Backes skates through drills, is on trip to Alberta; Sobotka to miss at
least two more games; Paajarvi set for Edmonton return; Leopold progressing
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It may have looked like an innocent optional skate for the Blues on Friday, but judging by David Backes' ability to do everything his fellow skaters were doing, it's not a question of if Backes will return any time soon but more so when.
Backes, out since a head on head collision late in the second period at Ottawa with the Senators' Colin Greening, took part in full drills and didn't appear to miss a beat with two handfuls of skaters and assistant coaches.
Backes, 29, traveled with the Blues on their two-game swing through Alberta, Canada where they will play Edmonton and David Perron on Saturday and Calgary on Monday.
Backes is unlikely to play against the Oilers but could play against the Flames.
"We're improving every day and that's a positive sign," Backes said. "We'll see how everything transpires here over the next little while. Hopefully I'm an ice hockey player here in the near future. You never know what's going to happen.
"We're working out kinks every day and feeling better, so you never know."
The fact that Backes, who has 16 goals and 30 points in 32 games, is traveling means there's a chance be could get clearance to play. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is playing the cautious route, as is the medical and training staff.
"I don't think you're going to want to take guys on the trip unless they think they can play," Hitchcock said. "... Backes is on the trip to see if he's up and ready to play, but he's not cleared yet.
"He's moving forward. He's not been cleared to play. We are into daily evaluation. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and evaluate it from there. He's going to go on the trip with us to continue to rehab and get ready to play."
Backes said he's seen the video of the collision.
"It's a helmet in my face," he said. "Optimal? No, but stuff like that happens during the course of a game. Live with it ... kind of a freak thing and move on."
* Sobotka left behind -- Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka, nursing an upper-body injury of his own, did not make the trip to Alberta with the team but did take part in the skate Friday. Sobotka was placed on injured reserve Friday afternoon retroactive to Sunday.
Sobotka's last action was Saturday at Columbus but he left that game in the second period and did not return.
Hitchcock said Thursday he was at roughly 50 percent of where he needs to be but continues to train towards a potential return. The earliest he could play would be on Dec. 28 against Chicago.
"We'll rehab Vladi here and leave him here for the two games and then see where he's at post-Christmas," Hitchcock said.
* Paajarvi set to face former teammates -- Not only will it be a reunion of sorts for David Perron playing against the Blues for the first time, but Blues winger Magnus Paajarvi will return to Edmonton for the first time since the July 10 trade that sent him to St. Louis, along with a 2014 second-round pick, in exchange for Perron.
"It's going to be fun to come back," Paajarvi said. "I'm with a new team now and I'm going to do everything to win the game."
Paajarvi said he hopes to get together with some friends on the team, particularly one of his best friends, Anton Lander.
"I have a couple good friends there," Paajarvi said. "We won't be friends obviously when we play, but sure, it's going to be nice to see some familiar faces."
Paajarvi was the 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and was lost in the shuffle with the Oilers' bevy of high draft picks, which mostly have been comprised of forwards. But He feels he's in a better place and has no regrets.
"I don't see it like that. I've come to a really great team," Paajarvi said. "It's really, really nice and fun to be on this team. I've got no hard feelings or anything like that against Edmonton.
"Expectations are really high in Edmonton, too, but things are not clicking and unfortunately, it hasn't been for a couple years. I've been there. I know how hard it is. I know they're doing everything they can. It's way more fun on the winning side, that's for sure, but I'm sure they're going to be good in the future."
Perron is tied for third on his team in points with 27, including 14 goals, while Paajarvi only has two goals in limited action (15 games) with the Blues.
"The part that we're happiest about Magnus, if he stays healthy, he's a very effective player for us," Hitchcock said. "The way we play and the way he plays is a real good fit, but Magnus' problem has been a start and stop again from a health standpoint. If he can get four or five good games without getting hurt, that's going to really, really help us."
* Leopold progressing -- Defenseman Jordan Leopold and right winger Ryan Reaves were also in on the skate Friday at the Ice Zone.
Leopold has been out since injuring ligaments in his right hand on Nov. 7 against Calgary, missing his 20th game Thursday against Montreal.
He and Reaves are traveling with the team to Edmonton and Calgary as part of their rehab process.
"We're kind of doing this together," Leopold said of Reaves and himself. "I feel good, but it is a progression thing. I still have my splint on, but I'm able to go on with the boys now and do a couple things. Mentally that was probably the biggest challenge we had the last few weeks of skating.
"I'll probably get re-evaluated once everybody gets back from the holiday break and look at it then and see where we're at. It's got to heal. Until that happens, I get to see this lovely white piece of plastic on my finger. For now, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. Hopefully I can get good news."
Leopold picked up his first two points of the season against the Flames on Nov. 7 and is eager to get back into the lineup.
"I hate watching," he said. "That's one of those things that's not easy to do. The game looks so easy upstairs. For me, I enjoy playing the game. I don't enjoy watching it.
"It's tough when you're out of commission and kind of out of the loop for a while. It's nice to get back in the locker room and see the guys, hang around with them."