Mixed lineup to play vs. Tampa Bay Wednesday;
Aucoin shines; Hitch on D; Vannelli leaving school
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As he did in Sunday's 6-5 shootout win at Dallas, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is mixing up his lineup with experience and prospects.
The Blues will skate in their second preseason game Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Orlando's Amway Center (6 p.m.).
The Blues took with them a mixed bag of players to Dallas Sunday, with 10 ready players and 10 more that will be in the minors or with their junior teams. Hitchcock said all along that he plans on giving the younger guys at least a game before making any personnel decisions.
"We're still in the evaluation stage," Hitchcock said after Tuesday's practices. "I'd like to see the chemistry of (Derek) Roy's line (with Chris Stewart and Jaden Schwartz). I think we're curious to see where that goes. And obviously (Dmitrij) Jaskin and (Ty) Rattie, we're excited to see what they bring. We put them with (Vladimir Sobotka), somebody that's an anchor on the line and get them out of trouble in their own zone. They had great energy. Sobe was jumping and that whole line was creating scoring chances and doing a lot of damage in the offensive zone, so we'll get a good look at them."
Also getting a shot in his first game is veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney, who is in camp on a professional tryout and has impressed thus far.
"I want to see him play," Hitchcock said of Whitney. "We're going to play him a lot in the next four (preseason) games."
The Blues' lineup against the Lightning:
Jaden Schwartz-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart
Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-Ty Rattie
Alexandre Bolduc-Christian Hanson-Mark Mancari
William Carrier-Pat Cannone-Jacob Doty
Ryan Whitney-Jani Hakanpaa
Jordan Leopold-Ian Cole
Taylor Chorney-David Shields
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal and play at least the first two periods, and possibly the entire game; Jake Allen, who got the nod in the opener Sunday in Dallas, will be the backup.
* Changes in d-pairings -- The conventional thinking was the Blues' defensive pairs heading into the season would be Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo, Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman-Roman Polak.
But Hitchcock has been shuffling the bottom two pairs, and he indicated that it's a distinct possibility that Jackman will skate with Shattenkirk and Leopold be paired up with Polak.
"I just think the way the game is now, you've got to have transition in all three pairs," Hitchcock said. "I don't think you can play the game and play with a lock-down pair anymore. I don't think you can play like that. I'm becoming more and more convinced that every pair needs to have someone that can transition -- with or without the puck. That gives us balance.
"It's something we've certainly thought about. Rather than defining one pair and putting them into a hole, this allows us three pairs that can pretty much play against anybody. We're not going to be afraid doing that. It also enhances Shattenkirk having to play more on PK and things like that. He's going to have to be able to absorb more time on the ice."
* Aucoin making good impression -- When the Blues signed veteran center Keith Aucoin to a one-year, two-way contract over the summer, it was with the distinction of providing depth at the center position.
But the 34-year-old Aucoin has certainly caught the eye of Hitchcock and the assistant coaches during training camp. Aucoin, who came from the New York Islanders, is smallish in nature, 5-foot-8, 171 pounds) but he plays a big game.
Aucoin had a nice outing Sunday centering the line of Chris Porter and Adam Cracknell.
"He's a smart, quick little player," Hitchcock said of Aucoin. "It's interesting. He plays one role in the (American Hockey League), and then he plays a different role in the (NHL). There's obviously a trust factor there from the coaches.
"Washington guys played him as a third-line pair and then he goes up and plays as a No. 1 in the American (Hockey) League, then at three (years) in the (NHL with the Capitals), and he does the same with (the Islanders). He's obviously good enough defensively and smart enough that even at his size, he can play. I like what he does. He makes other people around him better because he's a very calm player in the middle of the ice."
Aucoin comes from the Islanders, where he played in 41 games and had 12 points (six goals).
"It went really well," Aucoin said of his season last year. "I was playing 12-15 minutes a night and in a lot of key situations. I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of getting out there and do it.
"For myself, it's all about getting the opportunity. It's always been a number's situation, or something like that. The last 2 1/2 years, I've got the chance and I've got coaches that have had confidence in me, putting me out there, so it's been a lot of fun."
With no room on the opening night roster, Aucoin will go to the Blues' AHL affiliate in Chicago and play for the Wolves should be clear waivers. But if there is a need for a call-up, Aucoin is at the top of the list.
"Oh for sure, just based on smarts, energy, trust," Hitchcock said.
* Vannelli leaves school -- Defenseman Tommy Vannelli, who was the Blues' first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft (47th overall pick, 17th in the second round), has decided to leave the University of Minnesota, Gophers head coach Don Lucia announced on Tuesday.
Vannelli, 18, skated for Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, where he scored 10 goals and added 35 points in 27 games.
Vannelli, who was also part of the United States U-18 Developmental Program last season, will be joining Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League immediately.