Monday, September 15, 2014

Mueller looking to add to mix of crowded forward group

Former first round pick is healthy, trying to find himself back in NHL 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With much of the focus on who the Blues are bringing back to an already loaded team that will see an influx of new blood when the 2014-15 season unfolds, one potentially new addition has one simple message:

'Don't forget about me.'

After entering the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes as the eighth pick of the 2006 NHL Draft, Peter Mueller impressed in his first NHL season (2007-08) with 22 goals and 54 points. The Bloomington, Minn. native seemed to be well on his way.
(Kloten Flyers photo)
Peter Mueller (right) led the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss League in goals (24)
and points (46) in 2013-14. He's looking to land in the NHL with the Blues.

But the proverbial "sophomore slump" got the better of Mueller as he dipped to 13 goals and 36 points in 72 games. He missed time that season with what would turn out to be a series of concussions that would derail the gifted forward's career.

Mueller missed 10 games in 2008-09, then was traded to the Colorado Avalanche late in the 2009-10 season and suffered a concussion following a hit by San Jose's Rob Blake that cost him the remainder of the season, plus the 2010-11 season.

Mueller's career path in the NHL hasn't been the same since. He's gone from the Avalanche to the Florida Panthers in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season (eight goals, 17 points in 43 games) before departing for Europe.

Now he's trying to find his way back into the NHL ... and back to the form that brought him instant success.

"It was tough," Mueller said of his concussion history. "It's tough to really think about it because it happened so long ago, like, 'Did that really happen?' It's almost been, what, seven years now with my first year in the league. Time flies. It really does. Those first three years went by like that and obviously the concussions ... it just happened so quick and now I'm standing here. It's pretty crazy, but to get this opportunity, it really is a good feeling for myself and I'm  just trying to make a big name for myself here."

Mueller, 26, spoke with coach Ken Hitchcock over the summer about a variety of things. It didn't take long before he and the Blues consummated a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 (NHL), $250,000 (AHL).

"We've chatted in the summer. We exchanged phone calls just to get a feel where everyone's at, what he's thinking, what I'm thinking," Mueller said. "It's nice to have that communication from a coach even before training camp started."

Mueller, who arrived in time for informal workouts this past Friday, called the Blues' situation the best for him. Known as a skilled offensive player, he's trying to find his form and trying to find a way with a contending team.

"Personally, it was just the best situation I could put myself in to contend for a championship for the Cup," Mueller said. "... If they see something in me that can help this club and help them push forward to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Stanley Cup, I take that with a great deal of pride. I'm harnessing that to push me through training camp and hopefully earn a spot here.

"You look at the organization, you look at the team and the success they've had over the last four, five years, it's really been a powerhouse team. For them to show interest in me is a really big belief on my part that they believe in me and I can come in and help. I was quite shocked, to be honest with you, coming from Europe and getting this phone call that they're interest in me. It was really a cool experience on my half saying a contender team wants me on their team. I'm taking it with a great thing of pride and I'm going to run with it as much as I can."

At 6-foot-2, 204-pounds, Mueller spent the 2013-14 season playing for the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss League, where he led the team in goals (24) and points (46) in 49 regular season games and another three points in 10 postseason games. He also added a goal and four points in eight games for the United States at the World Championships this past summer.

"You talk to anyone that put the puck in the net, you get 20 goals anywhere, you're feeling good, you're feeling confident with the puck," Mueller said of his stint in Europe. "I haven't felt that in a long time except my first year seven years ago."

But now, Mueller (63 goals and 160 points in 297 career NHL games) comes into Blues camp --  which begins Friday -- fighting for a job. He will be among a large group trying to earn a spot for a team with limited job openings. 

"It is a challenge. You've got to fight for a spot," Mueller said. "I've got to try to make my name put out there, but it just comes with working hard. When I get an opportunity, I've got to try and make the best of it, especially putting pucks in the net. I plan on shooting a lot, trying to create some opportunities and most importantly, try to make the team win any better and any way that they can. Obviously this is a very good team, a very established team. It's going to be tough, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Hitchcock has a simple message for Mueller if he is to make the team.

"Just play," he said. "He's a really smart player. He's a really intelligent, offensive player. He's had stops and starts in his career due to injury that really impacted his NHL career. So he just needs to come and play. He has a skill-set that's very, very good. Staying healthy and being healthy and feeling good about himself, he's just got to come and play. When you have a player that plays with that level of intelligence, he's going to fit in wherever we play him.

"I just know that the player before he got hurt, Mueller was a good player in the National Hockey League. Can he be back there again? Who knows, but he's just got to come and play. He's got a really high level of intelligence." 

Mueller will get the opportunity to "just play," and it all has to do with health. That's been the biggest obstacle during his young career. But as Mueller said, "Knock on wood, it's been great. 
(Florida Panthers photo)
The last time Peter Mueller (88) suited up in an NHL jersey
was for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13.

"Obviously I came back in Colorado," he added. "I only played (32) games (in 2011-12) still trying to get the feel of the game back. The lockout season didn't really help playing 40-some games. Obviously in my cards, there was no opportunity for me over here, so that brought me over to Europe. I thought it was a great experience for me to go over to Europe and experience that level of play, bigger sheet of ice and just get back into hockey. At that point, I thought that was the best fit for me. For me coming back over here, it's another great step for me getting back to where I was. It's almost like a new chapter in my life and it's honestly like starting over, trying to rebuild myself to where I was."

Mueller said he has to keep an open mind as camp unfolds. He knows he could find himself in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves.

"I think everyone does, including myself," he said. "In all honestly, you've got to be ready for whatever happens. I knew that accepting the two-way. I knew there might be something happening, but I've got to try and rebuild myself here. Whatever happens, happens. But at the end of the day, I know I'm in the right spot and I'm in a great location and a great team. Hopefully everything all pans out."

Hitchcock recently made a comment, saying, "Watch Mueller make this team." To which Mueller responded: "For him to say that, it really just gives me more motivation to not prove him wrong and make sure I can stick with this team because I know that I can be a big help to this team. I'm just hoping that they can see that as well."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Older, wiser Lindstrom takes another crack at NHL

Former Blue Jackets second round pick wants 
another chance in NHL, looking to earn it with Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Columbus Blue Jackets placed plenty of emphasis on what Joakim Lindstrom could bring to their franchise, when they used a second round pick in 2002 on the Skelleftea, Sweden native.

Lindstrom was a young, naive 22-year-old when he played his first NHL game in 2005. To say his stint with Columbus, which lasted 37 games spanning three seasons (four goals, four assists), didn't go according to plan would be stating things mildly despite putting up terrific numbers (61 goals, 151 points in 163 games) for the franchise's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
(Skelleftea AIK photo)
Joakim Lindstrom will try to make another NHL comeback with the Blues
in 2014-15.

But starting in 2008, Lindstrom's NHL life would soon take some dramatic twists.

Lindstrom would get traded to the Anaheim Ducks for the Ducks' fourth round pick in a series of moves that saw Lindstrom get claimed on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 3 and again by the Ducks four days later. He would eventually be traded to the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 8 and finally get onto the ice again.

Lindstrom had nine goals and 20 points in 44 games for the Coyotes in the 2008-09 season but decided to return to Sweden in 2010. He came back to play 16 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, picking up two goals and five points, but would return to Skelleftea on Dec. 2, 2011 after signing as a free agent, where he spent the past three seasons.

Life was good for Lindstrom, who was the league MVP of the Swedish Hockey League in the regular season and playoffs last season.

"It's been kind of neat to have my mom, dad and brother in the stands," Lindstrom said. "We had a really good team, a good system back there, worked extremely hard with my training and my skating."

But now at 30, Lindstrom is taking another crack at the NHL. This time, with the Blues after he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract. And this time, Lindstrom plans on making it a permanent stay.

Why will it work this time? Lindstrom, who had 23 goals and 63 points in 55 regular season games along with six goals and 18 points in 14 postseason games for Skelleftea AIK last season, feels he's learned through several ups and downs.

"Experience, I'm older, but I also think I'm a lot stronger, way better skater than I was," said Lindstrom, who arrived in St. Louis in time for his first informal skate with Blues teammates Friday. "My compete level is up. ... I've been around a little bit. I never get too high, never get too low.

"... I'm a way better player now than I was last time I came over here. I don't think I would have come over here again if I didn't truly feel that I'm a better player now."

Lindstrom was brought in by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to compete for a top-nine role, along with several other players. He's not guaranteed a job for the 2014-15 Blues team that looked to fortify its forward position. But Lindstrom understands what's at stake, yet took the chance to leave the comforts of Sweden to get another crack at the NHL.

"The NHL is where you want to be," Lindstrom said. "It's been my goal to come back and play. This is where I want to be, want to play. I want to compete with the best players in the world.  ... I don't think I would have jumped on this if I didn't believe that.

"I think it's a great opportunity for me to come here. They have an unbelievable team here. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."

Having a familiar face to help in the process doesn't hurt Lindstrom's chances. He has been a longtime and close friend of the Blues' Alexander Steen, who highly endorses adding his buddy to the mix. The two have been friends since "14 or 15 years old," according to Lindstrom.

"He's extremely skilled," Steen said of Lindstrom. "He knows how to find the net. He's very approachable. You guys will love him. He's an honest guy who works hard. I think he's on the quiet side. He's not going to make a lot of noise in the room, but when you get to know him, he's a great guy. We're best friends for a reason.

"We've been talking about the possibility of being able to win the Stanley Cup together and we feel that we have the team that is capable of it. ... Almost every summer we talked about the possibility of playing with each other again one day. We haven't been in the position until now. ... To get an opportunity like this, it's extremely special. We're both extremely pumped and excited about the year."

Added Lindstrom: "It's great the way life goes sometimes. We always joked about it that it would be fun to play against, but I never thought it was going to happen on the same team, and here we are. It's great motivation.

"It's always great to have familiar faces when you're coming to a new team and a new city. If I have any questions, or practical, whatever, it's always good to have a friend around to kind of ask."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock calls Lindstrom the "wildcard" of the group looking to push into the top 12 forwards.
(Skelleftea AIK photo)
Joakim Lindstrom (middle) was the Swedish Hockey League's regular
season and playoff MVP last season. He's looking at a return to the NHL
with the Blues this season.

"I had him when he was first breaking in and he was just emerging," Hitchcock said. "He's 30 years old now and is a much different player when he first broke in.

"He has the ability to break into our top nine and he's a guy that is looking at it as a tremendous opportunity. If he can come in and play, he can help us a lot."

Lindstrom is keeping an open mind. A job isn't a guarantee. Competition will be fierce, and he understands what's at stake.

"My expectations for myself is to just go out there and battle and compete absolutely as far as I can playing my game," Lindstrom said. "See where that takes me. 

"A lot of things can happen, no doubt. Competition is hard, no question. A lot of good players. This is one of the top teams in the league the last couple years. It's a good challenge for me. I'm ready to battle."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stastny joins new teammates on the ice

Team's marquee free agent signing gets 
a one-week jump on opening of training camp

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Paul Stastny lived in St. Louis long enough growing up that he should remember what midwest conditions are like.

Apparently, he forgot.

Despite the cooler temperatures the past few days, there never seems to be a shortage of heavy air, which Stastny was sucking in during his first skate with his new teammates Friday at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall.

"I was a little tired. ... I forgot how humid it is here, especially early in the season and late in the season," Stastny said afterwards. "It's fun. It's good to be back out here, especially one time before the weekend. Now I'll get the next couple days ... I'll see some guys at the fantasy camp (Friday night) and a couple days for the wife and I to get more house furnishing done, bare essentials and then Monday, get right back to work leading up to camp."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (second from left) took part in his first informal skate with his
new Blues teammates Friday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall.

Stastny was joined on the ice for the first time by two more newcomers to the Blues' roster: Peter Mueller and Joakim Lindstrom, who are both trying to make a roster crowded with talent and depth.

But for the 28-year-old Stastny, who left the Colorado Avalanche after eight years as an unrestricted free agent to join the Central Division rival Blues when he signed a four-year, $28 million contract, getting a leg up before camp opens Sept. 19 helps the process.

"Absolutely. Just get to know the guys on the ice especially," Stastny said. "I think for me and the new guys, I think a couple days around the locker room, around the trainers, around the equipment managers and the coaches and players to just kind of get used to it a little bit. When everything starts Thursday, you're not surprised with anything. I think you've seen a lot of guys do that in the past on different teams. ... It's a new team, new guys and you want to get here just to feel as comfortable as you can as early as possible.

"I'm just trying to get comfortable out there. Older guys kind of skate later in the summer. You're trying to peak for the first day of the season, not for training camp and you want to peak for playoffs obviously. There's more important times of the year. For me, it's kind of getting used to it, get comfortable with myself first and foremost, get comfortable with the puck, the compete level and then kind of finding different players I'm comfortable with when it comes to playing offense or the defensemen I'll be playing with."

It's been a busy summer for Stastny, who recently got married and went to Slovakia to be part of the tribute and charity event for former Blue Pavol Demitra. Now comes the reason the Blues brought him here: to help with the growth process and help this franchise move further along than just qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first step involves developing chemistry.

"There's so many good players and I think you know so many players," Stastny said. "Whether it's playing with guys from USA or playing against guys that are international or playing against guys in the summer, you know what they bring to the table. You're excited to get things going, especially with these guys.

"Getting married was the most important thing, and that went well. Everything after that's a lot easier. It's been a busy summer."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Berglund looking ahead to future after signing new contract

2006 first round pick was subject of trade rumors 
during summer, anxious to put it all in rear view mirror

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Patrik Berglund walked into the Blues' locker room at the Ice Zone for the first time Wednesday to the surprise of his teammates.

Same sense of humor. Same loose, keep-it-simple demeanor for the guy T.J. Oshie and teammates call 'Berg Dog.'

"I didn't even know he was going to be here," said Oshie, Berglund's teammate and one of his closest friends. "Probably the biggest smile I've had on my face the whole summer."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
With a new contract in hand, Patrik Berglund is motivated to
move forward with a fresh outlook.  

What has changed for Berglund is his exterior and perhaps, a refreshed mindset. There's a noticeable physical difference from when Berglund left in May to the one that returned a few days ago.

"A little leaner? He's a lot leaner," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Berglund when asked.

Berglund, a 2006 first round draft pick, is listed at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds. But Berglund is leaner and he's added more upper-body muscle. 

There's plenty of motivation for Berglund these days. The 2013-14 season statistically (14 goals, 18 assists in 78 regular season games; he was scoreless in four playoff games against Chicago after battling a shoulder injury) wasn't one of his best seasons. His contract expired June 30 and there was some question whether Berglund, 26, would return to the Blues.

Berglund's name was the subject of serious trade rumors. Much of the talk was centered around the Ottawa Senators and Jason Spezza. Ultimately, the Blues and Senators could not agree on trade parameters and Spezza was traded to the Dallas Stars after general manager Doug Armstrong came back to Berglund and signed the Swede to a three-year, 11.1 million contract.

Berglund, who trains in his home country during the summer, couldn't help but hear all the talk. In the end, the Blues chose to invest mightily in Berglund's corner. 

"It's the business, right? Obviously I heard all the rumors, but there's nothing I could do so I just kept going on with myself and with my training, played some golf and had fun with my family and friends," Berglund said. "I couldn't do anything about that. I just let it go and I'm really happy that I'm still here."

Oshie said he kept in touch with Berglund during the summer on occasion. There was no question that his teammates wanted him back, but Oshie thought Berglund might need a voice of reason with all the trade talk going on.

"It's something you've got to block out," Oshie said. "I feel like I've been getting traded every year, too. You can't think about it. 

"This is where we belong. Just thinking about going somewhere else is a distraction and something we don't need. It's really, really good for us. It makes our team a lot stronger having him back here. ... When he signed, I was relieved and really excited for him. It's good for us to have him here."

Berglund, who admittedly trained more, did not alter his summer course too much. He finished the season less than 100 percent after injuring his shoulder late in the season during a game in Dallas. He was limited to four playoff games but was obviously not 100 percent. He sat down with Hitchcock at exit meetings and knew then that the team was not giving up on him despite the trade talk.

"At the end of the year, we had some defined goals that we wanted him to obtain and he wanted to obtain," Hitchcock said. "The visual alone is ... impressive. He looks like a guy that's put in a tremendous amount of work to make himself quicker and lighter, stronger. We don't have all the data yet because it's Day 1 but just from a visual standpoint, it's pretty impressive.

"A chip on your shoulder's one thing, but the team made a pretty big commitment. They signed him to a three-year deal. So he's made a commitment to the team, the team's made a commitment to him. Now it's what type of player do you want to be. You're always curious when a guy first shows up. Bergie's a player that we need to have a really good year from him. First impressions mean a lot. When you show up physically looking like this, it's an awfully big first step. This is a guy that is not going to allow fitness to get in the way of anything. It's pretty dramatic when you look at it."

Berglund, who has 220 points (106 goals) in regular season 436 games, has averaged 17.6 goals per season. But he's been a hot and cold player throughout his six-year career. Hitchcock just wants to see consistent production he feels Berglund is capable of providing.

"We need to get him back to being a scoring player," Hitchcock said. "We need him at the net, around the net, heavy on the forecheck. We need that back again. We need him to be a scoring player again. He's got the ability ... on his worst season, he gets 20 goals. We need that dynamic from him again. 

"I think he felt at the end of the year that he had to bring way more quickness and agility into the game. He's obviously lightened up. He's got way more quickness and mobility back from everything he did, (including) diet. This is an all-encompassing thing that he's done during the offseason. This is not just training. This is fitness, this is nutrition, this is basically a lifestyle. Pretty impressive."

Getting more production towards the end of last season was a result of getting time as a left wing.

"I kind of got a little hot there on the left wing. That was fun," Berglund said.

Would he entertain the idea again? 

"Absolutely," Berglund said. "Whatever they want to do, however they want to build the team, that's part of the game. If you still want to be here and stuff, you've got to adjust and take on that challenge and do the best you can. Whatever I can help, I will be there and do my best."

"It certainly helped from a forechecking standpoint," said Hitchcock, who will start training camp with Berglund and Steve Ott together and a third linemate yet to be determined. "It allowed him to get ahead of the play. It's a dynamic that we want to talk to him about moving forward. 

"I was really impressed when he played the wing, but then we got banged up and we needed him at center in the playoffs. But I think he's a versatile guy. I think it's important wherever he plays, he has to play a top-nine role, and that's where we expect him to be. ... He's a guy that's got to play in the top nine for us to be successful."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Patrik Berglund (21) was the subject of trade talk during the
summer for the Blues. He got a new three-year contract
instead and is motivated to make good on it.

With the Blues having a strong balance of forwards, especially at center, Berglund won't have to do more than what is asked. But getting a strong scoring touch back (Berglund's efficiency shooting the puck last season was a career-low 9.7 percent scoring 14 goals on 144 shots compared to 23 percent getting 17 goals on 74 shots the previous season) could really give the team balance in their top nine; whether it be down the middle or on the wing.

"I kind of also just think about the team goals," Berglund said. "We have a great team and we need to play some good hockey and win games. That's what it's all about. What I can do with my goals is contribute to the team every night. If it's a blocked shot, if it's a goal, assist, whatever, then so be it. We are a team here and we need to play as a team to win. That's the main goal.

"We've gotten so far in this locker room. We have a few obvious steps to climb. I think after every year, we're getting more and more ready. I think everybody's been working extra hard this offseason. We've got to be ready and it starts right now."

Bigger, stronger Rattie growing well in Blues organization

2011 second round pick continues to shine while awaiting permanent NHL call

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ty Rattie was among the 25 skaters on the ice among Blues' prospects getting ready for the upcoming tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

But considering when Rattie first came into town three years ago as a scrawny 165-pound 18-year-old winger with plenty of potential that needed to grow into his body to the one that departed with the remainder of the prospects Thursday afternoon, that 191-pound 21-year-old seasoned player was a man among boys.
Ty Rattie

"I saw him score a couple out there today that were pretty nice," said Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson, who will be coaching the prospects, beginning with the opener Friday at 6:30 p.m. against the Detroit Red Wings. "I'm glad he's got his mojo back."

Anderson saw firsthand Rattie's goal-scoring prowess. He led the Wolves with 31 goals and 48 points last season after 105 goals in two the past two seasons with the Portland WInterhawks of the Western Hockey League and appears on the brink of making the Blues' NHL roster. Rattie continues to knock on the door.

But with the Blues having so much organizational depth both at the NHL and American Hockey League level, Rattie will have his hands full and may have to display a little more patience.

"It's obviously one of the deeper teams in the League and they're a top team in the League for a reason," Rattie said of the Blues. "I know it's going to be hard, but it'll be fun that way and whatever happens, happens. As long as I come out here and do my best and look good, it's up to the grass after that."

Rattie, the Blues' 2nd round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has been through it before. And yet, here he is once again doing all he can to make a favorable impression.

"I think my first Traverse, I came in at 165 pounds and the now I come in at 191," Rattie said. "From going through the weight, defensive responsibilities ... I'm just a better overall player. I feel good and I'm looking forward to it.

"You want to contribute on any team you play on and I thought I did that last year in Chicago. I want to continue to prove that I can be a contributing player. I've got to prove that this tournament and continue it into the main camp."

Rattie will be with the Blues for the start of training camp, which is slated to begin Sept. 18. Getting the wheels dusted off and going with four games in five days in Michigan is a good way to get the season going.

"It's kind of big just to get the rust off a little bit," Rattie said. "It's your first games in a few months and I know it might not be the pro level, but it is good hockey. It's really good hockey. You come out of that tournament feeling good and confidence is high for the main camp."

Anderson likes Rattie's chances of getting to the NHL sooner rather than later for one reason more than the other.

"I think he's right on the cusp," Anderson said of Rattie. "The one thing about Ty is he's a very coachable young man. He's a great person. He is a great scorer, but usually scorers get that reputation where they don't want to listen. But he's the exact opposite. He wants to do what it takes to get there. He's just a pleasure to coach.

"Most guys make it through other guys getting injured and getting good looks. Fortunately for St. Louis right now, and unfortunately for guys in Chicago, there wasn't very many injuries here. The training staff did a good job here. There weren't a lot of openings that way. I think he'll be patient. He scored 31 goals for us last year and he didn't score in 20 games straight. He could have potentially been a 50-goal scorer for us if he didn't go into that slump, but hopefully we'll fix that this year. ... He scores goals that other people don't think about."
(Chicago Wolves)
Ty Rattie led the AHL's Chicago Wolves in goals (31) and points (48) last
season. He continues to knock on the NHL door of the Blues.

Now Rattie gets to be the voice of reason for those prospects going through their first tournament sessions and being at the Blues' training facility. After all, he's been there before.

"We had a team meeting last night and Doug (Armstrong) said, 'Don't leave anything behind. Leave it all out there,'" Rattie said. "He said guys come in with no NHL contracts and then they leave with NHL contracts. You never know who's watching. You take it game by game and just give it your best.

"They brought me in (to Chicago) to be a goal scorer and I thought I did that. But it's one year. I could go this year and I don't want to have a worse year than I did last year. I just want to continue to get better and better. I worked hard this offseason and I'm looking forward to the start of this year."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Elliott, Allen ready to tackle challenge in goal

Netminders feel if they can push each other, Blues will be better for long haul

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the 2014-15 season gets closer and closer, the Blues will be mentioned in many, if not all, conversations as a team that has the ability to dethrone the Los Angeles Kings as Stanley Cup champions.

The Blues have tallied 111, 60 (lockout-shortened season) and 109 points, respectively, the past three seasons. They have won 130 of a possible 212 regular season games and have earned points in 150 of them. The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a different story.

The Blues' team from top to bottom has the tools to make another run this season. But the one area that has thrown up question flags: goaltending.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) and Brian Elliott (1) will man the pipes for the Blues in the
2014-15 season.

The Blues have been strong in goal the past three seasons, with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak manning the pipes until late last season when Doug Armstrong made the splash move of the trade deadline when he acquired Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres (with Halak as part of the trade).

But the Blues have since moved on from Miller and turned the net over to Elliott and Jake Allen. The 29-year-old Elliott has never been a No. 1 goalie before (he was in a 1A-1B tandem with Halak) and Jake Allen had a 15-game cameo during the 2012 lockout-shortened season and was impressive. That's a heavy burden for two guys who have never been labeled "the guy."

For those making predictions that claim they don't know if the Blues can hold up or keep up with the elite with their current goaltending tandem, Elliott and Allen don't care.

"I try not to read too much into that," said the 24-year-old Allen, last season's American Hockey League goalie of the year who was 9-4-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .905 save percentage with the Blues in 2012. "Everyone's got a different opinion. In here, I think we're confident with the group we have and that's all that matters. We can go on the ice and prove the naysayers whatever they want to say that we've got the 22-25 guys in here that can win the Cup. I think it all comes within the locker room. For me personally looking around, it's the best team obviously I've ever played on. I think it's one of the best we've had in a few years." 

They're friends separated by five years but have plenty in common. Allen recently spent a week with Elliott in Wisconsin at a pro camp, getting a leg up on strengthening an already strong relationship.

"We used to go fishing and stuff. It was a great week just to get things back moving," Allen said.

The friendship is quite unique, not one often seen as rivals in search of the same objective when it comes to being on the job.

"I think we see probably similarities between the two of us in each other," Elliott said. "It's good to play with a guy that you have things in common with. You talk about the same things. I was in his position before. I try to treat him as I would have wanted to be treated back then. It's good. I think it's going to be a good partnership and good relationship. We have no problems with each other and hopefully we'll be rooting each other on whoever's in the net."

Elliott will be the No. 1 when the season starts, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. There will be no preseason competition and there's a logical reason.

"I look at it as an earned opportunity for Brian," Hitchcock said. "He's paid his dues, he's earned the right. We've got two really good goalies. We've got a guy like Brian, who's really improved in the last two years. Last year was his best year and looking forward to more responsibility and we're looking forward to giving it to him. ... He feels like it's his turn and he wants the responsibility. We've got to give it to him. There's still going to be the competition.

"With Jake, we just need him to keep building on the things that he's done so well at the American League level and then his one chance, he came up here and took advantage of it also. Every place Jake's gone with us, he's taken advantage of it. He's done a  heck of a job at showing us that he's ready to play in the National Hockey League. I think we've got a really good situation."

This will be Elliott's biggest role entering a season since his arrival into the NHL with the Ottawa Senators in 2008. His best season with the Senators was in 2009-10 when he played in a career-high 55 games and was 29-18-5 with a 2.57 GAA and .909 save percentage. But since his arrival to the Blues three seasons ago after signing as a free agent following a failed stint with the Colorado Avalanche, Elliott is 55-24-7, including 23-10-4 with a League-leading 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage in 2011-12 where he was part of the tandem with Halak that helped the pair win the NHL's Jennings Trophy. Elliott went 18-6-4 with a 1.96 GAA and .922 save percentage this past season, a season Hitchcock called his "best as a Blue."

What's helped Elliott stay patient and allow perseverance to prevail was his ability and willingness to prepare as if he would be the No. 1 goalie.

"I don't think it's that much different than the past three years," said Elliott, who signed a three-year contract extension worth $7.5 million on May 19. "I always trained to try to be the No. 1 guy and I think I've always told you guys that. You're selling yourself short if you don't. There's a big opportunity for me here right now. I'm really looking forward to the challenge. I think we're going to be a really good team and I want to be a big part of that.

"You put your work in and you trust the system. You try to be at peace with yourself at the end of the day and usually when you do that, things work out. I've been trying to do that my whole career and this is no different. It's about getting that opportunity, taking advantage of it and try not to worry too much about the future or past and just be present for that day."

Allen has been touted as the goalie of the future since the franchise chose to trade away Ben Bishop in 2012. It will be Allen's initial role as a regular in the NHL, he understands his role and will offer as much support in order for the Blues to have a strong 1-2 punch.

"Ells definitely deserves that role," Allen said. "He's been, I think personally, one of the best goalies in the League the last three years. To be able to come in here and be a part of it with him is a pretty good feeling for me and I'm sure, the boys as well. I'm looking forward to just watching him and learning from him a bit more. I've been around for a while, but whenever I get an opportunity, I'm going to make the most of it, just try to push him to be the best he can be."
(Getty Images)
Brian Elliott comes into the 2014-15 season as the Blues' No. 1 goalie, the
first time in his career he's been touted as one.

Pushing each other is all part of the process, and when the two get together with new goalie coach Jim Corsi on a regular basis when camp opens Sept. 18, both are expected to push the other to the limit.

"That's the nature of this League," Elliott said. "You look at everywhere around, you've just got to perform. Younger guys keep coming up, they're not stopping and you're not getting any younger. It's always just trying to push yourself. When you have good people around you, they push you as well. It's a good combination.

"We talked about I'll have that opportunity and Jake's coming up and he's the one that kind of has to push to get ice time. Titles haven't meant anything to me in the past. They're not going to mean anything now, but I'm kind of in that position where I do have the most experience now. You want to set an example, put the bar high and try to reach it and I'm sure the younger guys are going to try to get up there as well."

Allen agreed.

"I think if I was in his position, I would want someone doing the same thing to me," he said. "Sometimes you take it for granted if you don't have someone push you there. If I'm playing, he would push me. It doesn't matter what role I am, but it's definitely going to be a different scenario coming from last year playing 60 games. I just want to be the best teammate I can be and have some fun, too. I'm  really looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun year."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Prosser eager to show Blues he belongs

Veteran defenseman signed one-year, two-way contract 
despite crowded defensive unit, hopes to win job in St. Louis

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Nate Prosser understands the cabin is crowded.

The Elk River, Minn. native realizes the cards are stacked against him.

Despite the odds against Prosser, the 28-year-old defenseman didn't shy away from signing with the St. Louis Blues this summer.
Nate Prosser

Prosser, who inked a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000 NHL/$250,000 AHL), sees eight formidable defenseman (Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman, Jordan Leopold, Ian Cole and Chris Butler) that are also vying for those top six or seven spots. There are names here that are certain locks, but that didn't push Prosser, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Wild out of Colorado College in 2009, in a different direction.

"I see the guys that are here," said Prosser, who arrived this week and began skating Monday with fellow Blues teammates at informal skates. "It's a good d-core. They've proven that and they've shown that the last few years. I look up to a lot of those guys. I just want to do what I can to be a part of that. Whatever ways I can help this team win and have success, that's what I want to do."

The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Prosser has played his entire 126-game career with the Wild, covering five seasons. He played in his only 10 Stanley Cup playoff games this past season. Prosser has three goals and 21 points in those 126 regular season games, including two goals and eight points in 53 regular season games this past season.

The Wild chose not to offer Prosser a contract and the veteran defenseman wasn't able to attract any one-way contract offers.  

So in opting for a two-way contract, Prosser understands the deck is stacked and the only way to gain entry onto a 23-man roster is to play himself onto one. The alternative option is the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

"I think I did try to wait a little while," Prosser said, referring to the free agency period. "I'm not too worried about it. It's the nature of the business and kind of the way it went for me this summer. It's not about a one-way or a two-way right now. It's about coming in and showing what I got, being ready to go when camp starts and preseason games, I've got to be able to bring my 'A' game to show them.

"I'm trying not to focus on that aspect of it. I'm just trying to be ready. If I can come in  and play my 'A' game, play with that chip on my shoulder, things will work out alright."
(Getty Images)
Nate Prosser (39) has played his entire career with the Minnesota
Wild. He's hoping to land a spot on the Blues' roster this season.  

Prosser said he attracted offers from other teams but the Blues were the most intriguing. He feels like he offers a physical edge to his game that can complement the way the Blues play.

"I like the style," Prosser said of the Blues. "I know every time we came and played them the last couple years, they're gritty, hard-working, a disciplined team. I think I can bring that edge and be a little spark to the backend.

"We knew when we came into St. Louis, we knew we were up for a battle. We knew as defensemen, we were going to get hit. Guys were going to be coming in our faces, be chirping, all that kind of stuff. That's the kind of game I bring. I think it'll be a good fit. I'm excited to show all that to them at camp here."