Thursday, September 10, 2015

Blues prospects ready for Traverse City

2014 first-round pick Fabbri not taking opportunity to make NHL for granted

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Robby Fabbri departed St. Louis Thursday along with the rest of the Blues' prospects for another opportunity to try and impress management at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.

But when Fabbri returns and gets ready for his second training camp when the Blues open Sept. 18, the stakes will have a lot more meaning for the 2014 first round pick.

The 19-year-old Fabbri will look to build off an impressive first camp last season and attempt to make the opening night roster when the Blues open the regular season Oct. 8.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robbi Fabbri and Colton Payarko listen as Chicago Wolves coach John
Anderson instructs at practice Thursday before Blues prospects departed
for Traverse City, Mich. to take part in the Prospect Tournament. 

Whether Fabbri makes it with a nine-game trial, he impresses so much that the center iceman stays in the NHL for good or he returns to the Ontario Hockey League is yet to be determined, but with recent surgeries to centers Jori Lehtera (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Fabbri has a golden chance at making the most favorable impression to those that matter.

"Doors could be opened, but there's a lot of of people trying to fill them," Fabbri said. "I'm just going to go out there and control what I can control, and that's how I play the game, how I act on and off the ice and the effort I put into it. 

"I'm not trying to think about it too much; just stay level-headed."

Staying level-headed means living in the moment for the 24 players that will compete in the four-game, five-day event, which opens Friday and concludes on Tuesday.

For Fabbri, who played for the Guelph Storm last season, it's the first step in building his resume.

"Last year, it was a great look at the competition and a lot of stuff like that," Fabbri said. "I had a lot of fun there. It's good to bond with the prospects that are all up and coming because we're hoping to all play together some day. Last year, I learned a lot here. I want to use that for the new guys and also for myself to build upside and keep working.

"I enjoy it. I'm a competitive kid. I like to play games like that. They're high-tempo and they get you into shape and ready for games when you come up here."

Defenseman Colton Parayko, a third-round pick in 2012, was bestowed the honor of being captain of the Blues in his first tournament. His ascension continues to be the story within the organization.

"Obviously exciting," said Parayko, who played collegiate at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks last season. "It's a good way to get to know the guys and bond a little bit and a good way to start off training camp for sure.

"... For me, I'm not sure how this matches up with (NHL training) camp. I think for sure it's going to be a good start. Playing four games in five days. Get a lot of conditioning in, get some hockey playing and get into some game situations."

Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson, who will guide the Blues' prospects, said the eight-team tournament, which also features the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes, is a good tool for the players looking to make their mark.

"It's a great tournament up in Traverse City and it's a good chance to really come to measure where you are with your young guys," Anderson said. "Certainly we've got some tremendous players this year. I think we have a chance to win it.

"... You're putting on a St. Louis uniform. It's very NHL-like in the way everyone conducts themselves. It's a good steppingstone. It's not the media cramming on you. It's a little more relaxed."

Along with Fabbri and Parayko, some of the names heading to the tournament include 2014 second-round pick Ivan Barbashev, 2015 second-round pick Vince Dunn and 2015 fifth-round pick Luke Opilka, an Effingham, Ill. native who grew up in St. Louis, 2012 first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz and 2013 second-round pick Thomas Vannelli.

Anderson spoke highly of all involved. Fabbri has NHL tools to his game after getting a small sample size in the AHL last season.

"He's just so natural," Anderson said of Fabbri. "You don't see that a lot. He might have a chance to make this (Blues) team this year."

And what makes Fabbri NHL-ready despite his smaller 5-foot-10, 178-pound frame despite putting on roughly eight pounds this off-season?

"His quickness with his stick," Anderson said. "He makes plays when plays aren't there. Very (Patrick) Kane-ish type of savvy with the puck and that. I'm not sure whether he's ready right this year but very close.

"... (Fabbri's size) hasn't hurt him in any aspect of his career so far. It's like going from peewee to maybe bantam hockey. It's just a natural progression, and he's good enough and sees the ice well enough and has enough skill that it'll be just a natural progression for him. He won't even think about his size."

Anderson was really impressed with Parayko, who had a dress rehearsal with the Wolves in the American Hockey League last season after arriving from college with 17 regular season games and another five in the AHL playoffs.

"What an awesome kid. He's so polite," Anderson said of the 6-5, 214-pound Parayko. "He almost embarrasses me, he's so polite, but a big, strong kid, knows the game well, want to do anything he can to make it. You might be looking at him knocking on the door, too. 

"You don't really see the young guys, and you're always a little skeptical. He came up and played for us, we were short a guy so he had to step right in. He became our best defenseman, like within two games. When you see that natural ability, that natural want, you get excited."

Barbashev, recalled to the Wolves but didn't see any action late last season after playing in Moncton with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, will also get his second stint at Traverse City.

"I didn't want to throw him to the lions right off the bat, but when I saw him at Traverse City last year, I wasn't that impressed," Anderson said of Barbashev, who had 45 goals and 50 assists in 57 regular season games last season. "When he came back, if we would have won another round, I would have put him in. He improved that much. ... I think we're going to see a real good player in Traverse City."

And as for Schmaltz and Vannelli, both defensemen, Anderson is eager to see what they have to offer.

Vannelli spent last season with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League; Schmaltz left after his junior season at the University of North Dakota and signed a three-year entry-level contract.

"Vannelli was really good in Traverse City last year, probably one of our best defensemen back there," Anderson said. "I have not seen Schmaltz play. He looked good in the little mini camp they had (earlier in the summer), so we're really excited to see how he does. We're excited to see how he does in the big camp, too."

Prospect Tournament Schedule
Sept. 11: vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 3 p.m. 
Sept. 12: vs. New York Rangers, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: at Minnesota Wild, 2 p.m.
Sept. 15: TBD, time TBD

Blues Prospect Roster
Ivan Barbashev (2nd, 2014)
Samuel Blais (6th, 2014)
Noah Bushnell (amateur tryout)
Jaedon Descheneau (5th, 2014)
Liam Dunda (6th, 2015)
Robby Fabbri (1st, 2014)
Gabriel Fontaine (amateur tryout)
Trent Fox (amateur tryout)
Glenn Gawdin (4th, 2015)
Mathieu Lemay (amateur tryout)
Adam Musil (4th, 2015)
Zach Pochiro (4th, 2013)
Carson Stadnyk (amateur tryout)
C.J. Yakimowicz (6th, 2014)

Vince Dunn (2nd, 2015)
Macoy Erkamps (amateur tryout)
Liam Murray (amateur tryout)
Colton Parayko (3rd, 2012)
Darren Raddysh (amateur tryout)
Jordan Schmaltz (1st, 2012)
Dmitrii Sergeev (free agent signee)
Thomas Vannelli (2nd, 2013)

Niklas Lundstrom (5th, 2011)
Luke Opilka (5th, 2015)

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