminade
High School. 

But when the auditorium doors in the back opened, the students were treated to a familiar pair that once graced the halls of yesteryear.

Paul Stastny and Chris Butler made a surprise appearance and took part in the Q&A. They came onto the scene wearing Chaminade hockey jerseys before being presented with Blues third jerseys by Butler's father Doug.

"This is pretty special," said Butler, who signed a one-year, two-way contract and will battle for spot on the top eight spots on defense. "This is where Paul and I first met. I think it was playing summer hockey in junior high school. To come back to kind of where our friendship kind of started, now will be the third time that we've played together. It's neat and special to kind of take a journey that we have and to have a friend that's been there for a good majority of it be there along the way is pretty neat."

The 28-year-old Stastny, who came to the Blues as an unrestricted free agent from the Colorado Avalanche after signing a four-year, $28 million contract, was eight years old when he moved to St. Louis. His father Peter finished his Hall of Fame career with the Blues, playing here for two seasons from 1993-95. Paul's brother Yan, who also attended Chaminade, played for the Blues as well.

Butler, 27, who played previously for the Buffalo Sabres and most recently the Calgary Flames, hails from nearby Kirkwood, Mo. Both he and Stastny were teammates in high school, then in college at the University of Denver. They will be teammates for a third time.

"When you drive down Lindbergh (Blvd.) and pull in here, it just feels like home," said Stastny, who was recently married and attended the tribute charity function along with Peter and Yan in Slovakia for former Blue Pavol Demitra. "For four years, this is where I was constantly and it's just human nature to feel comfortable here.

"I actually came back (to Chaminade) about two weeks ago. We were looking at houses and I actually wanted to show my wife, just to show off the school compared to her high school. It's great memories."
Chaminade alums Paul Stastny (left) and Chris Butler (right) display the
high school jerseys Monday morning before the pair were introduced at a
surprise assembly at the high school.

Armstrong, Hitchcock, the elder Butler and both players talked about the influence of youth hockey in St. Louis and the strong presence of a Blues alumni group. Peter and Yan presented a video message for their son and brother, respectively, and Doug Butler talked about coaching his son. 

The resounding message was loud and clear for all who attended: dreams can start when one is young. Stastny and Butler were evidence to the entire student body.

"It's neat to be a role model and it's neat to kind of be that first wave of St. Louis kids that have gone on to play pro sports," said Butler, who along with the Stastnys, Ben Bishop and Neil Komadoski represent Chaminade alum to play in the NHL. "I remember watching (Golden State Warriors forward) David Lee knowing that he was something special when I was in junior high and now look at where he is today is pretty cool."

For Stastny, the mantra "There's No Place Like Home" fits the bill to a tee. It would have been tough for him to leave Colorado for anyplace else.

"In the end, you just want to win," said Stastny, who has 160 goals and 458 points in 538 career games spanning eight seasons. "You want to be comfortable in an area that you know away from hockey. What better area than going back home? For me, it's about winning and I look at this team, how good they are and how deep they are. I know in the last couple years, they've been that close. They could have beaten Chicago, Chicago could have easily beaten L.A. and been the Cup champions (this past season). They had good battles with L.A. when L.A. won (in 2012 and '13). It's so hard to win. That's what you're really looking at, is looking at the best chance to win with a good group of guys and I think that's what we have here."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blues continue to add depth, sign Mueller

Former first round pick by Coyotes signs 
one-year, two-way deal looking to resurrect NHL career

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues continued to fortify their depth after signing forward Peter Mueller to a one-year, two-way contract.

Terms were not disclosed.

The 26-year-old Mueller, who was the eighth pick of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, led the Swiss-A League in goals (24) after playing for Kloten.  Mueller had 46 points in 49 games.
(Getty Images)
Former first round pick Peter Mueller last played
in the NHL with Florida.  He signed a one-year,
two-way  contract with the Blues Tuesday. 

Mueller suffered a serious concussion with the Colorado Avalanche in 2010 against the San Jose Sharks when he was tracking a puck down and hit by then-Sharks defenseman Rob Blake.

Mueller, a Bloomington, Minn. native, attempted a comeback the following season but re-injured his head in a preseason game and never returned to the ice for the Avalanche in 2010-11. He has been searching to find the game that led him to score 22 goals and 54 points in 81 games his rookie season with the Coyotes.

Mueller will likely start the season with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League but he adds to the mix in a line of strong depth signings by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong this off-season.

Mueller last  played in the NHL for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13. He scored eight goals and finished with 17 points in 43 games.

Armstrong has also brought on former NHL players Benn Ferriero, Jeremy Welsh, and John McCarthy in recent weeks, along with former Blues pick Philip McRae.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Arbitrator awards Blues one-year award on Sobotka

Forward will play in KHL for 2014-15 
season after rejecting team's terms on contract

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Through no surprise, forward Vladimir Sobotka was awarded a one-year contract through arbitration Monday.

Sobotka, a restricted free agent who will play with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2014-15, rejected the Blues' one-year offer of $2.7 million, along with offers of a two-year, $6 million contract and anywhere from 3-5 years at what "north of $3 million" per season, as Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said recently. It is believed that the offer of 3-5 years would have paid Sobotka $3.1 million per season.

Sobotka was seeking $3 million on a one-year deal, which would have taken him to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015.
(Getty Images)
The Blues were awarded an arbitration of a
one-year contract on Vladimir Sobotka.

Under the one-year deal awarded to the Blues, Sobotka will owe the team one year of service upon his return to the NHL unless the Blues trade his rights, which is unlikely. 

Sobotka, 27, had career highs of nine goals and 33 points in 61 games last season for the Blues. He won 61.9 percent of his faceoffs, which led the league. 

Sobotka has an out clause after each year of his KHL contract, which has been reported at three years. A well-placed source said the contract will pay Sobotka $3.5 million in 2014-15, $3.5 million in 2015-16 and $4.5 million in 2016-17. 

"We are looking forward to having Vladimir in a Blues uniform when he returns to the NHL," Armstrong said in a statement. "We wish him the best of luck in the upcoming season."

A fourth-round pick (No. 106) of the Boston Bruins in the 2005 NHL Draft, Sobotka has 35 goals and 123 points in 381 regular season games for the Blues and Bruins.

With Sobotka off to Russia for the upcoming season, the Blues brought back veteran Steve Ott, giving the forward $5.2 million for two seasons.

* Blues sign trio -- The Blues also announced a trio of signings, including 2014 second round draft pick Ivan Barbashev to a three-year entry-level contract.

Barbashev, 18, was the 33rd pick in Philadelphia last month. He participated in the Blues prospects' camp recently and is the best friend of fellow prospect Dmitrij Jaskin, who was Barbashev's teammate in the Quebec Major Junior  Hockey League with the Moncton Wildcats.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Barbashev played in 48 games a season ago and had a team-high 43 assists and was second with 68 points. He had 130 points the past two seasons with Moncton.

Also, the Blues signed veteran defenseman Nate Prosser, formerly of the Minnesota Wild and forward Jeremy Welsh, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks, to one-year, two-way contracts.

Prosser, 28, spent the past three full seasons with the Wild and had brief stints in two previous seasons before that.

The 6-2, 203-pound right-handed shot provides more depth with the Blues' AHL team, the Chicago Wolves. He had two goals and eight points in 53 regular season games last season with the Wild and played in 10 playoff games with Minnesota this past season.

Welsh, 26, split last season between the Canucks and the AHL's Utica Comets. 

The 6-3, 191-pound Welsh had a goal in 19 regular season games with the Canucks last season.

Welsh has appeared in 25 career NHL regular season games, including stints with Vancouver and Carolina Hurricanes, totaling two points (one goal, one assist). He will also provide depth for the Wolves for the upcoming season. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Vannelli calls move to WHL beneficial

Highly-touted Blues' 2012 second-round pick 
raised eyebrows with Medicine Hat, eyes move to AHL

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues selected Tommy Vannelli with their second round pick (47th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, the defenseman was a fast-riser on many draft boards.

Vannelli had already committed to Don Lucia's University of Minnesota hockey program and was enlisted in school after being highly-sought after from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School and the U.S. National Developmental Team Program U-18 squad after helping lead the team to a silver medal in the World Championships in Sochi, Russia.

Being part of the Gophers hockey program wouldn't have been a poor route towards ascending to one day becoming a pro.
Tommy Vannelli

But Vannelli never dressed in a game for the Gophers, instead choosing that academics and hockey were not in his best interests at the time. He would move on to the Western Hockey League and Medicine Hat. But he initially didn't commit to the Tigers. Vannelli considered playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League before settling on Medicine Hat.

The move proved to be highly beneficial. It made the decision to leave easier, since Vannelli had a tough time initially parting ways.

"When I left (Minnesota), I think it benefited in the long run with my development," the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Vannelli, who recently took part in the Blues' prospects camp, said. "I had a pretty good year."

Vannelli, a 19-year-old Minnetonka native, produced 14 goals and 41 points in 60 games for the Tigers as a rookie. Add in two goals and eight points in eight playoff games and it was a strong campaign.

"I didn't know what to expect going into Medicine Hat," Vannelli admitted. "I was happy, but I think there was definitely more to what I contributed. I kind of tailed off at the end of the year. I think that was the amount of games I wasn't used to, stuff like that. I think now I know the games, what the competition's like ... I think I can get better."

Touted as an offensive defenseman who adds in a line of puck-moving blue liners the Blues are stocking up on in their minor league system and amateur prospects, Vannelli fits the bill as the game is gearing more towards defensemen able to transition the puck quickly.

"I'm an offensive defenseman," Vannelli said. "I like to move the puck. I think my skating's my biggest attribute. Just get it up to the forwards and follow the play close.

"This camp has been good.  It was nice to meet all the guys and get used to the personnel around here. It was a good week. First time being here is definitely an eye-opener. And the Blues were happy with last year. They're happy with the weight I've put on so far this summer. Obviously I still have a little bit to go, but they're happy with how I've developed so far. I've definitely never hit the weight room like I have this summer. Nutrition is big also. Those two things have helped me out a lot."

Blues director of player development Tim Taylor called Vannelli one of the more noticeable players at camp.

"He can skate ... he flies," Taylor said. "He glides on the ice, he can shoot the puck. It just flies off his stick. He has a great one-timer. He's a guy that can move the puck, he's got good agility, he closes gaps quickly. He's going to learn as a pro, he doesn't have to be overly physical. He just has to get in the way, take time and space away.
(WHL file photo)
Blues prospect Tommy Vannelli impressed in his first season with the
Medicine Hat Tigers (14 goals, 27 assists) in 60 games.

"Last year when he decided not to go to school and instead went up to Medicine Hat, he had a fantastic year. It was a huge stepping-stone for his career. He's taken big strides. He's gained eight pounds, he's lost two percent body fat, so on a 200-pound body, that's 10-11 pounds of muscle he's gained for the year. He's a guy now going to try out for Team USA in August. We want him to go there this year and show them they really made a mistake last year and he deserves to be there. He's a guy that's taken some good strides this past year and junior hockey in Canada's really helped with that."

Vannelli is reaching high as far as his future endeavors. In a perfect world, he'll be playing in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, but a return to Medicine Hat is also a possibility.

"I think there's a chance I can play in the 'A' next year, also go back to Medicine Hat," Vannelli said. "It's really up in the air. It's what the Blues want for me.

"I definitely know I need to get stronger; they know that, too. But they've been patient. They've been good to me. They've given me all the tools to reach my goal, get bigger."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Descheneau trying to overcome odds smaller players face

Blues' fifth round pick looking to follow path others have paved in NHL

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It would have been a moment Blues prospect Jaedon Descheneau would have savored. 

But a funny thing happened on the second day of the 2014 NHL Draft.

"I was sleeping when my buddy called me and told me I got picked," Descheneau said of his being drafted by the Blues in the fifth round. "I had no idea until he told me."

And with that, the 19-year-old of Leduc, Alberta was an NHL prospect. Not a ton of fanfare, not a ton of adrenaline. Tough to process it all once one wakes up.
Jaedon Descheneau

"The time change actually screwed me up, so I thought the draft started at 10 (a.m.)," said Descheneau, who plays for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. "But I was in Edmonton, so it actually started at 8. ... My friend called me, his little bro got drafted so he was at the draft and he called me and I had nothing on my phone. In the middle of our conversation, my phone just went off. My parents, my friends, my twitter and stuff. That's kind of how I figured out he wasn't lying to me."

Descheneau, listed at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, recently spent a week at Blues prospects camp and will attempt to overcome what so many considered undersized must go through: win over a league that seems to thrive on players in the mid-six feet range and carry 220-230 pounds.

"I think for me, my size enables me to play how I play," Descheneau said. "If I was a bigger player, I wouldn't be the same player today. I use my speed and skill and I kind of ... I'm more quicker and use more agility to get around guys. I try to use that to my advantage. I really think my size is why I am the player I am today.

"People always say things about size and stuff like that, I just ignore it. Some of the top scorers in the league this year in the NHL aren't very big. (Sidney) Crosby himself is not very big. But I just kind of play my game and do what I'm doing."

Descheneau, who lit up the WHL with 44 goals and 98 points in 70 games this past season after putting up 30 goals and 78 points in 69 games the previous season, used to allow the detractors to bother him. Not anymore.

"When I was younger, I did," he said. "When I was younger, I had people say I wouldn't make it. I would never even make a rec team. Nowadays, I'm more mature and it doesn't bother me. 

"I just look at (Marty) St. Louis, Crosby, (Patrick) Kane, (Tyler) Ennis ... they're not very big. They're playing some big minutes in the NHL."

Descheneau is tied in with one of the top picks of this season's draft: Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres and the first forward chosen. The two were teammates at Kootenay as well as linemates and are good friends.

"If you didn't know who Reinhart was, a second or third overall pick, you might have thought it was (Descheneau)," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development. "That's a feather in his cap to know that he came out of the games and played very well. He's just got to go back and have another good, solid year. At 18-19, we want them to come in here and get a baseline of where they're at and try to build off of that.

"Here's another guy where we (tested) his body fat and his weight and the correlation between the two affect his play on the ice. He can get much stronger and he can lose body fat. There's probably about four or five pounds of muscle that he can build. It's going to make him quicker and stronger on the ice in order to dart in and out of those areas to score goals. We're hoping when the guys come in, they take that nutrition, they take the work ethic that Nelson provides them and obviously what Hitch has talked to them about, if they combine those three and take any of those and take them back and work out through the season, they have a good chance of making an NHL roster."

Descheneau described his game as that of a guy who isn't afraid of going to the tough areas but doing so at opportune times.
(Getty Images)
Blues prospect Jaedon Descheneau (right) doesn't mind
parking himself in front of the net to find success, as he
does here playing for the Kootenay Ice last season. 

"I try to play more like (Montreal's) Brendan Gallagher and St. Louis, a bit of both," Descheneau said. "Gallagher goes hard to the net and that's what you've got to do to score. St. Louis has that skill game that I try to play, too. Those two players are who I try to play like."

Descheneau got a pretty good idea the Blues were interested in him. Multiple conversations with part time amateur scout Jesse Wallin gauged the interest. And after the season Descheneau had, there was strong indication he would be picked.

"I just got an opportunity. I had a good coach last year," Descheneau said of Ryan  McGill. "They really developed me as a player. I struggled at the start of the year, but my coach helped me out. He pushed me and gave me an opportunity and that's why I'm the player I am today. I believe he's the biggest part of my success to this day."

Playing with Reinhart may have helped, too.

"I learned a lot from him," Descheneau said of Reinhart. "We complemented each other a lot out there. The guy is smart, the way he can make plays is unbelievable. I don't think I've seen a player be able to do what he does. ... I was fortunate enough to play with him and he's helped me out along the way. He's a big part of where I am today. It was a lot of fun playing with him."

Descheneau plans on another year in Kootenay. The dream is to get to St. Louis one day but getting a taste of prospects camp offered up a taste of what professional life will be like one day.

"You get a glimpse of what it's like to be a pro," Descheneau said. "There's so much stuff you've got to do, nutrition, workouts and stuff that I've never been a part of. It's a good experience and I'm enjoying it.

"Obviously I'd like to play here, but I have a good junior team back home. Too young to play in the American (Hockey) League, but I have a good junior team back home. We're going to have a good team this year, some good players to play with. Going back there to develop, nothing wrong with that at all."