Thursday, July 20, 2017

Blues sign Parayko to five-year, $27.5 million contract

Defenseman was scheduled for arbitration hearing 
Thursday morning, will average $5.5 million per season

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The wait is over for Blues defenseman Colton Parayko.

Just minutes before the team and Parayko were headed to arbitration, the sides came to a resolution on a new deal after announcing the signing of a five-year, $27.5 million contract for the restricted free agent ($5.5 million AAV).

The contract will take Parayko, 24, through the 2021-22 season when he can become an unrestricted free agent.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues and defenseman Colton Parayko (pictured)
avoided arbitration Thursday with Parayko signing a 
five-year contract worth $27.5 million.

With Parayko filed arbitration, teams were no longer allowed to submit offer sheets for him, and a hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday morning in Toronto. 

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the Blues offered a two-year, $7 million contract ($3.4 million next season and $3.6 million in 2018-19) for the arbitration hearing; Parayko's camp reportedly countered with a one-year offer at $4.85 million. 

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he earlier in the summer he was always committed to signing Parayko and that it was a priority to keep the 2012 third-round pick around in a Blues uniform.

"We're obviously pleased to have Colton signed up for five years," Armstrong said Thursday morning. "We think that he's just starting to scratch the surface on what he's becoming in this league. He's got two years now of service where he understands the commitment necessary, he understands the league, he understands the players. We just think he has a really strong upside and we're excited to have him for the next five years.

"Our goal was to try and get him a contract with some term. Arbitration wasn't a big issue if we had gone just because he's three years away from unrestricted free agency. It wasn't something that we were walking him right through the door or taking another opportunity to get a long-term deal. The process of going wasn't an issue for us or for Colton. When we talked this morning, Colton and I and Marty Brodeur had a good opportunity to do that and sort of try and describe what we're building and what we're planning. Having (Jaden) Schwartz signed with some term and (Vladimir) Tarasenko and Jake Allen and to have him under some term, he'll be a part of a core group of guys that we can continue to grow with."

Parayko has played two seasons in the NHL with the Blues and is coming off a four-goal, 31-assist season in 81 games and established himself with fellow blue liner Joel Edmundson as a solid, reliable duo. Parayko averaged 21:12 in ice time last season.

Parayko's AAV makes him the second-highest paid defenseman on the team, behind captain Alex Pietrangelo, who has three years remaining on his contract with an AAV of $6.5 million.

With Parayko, Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Edmundson in the fold, the Blues are pleased with their d-core moving forward.

"Our defense has always been one of our strengths," Armstrong said. "When you get a third-round pick that burst onto the scene like Colton did a couple years ago, it really opened up different avenues. We're really excited to have him a part of our group. We're excited. We really think that (Jordan) Schmaltz and (Vince) Dunn and (Jake) Walman all will have an opportunity to play. They might not all live to play because that's just the way the league works out, but if we can get a few of those guys to be NHL players, more than just your run of the mill players but good NHL players, we'll be in great shape for a long time to come in the back end."

Parayko had nine goals and 24 assists in 79 games as a rookie after playing college hockey at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a short 17-game stint with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League; he made the All-Rookie Team in 2015-16.

Parayko's season last year was overloaded; he played for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey prior to his NHL season and represented Canada at the IIHF World Championship after the Blues were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Kyrou taking humble approach towards NHL

Blues' 2016 second-round pick had 30-game point streak in OHL 
last season, displayed noticeable skill at prospects camp recently

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou raised plenty of eyebrows during a 30-game point streak in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

Kyrou, a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft (No. 35), had a breakout season with the Sarnia Sting, his third with the OHL club, last season with 94 points (30 goals, 64 assists). But the 19-year-old Toronto native who recently attended his second Blues prospects camp at the Ice Zone, said that there's more to his 6-foot, 183-pound frame than just scoring.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues 2016 second round pick Jordan Kyrou had his full display of skill
on hand at prospects camp recently at the Ice Zone.

"I just want to come out here and play my game and do the best I can and show everyone I can also play hard on the puck and do other things other than score," Kyrou said. "... You come here and you get to meet all of the staff and everyone's great here. It's good to come here and you also bond with other players. It's great."

Kyrou, who began his Sarnia career with 36 points in 2014-15 and 51 points in 2015-16, has shown flashes of why the Blues drafted the center. His skill will soon grace the ice at Scottrade Center and as a primer, Kyrou won't be content with eye-opening moments for one season; he wants to continue to master his craft moving forward, which will include attending Blues training camp in September and for Hockey Canada's national junior team's summer development camp.

"I thought throughout the year (last season) I was getting more confident in my game and I think I was not worrying too much about anything, just going out and playing my game," Kyrou said. "I wasn't worrying about the draft because the year before was my draft year and I had a tough year. Last year, I just came out and played my game and didn't really worry about anything. I worked on my skills and just got better.

"The NHL's becoming a faster game. Obviously everyone's a lot bigger and stronger, so there are a couple things that I can work on. Things like get bigger and that's going to come with more training in the summer."

Kyrou, who looks up to former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk and Boston Bruins center David Krejci, has added significant muscle to his body. 

"Last year, I came out of the season like 160-something and this year, I'm already at like 183 and I've still got like most of the summer," Kyrou said. "I'm at a good spot for now. I just want to continue to build strength, get stronger. That's my main focus.

"I try to take away (Datsyuk's) smarts and his skills and try to add that to my game."

During Kyrou's point streak last season, he had a whopping 17 goals and 35 assists; he finished the season 32 points better than anyone on his team (Drake Rymsha, 62 points). 

The best attitude while the points continued to add up was to remain humble.

"One thing I learned last year was not to expect anything of yourself," Kyrou said. "Obviously you're going to be expect the best of yourself, right? You just have to play your game and just focus on yourself and focus on getting better and what you can do to help yourself."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou lifts weights at a recent prospects camp. Kyrou
tallied 94 points, including a 30-game point streak, last season in the OHL.

Kyrou signed a three-year entry-level contract worth $2.775 million on July 27, 2016, and once his season with Sarnia ended, he got to play in one game with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. 

Kyrou has his sights set high, but chances are he'll have to continue to develop before reaching St. Louis. However, it's been so far, so good.

"Obviously I'd love to be in the NHL of course," Kyrou said. "I'll just do my best and we'll see what happens."

Monday, July 10, 2017

Walman could be on Blues' horizon sooner than later

Defenseman, third-round pick in 2014, got to work at prospects camp, 
will get first full season in AHL to show why he'll be looked at in near future

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jake Walman's second tour at a Blues prospect camp should have been a formality, a sort of been-there, done-that mentality.

But for Walman, who the Blues picked in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, it was his first time on the ice, and there was a look that the 6-foot-1, 200-205 pound defenseman was looking forward to actually be able to physically take part in the camp after being a helpless spectator in 2016.

"Good to be healthy, yeah," Walman said during camp, which started June 28 and ended July 1. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After sitting out with a shoulder injury last summer, Blues prospect Jake
Walman (pictured) skated in his first prospects camp recently.

Walman was coming off a year in 2015-16 in which a shoulder injury cut short his season at Providence College that required season-ending surgery, a year after helping the Friars to a Frozen Four title.

That's a big reason why Walman returned for a third season with the Friars in 2016-17, and although he finished with just seven goals and 18 assists in 39 games, Walman was able to get a read on what being a pro was about, take it back to college before signing his entry-level contract in March before joining the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

"It was a little bit of a relief being able to go into each game and be healthy," Walman said. "Come in here, it gives me a little more confidence to show my stuff. Last year, I was just watching from the side. It was tough. There might be a little expectation to show my stuff. It's more welcoming now than I'm healthy.

"... Just because I didn't have as many points as I had the year before (13 goals, 15 assists in 27 games), I think my game still improved. I became more defensive-aware. I thought that my third year of college turned me into more of a complete player and the fact that I was healthy and I felt strong, it all kind of gave me confidence to take the next step. I thought I was ready to go."

Walman's a left-handed shot, and he'll likely get a full season in the AHL after playing seven games in the regular-season with the Wolves; he had two goals and an assist before also adding two goals and an assist in eight Calder Cup playoff games.

"It (was) a huge help," Walman said of his stint with the Wolves. "I think getting my feet wet was really important. That being said, the coaches in Chicago coming over here (Craig Berube, Darryl Sydor and Daniel Tkazcuk) kind of helps me out a little bit in the fact that I know them and they know what I can do. I think I gained a little bit of experience at the pro level. It's definitely a lot different from college so translating that to the NHL level is something that I've got to work on now.

"The biggest thing is just seeing the players that I idolized growing up and not necessarily the best NHL players but guys that have been there and experienced the NHL for years and playing against them, it's eye-opening at the beginning and then you get settled in and you enjoy the moment. You're playing the game you love just like they still are. Another thing that I kind of realized was those guys that have been there for years, they're still working hard and they're still doing the same things that I'm trying to do. No matter how old you are or how long you've been there, it's the same work process."

Walman, 21, being a left-handed shot, is in a position were his ascension to the NHL could come quicker than others. The Blues' depth chart on the left side has 33-year-old Jay Bouwmeester (two years remaining on his contract), Joel Edmundson, a staple with fellow 24-year-old Colton Parayko and 30-year-old Carl Gunnarsson, who also has two years remaining on his contract. So this is an opportunity for Walman, who will be at training camp in St. Louis in September, be ready to make inroads with Blues brass.

"His game is based on quickness and based on his head, his ability to move the puck and what he can do offensively on the power play," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Walman. "... I think Traverse City is going to be a really good test for him on taking what he learned last year at the American Hockey League at the end. I saw a huge improvement from Colton from the summer to where he ended to what he did in Traverse City (in 2014). He was a man at Traverse City a few years ago and we didn't have him on our team that year. We thought half a year in the minors and all of the sudden, he never went back. 

"I'm not saying I'm expecting that from any of the guys going there, but that's sort of how I see a guy like Walman coming in and defining himself more at Traverse City because his skill set is going to transfer really good to what you're going to see out there (at prospects camp). There's not a lot of pushback right now."

Walman, who signed a $2.775 million contract, will now play for keeps. No more being one of the top cogs at Providence, where he was heavily counted upon to lead the Friars. 

"It's a job now. It's still fun for me, it's the game I love, but it's a job and everyone's trying to make a living for themselves," Walman said. "I'm still taking courses, so I'm still getting a little bit of schooling done and I'm going to finish my degree, but yeah, at the same time, I'm playing the game that I love. It's good to kind of have a job that you enjoy coming to every day and working hard.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Walman (front) lifts weights during Blues prospects camp completed
recently. Walman said he's up to 200-205 pounds from 193 last season.

"I can do anything I put my mind to. I love what I do and I work hard every time I get an opportunity, so I'm excited."

But it's why Walman will not take anything for granted. Wherever he lands, he'll continue to push to get to the NHL level and give Armstrong and those in charge a reason to keep Walman's name entrenched in their heads.

"I have no timeline on anything," Walman said. "I just take it day-by-day and it's my first kind of real opportunity coming out of college. Every day I'm going to put my foot to the pedal and kind of grind as hard as I can. I know there's a chance for anything so I'm going to work hard every day. You'll see that both on and off the ice."

It's what Blues fans are counting on.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blues sign trio of forwards early in free agency period

Thorburn expected to fill role vacated by Reaves gets two-year, $1.8 million, 
Bennett restricted free agent Sundqvist each get one-year, $650,000 contracts

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues weren't expected to make any big splashes once the free agency period opened up on Saturday but they did fill some depth needs on opening day.

In an effort to replace Ryan Reaves, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins last week at the NHL Draft, the Blues went out and signed veteran Chris Thorburn to of the Winnipeg Jets -- who was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft -- to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million ($900,000 AAV) along with forward Beau Bennett, formerly of the New Jersey Devils, to a one-year, $650,000 contract and restricted free agent Oskar Sundqvist, acquired in the Reaves trade, to a one-year, $650,000 contract.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Thorburn (left), Beau Bennett (center) and Oskar Sundqvist (right)
all signed contracts with the Blues on Saturday.

Thorburn is 34, or four years younger than Reaves, is listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and has spent 10 of his 12 seasons with the Jets franchise, including four with the Atlanta Thrashers before they relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.

Thorburn played in 64 games for the Jets last season and had three goals and one assist. For his career spanning 750 games, Thorburn has 52 goals and 75 assists, including and 908 penalty minutes.

It's been an injury-riddled career for the 25-year-old Bennett, who did play in a career-high 65 games last season for the Devils and had eight goals and 11 assists, which were career-highs in goals, assists and points.

A former first-round pick with the Penguins, Bennett is expected to compete for a bottom-six role and likely signals the end of Scottie Upshall's time in St. Louis. 

Bennett, the 20th pick in 2010, is 6-2 ad 195 pounds who was part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2016; he has 24 goals and 40 assists in 194 career games.

The 23-year-old Sundqvist played in 63 games for the Penguins' American Hockey League squad, Scranton Wilkes-Barre and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Sundqvist will compete for a role with the Blues this season.

Earlier in the week, the Blues signed restricted free agent Magnus Paajarvi, who scored the series-clinching overtime goal in the first round against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5, to a one-year, $800,000 contract.

Schenn closes one chapter, opens exciting new one in St. Louis

As free agency period opens at 11 a.m. (CT), Blues 
made their plunge at draft with acquisition of impact center

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Call it a range of emotions for new Blues center Brayden Schenn in going from shock of leaving one team and elated to be going to another.

The 25-year-old Schenn, who was acquired on the first day of the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago from the Philadelphia Flyers for center Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks, spent the past six seasons in Philadelphia after being acquired in 2012 from the Los Angeles Kings. L.A. selected Schenn with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft.
(Philadelphia Flyers photo)
Blues will give newly acquired forward Brayden Schenn
opportunity to play center, his natural position. 

There was a comfort zone for Schenn in Philadelphia, where he had 25 goals and 30 assists in 79 games last season, 17 of those goals coming on the power play.

But Schenn, who watched the early picks of the draft on June 23, could see the writing on the wall, and when the Flyers selected center Nolan Patrick with the second pick in the first round, the cupboard was crowded.

"I think just with us having that many forwards in Philadelphia and I don't think they expected to land the second overall pick too," Schenn said. "Obviously they did and they knew that it was going to be another forward, so whether it was me or someone else, it kind of felt like something was going to shake out. I got a text 30 minutes before from my agent and after that I was traded, so ..."

So ... Schenn became a Blue, who offer up a playoff-caliber team in the Western Conference that can give him motivation to move West despite the recent success with the Flyers, including 51 goals and 114 points the past two seasons.

"I think it's going to be a good team and a great opportunity," Schenn said. "I would say I'm real excited about how it all went down and the whole situation.

"... You want to be wanted, you want to be liked and obviously (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong) has been around the game for a while and built some good teams. So for him to want a player like me, I think that's a compliment and like I said, I'm really looking forward to it. I've played in the East for six years and I would say one team I really don't know a whole lot about is the Blues. I just know it's not easy coming into that arena and playing there. They're always tough games but I don't know a whole lot about each player because I play them just a few times each year. I look forward to getting to know the guys and the team and the organization."

Schenn is expected to given the opportunity to play his natural position at center after playing mostly on the wing in Philadelphia since he arrived there in 2012; he'll join Paul Stastny, Vladimir Sobotka and Kyle Brodziak as the top four center icemen heading into training camp after the shoulder injury to Patrik Berglund that will keep the Swede sidelined until December. 

"In my conversation with him, that was what we said, that we plan to start him off at center," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Schenn. "We want to really give him a good chance there. That's where he feels most comfortable, that's his natural position, so we definitely want to give him a real good look there at training camp. 

"We're going to try a couple of things in training camp with a couple of other people to see how it works out, but I definitely believe that we'll give Brayden a real good look at center here and some considerable time to get comfortable there."

Schenn may not know many of his new teammates but he'll see a familiar face behind the bench in associate coach Craig Berube, who coached Schenn five of the six years Schenn was in Philadelphia, including the last two as head coach from 2013-15.

"Brayden is a good scorer, he can put the puck in the net," Berube said. "He's got good size. I used him in all three positions -- left, center, right -- a versatile guy, and you know when he's banging and skating and physical, he's a good player, hard player.

"... He's what 25 now? He's starting to become a complete player now."

And that's why Armstrong pulled the trigger on a trade that impacts his roster now but giving up two first-round picks for a player coming into his own (Schenn has three years remaining on his contract with a $5.125 million average annual value cap hit remaining).

"Obviously he can score on the power play, he has a net front presence, he can shoot it from the slot," Armstrong said. "He's only 25 years old, just going to be turning 26 into training camp. His last two years have been his most productive. He looks like he's settling into that level of player. 

"We're hoping with the opportunity with a new group, there might be another level to his game. But we're excited because he fits into that age bracket with a (Alex) Pietrangelo, with a (Vladimir) Tarasenko, with a (Jaden) Schwartz. We have some younger players like with a Robby Fabbri, who's been here for a couple years. I don't put him in that grouping yet just because of his age, not because of what he's accomplished. He helps our scoring in that area, but I think we're going to score by committee. Tarasenko's obviously the lead horse in that area. The more guys we can have help chip in, not only relieves the pressure on him, but that adds more goals to him because they have to maybe not just focus on one player but maybe two or three."

And the thought of playing center, perhaps with Tarasenko, brings much excitement to Schenn, who was sort of cast by the wayside up the middle and used primarily on the wing. He did it but never quite felt comfortable doing so.

"Yeah, I'm real excited. To be honest, I kind of came into Philadelphia and they had a good team," Schenn said. "I was drafted at center and pretty much never played a game at wing until I got to Philadelphia. My first year I played center there and then second and third year, we just kind of had a logjam of centerman up the ice. And with (Claude) Giroux and (Sean) Couturier and (Vincent) Lecavalier there, the list kind of goes on and on, so I got moved to the wing. But years past, I played 30 games at center and I felt like I had some pretty good games and that's where I feel the most comfortable. For me, I feel like it gets me involved in the game. Through the middle of the ice, you kind of keep your speed a little bit more and it's not as much stopping and starting along the wall and that's where I'm most comfortable.

"I've been talking to the Philly guys for the past two or three years, trying to play a little bit up the middle, and I think there's just so many guys there. But yeah, for me to come to the Blues, where I think they do have really good centerman in St. Louis as well but if they want to give me a shot there, I'm obviously looking forward to the opportunity there. There's a lot of good forwards in St. Louis, so there's always that competition, you're always competing for spots and I'm looking forward to being a part of a solid forward group in St. Louis."

And that means a busy summer will get even busier when Schenn returns to Philadelphia from Kelowna, British Columbia in mid-July to close shop and head to St. Louis to find a place to live and turn the chapter to a new challenge.
(Philadelphia Flyers photo)
Brayden Schenn spent the past six seasons with the Flyers but is excited
to join the Blues after trade on June 23.

"I'm here in Kelowna B.C. and there's a bunch of guys out here for July and August," Schenn said. "Then I'm going to go to Philadelphia in mid-July and pack up my place and get that all sorted and then head to St. Louis and try to find a place. I've got a busy July here, but it'll calm down in August."

And then kick back up for informal skates and then training camp.

"I've felt like I've had some pretty good years there in Philadelphia but at the same time I felt like I got better," Schenn said. "I've still got another level to get to and I feel that I'm going to get there. So, I think it's a great opportunity in St. Louis. ... I'm looking forward to the whole situation and how it shook out, but yeah, I think maybe it was a combination of them bringing up a few more young guys and maybe just them having a lot of forwards. Maybe I was the easy guy to move."

And a guy the Blues are glad to take in.