Team opens play tonight against Dallas;
players looking to make solid first impressions
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For those prospects that are in Traverse City, Mich. for the start of the annual Prospects Tournament, their performance won't guarantee them a spot in the National Hockey League with the Blues, but it does offer a good first impression, according to president of hockey operations/general manager Doug Armstrong.
"We had a meeting (Tuesday) night. No one is going to make the NHL in Traverse City or not make the NHL in Traverse City, but you get a chance to make a good first impression," Armstrong said.
The Blues, who will be one of eight teams (Detroit, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, N.Y. Rangers, Minnesota and Carolina being the others) participating in the tournament that runs through Monday, took a large management contingency with them to the tournament to observe those that may or may not be a part of the future of the franchise. Among them will be coach Ken Hitchcock, Al MacInnis, former GM Larry Pleau and Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young. The team will be coached by Wolves coach John Anderson. The Wolves are the Blues' new American Hockey League affiliate.
"We are going to out-manage the players," Armstrong said. "I think we have twice as many management there as players.
"We told them, 'Listen, you won't be able to find a place to have a cold beer because we have somebody at each one.'"
Some of the bigger names participating include forwards Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin as well as defensemen Jani Hakanpaa and Joel Edmundson as well as goalie Jordan Binnington.
Hakanpaa was named captain of the squad, with Jaskin and Edmundson elected as alternate captains.
"I'm looking forward to seeing these three guys bring this group together," Armstrong said of the captains. "All have been leaders at previous times. I'm also looking to see a player like Ty Rattie. The reality is Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin are the players that are talked about the most, that have produced the most at lower levels that have an element to their game that is exciting to our organization. I want to see them perform against their peers."
The Blues have three players (Jaskin, Rattie and Binnington) that were finalists for league MVP honors in their respective leagues, with Jaskin playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Rattie in the Western Hockey League and Binnington in the Ontario Hockey League.
"One of the exciting things and it's certainly a feather in the cap of (director of amateur scouting) Bill Armstrong and his staff, you look at the three major leagues in Canadian hockey, and we had a finalist for player of the year in each league," Doug Armstrong said. "So they have done well in providing that. There's some good players, but prospects have to become players, too."
Rattie and Jaskin are slated for Chicago as is Binnington, who has turned pro after signing a three-year entry-level contract in May. But with Jake Allen headed for Chicago and the Wolves to join Matt Climie in goal to start the season, Binnington is likely to open the season at Kalamazoo of the East Coast Hockey League. Kalamazoo has an existing affiliation with the Wolves, according to Doug Armstrong.
"It's very important for a player in that position to play," Doug Armstrong said. "He's not going to get better in practice at that (AHL) level. So if he has to play in the East Coast Hockey League or a secondary league, the key thing is for him to get a lot of games."
The Blues open play today at 6 p.m. against the Stars' prospects, then face the Wild prospects Friday at 6 p.m., the Red Wings' prospects Sunday at 6 p.m. before finishing off tourney play Monday at a time and against an opponent to be determined.
Here is a link for the Blues' tournament schedule and roster: http://blues.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=91311&navid=DL|STL|home.