Tuesday, September 23, 2014


First roster cuts made; Fabbri sticks around; 
Steen-Stastny chemistry; Jaskin, Elliott both play well at Dallas

ST. LOUIS -- Five days into training camp, the Blues have made the first round of cuts, trimming their roster down to 53 players.

The Blues announced Tuesday they have assigned forwards Samuel Blais (Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), Jaedon Descheneau (Kootenay of the Western Hockey League) and C.J. Yakimowicz (London Ontario Hockey League) and defensemen Tommy Vannelli (Medicine Hat of the WHL) and Dmitrii Sergeev (Kitchener of the OHL) to their junior teams. Also, defenseman Santeri Saari has been assigned to Jokerit in Finland.

Vannelli, who was taken aside by Hall of Famer Al MacInnis for some helpful advice after practice Tuesday, and Saari each played one preseason game.

"Their seasons are underway; they need to get going," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The Blues will hold a practice for the first group Wednesday at Scottrade Center at 11 a.m., then hold a 45-minute scrimmage between the two groups, then the second group will practice at noon for roughly 45 minutes to an hour.

"We need to find a higher level of competition to get better reads," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "Too many players are the same. I don't know if that's good or bad. We'll be able to tell after tomorrow's scrimmage if it's good or bad, but we want to play a game against each other tomorrow because we've got to get some people emerging out of the pack. The pack's pretty condensed with a lot of people in the mix."

Hitchcock has his reasoning for placing importance on an extra-squad scrimmage. 

"It serves two purposes. We need to get some scrimmage stuff in with all these players that are going to play on Thursday, because they haven't done anything other than just hockey practices," Hitchcock said. "There's been no scrimmages during the hockey practices. By giving them a 45-minute game against pretty good competition, they're going to get ready for the start of their exhibition schedule. That's the first purpose. The second purpose is we want people going head-to-head so we can get a read on who's going up and who's going down because everybody just seems to be in the middle of the mix here."

One guy not going anywhere -- at least not yet -- is 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri.

Fabbri, 18, played in his first NHL game Monday night in a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars. But the 21st overall pick skated for 17:08 and was a plus-1 in the game playing with veterans Steve Ott and Patrik Berglund.

Fabbri is ultimately expected to return to the Guelph Storm of the OHL, but he's leaving a lasting mark to those that matter.

"He's definitely earned the right to stick around so far," Hitchcock said of Fabbri, who one shot, two hits and a blocked shot in the game. "Based on his play, he's earned the right ... putting his name into the hat. 

"It's not just the game (Monday), it's the practices, it's the drills, it's just everything. He's not looked out of place. Tomorrow will be as good as any exhibition game we've played. That's going to be a good read on some guys and he's going to get another look and see where he goes. When you're a young player, as long as you don't take anything for granted, you're willing to live with the day-to-day focus ... once you start getting in the mix, you never know. He wouldn't be the first young guy to make it right to the end. This team's done very very well at getting proper reads on younger players and they're ready to go."

Fabbri scored four goals and had one assist in five games at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.

"I think (good play) started in Traverse City," Hitchcock said. "He was the best player by the end of Traverse City. He's carried on that confidence, he's been very good in the practices, so yesterday was the first game. He looked anything but in awe of what was going on. Showed a lot of composure, a lot of speed, a lot of hockey smarts. So as the game went on, he just got better and better. 

"At the end of the day, you're thinking this guy was one of our better players. If a guy's one of your better players, age really isn't relevant. Just play. You work the next series of elevation. If he doesn't stumble, then you just keep going, you see how far you can take it. It's really up to him how far he takes it. It's pretty impressive that he certainly hasn't missed a beat yet."

* Steen/Stastny chemistry -- Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny, who will make their preseason debuts Thursday when the Blues host the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. on KMOX 1120-AM), have exhibited a good amount of chemistry through the first few days of training camp.

But according to Hitchcock, "I want to see it in a game. It looks like it's really good, but I definitely want to see it in a game."

And it will be Joakim Lindstrom, who also played Monday at Dallas, who will take the right side and play on the wing with the duo Thursday.

"He's going to get the first opportunity there," Hitchcock said of Lindstrom, who got 14:53 of ice time. "Let's see where he goes. 

"Whoever plays with them has to create space. That's either space with speed or space with physicality. But whoever plays with them has to create space so they can operate."

* Jaskin making his mark -- Hitchcock has always shown his fondness for 2011 second-round pick Dmitrij Jaskin. 

Jaskin's effort Monday at Dallas only enhances the coach's feelings.

Jaskin was a minus-2 in the game, but it hardly paints the picture of Jaskin's overall game, which included his first stint at center in the NHL.

"He's really determined to go into the hard areas to score," Hitchcock said of Jaskin's game. "He's very strong on the puck. All the work he did in the summer, he's got small ice quickness now that he didn't have before, so in little small spaces he can create space for himself, physical space for himself. But he was really determined to go into the hard areas to score goals yesterday. If I was playing against him, I'd say, 'That guy's tough to play against.' 

"The guy can adapt. You know how I feel about him. When you've got hockey sense and you've got strength ... I don't want to say the game's easier, but good things happen for him."

* Elliott debut -- Blues starting goalie Brian Elliott made his preseason season debut Monday as well and earned high marks from Hitchcock.

Elliott stopped 11 of 12 shots and played 40 minutes, as he departed with a 2-1 lead before young Niklas Lundstrom gave up three goals in the third period (two of them on the first two shots he faced).

"I felt pretty good," Elliott said. "It's just good to get back in action and seeing the game played. It's totally different when you're battling with your teammates and against another team. That's why you play the preseason, to get in that feeling again. It's good to feel it.

"You want to get in a zone where you anticipate what's going to happen and you slow the game down a bit. I felt like I was ahead of the pace a little bit. That's where you want to be. You want to slow the game down and anticipate what the next play's going to be."

Elliott and backup Jake Allen are gaining good working habits with new goalie coach Jim Corsi, who Elliott said is working off both goalies' strengths and not trying to change their respective techniques.

"I think he just works with your strengths and kind of (offers) more suggestions to try different things," Elliott said of Corsi, who was Buffalo's goalie coach from 2001-2014. "I think we've definitely been on the same page as far as technique goes. It's just getting everything down. It's good to have a sounding board to see where you're at and where he thinks you're at.

"He's been around the game for a while, so it's good to have someone like that kind of use as a measuring stick. ... Some of the best teachers ask you questions in a way where you're coming up with the answers and the things you should be doing on your own. He has a way of making those suggestions and planting seeds in your head so when you're thinking about it, it kind of clicks for you."

Monday was also the first chance for Elliott to play with the new trapezoid, which extends two extra feet from both sides of the goalposts. 

"You didn't notice it too much," Elliott said. "I'm sure there's going to be situations where you definitely notice it. You can play pucks when you shouldn't. I actually caught a puck behind the net and I didn't know what to do with it. I probably would have got a penalty if I froze it.

"It's just going to take time for those situations to arise and I'm sure it'll have some affect on the game."  

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