Remaining campers know end is near; Fabbri,
veterans miss practice; Gunnarsson ruled out of opener
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Around the NHL Friday, teams were cutting their rosters down to size in anticipation of the deadline Tuesday when rosters must reach the limit of 23 players.
With the 2014-15 season less than a week away, camps are quickly being reduced down to the nitty-gritty.
But for the Blues, there was still an abundance of players on the ice for the brisk workout Friday. And defenseman Chris Butler, one of 32 still remaining in hopes of landing a spot on the opening night roster, echoed the statements many around the locker room at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills Outlet Mall were saying: this is the most competitive camp most, if not all, of these players have ever been part of simply because of the fact that there are so many NHL-experienced players here vying for limited roster spots.
"A couple of us were just kind of chuckling about it today," Butler said after camp. "Just doing line rushes (in practice), the forward depth is just so ridiculous. Every guy has the ability to make plays and every guy works so hard.
"You look at our practices and some teams go for an hour-and-a-half, two hours. We got for 45 minutes to an hour and we get more done in that span because you role it over, you work, you work, you work. It's a fun style to play. It's a very good hockey club right now."
Added veteran forward Colin Fraser: "Not this many, no. You look around, there's a lot of guys that have been in the league a long time. I think it's a good thing because it pushes everybody. The guys on the outside or at least on the bubble obviously have to play good to give themselves a chance. It keeps those other guys honest, too. They have to play good, too. You can't just float in and expect to be handed a spot when they know other guys are around."
The Blues, who are 2-3-1 in the preseason with one game remaining Saturday night in Minnesota against the Wild, will send a roster with players with one final opportunity to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
"I think this game is big for the depth of hockey club; how we build our team, how we structure, what we want to have stay and go, this is a big game, big game for a lot of guys," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There's going to be some veteran players that don't make the trip because they've played quite a bit already. We've got an evaluation done there, but this is a big game for a lot of people because it's going to be an evaluation for 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 forwards. Those numbers 10-15, it's going to be a big evaluation to see where guys fit."
The evaluation includes veteran players who might feel the need to look over their shoulder to see if anyone's creeping up.
"We're still carrying a lot of guys," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "There's obviously going to be a lot of movement ... down, stay, favor, who knows? You saw what happened (Thursday) with (Nate Prosser being claimed off waivers by the Wild). It's realistic. A guy like 'Pross,' good for him. As a player, when you get sent down, you hope someone will pick you up. ... Time is winding down here. We've got one more game on the road here and it'll be interesting to see what happens there. We go forward from that and see what happens.
"There's a lot of competition here. I think (Doug Armstrong) set out to do that this summer and brought a lot of guys to camp and have guys fighting for roles and spots. It's unique, but it's healthy competition. Of course you always want to find yourself on the right side of it, but it's up to everybody to go out there, bring their game and show what they got."
Fraser, who will be in the lineup Saturday, said it's not the end of the world for those who don't make it straight out of camp. But Saturday could go a long way in determining who stays and who goes for some people.
"I feel like my entry-level deal again. I'm trying to break into the league and make the team," Fraser said. "I played two games and this is the last game to show what you've got. Got to save the best for last, I guess. Leave it out there, give yourself the best possible chance. Obviously you look at the roster and the contracts, there's not a lot of room. But with that being said, you want to give them good reason to keep you around. If it's not tomorrow, then the middle of October, November, whenever they need you kind of thing. You want to stay in the mix.
"Personally, I've been around long enough to see that stuff changes all the time. In L.A., we called Toffoli and Pearce up. They were in the minors until the trade deadline and they come up and they're huge pieces of the puzzle when L.A. wins. You've always got to be ready and you've always got to play your best hockey. Just because you don't make the team out of camp doesn't mean you're not in the mix."
Hitchcock, who will be making a lot of the final decisions on those personnel matters, has seen this kind of competitive camp before.
"We were like this in Philadelphia all the time," Hitchcock said. "There were a lot of decisions that needed to be made because of younger players that were pushing for work. We played younger players before the lockout and they went and they went back and played in the American (Hockey) League and then they came back. We had this 30-man roster that we had to make some really hard decisions. There were NHL players that ended up getting cut because younger guys kept playing hockey. The other guys were locked out and the younger guys just went by them. That's when (Jeff) Carter and (Mike) Richards and (R.J.) Umberger and (Ben) Eager and (Joni) Pitkanen and (Dennis) Seidenberg, that's when all those guys made the team. They just beat guys out of work. That's what you're looking at here. That's what you want is competition. Nobody gets a spot for free, nobody get a role for free. That's what training camp's all about. You're also looking for how you want to build your team. ... This has been a real good evaluation for us."
A lot of the experienced players looking for jobs, whether through two-way contracts or on a personal tryout basis, understand the risks involved. But with the setting the Blues have offered as a winning team, it's a risk worth taking.
"I think guys come here with the mindset you're willing to do whatever it takes, whatever your role may be, small or big it is to be a part of something special," Butler said. "It's been creating a great atmosphere, a great environment. Working towards that ultimate goal, I think is attainable and achievable now. It's fun to be a part of it.
"You hear guys towards the end of their career talk about how they just want to win. They want to be on a good team, they want the chance to win the Cup. I'm 27, and you never know how many more years you're going to have in this league. I've been on some teams that have struggled the last couple years. It's frustrating. It weighs on you. It gets old in a hurry. To be able to be a part of a team that has had success and I feel is close to getting there, it's exciting again. It's uplifting."
* Fabbri, others sit out practice -- Blues 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri sat out practice Friday with what Hitchcock called "upper body soreness," but it wasn't head-related.
Fabbri left in the first period of the game Thursday night against the Wild after avoiding a hit. But Wild defenseman Christian Folin inadvertently fell on Fabbri, causing the 18-year-old to fall a bit awkwardly and did not return.
"He felt better today. He's not going to play tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "We'll just kind of take him through and see how he's feeling in the next day or so.
"We're not in as big a hurry to get to 23 here on Sunday. We've got lots of time. We don't have to make our decisions until Tuesday. I think all the guys feel they're a part of the team that are here right now. We'll just kind of nurture it along, see how he's looking, see how he feels and make decisions."
Fabbri was having a strong camp until injured last night, and the Blues now must take the proper steps for the benefit of his present and future.
"We have to look at it two ways," Hitchcock said. "He's had a great camp, he's been a great player and the decision is when do you turn him pro? What's best for him? We have to be a little unselfish here. It's what's best for Robby. Those are the talks we've got to start having now.
"I think he's proven that he's more than competitive, but then there's other factors that come in here, too. It's a long season. It's a big-man's game. Any time you've got great, younger players like he is, you've got to look out for their careers. He's proven that he can help us tomorrow, today, yesterday. He's proven that already, but we've got to look out for his career here, too. There's lots of discussions moving forward here with him."
Also, veterans who sat out practice Friday include Paul Stastny, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Paul Bissonnette, who was involved in two fights Thursday against the Wild, participated in the early portion of practice and worked in a few drills before departing early. The Blues recalled enforcer Cody Beach from the Chicago Wolves on Friday and released veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney from his professional tryout.
"Anybody that was out today was out for a health reason, and I'm not going to get into all the details, but they're all day to day," Hitchcock said. "If we were going to play (regular season games), we could play with them, but some of them were non-injury related health issues and some of them were a little bit nicked up. From the health issue, they were things that needed to get done before the season got started."
* Gunnarsson not ready -- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, rehabbing from off-season hip surgery, has been a live participant for the majority of training camp. But he has yet to shed the red "no-contact" jersey. And with the regular season just six days away, Hitchcock confirmed what was already anticipated, that Gunnarsson will not be available for the season-opener against the New York Rangers.
"He's not ready to start," Hitchcock said. "I look at the injury, it's a four- to five-month injury. I'm just glad he's participating right up until the contact starts.
"You can't even consider him a player until he comes off the red sweater ... not ready. Get him in a gray sweater, then be evaluated. He's not ready to (put) the gray sweater on. One of the good things about it is as soon as he gets the gray sweater, then it doesn't need to be very long."
In the meantime, Finnish defenseman and 2012 sixth round pick Petteri Lindbohm has taken advantage of the opportunity and remains a factor for the opening night roster.
"The feistier the game, the better he plays," Hitchcock said of Lindbohm, who logged 16 minutes 26 seconds of ice time Thursday. "He really enjoyed himself yesterday, and that's a really good sign. The feistier the game got, the better her played, the more composure he showed, which I think is really a good sign.
"We've given him a real opportunity here because of Gunnarsson out. He's got a real chance. He's basically taken the role that 'Gunny' had and he's taken advantage of it. He's really grabbed an opportunity coming from basically nowhere to be a consideration to make the hockey club or be right there competing for a spot on the hockey club. It's pretty impressive. We were chuckling last night ... the nastier it got, the more composure he seemed to play with, which was really a good sign for us. He wasn't afraid of the stage."
* Arnott back -- The Blues haven't made the official announcement yet, but they have hired former center Jason Arnott as a part-time scout. Arnott, who played for the Blues in the 2011-12 season -- his only season in St. Louis -- retired following the 17-goal, 34-point season played here.
* Berglund avoids scare -- Forward Patrik Berglund was a participant in practice Friday but was thankful that the scar on the right side of his face was not much worse.
Berglund suffered a laceration as a result of a skate blade from a Wild player following a skirmish. Berglund said he was able to avoid stitches and that a skate blade caught him by surprise as the Wild player was falling down.