Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Lehtera, Bortuzzo to make preseason debuts against 
Blackhawks; kids, PTO's making roster cuts tough; Thursday lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Center Jori Lehtera and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will make their debuts when the Blues play their final preseason game Thursday.

When the Chicago Blackhawks visit Scottrade Center for a 7 p.m. drop of the puck (KMOX 1120-AM), Lehtera (ankle) and Bortuzzo (lower body) will get their first and only test, respectively, before the opening of the regular season Oct. 8.

Coach Ken Hitchcock was asked if one preseason game would be sufficient enough to convince him both would be ready and available against the Edmonton Oilers.

"We have no choice," Hitchcock said. "I'm not sure where Bortuzzo's at, but Lehtera, he's been skating for three weeks now. He's been skating for almost 10 days with us. He looks more than ready. There's going to be some rust and there's going to be some situations where you're going to have to get through, but he looks more than ready right now."

Lehtera had right ankle surgery Aug. 4 to remove a bone chip.

"It's going to take time. I don't know how long," Lehtera said. "... When I started 13 days ago skating after six months, it's been a good 13 days. Happy about that. I've felt better every day skating, stick-handling, everything.

"I'm pretty sure tomorrow's not going to be easy for me, but it's a start."

Bortuzzo, who missed the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild with a shoulder injury, has skated in the majority of the practices during training camp this season but the team has been cautious with the lower-body injury that's been hampering him.

"I'm looking forward to it," Bortuzzo said. "It's been a frustrating couple weeks not being able to be out there, but I feel good and it's an exciting time when you can join your team, especially after a long haul off here."

Hitchcock said Bortuzzo just needs to play a smart game.

"We'd like him to play with an edge but within himself," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "He's wanting to do a lot at practice, he's a dangerous guy because he's so physical and he can't help himself sometimes. We'd like to basically turn him loose tomorrow and just let him play and see how he's doing, see how he feels and see how he looks out there. Playing tomorrow is a little bit like trying to catch a moving bus. It's not exactly a team you want to walk into and have to play your first exhibition game against. It is what it is and he'll be excited, he'll be physical and he's going to catch a few people hopefully."

* Cuts looming -- The Blues have 32 healthy players in camp and three more that are sidelined with injuries.

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (groin pull) is the latest to join Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Dmitrii Sergeev (undisclosed).

But before those next set of roster cuts, which will likely occur before the Blues face the Blackhawks and then jet off immediately afterward to their annual team bonding trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., the Blues continue to agonize whether defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko, the biggest surprises of camp, can make the team out of training camp.

"Because of the push of the younger players, we've extended the evaluation process because you get that many young players pushing for work, it's a nice problem to have, but it creates a little bit of a problem," Hitchcock said. "I was looking at other teams, they're down to five lines and eight 'D' and two goalies and we're still sitting here at 33 people. We've got some further decisions, we've got some final decisions to make tomorrow before we decide what we're going to take to Ann Arbor, but we have some difficult decisions to make now.

"If you're keeping the players around, they are legit. That's what we're doing. We're continuing to look at the same people, so we've kept those younger players in the lineup because we want a further assessment of them. They're pushing for work, they've earned the right to compete for jobs and now we're trying to get an evaluation so every game they they against elite competition, which is what Dallas did and then what Chicago's going to do tomorrow, man, it gives us a real opportunity to look at whether they're ready or whether they're not ready."

Both Edmundson and Parayko have not fallen off, and it's become quite the quagmire on the blue line.

"The injuries to Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson ... it opened the door, and those three kids took advantage of it," said Hitchcock, also including Petteri Lindbohm in that equation. "That's the bottom line. They really did take advantage of it, it opened the door, they got extended play time and then they played very well and we continued to put them in and they didn't drop. We're looking for them to drop and they haven't; they've gone the other way. Eventually after a while, you're just going to have to make the decision that they're ready to play and decide how you're going to build your team from there. Man, they've made a good account of themselves."

* Fabbri making his case -- Forward Robby Fabbri can also be included in that mix with Edmundson, Parayko and Lindbohm. The 2014 first-round pick has made another favorable impression and is on the cusp of at least giving himself a nine-game trial, if not making the NHL roster permanently at 19.

"Once you start getting into a routine here, you start getting used to it," said Fabbri, who picked up his second assist in three games at Dallas Tuesday. "I think playing my fourth game tomorrow and four in Traverse, I think it's good to get into that season shape and be ready for anything that comes up after this. Just take tomorrow as any other game and try and earn another day.

"I'm going out there every day in practice and games just trying to work my hardest and show them that I'm not getting run down and I can handle this next level. ... Funny to say, but playing with such great players, they sort of make the game a little easier with guys talking to you, passes on the tape and the speed and all that. From that aspect, it's a little bit different. Obviously the strength and the structure of the game and the speed are a lot more advanced than the OHL."

Edmundson, who has two goals and an assist in the preseason and Parayko, who is tied with Kevin Shattenkirk with four assists, have experience playing professionally. Fabbri came onto the scene late last season at the American Hockey League level but has only his experience with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.

"They're kids, but they're not 20 years old or whatever," Hitchcock said. "They're 22, 23 years old, so they've had some experience here. This is Edmundson's second year of pro, LIndbohm's played three years now against professional players, a guy like Parayko was 22 when he came out of college. These are older guys, so maturity-wise, they're not overwhelmed by what's going on. 

"Fabbri, he's in a different state because he's 19 years old; he's three years younger than these guys. He's having to learn on the go here with a little bit steeper learning curve to be honest with you."

There was some talk that perhaps Fabbri would get a break from playing Thursday, since he played four games with the prospects in Traverse City, Mich. and another three preseason games, but that's not the case.

"Yesterday was the first drop for him a little bit. He was tired," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "So we wanted to not keep him too long on the ice today, get him off the ice, get him some rest and see what the energy's like tomorrow. Yesterday for the first time, he looked a little bit tired. So hopefully, we'll give him a long day here, take a break and then get ready for tomorrow."

* Upshall, Gomez taking it to the limit -- Veterans Scottie Upshall and Scott Gomez will get at least one last look before the Blues decide what to do with the two, who are in camp on professional tryouts.

Upshall scored his first goal in a 4-1 victory at Dallas on Tuesday, and Gomez had an assist on Troy Brouwer's third-period goal.

"There's been a lot of PTO's let go. There's been a lot of guys released. These two guys are still here because they've earned the right to stay here," Hitchcock said. "And yes, they are on one-game evaluations every time, but they do something to keep themselves going, so they've earned the right to go right to the end here and then we'll have to make a call here in the next four, five days on both guys, but they've earned the right to keep going. You look at every day, there are transactions that have been littered with or released from their PTO's. We've got two guys that have hung in there; good for them. There was an opening, they took advantage of it, they've lasted this long. I think they'd like to keep going. We're putting them in the last game tomorrow to evaluate them even further and we'll have a look."

* Lineup vs. Blackhawks -- The Blues, who are 3-2 in preseason play, will roll out the following lineup Thursday:

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-David Backes-Dmitrij Jaskin

Steve Ott-Scott Gomez-Ty Rattie

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Petteri Lindbohm-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start and play the entire game in goal. Pheonix Copley will be the backup.

Kids continue to shine in 4-1 victory at Dallas

Parayko, Edmundson, Fabbri making cases to stick with 
Blues; PTO's Upshall, Gomez also making case; Elliott sharp in goal

DALLAS -- The Blues' young guns continue to play like they want to play at the NHL level.

No offense to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, were both defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko played to end last season, but if the towering defensemen had their way, they will be wearing Bluenotes one week from Thursday.

Both players continued to play at a high level in the second-to-last preseason game, and veteran Scottie Upshall, in camp on a professional tryout, scored his first goal in the Blues' 4-1 victory against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Forward Troy Brouwer (36) jumps in front of Stars goalie Antti Niemi in
action Tuesday at Dallas. Brouwer scored in the Blues' 4-1 victory.

The Blues (2-2) brought a heavy NHL-like lineup but also brought both Edmundson and Parayko, Upshall and veteran Scott Gomez, also in camp on a professional tryout; defenseman Andre Benoit, and forward Robby Fabbri to continue getting evaluations on all the players they're looking extensively at.

Time is running short, roster spots are going to get thinner and the Blues have to make decisions. The regular season begins Oct. 8 against the Edmonton Oilers.

Gomez had an assist, his first in three games, Edmundson and Parayko each had an assist (Parayko is tied with Kevin Shattenkirk for most assists in the preseason with four) and Fabbri had his second assist in three games.

But the Blues would not have it any other way than to have these players make the decisions tough on them. Its the mark of a good hockey team that needs to make the difficult choices.

"I thought some of our defensemen had real good games; I thought the kids got better and better as it went on," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We were opportunistic with the offense we got, the physical play of Edmundson dialed up about a six-minute stretch there in the second period, we got into the game and played well.

"They're going to make it hard on us, which is exactly what you want. That's something that's going to turn out to be, whether it's short or long term going to be a good investment for us. To me, whatever happens, happens. But they've made a great account of themselves and we'll see. It's an easy evaluation now because (Carl) Gunnarsson (groin injury) or (Robert) Bortuzzo have not played so its been easy. If and when they get back in the lineup, then it'll be a different gauge. We'll be able to compare their game from what we've seen from the kids.

"Fabbri's just been a good player all camp. That's not surprising. He's running on fumes right now with everything he did at Traverse City. He's played the most hockey of anybody on the team, so he's going to need a little bit of a rest here moving forward."

Newcomer Troy Brouwer, who scored in the 3-on-3 overtime Saturday at Chicago, got his first goal Tuesday. He said now that rosters are dwindling down, it's becoming more and more comfortable for the player the Blues acquired from the Washington Capitals for T.J. Oshie.

"Now that we're down a little bit more in players, it's easier to just talk with the guys and be on the ice," Brouwer said. "Today was the first day I was on the ice with (Jaden) Schwartz and it's Day 12 of camp. Now that it's a tighter group, it'll be easier to get acclimated as well. You can see what guys are like in practice, how they approach it, how their skill is and how the team's going to take shape. For me, it's an exciting time because I think we have an unbelievable team here. It's getting more and more fun as we approach the opening night date."

Shattenkirk, who's played a good portion with Edmundson, noticed the play of both Edmundson and Parayko. 

"They're playing confident right now, which is good" Shattenkirk said. "I think they're all hungry right now for a spot. It's just nice to see them feeling comfortable out there. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo moves in on Stars center Radek Faksa
during the Blues' 4-1 victory against the Stars Tuesday in Dallas.

"It just doesn't seem like they're playing scared, which is good. You want to be yourself and play the game that's yours."

But with all the good that happened in Tuesday's game, when asked what impressed him most, Hitchcock didn't hesitate with his response.

"The goalie; Elliott was good," Hitchcock said of Brian Elliott, who stopped 25 shots and gave up two goals in 140 minutes. "He gave us a chance. When they got a push, he stood tall."

Elliott is impressed with the young defensemen in front of him.

"They're playing very poised, making decisions and kind of going with it right or wrong," he said. "They're making those decisions and executing them, and you don't see that all the time.

"... I was trying to see through screens tonight. They have some big bodies up front. I lost some pucks, but they managed to hit me and I was able to cover up some rebounds. That's the stuff you want to feel like going into the season."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

(9-29-15) Blues-Stars Preseason Gameday Lineup

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The goal of the 3-on-3 overtime that will be implemented in the NHL this season is to have the players competing on the ice fighting for that second point rather than have a skills competition decide it.

The Blues have been involved in two such games, both selected by the NHL as experimental games regardless of the final outcome in the preseason games, and they've taken a total of 1 minute, 39 seconds to decide the outcomes.

After losing 39 seconds into OT at Columbus last week, Troy Brouwer ended Saturday's 3-1 loss at Chicago with a goal one minute into the 3-on-3 competition.

So far, the results seem to be mixed, but it appears it's going to take the players some time to get used to all the real estate on the ice.

"It's a good way to end games, let's put it that way," Brouwer said. "I think it's ... I don't know if I'm necessarily for it, but that's the way they're going with it and we do it. I'm sure it'll end some more games that would usually take to the shootout. I don't know what the AHL's numbers were, but I remember hearing the first 12 games in the NHL, the 3-on-3 trial, 11 of them were decided in 3-on-3. If their idea is to take the shootout out, then it's working.

"We're still learning how to play the 3-on-3 game. You can obviously tell the two games we played the 3-on-3, a turnover is what's resulted in a 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 back the other way. You're going to have to do a lot more puck possession I wouldn't be surprised if you saw teams throwing a puck all the way back to the goalie to try and keep possession while they change. It makes changing and a little bit more strategy involved in it. There's a lot of new elements as players, we're still trying to learn, trying to figure out just like any other team."

For younger players like Robby Fabbri, who set Brouwer up for the game-winner in Chicago off a 2-on-1, they tend to be more favorable towards it.

"It's definitely fun," Fabbri said. "It's tough to stay with your guy and wonder who's going to get an odd break one way. ... A lot of the guys talk about little things to do, but you've got to be able to play it and know how to react and certain plays to do and stuff like that."

David Backes, the third member on the ice when the Blues went against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, was part of the selection committee that implemented the rule.

"It's a gut-check," Backes said. "They get into our zone after about 25 or 30 seconds and you've got to empty the tank just to try and get possession back. We were able to do that and get the 2-on-1. ... You've got to have more on the line and play against other players that you're not so familiar with. 

"... I'm going to probably like it when we win and probably not going to like it if we don't come out on the good side. I think it's going to end a lot more games playing ice hockey rather than playing a shootout. That's what the goal of the rule is and I think it'll have its intended purpose."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock got the opportunity to witness the 3-on-3 for the first time. Hitchcock was in St. Louis coaching the split squad group against Columbus and not in Columbus where the 3-on-3 was played.

"I think there's real strategy here," Hitchcock said. "I think the teams that do well 3-on-3 quite frankly are teams that play a really unselfish game. I think if you play a really unselfish game and you protect the next guy, you're going to be very successful. But if you play a selfish game or you force the issue when you don't have to, you're going to end up losing a lot of these games."

- - -

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who was originally in the lineup today when the Blues take on the Dallas Stars, has been ruled out after sustaining a groin pull in practice on Monday.

"It's day to day, moment to moment, but we opted not to take him with us," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "He was going to play today, but we pulled him out."

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and center Jori Lehtera will make their preseason debuts on Thursday.

"Hopefully we get a look at Bortuzzo and see where he fits; whether it's with (Petteri Lindbohm) or (Joel) Edmundson," Hitchcock said. "Unfortunately for Lindy, Borts hasn't been around. Now he's going to be here for Thursday. We'll get a good read then.

"(Bortuzzo's) playing next Thursday (in the season-opener). He could have played today, but we're putting him through a real tough test right now. ... That'll give us a final read on him, but we're assuming he's going to pass that test here as soon as I can see it."

- - -

When center Kyle Brodziak hit the free agent market, he was looking for the best fit after spending the past six seasons with the Central Division rival Minnesota Wild.

The Blues had seen enough of Brodziak, who was part of the Wild that eliminated the Blues in the Western Conference First Round past season, to gauge a good evaluation on him and sign him to a one-year contract at an affordable $900,000.

"Just the chance to win the Stanley Cup," Brodziak said of his interest in St. Louis. "Going into the summer being an unrestricted free agent, one thing that I had in mind was hopefully getting to get an opportunity to go to a team that I felt had a good chance at winning. When the Blues came knocking, it was something that got me very excited.

"It's definitely tough leaving Minnesota. I'm thankful to the organization for the opportunity that they gave me. I met a lot of great people there obviously, and teammates and trainers and everybody. You move on, but you're going to miss guys like that, the friendships you've built over the years. But it's exciting also for me to sort of get a fresh start, be on a team that I always didn't enjoy playing against."

Brodziak is penciled in as the fourth-line center with Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves. This, after Brodziak and Ott had their share of flare-ups during the playoff series last season.

"I'm excited to play with him," Ott said of Brodziak. "We know how smart of a player he is. I think both of us are very conscious on the ice and really want to be hard to play against but meaning so with coverages and being more of a total line, creating ice time, creating spots for these other stud guys who can continue to push their game. We want to be that checking, hard to play against line to shut things down. When you have a smart player like 'Brodz,' our line's going to be very successful."

Alexander Steen called Brodziak one of the toughest players to play against and is glad to have him on his side. It's the type of game the 31-year-old Brodziak, who had nine goals and 20 points in 73 regular season games last season, needs to bring with him on a nightly basis.

"I definitely have to play like that," Brodziak said. "I enjoy playing like that. I know I have to go out and work hard. I've got to try and be a big body out there. There's a lot of big bodies on this team and I think that's what makes the team one of the most difficult to play against. They're all big, strong, physical, mobile and structured. Those are a lot of intangibles that you need to win in this league. Hopefully I can just do my part and be an important piece to the puzzle.

"I'm starting to fit in. It'll take a while. I didn't really know what to expect coming in. I was in Minnesota for a long time, but it's been a good ride so far and I'm enjoying it."

- - -

The Blues will play their final road preseason game today at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center.

Here is the projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Jaden Schwartz-David Backes

Robby Fabbri-Scott Gomez-Troy Brouwer

Scottie Upshall-Steve Ott-Ryan Reaves

Petteri Lindbohm-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Andre Benoit-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start and play the whole game in goal. Pheonix Copley will be the backup.

"We still have two games left, but this is going to be the best evaluation we've had because they're two players away from their roster," Hitchcock said of the Stars. "The one they're dressing tonight looks like two players are out and that will give us a great evaluation on some of our younger defensemen, who are going to be under some good pressure, so that will give us a good read on where we're at with guys.

"We haven't been able to look at the veteran guys back there collectively (on defense). We're going to get a look at a lot of veteran guys on Thursday and then we'll get a better read."

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning-News, the Stars' lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Ales Hemsky

Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Patrick Eaves

Remi Elie-Radek Faksa-Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya-Jason Demers

Jyrki Jokipakka-Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi is in goal and play the entire game. Jack Campbell will be the backup.

Elliott able to cast aside being overshadowed in playoffs

Blues' goalie takes positive route each season, 
prepares the best way he can in competition to be No. 1

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Brian Elliott mans the pipes Tuesday in Dallas, the Blues' goalie will do what he's done since he arrived in St. Louis in 2011.

Elliott will do what he did in a 6-0 shutout victory against the Stars last Thursday: he'll give it his best against Dallas again today and moving forward, he'll look to give the Blues the best possible evaluation of his performance.

Elliott's one of the key reasons the Blues have been able to go with a goalie tandem in the Ken Hitchcock era.

Elliott, 30, enters another season the way he's done so virtually every season since he's been with the Blues: trying to prove himself and trying to be "the guy."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) makes a save during a 6-0 shutout
victory last week in preseason action against the Dallas Stars

Elliott, who holds the Blues' franchise record for shutouts (21), was 26-14-3 with a 2.26 GAA and .917 save percentage last season. But it was the second time in as many seasons and third time in four years he started the playoffs as the backup. Last season, it was to Jake Allen, who Elliott will compete with for minutes this season.

Hitchcock has said it's an open competition and the Blues will look at the games played in October to see if one of Elliott or Allen takes the job and runs with the job. Otherwise, it could be more of the same for Elliott once again this season: split time with his partner and hope to play well enough during the season to earn the trust of those who will make those decisions as to who the guy is should the Blues make the playoffs.

"I've been here ... this is my fifth year; it's always a competition," Elliott said. "No one's ever given anything, so in that respect, it's no difference. You're competing against yourself every day, you're competing against your teammates, Jake's trying to stop them, I'm trying to stop them. There's no difference."

But when the Blues' season ended prematurely in their eyes again last season, a third straight ouster in the Western Conference First Round, it was another disappointing finish to a season for not only the team but for Elliott as well.

In 2012, Elliott backed up Jaroslav Halak before Halak (high ankle sprain) was injured against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round but took the reigns the rest of the way, and in 2014, the Blues acquired Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres near the trade deadline, casting Elliott as the backup again.

Elliott made a cameo appearance in Game 6 against the Wild last season but could not help the Blues overcome a 3-1 deficit, as they eventually lost the game 4-1 and the series in six games.

"You're at a point, it's an elimination game and you're down by two goals," Elliott said. "It's not easy when you're coming in, but you try and do your best. ... It wasn't easy; you want to be part of it, but you try your best to do everything you can to support the guys when you're in."

Allen, who was 22-7-4 with four shutouts, a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage last season, won out over Elliott and earned the No. 1 job during the series loss against the Wild after a strong finish to the regular season and giving the Blues strong consideration even before the hot finish, particularly in light of Elliott's knee injury that sidelined him and ultimately, had the Blues sign current assistant general manager Martin Brodeur.

But at the end of another disappointing finish, one couldn't argue if Elliott -- who still has two years and is owed a reasonable $5.2 million remaining on is contract -- would ask for a trade in light of being cast aside again.

But Elliott, who has been through this before, kept a positive attitude, arrived in camp this season and continues to motivate himself to be the best he can be and let the chips fall where they may.

"You guys probably get sick of me telling you this, but it's control what you can," Elliott said. "I can't control what other people's thoughts (are), coaches, how things go on that side of the fence. It's what I can do in my skates and my pads. 

"It's a show-me league and if you don't show anything, you're not going to be around. I take every day as you've got to come here with a smile on your face and be ready to work and have fun and get better for that next day, and this is exciting because our team is so competitive. We have a lot of young guys that probably could make other teams that there's no space on right now. It's encouraging because you know you have that opportunity still. It's five years now where we've had really good teams and you definitely don't want to squander those. Personally, it's go out there every day and I think everybody to a man does the same thing to be prepared."

Elliott was asked if there comes a point where he would want to be selfish and be that guy, be the guy.

"That's what you can control," he said. "That's your job, to go out there and to prove to everybody, your teammates and your coaches, management that you want to be the guy and you can be the guy. It's no different for anybody. If you look around the league, there's competitions for positions all over the place. It's cool to be a part of, that's for sure."

Hitchcock has been with Elliott every step of the way since he arrived in 2011, and Elliott's the reason why he goes into every camp calling the goalie job a competition.

"And that's why the competition is on," Hitchcock said. "(Elliott) could have taken a back seat, could have said, 'OK,' but he hasn't. He's come with a great attitude, a great work ethic, he's determined to make sure he's a go-to guy; he's making it really hard on us, which is really really a good sign for the organization. It bodes well for his character, his personality. He does not want to go away easily; that's why in fairness to both guys, especially him, we owe these guys full competition."

The Blues' goalie tandem isn't the only one in the NHL these days. It seems to be a trend around the league that it's more of a 1-2 combo, with one in some instances getting a good chunk of the games, but more so that it's a 50-32 split, or 55-27 split.

In any case, both guys tend to be relied upon more than ever, and in the Blues' situation, it probably won't be much different.

"The NHL's kind of changing from the guys that have played 65-68 games a year to keeping everybody fresh and having two good goalies that can handle the pressure," Elliott said. "You see a lot of teams trying to go to that. Dallas picking up (Antti) Niemi is a perfect example. I think when you get to the playoffs, you've played so many games. You need to be fresh and having two guys that can handle the load definitely helps.

"I think it's just kind of gone that way, and other teams have kind of noticed that maybe loading one guy isn't the smart thing to do all the time. You play back-to-back nights, when you go to California, it's always L.A. and Anaheim back-to-back, and those aren't easy buildings to play in. The teams are big, they're battling all the guys and to have fresh guys to be able to hop in there is probably a plus."

No matter how this competition plays out, it would perhaps be more difficult if Elliott and Allen weren't close both on and off the ice. It might be a tougher situation for the backup to step aside if there's animosity in any fashion, but this situation couldn't be better for two closer friends.

"I've still got a lot to prove, I feel like," Allen said. "I had a good year last year, but a long way to go to be the goalie I want to be and take this team where it wants to go. I'm still learning and still trying to improve and get better and help 'Ells' be the best he can be as well.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) is in position during a playoff game last
season against the Minnesota Wild.

"'Ells' and I have a great relationship. We're friends. We talk all the time. It's great to have a guy like him in this locker room. He's been doing it longer than I have and we've got each others' backs no matter what. I owe him a lot."

"If we didn't have a great friendship, it would probably be harder, but knowing that you can relate to the guy and talk to the guys that you're competing with, everybody wants everybody to do well," Elliott said. "There's no bad feelings towards anybody. That helps coming to the rink every day knowing there's the support no matter what."

And that's why Elliott will come prepared to play another game Tuesday, looking to compete for and with his teammates, getting himself geared for another regular season and what Elliott hopes is a strong run.

"It's good to kind of get that mindset and be able to kind of manage your thoughts and your energy throughout the game," Elliott said. "That's what preseason is all about, to get back into that mindset where you're focused for that 60 minutes and you don't lose that goal that you have to keep everything out."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blues get good read on young players in 3-1 loss at Chicago

Edmundson, Parayko, Fabbri perform well under pressure 
of loaded Blackhawks lineup; Allen solid in goal with 31 saves

CHICAGO -- Those Blues players that faced a very formidable Chicago Blackhawks team Saturday night at United Center were perhaps given one final opportunity to leave a lasting impression.

Players like defensemen 2011 second-round pick Joel Edmundson and 2012 third-round pick Colton Parayko; veteran forwards Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall on professional tryouts, 2014 first- and second-round picks Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev as well as 2011 second-round pick Ty Rattie all were in the lineup against the Blackhawks in the Blues' 3-1 loss.

Edmundson continues to impress, and not only because of scored a goal in the game, but his overall game continues to grow.

Edmundson has been itching to get the opportunity to showcase his skills. He was limited last season with a herniated disk in his back and played in only 30 games with the Chicago Wolves, and three years ago, a high ankle sprain limited the 2011 second-round pick.

"Past three years, I've watched enough hockey," Edmundson said. "... Knock on wood that I stay healthy the rest of the camp and hopefully the whole season.

"... It's nice to get out there and show everyone what I've had. Even the fans, they don't know who I am or anything. It's definitely been a tough time, but I just looked at the the big picture and kept rehabbing and what not. My body feels great right now and I just want to come in and show the fans and the organization what I have. Even the teammates, they don't even know who I am. Make a name for myself, I guess. ... I feel 100 percent. On the ice, my conditioning feels great and I'm looking forward to it."

Edmundson's power play goal, off a nifty pass from Rattie on the power play spotting Edmundson coming through the slot, put the Blues up 1-0 with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the opening period.

Parayko, who was second in time on ice to Jay Bouwmeester (22 minutes) with 21:06, didn't register a point for the first time in three preseason games but played another solid game with three shots on goal, four hits and two blocked shots. 

"It's something that gives you the opportunity to try to see where you're at obviously playing against some of their top players," Parayko said. "It gives you the opportunity to see how you're doing, what you can improve on and move on forward.

"I'm just trying to establish my game and making sure we're doing the little things right, doing what we can control to be successful."

David Backes played on a line with Fabbri, and the line -- along with former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer -- created some scoring opportunities against many of the Blackhawks' big guns.

"I told Fabbri before the game, I said, 'If you can't get up in this building with this anthem, you're not alive,'" Backes joked. "I look at him about half way (into the national anthem) and smacked him in the shin pads and he gave me a little smirk. He knew he had reached the NHL once you get to experience that, it's pretty special.

"... It's preseason. We learned a lot of lessons, we played a lot of good hockey and we'll get better from it. When we've got our gull group together, it'll be a heck of a series against these guys."

Fabbri, who set Brouwer up in the 3-on-3 overtime session, one of the NHL's allotted games no matter what the score was to experiment with the new format, said it was a special time playing in that atmosphere.

"Going on the ice, he said, 'I bet you've never heard this anthem before," Fabbri said. "Standing there, I got the chills for sure. Great atmosphere and it was a pretty good game.

"I thought it was good not only for me but for everyone getting a lot of their good players and getting used to playing those guys. It was a good opportunity for us."

And then there's Jake Allen, who played the whole game and made 31 saves. It was his first full game and he looked like a player who's ready to battle for No. 1 minutes.

"I felt good out there, I felt comfortable and I feel like I'm getting better every day of training camp," said Allen, who played one period in Columbus in Tuesday's split-squad game. "... I considered this my first game; the one in Columbus, it didn't really count as anything to be honest. I just wanted to get in a rhythm, get a feel for some pucks, get some traffic, get back into the speed of the game."

Coach Ken Hitchcock wanted to see these young kids perform under the pressure against the defending champs.

"This is a better evaluation of what we're looking for," Hitchcock said. "We got some better reads on things. The temperature of the game went up, so that gives you a really good read on where you can play guys, how much you can play. Got to continue playing, keep playing loaded lineups. We'll play good lineups here on Tuesday and Thursday and see where we're at.

"... Today gave you reads on personnel, gave you reads on things you need to work on. This was the best read. The first two or three games, there was no real read on things you need to work on. Today was an excellent read."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lehtera skates in full practice

Center takes part in full skate with teammates 
for first time; Blues place seven on waivers

ST. LOUIS -- Jori Lehtera has been skating for the last week on his own. Well, not exactly by himself. 

Head athletic trainer Ray Barile has been putting Lehtera through the drill sergeant work on the ice before the team skates for practices. Those skates have been strenuous, and they've prepped the Blues center to get on the ice Friday for his first full practice.

Lehtera, who had surgery Aug. 4 to remove a bone chip in his right ankle after blocking a Duncan Keith shot against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 9, went through the 45-60 minute practice without issues. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) took part in his first full
practice Friday since ankle surgery Aug. 4.

He skated in drills on a line with Robby Fabbri on his left and Troy Brouwer on his right.

"Everything felt OK," Lehtera said before joking that, "the puck felt like hot baked potato on my stick, then felt like my skates were in the wrong feet, but otherwise, OK."

Lehtera, who 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games in his first NHL season last year, was glad to be back with his teammates and skating with the group despite some general soreness after practice.

"There is something," Lehtera said when describing the pain. "It's going to be painful for a while. It was nice (skating), a little bit different than skating with Ray; not that much skating (in practice). It was fun.

"I'm working with my ankle. I have to work with everything else, too; hands, eyes, everything. It felt really fast, but have to get more practices. I'm going to be fine in a couple weeks."

Lehtera is unsure if he'll be ready for the Oct. 8 season-opener at home against the Edmonton Oilers, but if the Blues put him in, "I think so if they put me on the ice. I don't know if it's enough to skate for three weeks. I'm just going day by day."

* Blues put seven on waivers -- The Blues have placed seven players on waivers with the purpose of assigning them to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Among them are forwards Pat Cannone, Jeremy Welsh, Danny Kristo, Justin Hodgman and Cody Beach, and veteran defensemen Peter Harrold and Andre Benoit.

* Saturday's game lineup at Chicago -- Coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blues will take a workmanlike group to face the Blackhawks Saturday at United Center (7:30 p.m. on KYKY 98.1-FM).

Robby Fabbri-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Dmitrij Jaskin-Scott Gomez-Ty Rattie

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Scottie Upshall

Jeremy Welsh-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Carl Gunnarsson

Petteri Lindbohm-Chris Butler

Jake Allen will start in goal and play entire game. Pheonix Copley will be the backup.

* Roster cuts -- The Blues trimmed their roster by 19 Saturday afternoon by assigning 14 players to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and releasing five from their professional tryouts.

Heading to Chicago are forwards Cody Beach, Pat Cannone, Jaedon Descheneau, Jacob Doty, Justin Hodgman, Danny Kristo, Zach Pochiro, Ryan Tesink, Yannick Veilleux; defensemen Konrad Abeltshauser, Jordan Schmaltz, Tommy Vannelli and goalies Jordan Binnington and Niklas Lundstrom.

Released from their PTO's are: Stu Bickel, Spencer Asuchak, Evan Trupp, Eriah Hayes and Zach O'Brien.

The Blues are down to 33 active players in training camp, 35 including injured players Patrik Berglund and Dmitrii Sergeev.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Blues thump Stars 6-0 behind Steen, Stastny, Tarasenko

Top line now with 14 points in two 
preseason games; Elliott earns shutout with 22 saves

ST. LOUIS -- It's preseason, yes, but the chemistry for Blues forwards Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko is undeniable.

The trio was at it again Thursday, combining for seven points, giving it 14 in two games as the Blues defeated the Dallas Stars 6-0 in preseason play at Scottrade Center.

Stastny, whose wife Haley recently delivered the couple's first child, and Tarasenko led the way with two goals and one assist each.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) and Paul Stastny (26) helped the Blues defeat the
Dallas Stars 6-0 Thursday night.

In the two games the line has played, both in home ice, Tarasenko leads the way with three goals and three assists, Stastny has three goals and one assist and Steen has one goal ad three assists.

"It's been good," Stastny said. "I think from the start of camp we've been together, even like the practices. That means a lot. I feel like last year, it was switched up with all different wingers. Sometimes you're going to have that with younger guys, but you want to stick with the guys you're going to play with, playing from the first practice to the games. 

"Every day's gone a little better and better. I've started getting used to playing with 'Tank,' and 'Tank's' started getting used to playing with us. You can make plays and sometimes, it's finding the open spot for him to find us and try to get it back to him. With me and 'Steener' not playing too often with him last year, when you play with good players like that, it's easy. All the guys want the puck, all the guys battle for the puck if we don't have it. If we do turn it over, which we did a couple times, we back-checked ad not gave up much and that's the most important thing."

The trio will not travel with the Blues to Chicago and face the Blackhawks Saturday but coach Ken Hitchcock said the group will "probably" play in the final two preseason games.

"It's hard for them to keep their interest two games in a row, but when they're alert and when they're sharp, they're strong," Hitchcock said. "They're strong because they all three can play 1-on-1. They all have patience with the puck, they read off each other. 

"Can you play like that for 60 minutes? That's going to be the challenge. If you make a mistake against them, it's in the net. They don't need a lot of shots to score; they bury the puck. It's good to see."

Communication seems to be the most important job moving forward. There was a play in the game in which Tarasenko tried to snap a quick pass to Stastny, who wasn't looking and it failed to make connection. Both immediately skated to the other to talk about it on a whim.

"I think we both know we're trying the same play and sometimes it's just a miscue," Stastny said. "I think that's all that matters. Sometimes it's going to happen and you're going to just misread each other. If you get the idea where one guy's going and what he's trying to do, in games like this, a lot of the same things happen throughout the year, throughout the game. The next time that happens, we'll be ready."

Ty Rattie and Kevin Shattenkirk each had two assists Thursday, and Rattie, one of the younger players trying to make an impression to make the team, said it's a full-blown battle for the remaining spots that are open.

"Guys are doing their best to make a good impression," Rattie said. "I thought it was a good all-around team game and it showed on the scoreboard tonight.

"It's going to be an offensive lethal squad. It's exciting. I think watching that top line, I'm just learning from them every shift and it's very cool. I've been learning from them off the ice also. It's been good so far."

Brian Elliott was sharp with a 22-save shutout.

Defensemen Petteri Lindbohm and Joel Edmundson each scored their first preseason goals and are part of a cast looking to make that favorable impression.

"The kids are," Hitchcock said. "Starting in Chicago, we'll get the evaluations on now how we want to build our team. The next three games will give us that evaluation because everybody's playing that nine or 10 pros. Now you're going to move up where it's 14, 15, 16 pros, so we'll get a real good evaluation, get a better evaluation on the kids. 

"When you're playing half a roster, those three D's, (Robby) Fabbri, Rattie had a good game today. They've held their own. Next step is now you've got to play against a lot of NHL players, which is what we're looking for, but they've held their own so far."

For Stastny, it was time to get home to his wife and daughter, who  came home for the first time Wednesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott makes one of his 22 saves in a shutout victory against the 
Dallas Stars on Thursday.

"It's been good," Stastny said. "Last night was the first night they came home. She actually slept great, but I think the first night home with a child, my wife and I were sitting there with one eye open veering down just in case. Just her breathing we're like, 'Oh, is she crying?' 

"You just get used to it. I think she's more paranoid about keeping me up all night. I'm like, 'Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. I've got naps the next day.' Everyone's doing well, and that's all you can ask for."

When does the baby get to see her daddy play for the first time? Time will tell.

"We're trying to go to the Taylor Swift concert, but now, she came a little later than we thought so she might not be ready for that," Stastny joked. "We'll try bringing her opening night."

* NOTES -- The Blues signed 2015 second-round pick Vince Dunn to a three-year, entry-level contract on Thursday.

Dunn, who had 18 goals and 56 points in 68 regular season games last season, was reassigned to the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League on Wednesday but he had an impressive run at training camp as well as a strong tournament with the prospects at Traverse City.

Dunn had 10 points in eight playoff games with the Ice Dogs last season.

. . . Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo joined practice earlier on Thursday in hopes of shaking off the nagging injury that's bugged him thoughout camp.

"It's just lingering from back home," Bortuzzo said. "Little frustrating, but it's something you want to kind of take care of before we get into the season here. Nothing series, just kind of been lingering. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than out there playing right now, but like I said, it's something you've got to take care of."

(9-24-15) Stars-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jori Lehtera was back to his usual self inside the Blues' locker room, joking, kidding and more importantly, smiling.

Lehtera, who took part in the skate with the game group that will face the Dallas Stars at 7 p.m. today, is ahead of schedule following ankle surgery to remove a bone chip that he sustained in the second-to-last home regular season game against the Chicago Blackhawks blocking a Duncan Keith shot.

Lehtera, who had the surgery performed Aug. 4, skated for a seventh time since returning to the ice, will take part in his first full practice with the team Friday.

"I think I'm going to do the full practice tomorrow with the guys, so we'll see," Lehtera said. "We'll see after the ice tomorrow how I feel. ... I think we're ahead of the schedule a little bit. It's going well."

Lehtera said the thought was that initially he sustained a deep bone bruise, something that wasn't a detriment during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as the summer progressed, there were certain things he wasn't able to do.

"Just putting the skates on, and then like running sideways, like playing tennis, that kind of sport," Lehtera said. "Everybody thought it was just a bone bruise and it just didn't heal. I could do gym and bike and whatever but I couldn't move sideways. After a couple months at home, I tried to put my skate on and I couldn't put my skate on. I went to see some doctors in Finland and then I (flew) right away here. I think I saw like 10 different doctors.

"One centimeter bone chip there that was cutting the tendons like salami. It didn't feel that good."

Lehtera, who also sustained a broken wrist against the Minnesota Wild during the Western Conference First Round after getting hit by teammate Jay Bouwmeester's shot in Game 4, hasn't had any issues since returning.

"Everything is going pretty well," Lehtera said. "Last time I was on the ice (with the team regularly), it's been like five and a half, six months. I'm on the ice now seven times. It's a little bit hard still, but it's getting better.

"(The wrist injury) is out of the way; that's good now."

- - -

In case there are those wondering how the goalie plan will go, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke about it Wednesday.

It's always been a tandem that will be split using both goalies. It went back to Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak and now with Elliott and Jake Allen.

But Hitchcock thinks the team want to see one of the guys take the job and run with it.

"When the season starts, we're going to let whoever takes the job evolve," Hitchcock said. "So we're not going to anoint anybody. We're just going to let it evolve and hopefully somebody grabs it. I don't know that we want to get into where we're creating the sharing. We want the play of the goalies to determine who gets more, who gets less. Obviously if both guys play great, then both guys play, but if one guy steps out and plays a little bit better, then he'll get more games than the other guy. Anointing someone with the way it finished (last season) isn't realistic and I'm not going to go and anoint someone out of training camp either. I'm going to hope that by the time we finish October, somebody's going to grab this thing. 

"We're starting clean and fresh. We've got two good goalies. If someone goes out and grabs it, we're going to give him the job. We're going to give him that responsibility. If both guys play equal, we're back down the same path, but if one guy does jump and go, we're going to go with him."

Allen got the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, and Elliott was left on the outside looking in again, but Hitchcock won't shy away from saying Elliott could be the guy moving forward, which leaves fans scratching their heads considering Elliott was bypassed the past two seasons, including watching when the Blues acquired Ryan Miller in 2013.

"Well we turned away from Elliott twice because of injury, not because of play," Hitchcock said. "It's unfortunate that he got hurt, but when he got hurt, the other guy jumped on it last year so that's the way we went. Elliott had a better year than Jake. Jake had a great finish and so that's the way we went, but I would say overall, Elliott had the better year. But this year, we're going to establish it off of ... we'll have an evaluation after 15 or 20 games and then decide what way we're going to go with it. I think in fairness to the team, that's what we want to do. We've got so many road games, we're going to get a read on everything, but we're going to make a determined factor based on w hat we see in their play rather than anointing one guy. ... I'm not looking to see if two guys can share. We're going to need both of them, but I'm looking to see if someone just flat-out grabs it and runs with it. ... You'd like someone to literally stand on his head and say, 'This is mine.' That's what you'd like to have happen. Whoever it is, it is."

- - -

Two of the three NHL players who are one-year, two-way contracts will be in the Blues' lineup tonight, including wing Jordan Caron and defenseman Andre Benoit.

Benoit, 31, a four-year player most recently with the Buffalo Sabres where he scored one goal and had nine points in 59 games last season, will be with his fourth team in five seasons. He's also played with the Ottawa Senators for two seasons and with the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14, where he set career-highs in goals (seven), assists (21) and points (28).

Caron, 24, comes to the Blues after splitting last season with the Boston Bruins and most recently, the Avalanche. He spent the first four seasons of his career in the Bruins' organization.

Caron has 12 goals and 28 points in 153 NHL games and will be playing for the first time in the past couple seasons under a contract that's not a guaranteed one-way.

"I just came off two one-year, one-way deals with Boston and it didn't go as well as I wanted to," Caron said. "This year, I think it's a great chance for me to step up and crack this lineup here. I think it's a really deep lineup, it fits my style, too. There are some big bodies up front, it's straight-line hockey. I think it fits my style and it's one of the reasons why I came here. I'm excited about the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to it and making the most of it so far. I've played only one game and it's been going pretty good in the scrimmage. I'm excited to play in the game tonight and excited for the rest of the camp."

- - -

The Blues' lineup tonight:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jordan Caron-Jaden Schwartz-Dmitrij Jaskin

Magnus Paajarvi-Pat Cannone-Ty Rattie

Yannick Veilleux-Jeremy Welsh-Eriah Hayes

Petteri Lindbohm-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Andre Benoit-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott and Jordan Binnington are the goalies

As of Thursday morning, the Stars hadn't listed line combinations, but their game lineup will consist of (forwards): Curtis McKenzie, Patrick Eaves, Colton Sceviour, Vern Fiddler, Travis Morin, Remi Elie, Valeri Nichushkin, Matej Stransky, Branden Troock, Cory Kane, Mattias Janmark and Jason Spezza; (defensemen): Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Jordie Benn, Stephen Johns, Mattias Backman and Ludwig Bystrom; (goalies): Kari Lehtonen and Maxime Lagace.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Edmundson, Parayko making strong cases; Blues cut seven; Reaves 
returns; Lehtera, Bortuzzo close; Schwartz to center; Thursday lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Defenseman Joel Edmundson had some pent-up energy to unleash in his first NHL preseason game in two years.

Edmundson, the Blues' second-round pick in 2011, has taken the adventurous road to the NHL dealing with injuries but finally feels like he's on the right path.

Edmundson led the Blues with 24 minutes, 26 seconds of ice time in a split squad game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday.

Associate coach Brad Shaw pointed out Edmundson's strong play in a 3-1 loss, but Edmundson, who was paired with Kevin Shattenkirk,  

"At the start of the game, I felt a little bit tired, but once I put that Blue Note on, all the excitement came to me and I played," Edmundson said Wednesday after practice. "... After every shift, (Shattenkirk) talked to me. Even (Scott) Gomez would come over to me and help me out. All the older guys would talk to me. That's what it's all about, the leadership we have on the team. It's really helped out so far."

Edmundson, who was limited to 30 games with the Chicago Wolves last season because of a herniated disk, also had a setback with a high ankle sprain three years ago that's limited his progress in the Blues' system. He feels like he's a bit of an unknown at 22.

"I'm sick of watching hockey," Edmundson said. "It's nice to get out there and show everyone what I've had. Even the fans, they don't know why I am or anything. It's nice to get out there, hopefully stay healthy and have a good camp.

"It's definitely been a tough time, but I just looked at the the big picture and kept rehabbing and what not. My body feels great right now and I just want to come in and show the fans and the organization what I have. Even the teammates, they don't even know who I am. Make a name for myself, I guess. ... I feel 100 percent. On the ice, my conditioning feels great and I'm looking forward to it."

Edmundson is one of the defensemen that will make it hard on the coaching staff to send him back to the American Hockey League, especially if he performs as he has in camp thus far.

"He looks like a guy who really wants to challenge for a spot," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Edmundson, who's listed at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds. "There's some guys that are either trying out for the team and they're looking around and counting numbers. He just looks like a guy trying to make the team. He looks like a guy that says, 'I'm going to try to grab one of these spots and do everything I can to get it,' because of the connection that he has during the competition. Every drill he plays for real, every shift he plays for real in the scrimmages. We'll see moving forward here now, but none of these young guys, including him have pushed themselves out, that's for sure.

"(Edmundson brings) a heavy edge. He has an edge to his game. He brings a heaviness in his personality. When he plays, he means business. ... One of the things was, if he was healthy, he would have played games last year. He started so late in the season, we never really got an evaluation on him until the playoffs. If he would have started healthy last year, he would have been playing games at some period in time."

Edmundson, who will play in the Blues' home preseason game Thursday against the Dallas Stars with Shattenkirk as his partner again, wants to make it a difficult decision.

"This organization always had top 'D' in the league," Edmundson said. "That's good. That's why they're always at the top of the standings at the end of the season. It would be nice to crack that lineup, but I know it's a lot of hard work. I'm up the the battle. My job is to play my game, worry about myself and gives the coaches a hard decision to make."

* Parayko shines -- While Edmundson was the young player shining in Columbus, 2012 third-round pick Colton Parayko's strong first NHL camp continues.

The 6-5, 225-pound Parayko had a pair of assists in the 5-2 split-squad victory on home ice against Columbus on Tuesday.

He's another player Hitchcock will have to continue to consider when making cuts.

"Patience with the puck; no panic," Hitchcock said, describing Parayko's strong points to his game. "There was a lot of speed in the lineup yesterday from Columbus. They brought a lot of quick players, didn't bother him one bit. Really impressed. Got better and better as the game went on. Got used to the tempo. Man, he was good.

"Anticipation is better than what I thought. Sometimes you get a big guy who can't read things very quickly, but he sniffs out danger. He knows when to get in, get out, which is really good for us."

Parayko's first NHL game, played with Jay Bouwmeester as his defensive partner, went off better than expected.

"It was good obviously," Parayko said. "It's a little bit nervous going in, you want to do good. It was nice, got to play with 'Bouw.' He had lots of good things to tell me before the game to help me out. Obviously throughout the game he helped me out. It made it easier for myself to get established."

Parayko, who comes from St. Albert, Alberta, continues to be the feel-good story of the camp. Every time he suits up for a game, every time he dresses for a practice, it seems his performances jump off the charts and impress somebody.

Considering where Parayko came from and playing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, it's little wonder why he's been an unknown. But the Blues found him and glad they did.

"You know where he played," Hitchcock joked. "Not exactly household city. 

"When he was playing in Fort McMurray (Alberta), the only time you would get him ... and nobody's going to go up to Fort McMurray to scout," Hitchcock said. "You're not going here. What happened is the only time you would get a chance to see him is if he would come in and play in Spruce Grove St. Albert, which is close to Edmonton. That's the only time you can get to see him. You'd have to have the timing perfect to catch him. ... He was in and out of junior hockey quickly, went to Alaska-Fairbanks, so the first time they'd get to see him is in the WCHA because all of the sudden he's playing, but it's like he came out of nowhere. The thing is, you get the word out when a guy's playing Triple-A, but he was playing Double-A. Nobody watches Double-A hockey. You watch Triple-A because that's a heavily-scouted between junior and pro guys, they look at that stuff, but nobody looks at Double-A. That's where he was, he was stuck in Double-A."

The day Parayko received a call from Al MacInnis on being drafted, he was speechless. And rightfully so on a player who wasn't even on the NHL's scouting list.

"I wasn't sure. Honestly I had no idea where I was going to go," Parayko said. "I wasn't even sure if I was going to go. I wasn't ranked or anything like that. I remember the day of the draft, I was just at home and Al MacInnis called me. It was an honor. Just congratulations, you're part of the Blues' organization, we just drafted you. I didn't really have an answer, I just kind of stood on the phone no answer. He probably thought no one was there. But, I was there."

Parayko's ascension took him from Alaska-Fairbanks straight to the Wolves, and he thrived there with seven points in 17 regular season games.

"From where I came from, Midget AA, it's definitely crazy," Parayko said. "I wasn't sure really what I was going to do, or where hockey was going to take me based on where I was playing. My friends were playing in the Western Hockey League at the time and I was playing Midget AA. You've either got to stick with it or go the other way, so I stuck with it and did the best I could. Just approach every day with preparation and I did what I could.

"It was good for me that I got into Chicago and played a few professional game. It was good to establish myself there. I think overall, it was just a good learning curve. I have so much more to learn, lots of growth."

He added: "I just want to come to the rink everyday and do what I can to give myself the best opportunity to play my best. I just want to take every opportunity and approach it with the best mentality and embrace every role that I get."

* Schwartz to center -- Jaden Schwartz, a left wing by trade, has been honing his skills since coming to the Blues along the walls. 

But when camp opened past week, Schwartz was in the middle between Robbi Fabbri and David Backes, who has been playing center the past few seasons.

But with Jori Lehtera (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) out, Hitchcock thought Schwartz was the natural fit.

"It's a little bit different," Schwartz said. "I used to play center when I was younger, but I haven't played it here in a while. A few things that are a little bit different. That's what training camp is for so I can used to it a little bit. I guess they'll decide if they want me there or back on left wing.

"A little bit shocked. I didn't quite expect it. Obviously we have a couple centermen that are hurt, so that's probably the main reason why. ... They're probably just trying to see what it looks like just in case they need me down the road or they might keep me."

Hitchcock said it was a move made with the thought in mind that if Lehtera could handle the role of No. 2 center behind Paul Stastny, Schwartz will go back to the left.

"This is based on until Lehtera comes in on Friday, then I see," Hitchcock said. "If Schwartz continues to progress like he is doing good things, but if it looks like Lehtera has that spot and Lehtera needs a guy like Schwartz, then Schwartz is going to go back and play left wing. I want to see how much better Lehtera is. If Lehtera can play and has improved, then that makes him a top-six player; he doesn't have to play in the three-hole. He can play in the two-hole. We're assuming that Lehtera is going to be comfortable playing in the two-hole, but we've got to see it first."

* Reaves back -- Right wing Ryan Reaves, nursing a lower-body injury since the opening day of camp Friday, was back on the ice skating with teammates.

Reaves, who Hitchcock said is slated to play Saturday's preseason game at Chicago, was involved in a hit from Yannick Veilleux, who received 20 stitches from a gash to his knee as a result of Reaves' skate blade.

"It's something I've gone through a couple times," Reaves said. "My knees are the way they are from playing the way I do. I've gone through them and come back and this one wasn't too bad. I just wanted to make sure that I was ready for the season and not try and fight through training camp and then behind the ball during the regular season."

Reaves was initially not happy with Veilleux but remembered he was once in Veilleux's shoes.

"I had a flashback to the year when I made the team. I took a run at Cam Janssen and that's what you do to try and make the team," Reaves said. "You've got to leave an impression and that's the kind of game he plays. That's how he's going to make it here. Obviously I wasn't too happy with it at first. That's just how it is. ... It's never fun when a young guy takes a run at you and knocks you on your (rear end)."

* Bortuzzo, Lehtera close to returning -- Lehtera, who hasn't skated regularly with the team since ankle surgery Aug. 4 and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (undisclosed injury), are expected to skate with the gameday players Thursday and be full-time participants when the team reconvenes Friday.

"He skated hard with Lehtera," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "Both him and Lehtera will join our game players tomorrow, so not the heavy load after, but they're going with our game players. Both will join us on a full-time basis on Friday.

"It's something that we worry about right now because it's plateaued. There was good recovery today, so that's a good sign, but there's a period of time where it wasn't bad but it wasn't where you could ... if you weren't playing games, you couldn't practice. Now's the time to get it to where you could practice, play games, stuff like that rather than have him just as a games-only player. So we thought, 'Why not do it now?' He seems to have turned the corner here now."

Center Scott Gomez, who played in Columbus, took a stick to the mouth early in the game but finished. He missed practice Wednesday and will not play Thursday after having a root canal done.

* Blues cut roster to 54 -- The Blues trimmed their roster down by seven after assigning forwards Samuel Blais (Victoriaville), Liam Dunda (Owen Sound), Glenn Gawdin (Swift Current), Adam Musil (Red Deer) and C.J. Yakimowicz (London), goalie Luke Opilka (Kitchener) and defenseman Vince Dunn (Niagara) to their respective junior clubs

"Two guys really stick out to me: Samuel Blais, comparing him to last year, he's really improved a lot," Hitchcock said. "He looks like a guy that's going to have a great season. And the guy for me is Dunn. Dunn's been outstanding. Vince looks like if he continues to improve, he looks like the prototypical new kind of way that teams structure their defense. There's room for players like him. Mobile, great transition player, great anticipation. He looks like he was getting better and better. He played well (Tuesday) night, he played well the whole time this year, he played great in Traverse City. Pretty impressive."

* Blues lineup vs. Stars -- The Blues, 1-1-0 in preseason play, will host the Stars Thursday, play at Chicago Saturday before playing at Dallas on Sept. 29 and hosting Chicago Oct. 1 to end preseason play.

Thursday's lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jordan Caron-Jaden Schwartz-Dmitrij Jaskin

Magnus Paajarvi-Pat Cannone-Ty Rattie

Yannick Veilleux-Jeremy Welsh-Eriah Hayes

Petteri Lindbohm-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Andre Benoit-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott and Jordan Binnington are the goalies.