By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The picture the Blues initially painted for 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri was for him to get great experience at his first NHL training camp and take whatever evaluation given to him back to his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League.
But as the Blues (0-3-1) host the Carolina Hurricanes (1-2-0) at 7 p.m. today (KMOX 1120-AM) in preseason action, Fabbri is still around and among the final 33 players remaining in camp.
And coach Ken Hitchcock made one stern proclamation when asked about the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Mississauga, Ontario native.
"He won't go away. He gets stronger. He won't go away ... I don't know any other way to describe it," Hitchcock said. "You've got to reach a point where you've just got to say, 'OK, age is irrelevant here.' You're thinking, 'OK, he's 18 and this is going to get to him.' No it doesn't. It gets better. OK, he's going to fade. No, it gets better. To me, it's ... he's in the mix. He's put himself in the mix."
The 21st pick, Fabbri was supposed to use this training camp as a learning curve, take it back to the Guelph Storm with him and build on another strong season and come back next year for training camp with a legitimate shot at making the Blues' roster.
But Fabbri, who had 45 goals and 87 points in 58 games with the Storm a season ago, is doing his best to leave a lasting impression on the Blues' coaching staff.
"You obviously want to set your goals high," Fabbri said. "I didn't come in with too many expectations. I just wanted to come in, work as hard as I can, show them what I've got and just earn another day, day by day.
"I don't think anyone wants to come in and say this year's not my year. I came in wanting to make this team. Everyone knows how deep they are and how hard it's going to be. I just try to prove myself every day."
Fabbri, who will skate on a line with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko tonight, isn't looking back, and he isn't looking past the moment.
"If I get sent back at the end of the week, I can go back knowing that I did everything I could," said Fabbri, who scored in the Blues' 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars Saturday. "I'll just come back next year a little bit better.
"What you did yesterday, you have to be ready to do today. Every day is a new day and you have to prove yourself over and over."
Hitchcock admitted he knew little about Fabbri before the draft but got tipped off by a crafty former NHL veteran, who happened to coach Fabbri the past two seasons in Guelph.
"Scott Walker told me about this guy," Hitchcock said of the former member of the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. "He told me about (Fabbri) before he got drafted. Nothing registered until we called his name. But he had told me about him when we had Hockey Canada meetings there in June. He told me how good he was and all of the sudden we drafted him, now I'm seeing what Scott saw.
"This is the National Hockey League. It's a tough league, but you're just waiting on younger players to get pushed aside. Sometimes there's rare cases where they don't get pushed aside. We just feel like, pull him into the mix, see where he comes out, and make a judgment from there. It won't be based on age; it will be based on what he does. We all want to give him a fair chance. Let's put him in a position where he can have success, not put him down and then he's got no chance. He's shown some great play here lately."
"Coming in as a young guy, I have a lot to prove," Fabbri said. "... I go as hard as I can every time I step on the ice. Any chance I get for me to prove myself, I have to give it my all."
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As the old saying goes: it never hurts to have another set of eyes.
So that's the plan for the Blues, who have brought in former Montreal Canadiens great and five-time Stanley Cup champion Bob Gainey, as a coaching consultant for the 2014-15 season.
Gainey, 60, coached the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars as well as the Canadiens and was general manager of the Stars in 1999 when Hitchcock was coach and the Stars won the Stanley Cup. Blues GM Doug Armstrong was Gainey's assistant on the '99 Cup-winning team.
"Selfishly, he's here for both coaching staffs ... us and (the Chicago Wolves)," Hitchcock said of Gainey, who had 501 points (239 goals) in 1,160 regular season games over 15 seasons with the Canadiens. "I think he'll be a little more interactive with the players maybe in Chicago, watching them, observing them and working with the coaches there. With us, he's just going to observe things that are going on our own team. He has such a good relationship with myself and Kirk. It's a natural fit for us, but we were told we were not to hog him. He's going to share both teams and go at his own pace. We'll probably talk once a week on a weekly basis just on review and what he sees from our own team and what he sees from the opposition and where he sees the conference at."
Hitchcock said he and Armstrong approached the idea over the summer, and Gainey agreed as long as he can keep a low profile while looking at the big picture.
"He's a very unique guy because he's had the experience of being a player at a high level, being a leader at a high level and then both being a coach and a manager," Hitchcock said of Gainey. "The big picture diary that any coach is looking for, like it's kind of the plan ... the weekly plan, that's what I used him for in Dallas. He kept a weekly plan updated. He was such a good fresh set of eyes. He would see roles for guys having an impact on us winning hockey games that were maybe little bit different than we were thinking and gave us pause for thought, which was very very helpful. With the Chicago guys, he's probably going to be a little more hands-on, with some of the players and getting evaluations on how some guys fit further in their careers."
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They played together Saturday and will get another look tonight, but for Kevin Shattenkirk, playing with Jay Bouwmeester is another look for Hitchcock while mixing and matching his defensive combinations as Carl Gunnarsson (hip) continues to rehab from off-season surgery.
"The one thing, I think for me, especially in the game the other night ... the way that 'Bouw' recovers on plays, you kind of find yourself leaning into go help out, but you have to trust he's going to make the recovery and make the play," Shattenkirk said. "That's something where I kind of caught myself in the middle a couple times. The more I play with him, the more I get used to that. We'll see what happens. Who knows how these pairings are going to shuffle out. It's just a completely different beast to play with."
Alex Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester's partner for the last year and a half, will pair up with 2012 sixth round pick Petteri Lindbohm tonight and likely again on Thursday.
"This is still evaluation stage, unfortunately, because of Gunnarsson not being here," Hitchcock said. "We have to find combinations we think work, so we're going to try and play Lindbohm with Petro and see how it looks today. We know what we can always go back to (Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester). We know that that works, but we're trying to get better there, so this is something that's a challenge to get better so we'll take a hard look after the Thursday game."
Gunnarsson continues to progress, but there's still no timetable for a full-scale return. He is close.
"He's kind of in that final stage," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "Last practice, he went two-thirds of the whole practice and then he didn't participate in the small ice game. So he's at the last stage of getting ready to become a full participant. Once he becomes a full participant at practice, we'll see where he's at for games right now. We're going with him day to day, but it was really nice that he took everything. He took the first 45 minutes before the last drill, which is a good sign."
Also, Alexander Steen, who missed a 5-4 loss Thursday to the Columbus Blue Jackets after Hitchcock said he was "banged up" from the scrimmage the previous day, will make his preseason debut tonight. It is a lineup the Blues will load up.
"I'm more looking forward to how we look with a bigger lineup, with more players that played in the NHL on it," Hitchcock said. "Our attention to detail will be stronger, so I'm looking for more how we look throughout our lineup, not just Steener."
Hitchcock still points to the twosomes and searching for that third link, but he does like Patrik Berglund, David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
"To be honest with you, no," Hitchcock said when asked if he was closer to finding threesomes. "I'm assuming that the Berglund-Backes-Oshie is going to be up and running and then the rest is up in the air. We've got to see how they play."
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The Blues' lineup:
Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Peter Mueller-Dmitrij Jaskin-Magnus Paajarvi
Jay Bouwmeester-Kevin Shattenkirk
Petteri Lindbohm-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Nate Prosser
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
The Blues are playing as close to a regular season lineup for the first time tonight.
"I think the players can count," Hitchcock said. "This is 30 guys for 23 spots; seven aren't going to be here," Hitchcock said. "But I also think the veteran players, they know what time of year it is. This was at a completely different level than we've been. If we would have played a game like we practiced (Monday), would have won by seven goals. It was good to see us get to this level now. If this is the stepping-up point for us, this is a real good sign."
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The Hurricanes' lineup, according to the Raleigh News & Observer:
Jiri Tlusty-Eric Staal-Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner-Riley Nash-Elias Lindholm
Brock McGinn-Victor Rask-Chris Terry
Brad Malone-Brody Sutter-Patrick Brown
Tim Gleason-Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison-Ryan Murphy
Haydn Fleury-Danny Biega
Cam Ward is the starting goalie. Alton Khudobin will be the backup.