Thursday, March 2, 2017


Sanford, Schmaltz practice for first time, are options for Friday; 
Paajarvi to stay in NHL; road warrior Blues; Perron, Jaskin available

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- That tall, lanky 6-foot-4 frame that stepped onto the ice surface at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone was one of two new faces for the Blues on Thursday.

Zach Sanford appeared with his new teammates for the first time since the Blues acquired the center on Monday from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Sanford, who was wearing No. 82, the number given to him at his first developmental camp with the Capitals four years ago, played left wing on the third line with Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi.

"It was good," Sanford said. "It was a good pace and guys were working today because of a day off yesterday. It was good for me to have this as a first practice to get a little system work done, kind of just gel with the linemates and the rest of the team.

"Little faceoff plays here and there. The guys were helping me out with faceoff plays today that we were going through. They've been helpful so far, the guys and the coaches. If I just keep asking questions and listen to them, I'll be alright."

For the immediate time, Sanford, who had two goals and one assist in 26 games with Washington, will play the left wing.

"I know that he's played a lot of center and he could potentially end up getting to a center position for us, but if he comes in right now, that's where we would see him coming in," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Sanford.

"You can see his size with that range and with that reach," Yeo added. "I guess the thing that impressed that I would say today was his puck work. He's got some hands, some puck controls, the ability to protect the puck and some abilities to make some plays in tight.

"Get to know our way of playing, our system, our team game, get familiar with the group and show us what you can do."

Yeo wouldn't comment whether Sanford will make his Blues debut Friday when they open a three-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets, but Sanford, who said he tries to model his game after that of Toronto Maple Leafs' James van Riemsdyk, is ready when called upon.

"I've played a little bit of everything this year. Left side's where I spent most of my time. I'm pretty comfortable there," Sanford said. "It's been a crazy couple days, but finally to get out on the ice with the guys and get things going, it kind of really settles everything down. I'm excited to get on the road here and getting into a game hopefully. I'm just real excited right now.

"I think I can bring some speed and some size. I play a pretty good game down low. This team's built a lot around that with some bigger guys. I feel I can just help add to that."

* Schmaltz recalled -- Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, the Blues' first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, was also on the ice after playing for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.

Schmaltz, who had three goals and 22 assists in 42 games with the Wolves this season, likely comes in as the seventh defenseman to start the season.

It's his first recall this season after being recalled last season and practiced but never played; he's yet to make his NHL debut.

"Yeah, it's exciting for sure," Schmaltz said. "There's a good situation down there with Craig Berube, but any time you get to come to the big leagues it's always nice.

"... For me, my play will probably dictate (when Schmaltz plays). Just trying to come in here and when I get my chance, make the most of it."

Yeo worked Schmaltz in with the third defensive pairing with Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo; he worked the point on the second power play unit with Colton Parayko, Berglund, Sanford and Jori Lehtera.

"The first thing for us was to get him into a practice and a good chance to talk to him and go through the systems, which are very similar to what they've been doing in Chicago, so that'll be an easy transition for him," Yeo said. "He had a real strong camp and I was very impressed with his puck-moving, with his poise. That's the way the game is being played in a lot of ways right now. As far as defensemen, there's a time where you're in your zone or you're defending against the rush and you have to be real strong and you have to defend with a good stick and be strong 1-on-1. But much of the game is about how you execute and how you help your team get on the attack. He's a guy that should help us out in that regard.

"I'm anxious to get him into the lineup. Whether that's tomorrow, whether it isn't. That will be determined tomorrow, but we will see him soon."

When Schmaltz makes his Blues debut, he will join younger brother Nick, who toils for the Chicago Blackhawks and makes for easier navigation for parents Mike and Lisa.

"He's doing well," Jordan said of his brother. "It's awesome to see. I don't know if you caught the game last night, but a couple nice passes. I don't get to see him a whole lot, but last week I went to his game against Arizona. He scored his first shift; it was his birthday, so that's pretty cool. We've got us two playing (in Chicago) and my sister (Kylie) playing volleyball at Kentucky. They're all over the place.

"... Obviously you want to play. If I get my chance, you've just got to be prepared and make the most of it."

* Paajarvi to remain with Blues -- The Blues announced on Wednesday that forward Magnus Paajarvi will remain with the Blues for the remainder of the season.

It's quite the change for Paajarvi, who has put up quite the frequent flier miles or wearing the tires out on his vehicle making the trek up and down Interstate 55 between St. Louis and Chicago.

Paajarvi, who has four goals, one assist in 14 games with the Blues this season, has scored three of those goals in nine games since being recalled in early February.

"It's awesome to get to know," Paajarvi said. "I still know I need to come to work every day. I still know that I need to go hard because if you let up, there's so many other players here still and there's a competition every day. I'm not taking anything for granted just because they said that. That's my approach, but it sure is nice to hear.

"I've got that opportunity to compete since I got here, really. There's still guys outside the team that are up here and want to play as well. Everybody works hard for it. Nothing's for granted even though they said I'm staying here for the rest of the season. My mindset is the same. I'm not taking a step down now or take it easy. I can't do that. I've got to take a step forward. That's my mindset."

Paajarvi has had his ups and downs since being acquired from Edmonton along with a second-round pick in 2014 that the Blues parlayed into Ivan Barbashev for David Perron, but Paajarvi calls this his "best push so far with the Blues. I feel great, confidence is high and I know what to do on the ice a little bit more now."

Paajarvi, who had seven goals and 11 assists in 26 games with the Wolves this season, credits the coaching staff in Chicago for raising his confidence level.

"We had daily talks with Craig Berube, Darryl Sydor and Daniel Tkaczuk, they've all been great," Paajarvi said. "Every player respects them and they're on the same page as everybody and they've really come in nicely. They've helped me tons. They've told me all the time, 'We're trying to get you back up there. We're going to work for it and we have.' That's always nice to hear."

Now Paajarvi hopes to help the Blues lead to a playoff push.

"We've got a deep team," he said. "We're a good team and we know that. We can really push for it here. We're aiming for playoffs, absolutely no doubt even though we lost to a key player (Shattenkirk). That's even more opportunity for other guys to fill in. Chicago Wolves guys have come in and done well I think. Nothing really on the outside with trades and all that. It's one goal now and we should still strive for the same things."

* On the road again -- The Blues begin their March schedule in customary fashion, on the road.

The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament takes up residence at Scottrade Center the first weekend in March, and in two weeks, the NCAA Wrestling Championships will commence in St. Louis, so the Blues will play 10 of their 15 March games away from hope, so the Blues (31-26-5), who led the Los Angeles Kings by one point heading into Thursday action for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference, know they'll have to be good away from home.

"I would say every game is a big game right now," Yeo said. "Obviously, we've got to rectify what's going on. We can't just say, 'Hey, we're close here.'We need results, we need points, we need wins. I think that every game that we play right now from here on out is massive. We've got 20 games left in the season and it's playoff hockey from here on out."

Losers of four straight, the Blues have had points in the balance in each loss but failed to get any of them. They've been outscored 11-6, but now that the trade deadline has come and gone, players know who they have and what the roster looks like for the rest of the season and can focus on the task at hand.

This trip will take the Blues to Colorado on Sunday and Minnesota on Tuesday where Yeo will coach for the first time officially since being fired by the Wild on Feb. 13, 2016.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that's why we haven't had success here lately either," Yeo said. "I'm not going to allow that to be an excuse for us, but that said, it is reality Sometimes it can be a little bit of a distraction, but we haven't no distractions now. We have no excuses. We have a group that's good enough to win in here and now we have to go out and do the job."

* Jaskin, Perron available -- Perron and fellow forward Dmitrij Jaskin, who were omissions from practice Thursday, will be available for the game against the Jets Friday.

Perron was in Montreal for a family matter and Yeo said he would join the team in Winnipeg, and Jaskin, who left midway through the third period of a 2-1 loss to Edmonton on Tuesday, is an option.

"He's OK," Yeo said of Jaskin. "He's feeling better today. He's a possibility tomorrow."

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