Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Winning two junior titles puts Fitzpatrick on goalie radar with Blues

Netminder helped Acadie-Bathurst win QMJHL, Memorial 
Cup, is wildcard to join San Antonio at AHL level this season

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The final shot on goal on Blues goalie prospect Evan Fitzpatrick in the championship game of the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup -- the 17th in a frantic third period -- came with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.

Fitzpatrick made the save, of course, to cap off what would be a 3-0 victory over the host Regina Pats to claim another championship for the St. John's, Newfoundland native.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie prospect Evan Fitzpatrick won titles
in the QMJHL and Memorial Cup this season.

It was only fitting that Fitzpatrick, 20, would slam the door shut with a 28-save performance on a second title, weeks after he helped lead Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship and cap off a season that Fitzpatrick, a second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, will not soon forget. It is one in which it's difficult, yet rewarding, to explain.

"I don't know. Just a lot of fun being with a great group of guys and just working hard every day, enjoying it, staying in the moment, not thinking too far ahead, not thinking about too much besides having fun, and that's what it all really came down to," the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Fitzpatrick said recently during prospect camp. "Every day I went to the rink with a smile on my face, enjoyed it and just worked really hard.

"We had a really solid team all through, but my opinion, in the Quebec League, there's going to be dangerous shots no matter what from wherever, so no matter what, I felt like I stepped my play up along with the step-up of my team and just made my job easier and made it more pro-like."

Fitzpatrick's fortunes changed on Feb. 1 when the Titan acquired him from the Sherbrooke Phoenix for fellow goalie Reilly Pickard. Fitzpatrick, who had a 3.44 goals-against-average and a .892 save percentage in three and a half seasons with the Phoenix, suddenly was thrust into the spotlight and good fortune of playing with the Titan, who finished second in the regular season behind Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Fitzpatrick went 17-3-0 with a 2.24 GAA and .915 save percentage down the stretch for the Titan before leading them to the title and playing in all four games of the Memorial Cup and winning three.

"Winning's fun," Fitzpatrick said. "In Bathhurst, we had a couple of 10-game win streaks, we were just having a ball and, it's just a little different than losing. Having fun is winning, it's … at the 'Mem' Cup, we had an 8-6 win, I'd take that over a 1-0 loss. It was just a lot of fun.

"It definitely made me believe in myself a lot more. When I got to Bathhurst ... in Sherbrooke, I was second-guessing different things, but as soon as I got there and got playing, I realized what am I, what my potential can be, just how to approach every game moving forward in my career."

To be traded out of Sherbrooke seemed to be a blessing.

"I kind of wanted out, I wanted to try to find myself again and it was by mutual agreement," Fitzpatrick said. "Sherbrooke wanted to get younger for the next couple years. They looked for the best fit for me and I appreciate them a lot and every single person in the organization. Finding me a good fit like Bathhurst was great.

"At the deadline every year, whichever team's trying to load up will go for older guys or more established players. For me, I played with a guy that's been traded eight times and I've played with guys that played all five years for the same team. It just depends on what the other teams are looking for and what you bring to the table."

And what made the season more fun was Fitzpatrick helped eliminate Sherbrooke from the playoffs.

"That was nerve-racking," he said. "Going into it, you're like, 'Oh shit, this is going to be weird.' I got scored on, I think, the first shot, after that it came natural like playing any other team. Shaking everyone's hand, it was sad to see a lot of my great friends' junior career come to an end but a little bit of a pride that you got removed from that team and beat them in the playoffs. I played with a little chip on my shoulder."

But once Fitzpatrick kicked it into overdrive, the Titan thrived, and he was a large part of it.

"You know what, he's made a lot of progress," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said. "You can't deny someone that wins a championship. ... He got traded and his game just went skyrocketing at Christmas time. At first when he got there, it was a learning curve for him. I think he let in four or five goals but after that, I think he had a .923 or .930 save percentage. Dave Rogalski, who we hired as player development goalie coach, has done a really good job with our goalies in general. He's already been working with [Ville] Husso and now he's going to be working with Hofer and now obviously with Fitzpatrick. He's done a really good job this year with him. He's instilling lots of confidence. I think with goalies, especially Evan, now it's his confidence level and if he can take that to the next level. We have a lot of good things planned for him.

"He had spurts last year where he played really well and then he didn't, so mentally, that's the next level he has to get to. With that old saying, you forget what just happened. He has to get to learn how to do that and move on. With Dave Rogalski this year, he's done a really good job."

Both were high-level achievements and equally as meaningful as the other.

"Winning the 'Q' was what you worked for all year," Fitzpatrick said. "You played 68 games plus 20 playoff games. Whether or not we won the 'Mem' Cup, we were still champions in a way. When we got to the 'Mem' Cup, we didn't know what would happen. Every team would have still been happy with their season. For us, our coaches told us, win one game, you're automatically in the tiebreaker. We won the first game, we really felt everyone knew we could do it, so we went out the next night and played back to back, which is always a little tougher, but we went out and we scored seven goals in two periods and one minute or something like that, and then we started really started believing we could beat anyone and had a little scare in the third period. We shook it off and we knew the scenario going into Game 3, which is lose by a goal or win and and you're in the final. We played it out, it happened that we had a little bye, a little rest and playing in the finals, it's anyone's game. As soon as we won, it was the best feeling. The best junior team in Canada is something special."
(Acadie-Bathurst photo)
Goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (right) makes a save during the 2018 Mastercard
Memorial Cup. Fitzpatrick is a Blues prospect selected in the second round
in 2016.

Fitzpatrick, who faced fellow Blues prospect Robert Thomas in the Memorial Cup and surrendered a goal to Thomas in a 3-2 Hamilton Bulldogs win, could conceivably return to junior hockey for one more year, but in the case of Thomas, it would be considered counterproductive. The goalie depth chart in the organization includes Husso, Jordan Binnington and Luke Opilka, but Fitzpatrick could be a wildcard to watch out for as a candidate for San Antonio of the American Hockey League. 

"Everyone knows what the organization has," Fitzpatrick said. "... For me, it's coming to camp and playing my best and see where they want me. For me, it's trusting the process and whether that's the AHL, East Coast, junior, whatever their decision may be, it's for me just trusting it and moving forward.

"I like to think so (being NHL-ready). The last half of that season kind of shows that being put up against the top competition and whatnot that I can do it. For me, it's trusting and believing in myself and letting the pieces fall into place. ... I just want to play my best and hopefully we'll see what happens."

For Pat Maroon, son mattered more than bigger offers

Oakville native took one-year contract with Blues, passed on more moneyterm 
to be near family, spend more time with son Anthony, play for childhood team

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Sitting in the confines of Charlie Gitto's Pasta House on a Monday night, which is owned by his fiancee's family, Pat Maroon's emotions came full circle and it was then that he made the final call on a Monday night to come home.

One would think that would be the top moment in deciding to play for the team he grew up watching and following as a kid, but a phone call with nine-year-old son Anthony sealed the deal more than any decision Maroon made for the immediate future of his NHL career after agreeing to a one-year, $1.75 million contract to play in St. Louis.
Pat Maroon meets with the media after signing a one-year,
$1.75 million contract with the Blues on Tuesday.

"When I told him over the phone, because it was a decision that they were going to announce it at 3 o'clock, I said, 'It's official,'" Maroon said Wednesday at Enterprise Center. "We both kind of started tearing up a little bit because it's a special thing. I've been away from him for nine years. You seen two years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ath5E3oyGbo) where I kind of broke down, having not seen him for five months, that takes a toll on you sometimes as a dad and it's hard being away from your son like that. I think one of the reasons why too is being close to him and having a full year under my belt with my son. I haven't had that. It's only been three months at a time. It's going to be a really cool year for him and watching him, his dad play for the St. Louis Blues. Seeing him in warmups before every game, it's going to be a really fun year, a really cool year and it's going to be very special. He's going to remember this time."

Yes, 'Big Rig' Maroon, who had 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) last season, comes home. The Oakville native will spend nights at home, a real home he grew up in, not one he has to buy on a whim. He's now full-time around parents, brothers and sisters, a fiancee and her family, and most importantly, Anthony and his activities.

"He plays basketball, he plays soccer late in September so I get to stay and watch him do those things," Maroon said. "I get to watch him play basketball, I get to go watch his hockey games when we're obviously not playing. Those are the things I missed out on. I get to do those things and it's going to be fun. I'm gonna enjoy it and now I get to sit down and watch my kid play hockey. It's not watching through Facetime and not watching through videos. I can go to his games and enjoy my time doing that and watch my son grow."

So here he is, Maroon, who played last season with the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 26, comes full circle in a way after playing for the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League in 2005-06 and will wear his Bandits No. 7 with the Blues; he gets to do it on a revamped Blues roster that has since July 1 added Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Chad Johnson to its roster.

"Yeah, absolutely, and that's good," Maroon said. "When I saw all those moves happen, I was still trying to make my decision, but that kind of made my decision a lot easier. Down the middle, they're probably one of the top centermen's in the league now. They have a really good centermen all four lines when you think about it. Their wingers are really good, adding Perron now. [Jaden] Schwartz, obviously [Vladimir] Tarasenko, 'Steener.' And you guys have to remember, the 'D' core is strong too. The decision was hard, but it was also easy seeing that on paper. I think I'm excited. [Doug] Armstrong is trying to send a statement that this is a good team, now you have it and you have to go out there and do it now."

Maroon turned down more money and longer term to come home and help his hometown team. With the Blues strapped by the salary cap and having to still sign defensemen Joel Edmundson and Jordan Schmaltz, Maroon bet on himself that he can overcome a back injury that needed surgery in the offseason and he can come in, be healthy and fully available to help this team in the immediate while readying himself to perhaps get a contract extension offered to him by St. Louis as early as Jan. 1. 

Among those interested were the Devils and Arizona Coyotes.

"Yeah, there were a couple teams interested," Maroon said. "It came down to if I was going to take a one-year deal, what team was gonna help me prolong my career and what team was the best decision. I feel like the St. Louis Blues had my best interest. There were guys reaching out and making me feel wanted. Armstrong was pushing really hard for me. Obviously left some things on the table, but I think it's a life-changing thing for me and I think this is the team that's going to get my game where it needs to be and put me in the right direction moving forward for hopefully the next five years I can play.

"... I know my son and family is here and I'm from here, but it's also a good roster and it's a good roster for me to come in and make this year a lot better. I think I can bring my game to where I think they've been missing. I think this is a really good opportunity with four really good centers to get my game to where it was two years ago."

Among those to reach out included Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen, Robby Fabbri and Chris Thorburn.

Getting to skate with many of the Blues players the past number of offseasons helped form a relationship and bond. 

"Skating out there (at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall), they let me use their locker room," Maroon said. "I hang my gear out there. It's like a second home to me. I always told myself how easy it was driving to the Mills and practicing and going home and leaving my gear there. It just made sense. Hanging out with those guys in the summer with them, it made my decision easier those guys reaching out to me, 'Petro,' 'Steener,' 'Fabbri,' to have those guys reach out to me and Thorburn. It made my decision a lot easier with guys reaching out and making me feel at home."

Maroon gives the Blues an added element missing since perhaps the days of David Backes, Troy Brouwer and even Ryan Reaves. It's a big, physical player who will battle for his teammates when called upon, provide the necessary muscle and move onto a line that can use his grit and finishing touch. Ask Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl how that worked for them having the 'Big Rig' protect them.

"I think I bring a big, physical presence that I think they've been missing the last few years," Maroon said. "I think I bring that netfront presence that I think they've been lacking. I can be really good on the power play and I can be really good in front of the net, I have really good hands, soft hands, in front of the net. I can bring that physical presence down low, protecting pucks, sticking up for my teammates. I feel like this is a team that probably needed something like that. Ryan Reaves did a really good job of that back in the day and I feel like Thorbs is doing a really good job of that, but I feel like I can bring another element to that and I think the team was missing that. I'm excited and I also play with a little bit of skill too. I feel like those centermen can complement me too well and those forwards. It's going to be a fun year and I think that's what I can do for this team."

Maroon, who said he's been cleared by doctors to begin skating next week and has been training for the past five weeks, has spoken with coach Mike Yeo and Armstrong about his role.

"We had a really good conversation, I had a really good conversation with Armstrong," Maroon said. "They made me feel wanted and we had conversations where I can play, where I can fit up and down the lineup. I think [Armstrong] touched on it a little bit yesterday. I can fit on all four lines. Wherever you put me, I can play. I can be creative. It's not just all with skill players. If you put me down on the fourth line, I can grind it down low and create some good energy for the guys too.

"... Obviously when you go into those meetings, you can ask where you fit, but we haven't really thought about that. For me, I've got to come in here and earn a spot. There's no spot guaranteed on this team. There's going to be a team where guys are fighting for spots and I feel like they haven't had that for a while where guys come in and you have to fight for a spot, so I have to come in here and earn my spot. I like doing that and I love when my back's against a wall, proving people wrong and I'm excited joining the team."

As for that 10 p.m. decision on a Monday night, well, what better place to make up one's mind than at Charlie Gitto's?

"I couldn't even eat," Maroon said. "I was so nervous and stressed out. 
(New Jersey Devils photo)
Pat Maroon (17) finished last season with the Devils. The 
Oakville native signed with the Blues on Tuesday.

"I called my agent [Ben Hankinson] and told him I'm going to sign with the St. Louis Blues. It sounded like when we called 'Army,' he was sleeping because it was so late at night. I was excited and it was one of those feelings where I can't wait to get on the ice. It's going to be an exciting year."

Now Philip Maroon, Pat's father, will have to dip into the season ticket fund again. After taking Pat and his brother to many games when they were kids to see Brett Hull and Adam Oates, Philip Maroon can go watch his boy play now. 

"We had two seats," Pat Maroon recalled. "My dad would come and then either me or my brother switch off and would sit down together. The three of us would go and one would sit on top of my dad's lap. It was pretty cool.

"... I'm really excited. It's going to be a really good year. It's going to be a fun year. I'm excited to be a Bluenote. I've dreamed of putting that jersey on. That decision was kind of easy knowing what the roster looked like and the chance for me to come in. I think this is a good team that's going to have a (lot to look forward to). It's a team that is going to be doing some really good things this year and it made my decision a lot easier. I just so happened to be coming home, and I'm very excited about that too."

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Maroon comes home

Oakville native gets one-year, $1.75 million contract to play for hometown team

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- A long-anticipated -- and rumored -- deal was finally consummated and made official on Tuesday afternoon: Patrick Maroon is coming home.

Maroon and the Blues ironed out a one-year, $1.75 million contract, slightly above the $1.7 million originally reported here on Sunday night.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Oakville native Patrick Maroon will come home and play for his childhood
team after signing a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Blues.

Maroon, who is coming off a back injury that required surgery, is expected to get clearance from doctors this week, according to sources, to begin skating. The 30-year-old finished last season with the New Jersey Devils and played the final 17 regular-season games and had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists); he had 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 74 games with the Devils and Oilers.

Maroon, an Oakville native who attended Oakville High School, and the Blues can revisit a contract extension, as early as Jan. 1.

The Blues, who still need to resign restricted free agents Joel Edmundson and Jordan Schmaltz, will likely have to shed a salary or two to fit all players under the cap. They were not able to make a more lucrative contract offer to Maroon being slightly under $4.8 million in cap space before the signing. According to capfriendly.com, they are left with just under $3.3 million.

"We talked to Patrick in the talking period and things slowed down and we did a couple of other things and it picked up over the last few days," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said on the Blues website. "Last night about 10:30, I got a call from he and his representative [Ben Hankinson] that he'd like to be a part of the St. Louis Blues and we're happy to announce that."

Maroon, a member of the St. Louis Bandits of the Nortn American Hockey League in 2006-07 when he had 95 points (40 goals, 55 assists) in 57 games, is said to have left more lucrative offers on the table (New Jersey and Arizona are believed to be two of the teams) so he can return home, help the cap-strapped Blues in the immediate future with the opportunity for the team to reward him with an extension in the future and Maroon be close to his family, including son Anthony.

"You never know how these things happen," Armstrong said on the team website. "One of the great things is how badly he wanted to come back and play at home. It's a one-year opportunity for him to come back here and hopefully play with some good centermen and get back to that 27-goal performance he had in Edmonton (2016-17) or close to it."

Maroon was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Draft; he never played with the Flyers and didn't reach the NHL until the 2011-12 season with the Anaheim Ducks and eventually had instant chemistry playing alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf before doing the same with the Oilers and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Maroon was traded by the Oilers to the Devils last season on Feb. 26 and had one goal in five Stanley Cup playoff games with the Devils.

Maroon could be used here in a variety of ways but brings an element that the Blues have missed since David Backes and Troy Brouwer left via free agency after the 2015-16 season when the Blues reached the Western Conference Final.

Maroon has 178 points (78 goals, 100 assists) in 375 NHL games with the Ducks, Oilers and Devils.

"I think he knows his game very well," Armstrong said in the team interview. "He's an A-to-B type of player. He'll go to the net, he's got very good hands for a player of that size and stature. ... I think in today's NHL, wingers play both sides with much more ease than they did in the past. I like the depth and I like the ability of Mike [Yeo] to have some options playing with the three or four centermen that we have."

Maroon's signing is the culmination of what has been a busy summer for Armstrong since free agency opened on July 1. The Blues have already traded for center Ryan O'Reilly and signed center Tyler Bozak, brought back wing and former 2007 No. 1 pick David Perron and signed backup goalie Chad Johnson.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Reigning OHL MVP Kyrou's play will decide next step in career

2016 second-round pick focused on making it to NHL, training 
camp will decide whether 20-year-old starts with Blues or San Antonio

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A dream season last year for being named the Ontario Hockey League regular-season most valuable player, Jordan Kyrou hopes it's the final piece to paving the way to a solid professional career.


Jordan Kyrou
Kyrou, a 2016 second-round pick, could have only made last season even better had the Sarnia Sting won the OHL title. That distinction went to future Blues teammate Robert Thomas and the Hamilton Bulldogs, but the 20-year-old Kyrou, who had 109 points (39 goals, 70 assists) in 56 games last season, isn't complaining.

"Many words. It was a true honor to receive that award," Kyrou said during Blues prospect camp that began June 26. "To have my name beside past recipients of that award is incredible. It was truly an honor.

"I had a good year, our team had a good year. I thought I worked on a lot of things I needed to work on, like little parts of my game. It was a good year."

Being 6-foot, 177 pounds, Kyrou has accomplished all he could at the junior level. Now is the time to move on up. He continues to build his body and have it geared towards at the very least, the American Hockey League, where he could begin the season, or even the NHL if he comes into training camp and dazzles like he did many times during his Sting tenure.

A three-time participant in the prospect camp, Kyrou displayed his speed and skill throughout the week, particularly during the 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 competition. But there were obvious workable traits Kyrou wanted to hone in on throughout his week working with coaches in the organization.

"Of course my defensive game and be harder on the puck, being harder on my battles," Kyrou said. "... To make it up there, you have to be defensively reliable. That was one part of my game I've been working on a lot.

"Last couple years, I just come to camp, learn, get to meet everybody and go back to junior. This year is different. This year is I'm trying to make the team."

Which team? Obviously the Blues, but that will be up to Kyrou, who also had a solid World Junior Championship for gold medal-winning Canada with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in seven games.

"[Kyrou] had a great year," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said. "We put a lot of emphasis on this, but at the world junior, it's a big moment, especially when it's in and around the Canada area. It was in Buffalo this year and across the border, there's 20,000 people watching. In the big games, he was the best player. That's what you look for in these guys, the big moments, and he's always been that throughout this year and I think that's the biggest accolade you can say throughout this year. He's a dynamic goal scorer with a huge amount of speed. Right now, we just want to get his frame a little bigger and be ready for the NHL. His speed is his biggest asset. If he continues to utilize that at the NHL level, he'll have a lot of success.

"As a 19-year-old, you're always trying to instill, 'yes, come here,' but in the back of your mind, he (knew) he had another year in juniors so you always have that in the back as a crutch and, 'I'll probably go back to junior unless I wow everyone.' We're a pretty deep organization. We have a lot of depth and unfortunately at the start of last year, we lost a lot because of injuries but with our young guys now and with a guy like him, I think that when they turn 20 years old, it all of the sudden clicks on. Like, 'OK, now's my time.' I think with the mindset, that's what he has coming into training camp. But at the end of the day, he will dictate to us at the end of training camp if he's ready or not and his play will let us know whether he needs some time in the minors or he's ready right now. It's a big summer for him and mentally it's a big step for him as well to understand what a pro is all about and again, you have those junior tendencies where you can take a game off or shift off and you come to the NHL, you've got to be responsible at both ends of the rink and the coach can trust you. Those are learning experiences as young guys they need to understand right away. They think they know it, but sometimes it takes a little bit longer to kind of instill that into their every day play. We're hoping guys understand that now and we're trying to instill that but at the end of the day, you don't get to really experience that until you get to the highest level."
(Sarnia Sting photo)
Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou was named OHL regular-season MVP this
past season after getting 109 points (39 goals, 70 assists) in 56 games.

Kyrou, who had 94 points (30 goals, 64 assists) in 2016-17 with the Sting, knows instant success won't get translated to the next level, whether it be in St. Louis or San Antonio of the American Hockey League. That's 

"Just continue to work hard this summer, put weight on and continue to get stronger," Kyrou said. "I think it's just a day to day kind of thing. I just want to focus on the things you can focus on and the things to do to get better and the things you can do to show them what you've got. It's been my goal since the beginning of the summer, so I just want to continue to work at it.

"It's exciting, but I'm not there yet. I've just got to continue to work and to earn my spot."

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pietrangelo excited by new additions

Blues captain feels team addressed needs, disappointed 
to lose friends in process; spoke to friend Tavares after season

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's understandable for Alex Pietrangelo to have his mind on more personal things these days.

Pietrangelo, along with his wife Jayne, will welcome triplets to the world in roughly three weeks, but that didn't stop the Blues captain and top defenseman from feeling good and voicing pleasure about the roster makeup and changes that general manager Doug Armstrong made.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (left), shown in a game against Carolina last
season, said the Blues addressed important needs on July 1. 

With the trade for center Ryan O'Reilly that capped off a busy first day of free agency last Sunday after the Blues signed center Tyler Bozak (three years, $15 million), backup goalie Chad Johnson (one year, $1.75 million) and brought back wing David Perron (four years, $16 million) for a third stint but subtracted forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson (all who were traded to Buffalo along with two draft picks for O'Reilly) and center Kyle Brodziak (free agent signed two-year contract with Edmonton) and goalie Carter Hutton (signed three-year contract with Buffalo), the roster makeup of the Blues is vastly different from a season ago.

The Blues finished one point out of a playoff spot last season in the Western Conference (44-32-6, 94 points) for the first time since the 2010-11 season behind the Colorado Avalanche, and with that, change was inevitable, and obvious.

"We are a better team," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously it's a tough situation when you lose your friends and I always say this: when you make hockey moves, management and ownership have to do things to make the team better, but it's not easy to see your friends leave. I kind of grew up with 'Bergy' here. It's been a tough one for me the last couple days, but on the hockey side, I think you bring in a couple guys that want to be here and add some depth at the center position, which is what we needed. To see ownership give Doug the OK to do what they have to do to improve this roster is a pretty good feeling knowing that they got the guys that were out there, just talking to them, to have guys that are excited and want to be here and be a part of this team knowing where we are, it's pretty good because they want to win, they know we have a chance and we have a good roster. This is kind of the next step that we can take."

Being able to add Perron, who had career highs in points (66) and assists (50) and Bozak (43 points on 11 goals, 32 assists), along with Johnson (10-16-3, 3.55 goals-against average and .891 save percentage) to replace Carter Hutton was an infusion in itself for one day, but then Armstrong was able to -- not without a big price -- pull off the trade that brought O'Reilly, who had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) from the Buffalo Sabres for a package of Berglund, Sobotka, Thompson and two picks (2019 first-round pick and 2021 second-round pick) to give the Blues' lineup a drastic makeover.

"We kind of addressed some of our weaknesses," Pietrangelo said. "We knew we needed help down the middle and [Armstrong] did that. I think after we made those initial signings, three signings obviously bringing in Johnson to us too, Perron, Bozak and then you see this is starting to shape up and then just sitting there casually, all of the sudden your phone's going off 50 times saying that the Blues made a trade. I didn't think that that's what it was going to be; I was surprised. I know [O'Reilly] was on our radar, but it's a little more delicate, it's a lot more difficult to make a trade than it is to maybe sign a player. I knew kind of the clock was ticking and Buffalo still had an idea that they were going to move him, but I guess you really never know what's going to happen. A few other teams were in the running. but when ownership and management go out and do this, you know that they believe in this core group that we have now that has been here. 

"This is our time. We feel like we've got a really good roster and I think even me just writing down the lines, my wife was making fun of me. She says, 'You guys don't play for 40 days,' but I was getting excited trying to come up with lines. You forget about Robby [Fabbri] because he didn't play last year, but you put him back into the mix of players and you write down the young guys that are coming up, you look at your forwards, it's a pretty good group right now. A lot of guys, a good mix of not only skill but you've got the group that will be hard to play against. We went out and did that, because guys like Bozak and O'Reilly, having played against them -- I've played with O'Reilly -- but having played against those guys, they're a pain in the butt to play against. Nobody knows more than a defenseman how hard a forward is to play against."

Both O'Reilly, who led the NHL in faceoff percentage wins (60 percent) and with 1,274 face-off wins last season, 248 more than that of Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Bozak, who won 1,169 face-offs and was at 53.6 percent on the season, fit the bill of what the Blues look for in two-way players that can supply offense but are focused on shutting down the opposition just as much who will help fill roles created the by the vacancies of Paul Stastny, who was traded in February and signed with Vegas as a free agent, and Brodziak, who left as a free agent to play near hometown Edmonton. O'Reilly was third in the NHL with 15 power-play goals, and power play was a major deficiency for the Blues, who were 30th in the league at 15.4 percent, only ahead of the Oilers (14.8 percent).

"They're two-way players," Pietrangelo said of O'Reilly and Bozak. "Obviously we know what Perron brings, but O'Reilly and Bozak, we know they're two-way players. Having played against them, I know how good they are on the defensive side. They're very, very difficult to play against. I think a big element that we were missing that weve added now is faceoffs. You lose Brodziak, obviously that's another tough one, but to bring in two guys, if you look at their faceoff numbers over the years, they're phenomenal. Not only are you just bringing in faceoff guys, you've got a right-handed and a left hand (shot). That may be another element that goes unnoticed to the normal eye, but that's a big, important thing for us knowing you have a guy that can go win a faceoff on both sides of the ice. 

"It's good to see that we've addressed those needs and I'm excited to see these guys up the middle because they want to take care of the defensive end just as much as they want to score goals, which I think is championship hockey."

O'Reilly already ingratiated himself with Blues fans when a video clip of Armstrong on the team website calling the center iceman for the first time after the trade heard O'Reilly telling the Blues' GM, "Let's go win a Cup," and, "I won't let you down." Bozak's comments in an article in the Player's Tribune Monday put him in the class of instantly being adorned by fans too when he said, "I want to win a Cup. So damn bad. That’s why I signed in St. Louis. There’s your headline. Print it."

"That's a testament to where a lot of people view our team," Pietrangelo said. "I think these were the pieces that we were looking for, looking to add to kind of take us over that hump. If he feels like we're that close and that's how we feel too, obviously last year didn't go the way we wanted to, but we've kind of had a chance to regroup and take a long summer and get ourselves back into that position, that's a guy who we play twice a year now being in the East, so he knows what it's like to play against us. It's fun to be on the other side once in a while. I think he knows he's going to have a big role on this team, but he and his wife, they're both excited to get down here, maybe get some warm weather."

Pietrangelo, who led the Blues in minutes played for the seventh consecutive season (25:44), said not to underestimate the return of Perron, who was a first-round pick by the Blues in 2007.

"I told Perry this, I didn't even know he had 66 points last year," Pietrangelo said. "Those are big numbers. Those guys aren't easy to find and to get him at that dollar, the point is it's good for us. If you look at when you're building a roster, you want guys that want to be in your organization, they want to be in a city that care because those are the guys that want to do all the small things and do what they have to do help the team win. Obviously his heart's still here if he keeps coming back. It's good to have a guy on the roster that wants to win here because he's back in that group that we've put in a lot of effort over the years to kind of get to this point. A lot of us will do whatever it takes at this point to win. It's fun to have him back. ... He's a good right-handed shot that we were missing last year. That was another element maybe in our top six that we were missing."

Losing good friends is part of the business, and Pietrangelo and Berglund have been teammates since 2008, Sobotka for five-plus seasons going back to 2010 and Thompson for one season.

"They're going to get an opportunity to play there," Pietrangelo said. "It's never easy leaving your friends, but sometimes, having to prove yourself again is a good thing too. They've been in the league for a long time obviously for good reasons. I think they're going to do well there. I think Bergy's going to get get a fresh look. It'll be fun to play against him and compete against him, but I expect both of them to do well. I think ever for 'Tommer,' just having him here last year and getting to know him, I played some golf with him this summer, I think it's a good opportunity for him to, one, get in the lineup and hopefully show what he's capable of."

Hutton led the NHL in GAA (2.09) and save percentage (.931) and will be a difficult to replace.

"Look at how he played last year, that's a tough one," Pietrangelo said. "Another guy that as much as it sucks to lose a guy, I am really happy for him. I think he's going to go to Buffalo and be the starter and be able to show people what he's capable of. He's earned the right to do that. When you play with guys over the years, as much as it sucks to lose them, you're happy to see them succeed. This is going to be an opportunity where he can do that. I hope he goes and shows everybody what he's capable of. That'll be a fun thing to watch and a fun thing to compete against him because he likes to compete, so playing against him twice this year, it will be fun."

The big fish that got away from everyone but the Toronto Maple Leafs was that of Pietrangelo's close friend, John Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract to leave the New York Islanders to go home to Toronto.

Pietrangelo and Tavares grew up together in the Toronto area and were teammates as nine-year-old's in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, and it was no secret that the Blues were interested but never given a shot during the interview process to make a pitch of having Tavares come to St. Louis.

"I had spoken to him obviously at the end of the season," Pietrangelo said. "I guess I'm surprised. I don't really know. He's going to a good team over there. It's kind of cool to see someone go back. You look at his tweet that he sent out with him sleeping in his pajamas (in Maple Leafs sheets and pillow cases), it's cool to see that stuff. Not many opportunities you have, I guess, he feels to go home and play. 'Brody' did the same thing, and he's going back to Edmonton. I was surprised, but I guess whatever makes him happy, wherever he thinks he wants to be, I'm not going to say anything to him. It's another thing where you know a guy and you're friends with him, you're hoping for the best.

"... He's going to be a busy man in Toronto, that's all I'm going to say. Family, friends, Leafs, he's going to be a busy man. The good thing is the whole process, he took his time with the decision, made sure he did his homework and John's a pretty thorough guy. I know that whatever decision that he was going to make, it was going to be one that he was sure about because he's not going to just make a decision without taking some time."
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Ryan O'Reilly helps fortify a position of need for 
the Blues with the addition of the center iceman.

Pietrangelo's one guy that could have used the extended summer to help the mind and body recuperate, which was good and bad in a way.

"Yeah, it's not very fun having this long of a summer," Pietrangelo said. "I guess you get to spend some time with family and whatnot, but at the same token, I'm kind of using it to recharge the batteries, train and kind of rebuild my base and get back. You're always trying to get better and heal up injuries and nicks. 

"Physically, we're all training, we're all doing that stuff. For me, it's the mental side too. You're just kind of taking a break and sometimes you've got to get away from the game to recharge the batteries. It was a long year, it was a tough year. Just having spoken with some guys over the summer, I think guys are excited to get back. I think guys missed each other. You're being gone for as long as we are, it's good to get that energy back and guys will be excited to get back in August and September."

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Blues sign pair of restricted free agents, including Fabbri

Forward gets one-year contract after spending most of past two seasons 
recovering from knee surgery; MacEachern gets one-year, two-way contract

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues announced a pair of signings among their restricted free agents, most notably agreeing to a one-year contract with 2014 first-round pick, forward Robby Fabbri.

Robby Fabbri
Fabbri, who missed all of last season after a second ACL surgery on his left knee, will get $925,000; he has not played a regular-season game since initially injuring his knee Feb. 4, 2017 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said on Sunday that Fabbri, 22, was recently medically cleared to return to resume on-ice activities in preparation for training camp in September and is expected to be a full participant.

"Robby has been cleared by his doctor that did the surgery for full participation in preparation of training camp," Armstrong said Sunday. "He's up in Toronto and he's training. He's in a position now where he can do anything any other hockey player can do as far as preparing for training camp. That was exciting news when we got that." 

In two seasons with the Blues, Fabbri has posted 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 123 regular-season games; he also has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 20 Stanley Cup playoff games.

The Blues also signed 2012 third-round pick, forward Mackenzie MacEachern to a one-year, two-way contract

MacEachern, 24, spent last season with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and had 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 46 games. 

After a three-year collegiate career at Michigan State, MacEachern has spent the past two seasons with the Wolves and will most likely be joining the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.

With two restricted free agents signed, that leaves the Blues with defensemen Joel Edmundson and Jordan Schmaltz and forwards Dmitrij Jaskin and Oskar Sundqvist as RFA's without a contract. Forward Beau Bennett, defenseman Petteri LIndbohm and goalie Jordan Binnington are RFA's without a contract who spent most of last season playing in the AHL.

O'Reilly feels he has a new lease on life in NHL after trade to St. Louis

Center gets chance at winning now, regrets not doing 
so in Buffalo, feels there's great opportunity with Blues

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ryan O'Reilly was on a boating cruise on Sunday evening before taking in a game of volleyball during a family function when his cell phone rang.

On the other end was agent Don Meehan to inform O'Reilly of news that he had been anticipating but wasn't quite sure when it would happen: a trade. 

O'Reilly had been traded to the Blues for a package that included forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson along with a 2019 first-round pick that's top-10 protected and a 2021 second-round pick.
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Ryan O'Reilly gives the Blues an instant boost at center
after his acquisition via trade from Buffalo Sunday.

Suddenly, as another phone call came in from Blues general manager Doug Armstrong while the adrenaline of emotions was engulfing O'Reilly from the initial shock, excitable words were all O'Reilly could think of in the conversation with the Blues GM and will make Blues fans and O'Reilly's teammates happy to hear, a phone call shown on the team site:

"Let's go win a Cup. ... I won't let you down."

And just like that, O'Reilly closed the book on his three-year run in Buffalo, as tough as it was with three losing seasons and no postseason appearances, and now moves back into the Central Division (he was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft and played six seasons in Denver) with high hopes of not only helping the Blues return to the playoffs after missing by a point last season, but helping them become a force in the Western Conference again.

With the simple words of "let's go win a Cup," O'Reilly became an instant fan favorite. 

"Obviously really exciting," O'Reilly said Monday. "Obviously I'm not sure where I was going to end up. I kind of knew there had been some action. Obviously St. Louis was one of the teams in there, but then yesterday, I was playing a little volleyball and got a call from my agent and said I had been traded to St. Louis. It was exciting. I didn't know exactly when things were going to happen ad go down, but I'm so excited to join this team and I'm looking forward to get started."

O'Reilly, who has 422 points (155 goals, 267 assists) in 651 NHL regular-season games, made headlines in Buffalo on April 9 at the conclusion of the season at the team's final media session when he used some strong, yet passionate, words to describe the culture of the Sabres and what needed to happen moving forward:

"We're stuck in this mindset of being OK with losing and I think it's crept into myself and over the course of the year, I lost myself a lot," O'Reilly said told media members then. "... It's crept into all of our games and it's sad. I feel throughout the year I've lost the love of the game multiple times. I need to get back to it because it's just eating myself up and you can see it in other guys too, it's eating us up and it's tough."

O'Reilly initially wanted to stay in Buffalo and help turn the franchise around after playing out the third of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract he signed to join Buffalo as a free agent in 2015.

That didn't happen, and now O'Reilly, 27, gets a new outlook on his professional career after a season in which he had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 81 games.

"I don't want to dwell too much on the past," O'Reilly said. "... With the trade, it's disappointing to see that I wasn't a guy and a piece that can help, but I'm more excited that there's another team that wants me. St. Louis, think about it, I'm happy. I've got a chance to go to a great city and team, a team that's got a ton of good pieces and they're trying to win right now. That's something you want to be a part of. That's just the way the game goes. I don't know if it was my comments at the end of the year that got it rolling. I think with our team finishing in last place, I think you're expecting changes to happen. It just so happens that they want to go younger. I think there's a lot of things that went through it, but I couldn't be happier going to St. Louis. I'm actually thrilled."

O'Reilly has the financial security and term (five more years) on his contract. He's newly married with a six-month-old child. Family and security are two of the more important aspects in his life, but winning is a focal point in a player hitting the prime years of their careers, and it was evident in the monotone voice on that April 9th day yet it was screaming with passion on the inside.

"I'm definitely very happy with what just happened, being traded," O'Reilly said. "With the (end-of-season) comments, I stand by them. I think I wanted to make a change, I wanted to personally do things different and be honest and show up kind of making that effort that you know what, I've got to take responsibility, I've got to make that change. 

"I don't think it was perceived the best way. Sometimes that happens. I stand by it. Having the change and being traded, I'm happy with it. I didn't really have any expectations. I tried not to think about it, but now that it finally happened, I can kind of put last season behind me and move forward, look ahead. I feel like I have a spark in me now. This is something where ... there's something different. It's strange how it happened, but I'm happy and I'm excited. I don't regret anything that's happened."

O'Reilly has played in just 13 Stanley Cup playoff games and wants to get back badly and feels with this move, it elevates his chances during what are supposed to be the best playing years of his career of doing so.

"There's nothing like playoff hockey," O'Reilly said. "It's what we all kind of dream of doing. Unfortunately in my career, I haven't done it enough. I plan on coming in and helping this team get there, help this team win. Last year they were one win from getting in and you know, all you have to do is get in and you have a chance of winning the Cup. This team was so close and I want to be there. This is the best chance to do that."

One of the first Blues players to reach out was Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, a teammate of O'Reilly's at the 2017 World Cup of Hockey representing Canada, along with a throng of Blues players that welcomed in one of several new additions that Armstrong made through free agency by signing forwards David Perron and Tyler Bozak along with backup goalie and O'Reilly's teammate in Buffalo last season, Chad Johnson.

"A bunch of them reached out, all very positive, very excited," O'Reilly said. "It's very nice. I talked to Pietrangelo right after it happened. He was ecstatic and it was a very warm welcome. With the guys that I played with overseas, obviously them and talking to them there too. It's nice not going into a team with all new faces and I know guys that I've already got some great relationships going there. It makes the transition much easier.

"I got a chance to play with guys at the World Championships. To see them and to obviously have a relationship with Mike Yeo from that. I think there's a ton of great pieces. You look at the roster, playing against them last year, they're a team that got so close. I obviously want to be a part of that to take us to the next level and win a Stanley Cup. There's depth. You look at the backend, I think it's one of the best backends in the game right now. And then up front, there's just so much firepower. I've had the pleasure of playing with a few guys before and can't wait to do it again."

O'Reilly's addition caps off a day in which Armstrong also added Bozak (three-year, $15 million contract) to solidify the Blues at the center ice position along with Brayden Schenn, 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, and lastly, Robby Fabbri, who is coming off two major knee operations.

"I think it's very deep," O'Reilly said. "When I saw Bozak sign, I wasn't sure if St. Louis was still in the picture. It adds a lot, I think. The depth down there is huge. Look at all the teams that have success, they have guys down the middle that compete. I'm thrilled to be a part of that."
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Ryan O'Reilly had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) with Buffalo
last season. He was traded to St. Louis on Sunday night.

O'Reilly also adds instant credibility, not just on the ice but off it as well, and Armstrong talked about adding those type of players to the locker room. O'Reilly, one of the top faceoff specialists in the NHL and top power-play guy (23 points in 2017-18), can lead on and off the ice and will not hesitate in doing so.

"I think I don't want to waste any time," O'Reilly said. "I think leading by example is something I've done. I think I do some things well that I think guys respect and they like. I think you do have some great veteran players and a really strong core in St. Louis that it's nice to jump into that. You can lead in so many different ways. There's going to be a time where there's something I have to do, step up in a different way that I may not have done before, and that's just as it comes, but I'm excited. I think the pieces are there, the leadership, the core group, the talent that they have is an exciting thing to come in and be a part of.

"... I think with any successful teams and successful players, it's one game at a time, winning one battle at a time. I think it'll be a different feel, whether it's ice time, I think I'll have to make adjustments. As of now, I'm training the same way I have been, come into camp at a maximum peak and make an impact every time I touch the ice."