Friday, September 18, 2015

Gomez, Upshall to give Blues something to consider

NHL veterans in camp on professional tryouts want to make it a difficult decision;
Stastny misses opening day; notes on Fabbri, Brouwer, Brodziak, Lehtera 

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Gomez has been around the NHL long enough to know there are no guarantees.

But never in his previous 15 seasons has the 35-year-old veteran gone into an NHL training camp without a contract in hand.

But for Gomez, like many other NHL veterans heading into the 2015-16 season, he's faced with the possibility that he'll have to earn a contract through a professional tryout.

If Gomez were to land a job with the Blues this season, it would be his fifth in five seasons. That doesn't matter to Gomez though.
(New Jersey Devils photo)
Scott Gomez (pictured) hopes to land a contract with the Blues this season.
He's in camp on a professional tryout.

He landed a spot to compete for a job in St. Louis after putting up 27 assists and 34 points in 57 games with the New Jersey Devils last season.

"It is what it is," Gomez said after his first on-ice session at Blues training camp. "There's a lot of guys in this situation. No matter if you've got a contract or not, you've got to make them keep you and that's always been the bottom line."

The Blues have left wing Scottie Upshall (with Florida last season) and defenseman Stu Bickel (Minnesota) here in PTO's. Defensemen Andre Benoit (Buffalo) and Peter Harrold (New Jersey) signed one-year, two-way contracts and are in search of jobs at the NHL level.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said both Gomez and Upshall bring different elements to the table that can make them appealing to the Blues.

"He's a puck-control guy," Hitchcock said of Gomez. "He's a guy that can speed it up, slow it down, control, find quiet ice. That's what he's got to do. He's an old-school centerman. He's a throwback to where every team had two of those guys on your team. That position has changed, but I think because of his smarts, his hockey sense, he's still able to find the quiet ice and make plays off of that. He's smart, and that's what he's got to do, is play his game. His game is different. That position has changed, but there's still players like Scott that are still effective. If he can play the way he normally can play and keep up to the pace, I think he's going to give it a real go here.

"Upshall for me, he was as advertised today. High energy, really hard player, fast, in your face. That's a good fit for the way we want to play. He had a good first day today."

Gomez had his pick of where he could go for a tryout, but having the familiarity with assistant general manager Martin Brodeur and the fact that the Blues are one of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference made this an appealing destination.

"Obviously a lot. I talked to Marty," Gomez said. "It's a well-balanced team and obviously Marty, the relationship we have, I talked to him a lot. This is the best opportunity for myself and the Blues and I trust Marty and always have. All you can ask from any guy is a fair shake and this is where I want to be and I know I can help this club out.

"... I think the talent, the group of individuals and the coaching staff. You look up and down their lineup, it's a great team. It's right there right on the verge and I want to be a part of that. I did my homework and it's a great club. When they called, I definitely was excited. It's my job to make them keep me. That's been my idea every training camp ever since I was a rookie."

But it's not to say Gomez hinged on every word of Brodeur's.

"No. He can say jump off a bridge ... I don't know if I'd be doing that," Gomez joked. "We all know the game. Obviously Marty's position, he's come a long way and I know the history we've had. We talked. I had concerns, I had questions. I've always trusted him and that's what you want to hear. In the past, I've gone to certain situations where they might say something, it's probably not going to be what happened. I doubt that here. Like I  said, I know how to play the game and I know how to help the team out."

With the Blues' injury situation of Patrik Berglund (shoulder) sidelined until January and Jori Lehtera (ankle) in question for the opening of the regular season, there appears to be a legitimate spot and chance for Gomez to crack the lineup. 

And after a bit of a points resurgence with the Devils last season (he had 38 points combined the previous three seasons), Gomez feels he can help the Blues in any role given.
(Florida Panthers photo)
Scottie Upshall (front) is the kind of player that Blues
coach Ken Hitchcock calls "a good fit."

"I've felt great every year," Gomez said. "It's a situation where I went back to the basics. Obviously I got the opportunity. I never forgot how to play hockey, I've always had legs and hands. I was just put in a different situation last year. I'm probably not the best grinder or fourth-line checker there is, but last year, they put me in a situation ... I still know how to pass the puck, I still can play. I never lost the ability to pass. It wasn't a shock to me. A different opportunity presented itself and that's the way I can play.

"I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. I'm not the best fourth line (player), I can go up and down and check a guy, but if you put me in a situation where I can pass the puck and set someone up to score, yeah I know how to do that. Last year playing for Adam Oates, it taught me aspects of the game that I never had. It took some things out of my game and added (others). That was last year, but I think the mentality every year is you've got to go in and earn a spot. That's where I want to be."

* NOTES -- Center Paul Stastny missed the opening of camp for what Hitchcock called "personal time." Stastny's wife Haley is expected to deliver the couple's first child any day now, and Hitchcock said he wasn't sure when Stastny would be back. "We're not sure. We're hoping he's back tomorrow. It's personal time for him and we're hoping he's back tomorrow." Stastny is listed as the center for camp between Magnus Paajarvi and Vladimir Tarasenko. Alexander Steen, who is supposed to be skating with Gomez and newcomer Troy Brouwer, skated between Paajarvi and Tarasenko on Friday.

... Robby Fabbri, the Blues' first round pick in 2014, played on left wing with Jaden Schwartz at center and David Backes on the right wing in Group B. Of Fabbri when asked to compare him to last year, Hitchcock said, "He's better than he was last year, a lot better. A lot stronger, a lot more comfortable. He was a good player today."

... Lehtera, who is recovering from ankle surgery in August, is getting closer to a return to the ice after another day of skating Friday. "Two or  three he's skated, did real well," Hitchcock said of Lehtera. "We'll just see day to day here moving forward when he joins us."

... Speaking of Brouwer and another newcomer, Kyle Brodziak, Hitchcock said, "They were good. This is all new to them. It's not just do drills, it's new teammates, it's new surroundings. I thought they were a little conservative at the start and then really got going. They both showed when the puck was dropped and then they scrimmaged, I think a lot of the drill stuff, they're just trying to figure out their place on the team. I think as you see them get into Day 4 and get into exhibition games, you're going to really see them show up. Big bodies, strong on the puck and hopefully learning their way here."

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