Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blues continue to add depth, sign Mueller

Former first round pick by Coyotes signs 
one-year, two-way deal looking to resurrect NHL career

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues continued to fortify their depth after signing forward Peter Mueller to a one-year, two-way contract.

Terms were not disclosed.

The 26-year-old Mueller, who was the eighth pick of the 2006 NHL Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, led the Swiss-A League in goals (24) after playing for Kloten.  Mueller had 46 points in 49 games.
(Getty Images)
Former first round pick Peter Mueller last played
in the NHL with Florida.  He signed a one-year,
two-way  contract with the Blues Tuesday. 

Mueller suffered a serious concussion with the Colorado Avalanche in 2010 against the San Jose Sharks when he was tracking a puck down and hit by then-Sharks defenseman Rob Blake.

Mueller, a Bloomington, Minn. native, attempted a comeback the following season but re-injured his head in a preseason game and never returned to the ice for the Avalanche in 2010-11. He has been searching to find the game that led him to score 22 goals and 54 points in 81 games his rookie season with the Coyotes.

Mueller will likely start the season with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League but he adds to the mix in a line of strong depth signings by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong this off-season.

Mueller last  played in the NHL for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13. He scored eight goals and finished with 17 points in 43 games.

Armstrong has also brought on former NHL players Benn Ferriero, Jeremy Welsh, and John McCarthy in recent weeks, along with former Blues pick Philip McRae.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Arbitrator awards Blues one-year award on Sobotka

Forward will play in KHL for 2014-15 
season after rejecting team's terms on contract

ST. LOUIS -- Through no surprise, forward Vladimir Sobotka was awarded a one-year contract through arbitration Monday.

Sobotka, a restricted free agent who will play with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2014-15, rejected the Blues' one-year offer of $2.7 million, along with offers of a two-year, $6 million contract and anywhere from 3-5 years at what "north of $3 million" per season, as Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said recently. It is believed that the offer of 3-5 years would have paid Sobotka $3.1 million per season.

Sobotka was seeking $3 million on a one-year deal, which would have taken him to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015.
(Getty Images)
The Blues were awarded an arbitration of a
one-year contract on Vladimir Sobotka.

Under the one-year deal awarded to the Blues, Sobotka will owe the team one year of service upon his return to the NHL unless the Blues trade his rights, which is unlikely. 

Sobotka, 27, had career highs of nine goals and 33 points in 61 games last season for the Blues. He won 61.9 percent of his faceoffs, which led the league. 

Sobotka has an out clause after each year of his KHL contract, which has been reported at three years. A well-placed source said the contract will pay Sobotka $3.5 million in 2014-15, $3.5 million in 2015-16 and $4.5 million in 2016-17. 

"We are looking forward to having Vladimir in a Blues uniform when he returns to the NHL," Armstrong said in a statement. "We wish him the best of luck in the upcoming season."

A fourth-round pick (No. 106) of the Boston Bruins in the 2005 NHL Draft, Sobotka has 35 goals and 123 points in 381 regular season games for the Blues and Bruins.

With Sobotka off to Russia for the upcoming season, the Blues brought back veteran Steve Ott, giving the forward $5.2 million for two seasons.

* Blues sign trio -- The Blues also announced a trio of signings, including 2014 second round draft pick Ivan Barbashev to a three-year entry-level contract.

Barbashev, 18, was the 33rd pick in Philadelphia last month. He participated in the Blues prospects' camp recently and is the best friend of fellow prospect Dmitrij Jaskin, who was Barbashev's teammate in the Quebec Major Junior  Hockey League with the Moncton Wildcats.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Barbashev played in 48 games a season ago and had a team-high 43 assists and was second with 68 points. He had 130 points the past two seasons with Moncton.

Also, the Blues signed veteran defenseman Nate Prosser, formerly of the Minnesota Wild and forward Jeremy Welsh, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks, to one-year, two-way contracts.

Prosser, 28, spent the past three full seasons with the Wild and had brief stints in two previous seasons before that.

The 6-2, 203-pound right-handed shot provides more depth with the Blues' AHL team, the Chicago Wolves. He had two goals and eight points in 53 regular season games last season with the Wild and played in 10 playoff games with Minnesota this past season.

Welsh, 26, split last season between the Canucks and the AHL's Utica Comets. 

The 6-3, 191-pound Welsh had a goal in 19 regular season games with the Canucks last season.

Welsh has appeared in 25 career NHL regular season games, including stints with Vancouver and Carolina Hurricanes, totaling two points (one goal, one assist). He will also provide depth for the Wolves for the upcoming season. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Vannelli calls move to WHL beneficial

Highly-touted Blues' 2012 second-round pick 
raised eyebrows with Medicine Hat, eyes move to AHL

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues selected Tommy Vannelli with their second round pick (47th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, the defenseman was a fast-riser on many draft boards.

Vannelli had already committed to Don Lucia's University of Minnesota hockey program and was enlisted in school after being highly-sought after from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School and the U.S. National Developmental Team Program U-18 squad after helping lead the team to a silver medal in the World Championships in Sochi, Russia.

Being part of the Gophers hockey program wouldn't have been a poor route towards ascending to one day becoming a pro.
Tommy Vannelli

But Vannelli never dressed in a game for the Gophers, instead choosing that academics and hockey were not in his best interests at the time. He would move on to the Western Hockey League and Medicine Hat. But he initially didn't commit to the Tigers. Vannelli considered playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League before settling on Medicine Hat.

The move proved to be highly beneficial. It made the decision to leave easier, since Vannelli had a tough time initially parting ways.

"When I left (Minnesota), I think it benefited in the long run with my development," the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Vannelli, who recently took part in the Blues' prospects camp, said. "I had a pretty good year."

Vannelli, a 19-year-old Minnetonka native, produced 14 goals and 41 points in 60 games for the Tigers as a rookie. Add in two goals and eight points in eight playoff games and it was a strong campaign.

"I didn't know what to expect going into Medicine Hat," Vannelli admitted. "I was happy, but I think there was definitely more to what I contributed. I kind of tailed off at the end of the year. I think that was the amount of games I wasn't used to, stuff like that. I think now I know the games, what the competition's like ... I think I can get better."

Touted as an offensive defenseman who adds in a line of puck-moving blue liners the Blues are stocking up on in their minor league system and amateur prospects, Vannelli fits the bill as the game is gearing more towards defensemen able to transition the puck quickly.

"I'm an offensive defenseman," Vannelli said. "I like to move the puck. I think my skating's my biggest attribute. Just get it up to the forwards and follow the play close.

"This camp has been good.  It was nice to meet all the guys and get used to the personnel around here. It was a good week. First time being here is definitely an eye-opener. And the Blues were happy with last year. They're happy with the weight I've put on so far this summer. Obviously I still have a little bit to go, but they're happy with how I've developed so far. I've definitely never hit the weight room like I have this summer. Nutrition is big also. Those two things have helped me out a lot."

Blues director of player development Tim Taylor called Vannelli one of the more noticeable players at camp.

"He can skate ... he flies," Taylor said. "He glides on the ice, he can shoot the puck. It just flies off his stick. He has a great one-timer. He's a guy that can move the puck, he's got good agility, he closes gaps quickly. He's going to learn as a pro, he doesn't have to be overly physical. He just has to get in the way, take time and space away.
(WHL file photo)
Blues prospect Tommy Vannelli impressed in his first season with the
Medicine Hat Tigers (14 goals, 27 assists) in 60 games.

"Last year when he decided not to go to school and instead went up to Medicine Hat, he had a fantastic year. It was a huge stepping-stone for his career. He's taken big strides. He's gained eight pounds, he's lost two percent body fat, so on a 200-pound body, that's 10-11 pounds of muscle he's gained for the year. He's a guy now going to try out for Team USA in August. We want him to go there this year and show them they really made a mistake last year and he deserves to be there. He's a guy that's taken some good strides this past year and junior hockey in Canada's really helped with that."

Vannelli is reaching high as far as his future endeavors. In a perfect world, he'll be playing in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, but a return to Medicine Hat is also a possibility.

"I think there's a chance I can play in the 'A' next year, also go back to Medicine Hat," Vannelli said. "It's really up in the air. It's what the Blues want for me.

"I definitely know I need to get stronger; they know that, too. But they've been patient. They've been good to me. They've given me all the tools to reach my goal, get bigger."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Descheneau trying to overcome odds smaller players face

Blues' fifth round pick looking to follow path others have paved in NHL

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It would have been a moment Blues prospect Jaedon Descheneau would have savored. 

But a funny thing happened on the second day of the 2014 NHL Draft.

"I was sleeping when my buddy called me and told me I got picked," Descheneau said of his being drafted by the Blues in the fifth round. "I had no idea until he told me."

And with that, the 19-year-old of Leduc, Alberta was an NHL prospect. Not a ton of fanfare, not a ton of adrenaline. Tough to process it all once one wakes up.
Jaedon Descheneau

"The time change actually screwed me up, so I thought the draft started at 10 (a.m.)," said Descheneau, who plays for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. "But I was in Edmonton, so it actually started at 8. ... My friend called me, his little bro got drafted so he was at the draft and he called me and I had nothing on my phone. In the middle of our conversation, my phone just went off. My parents, my friends, my twitter and stuff. That's kind of how I figured out he wasn't lying to me."

Descheneau, listed at 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds, recently spent a week at Blues prospects camp and will attempt to overcome what so many considered undersized must go through: win over a league that seems to thrive on players in the mid-six feet range and carry 220-230 pounds.

"I think for me, my size enables me to play how I play," Descheneau said. "If I was a bigger player, I wouldn't be the same player today. I use my speed and skill and I kind of ... I'm more quicker and use more agility to get around guys. I try to use that to my advantage. I really think my size is why I am the player I am today.

"People always say things about size and stuff like that, I just ignore it. Some of the top scorers in the league this year in the NHL aren't very big. (Sidney) Crosby himself is not very big. But I just kind of play my game and do what I'm doing."

Descheneau, who lit up the WHL with 44 goals and 98 points in 70 games this past season after putting up 30 goals and 78 points in 69 games the previous season, used to allow the detractors to bother him. Not anymore.

"When I was younger, I did," he said. "When I was younger, I had people say I wouldn't make it. I would never even make a rec team. Nowadays, I'm more mature and it doesn't bother me. 

"I just look at (Marty) St. Louis, Crosby, (Patrick) Kane, (Tyler) Ennis ... they're not very big. They're playing some big minutes in the NHL."

Descheneau is tied in with one of the top picks of this season's draft: Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres and the first forward chosen. The two were teammates at Kootenay as well as linemates and are good friends.

"If you didn't know who Reinhart was, a second or third overall pick, you might have thought it was (Descheneau)," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development. "That's a feather in his cap to know that he came out of the games and played very well. He's just got to go back and have another good, solid year. At 18-19, we want them to come in here and get a baseline of where they're at and try to build off of that.

"Here's another guy where we (tested) his body fat and his weight and the correlation between the two affect his play on the ice. He can get much stronger and he can lose body fat. There's probably about four or five pounds of muscle that he can build. It's going to make him quicker and stronger on the ice in order to dart in and out of those areas to score goals. We're hoping when the guys come in, they take that nutrition, they take the work ethic that Nelson provides them and obviously what Hitch has talked to them about, if they combine those three and take any of those and take them back and work out through the season, they have a good chance of making an NHL roster."

Descheneau described his game as that of a guy who isn't afraid of going to the tough areas but doing so at opportune times.
(Getty Images)
Blues prospect Jaedon Descheneau (right) doesn't mind
parking himself in front of the net to find success, as he
does here playing for the Kootenay Ice last season. 

"I try to play more like (Montreal's) Brendan Gallagher and St. Louis, a bit of both," Descheneau said. "Gallagher goes hard to the net and that's what you've got to do to score. St. Louis has that skill game that I try to play, too. Those two players are who I try to play like."

Descheneau got a pretty good idea the Blues were interested in him. Multiple conversations with part time amateur scout Jesse Wallin gauged the interest. And after the season Descheneau had, there was strong indication he would be picked.

"I just got an opportunity. I had a good coach last year," Descheneau said of Ryan  McGill. "They really developed me as a player. I struggled at the start of the year, but my coach helped me out. He pushed me and gave me an opportunity and that's why I'm the player I am today. I believe he's the biggest part of my success to this day."

Playing with Reinhart may have helped, too.

"I learned a lot from him," Descheneau said of Reinhart. "We complemented each other a lot out there. The guy is smart, the way he can make plays is unbelievable. I don't think I've seen a player be able to do what he does. ... I was fortunate enough to play with him and he's helped me out along the way. He's a big part of where I am today. It was a lot of fun playing with him."

Descheneau plans on another year in Kootenay. The dream is to get to St. Louis one day but getting a taste of prospects camp offered up a taste of what professional life will be like one day.

"You get a glimpse of what it's like to be a pro," Descheneau said. "There's so much stuff you've got to do, nutrition, workouts and stuff that I've never been a part of. It's a good experience and I'm enjoying it.

"Obviously I'd like to play here, but I have a good junior team back home. Too young to play in the American (Hockey) League, but I have a good junior team back home. We're going to have a good team this year, some good players to play with. Going back there to develop, nothing wrong with that at all."

Another St. Louis native added to Blues

Team signs defenseman Chris Butler to 
one-year, two-way contract, also add Ferriero

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are making it a family affair when it comes to those that attended Chaminade High School in suburban St. Louis and the University of Denver.

First, it was Paul Stastny. Now, add Chris Butler to the list.

The Blues added Stastny, who attended Chaminade his freshman and sophomore years before going to the University of Denver, on the first day of free agency with a four-year, $28-million contract. On Wednesday, they signed Butler to a one-year, two-way contract ($650,000 NHL, $400,000 AHL).
(Getty Images)
Kirkwood native Chris Butler hopes to get a chance to
play for his childhood team after signing a one-year,
two-way contract with the Blues on Wednesday.

Butler, 27, is a Chaminade alumni who also graduated from college at Denver. He's a Kirkwood native who spent the past three seasons with the Calgary Flames, including playing in all 82 games a season ago, scoring two goals and adding 14 assists.

The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Butler was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft.

Butler has 75 points (10 goals, 65 assists) in 349 career games and became an unrestricted free agent July 1. He provides the Blues organization with experience and depth on defense and gives the franchise another puck-moving blue liner.

Butler will come to camp looking to be a surprise addition to the parent club, which already has Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, newly-acquired Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman, Jordan Leopold and Ian Cole as its top seven.

"My personal goal is to come to training camp and compete for a spot," Butler said. "I have no intention of playing in the American (Hockey) League, even though it's a two-way deal. I feel like I'm still an NHL player ... it's just kind of a camp to take a step back and redefine myself as a player, come to a winning organization and a team and a franchise that I think is pretty close to achieving their ultimate goal."

The Blues also added to their growing list of players to stock with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL when they also announced the signing of forward Benn Ferriero to a one-year, two way contract. Ferriero, 27, spent the majority of last season with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Utica Comets, ranking third on the club with 39 points and second with 19 goals in 54 regular season appearances.  In addition, he dressed in two games with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14.

Overall, the 5-11, 187-pound forward has appeared in five NHL seasons, including stints with San Jose (2009-12), the New York Rangers (2012-13) and Canucks.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Schmaltz knocking on Blues' defensive door

2012 first round pick to play at North Dakota in fall with 
brother Nick, expected to make jump up ladder in minor leagues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft, brothers Jordan and Nick Schmaltz talked about the idea of playing in the NHL together.

Jordan Schmaltz was a 2012 first-round pick of the Blues; Nick was the anxious little brother awaiting his turn. 

The Blues were looking like most other teams were at this particular draft, searching for forwards. The younger Schmaltz is a center/right wing who played for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. He would have been a perfect fit for what the Blues were looking for and Nick Schmaltz would have been reunited with his brother.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, the Blues' 2012 first round pick, will play a
third season this fall in college at North Dakota.

There will be a reunion, but not at the NHL level. In fact, Jordan and Nick Schmaltz one day will be adversaries in one of the reborn and growing rivalries in the game.

"I think they were thinking or were going to take him until Chicago traded up," Jordan Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks selecting his brother in the first round. "It is what it is and I was pretty happy for him.

"It kind of sucks he didn't get to come here, but Chicago's not a bad organization either. That was awesome. I was so proud of him."

The Blackhawks traded up with the San Jose Sharks, right in front of the Blues, who had the 21st pick, and selected Schmaltz and spoiling what could have been the reunion the brothers had talked about.

They will get to play together this upcoming season at the University of North Dakota, but Nick better savor the memories while he can, because his older brother in all likelihood will be moving on up the ranks.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Jordan Schmaltz spent the past week with other Blues' prospects at camp, and using the cliche term men among boys, sometimes it seemed that way with the 20-year-old defenseman.

"You saw him in the 3-on-3 drills, he takes charge," said Blues director of player personnel Tim Taylor, one of the coaches who ran the prospects camp. "As you watched the game, there's one guy that really took charge of the yellow group over the blue group and that was him. He handled the puck every time he was on the ice, he's got good speed, good acceleration, he sees the ice very well. The next progression for him is to get bigger and stronger to get to the next level."

Jordan Schmaltz, who began his ice hockey career with the Chicago Mission in 2008 before moving on to the Sioux City Musketeers and Gamblers of the USHL, had three goals and 12 points in 42 games for the Fighting Sioux in 2012 before doubling his goals (six), assists (18) and points (24) in 41 games this past season.

"I feel like I definitely went a step or two in the right direction this year," Schmaltz said. "I thought I had a really good year this year and I'm just really looking forward to building off that this coming year at North Dakota.

"Every year, I've grown a little bit. I played with some really good players this year. Dillon Simpson this year was my [defensive] partner and I think we just complemented each other really well. It helped my game that much more being able to play with a player like Dillon. He's something special. ... With another year here at North Dakota, I have high expectations to continue to move forward and round out my game."

And perhaps helping his North Dakota teammates grab some vindication after the Sioux lost a heart-breaker to the University of Minnesota 2-1 on a buzzer-beater at last season's Frozen Four.

Schmaltz assisted on the game-tying goal midway through the third period and 32 seconds after the Gophers grabbed a 1-0 lead but it wasn't long before stunning developments would soon set in.

"That was tough," Schmaltz said. "We were in shock, disbelief at what happened. I blocked a shot and next thing I know, it's in our net. 

"We had a great year. The coaches there are great and they've helped me so much. I trust them and it's going to be really good moving forward. I think right now, for me, it's just continue to worry about my game and things I can control."

Schmaltz's climb up the defensive ranks on the Blues' depth chart is no coincidence. His offensive instincts could one day serve well in coach Ken Hitchcock's system, especially if Schmaltz continues to improve his puck-moving skills.

"He had a different personality on the ice. He was very reserved the first year I watched him," Taylor said of Schmaltz. "Now over the last year, he's developed that 'it's my team' attitude and he's taken that attitude and he's really progressed with it. The more you see that attitude, the more he handles the puck. We have big expectations for a big third year for him."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
2012 first round pick Jordan Schmaltz hit the weights this past week at the
Blues' prospects camp.

When Schmaltz first came to St. Louis two years ago, everything was new to him. Now there is a focus and goal in mind, a clear-cut goal.

"Coming in as a young guy, you're kind of scrawny or whatever," Schmaltz said. "The main focus is putting on weight so you can play at the next level. I think that's still a work in progress with me. You can never be too big in my opinion. You can be, but a guy like me is not going to blow up. Just keep getting stronger and work hard. You know it's going to come.

"Every year we come here, it's good to learn new things and be able to take new things back, especially skating this year. Hopefully we picked up on a few drills or whatever it may be. Come in here with open ears and take everything in."

And in the meantime, Schmaltz can take his little brother Nick under his wing for a year before the realization sets in that he one day may have to stop him.

"Maybe one day down the road that would be cool," Jordan Schmaltz said, "but right now, we're on the same team at North Dakota."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fabbri has tools to get to NHL

Blues' 2014 first round pick impresses at prospects camp 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Tim Taylor got to know Blues' 2014 first-round pick Robby Fabbri quite extensively this past week. 

The Blues' director of player development worked extensively with some of the top prospects the Blues offered up at their practice facility, the Ice Zone, inside St. Louis Outlet Mall. 

And what Taylor, a 13-year NHL veteran and two-time Stanley Cup champion, came away with after seeing the Mississauga, Ontario native Fabbri is a player the Blues felt quite comfortable with when they selected him with the 21st pick in Philadelphia last month. 
Robby Fabbri

"There's a reason why we picked him first," Taylor said of the 18-year-old Fabbri, a center who at 5-foot-10, 164 pounds led the Guelph Storm with 87 points in 58 games during the regular season and 28 points in 16 postseason games before being named the OHL playoff MVP. 

"He's got that acceleration, he separates himself instantly away from his man," Taylor added. "He's got good instincts to get the puck to the net, not only shooting the puck but he drives the net hard. Those are all good qualities in an NHL player that we like. He's a difference maker. He's looking to be the difference in the game." 

The Blues have been thirsty for play-making center icemen for a number of years. It's showed in recent seasons as an Achillies' heel during early playoff exits. Although Fabbri, who scored 45 goals and had 42 assists with the Storm last season, isn't quite ready to get to the NHL level, his St. Louis debut this past week has left an a positive impression. 

"I just try to have as much fun as I can," said Fabbri, who helped the Storm to an OHL championship this past season. "Obviously a lot of fans out ... that's great to see. All the guys you're skating with, you just want to stay relaxed and try and do the best you can. 

"Just go hard every drill. You don't want to take a drill off. You're going with different guys, you want to communicate and show them what I can do." 

The player that comes to mind when Taylor thinks of Fabbri is someone who has had a long and prosperous NHL career, a former teammate of Taylor's with the Tampa Bay Lightning: Marty St. Louis. 

Taylor said Fabbri's style is very reminiscent of St. Louis. 

"He shows he has the work ethic like Marty," Taylor said of Fabbri. "I'm very close to Marty and I'm going to talk to Marty about Robby and the fact that Robby is a smaller guy. He's not small, but he's a smaller guy. He goes to hard areas, he's tenacious, he's gritty and he's just going to have to watch himself a little bit and understand that he can't go in those areas at all times. He's going to have to learn and pick and choose. 

"I'll pick Marty's brain at a golf tournament in a couple weeks, so I'll pick his brain about Robby and I'll get them to connect and Robby can pick his brain." 

Scott Walker, owner and coach of the Storm, spoke very highly of Fabbri to the Guelph Mercuty leading up to the NHL Draft. 

"Twenty years from now, (Fabbri) might be the player that sold the most jerseys and the most tickets," Walker, a former NHL player, told the paper. "I really do believe he has the best skill and heart in the draft. 

"Anyone that takes him after (pick No.) 20 is getting the steal of the draft." 

Fabbri credits Walker, whose 16-year NHL career spanned with the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. 

"He's such a great coach," Fabbri said of Walker. "And the way our team was this year, it's a reflection on the way he coaches. He was a competitive player and he's a competitive coach and he wants that out of all of us. I like having that in my game, so it's always good to have someone like that pushing you. 

"It's great to hear that, but to me, it's just a number and it's an invitation to camp and you've got to prove everything right off the start and that's what I'm hoping to do." 

Fabbri may be smaller in stature but he's not afraid to play in the tough, gritty areas at the right time. It's why some compare him to a player like St. Louis, who's made a successful career playing the same style and using the same smarts. 

"I think I'm very competitive," Fabbri said. "I go to those dirty areas to get the puck so I can utilize my skill that I have, a quick release in the offensive zone, but to play at the next level, you've got to play in the defensive zone as well. Even though you don't put up numbers in the defensive zone, it's still a huge part." 

Fabbri will go back to Guelph and take with him an abundance of knowledge packed into one week working with Blues staff and coaches. 

"He needs to take with him the understanding of nutrition, strength training and a talk with [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] on what it takes to be an NHL player," Taylor said. "Not just an NHL player for a day but to have a career. There's a difference." 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' 2014 Robby Fabbri hitting the weight room at prospects camp.

Leaving a strong first impression was something Fabbri didn't lack in his first visit to St. Louis, and if first impressions are lasting, Fabbri will be in St. Louis permanently in the not-too-distant future. 

"This is when your career starts and you want to start off on the right foot and you want to work as hard as you can every time you get the opportunity to prove what you can do," Fabbri said. "It was fun finally putting on the [Blues] jersey, the fans and everything like that. Such a great organization and you can tell that by the fans out there that it's a great city to play in. 

"Obviously your plans are to make it, but that's a huge jump. I've set my goals high so I'm going to (try) to reach for them. But I see myself (in) a big leadership role in Guelph next year. Hopefully we can put up another run like we did last year." 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blues sign Ott, lose Sobotka to KHL

Veteran forward resigns for two years, $5.2 million; Sobotka opts 
for deal with Avangard Omsk for reported three years, $4 million per season  

ST. LOUIS -- In a strange and surprising twist of events Thursday, the Blues brought back Steve Ott into the fold with a two-year contract but lost the versatile Vladimir Sobotka in the process.

Ott, an unrestricted free agent, will get $5.2 million over the next two seasons ($2.6 million per season) and just last week, was thought to be out of the mix to come back to the Blues after they signed Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera to free-agent contracts.

If reports overseas are confirmed, and they are thought to be correct, the Blues have apparently lost Sobotka, a restricted free agent, to the Kontinental Hockey League. Although Blues general manager Doug Armstrong could not confirm the reports, they are out there that Sobotka is leaving the NHL to take a contract with Avangard Omsk, which reported the signing on their official website. Roman Jedlicka of TV NOVO Sport in the Czech Republic is reporting Sobotka signed a three-year contract for a reported $4 million per season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Steve Ott (middle) comes back to the Blues after signing a two-year, $5.2
million contract Thursday.

Sobotka, who statistically is coming off his best NHL season with nine goals and 33 points in 61 games, is a RFA with arbitration rights. The Blues and Sobotka are scheduled to go to an arbitration hearing July 21 and there, Sobotka will be awarded a one-year contract. 

If the reports of Sobotka's length of contract come to fruition, he will owe the Blues one year of arbitration-eligible service under the current collective bargaining agreement.

"I can't confirm that he signed in the KHL. It's probably just easiest if I give you background information on where we are today with Vladi," Armstrong said via conference call. "I would say back in February, I called his agent (Steve Bartlett) trying to talk about an extension. We got through the Olympic break and I thought we were very close at different times. Steve Bartlett and I regained conversations after that thinking we were close to a deal. It was probably late May, early June when I heard that the KHL might be an option that (Sobotka) might consider. We certainly took that at face value and we negotiated trying to get him to sign here. We extended the qualifying offer to him, moved forward to July 4 and Vladimir decided to change agents with a different agent. We filed for salary arbitration at that time hoping to expedite the process and to maintain our rights to the player knowing that he would be on a one-year contract and we would get him back here. At that time, he was obviously still in discussion with a European team, and that's speculation. I fast forward to information that he was strongly considering signing in the KHL. When I got that information, I circled back with other players that we were talking to. Steve Ott being one and we came to a conclusion. 

"Where that leaves us is we have arbitration pending on July 21st. We're moving forward that we're gong to go through that arbitration, an award will be given and that will be his contract for the 14-15 season. We hope that he will be in training camp under that contract. If he's in the KHL, that contract will toll for future years."

Armstrong said the Blues offered Sobotka a contract extension anywhere from 1-5 years in term and "north of $3 million" if he took a 3- to 5-year contract. Sobotka, a valuable defensive and one of the top faceoff specialists in the League a season ago at 61.9 percent, completed a three-year contract that averaged $1.3 million.

"He and I have had probably three conversations since early June and the KHL portion of the contract came up," Armstrong said of Sobotka. "I just tried to give him our point of view on why coming back here -- even on a one-year deal -- would be beneficial. All parties involved, we really like our situation, we really like our team. Untimately, he was dealing with two leagues. I'm dealing with one league. I have to work under the parameters given to this League. I wanted to stretch to the absolute end of fairness under our collective bargaining agreement. I can't and I don't think we should be asked to negotiate against the KHL.

"I believe that he has (signed with the KHL). All indications are that he has. We're going to proceed with the arbitration and if he shows up at training camp, good for us. I'll have to get my dancing shoes on and get back under the cap at that point. But we'll do that to keep a valuable player like Vladi in the organization."

Armstrong confirmed the Blues offered Sobotka a multitude of contracts.

"In June, we had offered him a multi-year deal, three-, four-, five-years in his choice north of $3 million," Armstrong said. "Our last offers were a one-year deal at $2.7 (million) or a two-year deal at $3 million (each season). Those haven't gotten it done to this point. I can't confirm that he signed in the KHL. I don't have any written documentation that that's happened, but that's where we were at with Vladimir. If he's gone to the KHL, it doesn't change my outlook on Vladi the player or the person. I have the utmost respect for him as a competitor, the utmost respect for him as part of the organization. I think our offers always indicated that we valued ... we were placing a premium value on the things that weren't seen on the stat on a nightly basis with our offers of $3 million, but in fairness, if the numbers that are potentially reported in the KHL, it's an economic decision that I can't really argue with him taking." 

The Blues were always one of the potential suitors for Ott, who was acquired near the NHL Trade Deadline along with Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres for a package that included Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart. Ott was mulling offers from multiple suitors since becoming a UFA but the Blues were tops on his list.

"They were the team I wanted to go to," Ott said via phone. "There was no question in mind of any other stuff. Obviously in unrestricted free agency, there's ups and downs, ins, outs, all that kind of stuff. But from the very get-go, we were very open with St. Louis and Army. It's worked out perfect in the essence of where I want to be and the best chance I thought to win the Stanley Cup. Once I got a taste of it there last year, it was a no-brainer."

Ott, 31, had no goals and three assists in 23 regular-season games with the Blues, and two points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

In all, Ott had nine goals and 23 points in 82 games last season with the Blues and Sabres. He has 103 goals, 267 points and 1,355 penalty minutes in 696 career regular-season games with the Dallas Stars, Sabres and Blues.

"I talked to Steve when the season ended about wanting to come back here," Armstrong said. "We weren't able to get to a conclusion before free agency and we both have said to stay in touch. You never know what's going to happen in free agency. If he had signed on July 1st or July 2nd, we would have been out. We were exploring how we can improve our team and he was exploring things. At the end of the day, we were both very comfortable to reconvene. 

"I know the last few days he was talking to more teams again and sort of my experience, the first 48 hours is a frenzy and then you go into a lull and then the dust has settled and everybody gets back to work. I think Steve was at that top-end of the players that were still available and teams were circling back with him and we were one of them."

Ott said patience was of utmost importance.

"It was definitely a process I had to deal with," Ott said. "We were in constant contact with Doug. That was a big thing. Both St. Louis and ourselves were completely open about the situation. My heart was already set on where I wanted to play. It was more just a fact of how we can make this happen and how is it all going to work out in the end."

Armstrong said he's not clear on the parameters on how contracts work in the KHL but Sobotka does have an out clause at the conclusion of each season, not within the season should he return to the NHL and the Blues. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
In an unexpected twist, Vladimir Sobotka accepted a three-year
contract Thursday to play in the KHL for Avangard Omsk.

"I want to emphasize this is a business decision by Vlad that I respect," said Armstrong, who noted that Sobotka has changed agents multiple times within the past couple months. "It does not change my admiration for him as a man and how he plays and what he's accomplished and what he's going to accomplish. I don't want to turn this into a personal thing or get to that point because it's not like that.

"I go back to my admiration for Vladi. I don't know what's going on in his life. I don't know what the information he gets back in the Czech Republic and I'm not sure what information he's getting, whether it's Petr Svoboda ... it's an interesting dynamic because Petr Svoboda from Edmonton, then Steve Bartlett, then Petr Svoboda the ex-player (based in California). He's had Petr Svoboda on both ends but different people. When I dealt with Steve, we were dealing with the NHL component and when I dealt with Petr, we were dealing with the NHL component, but Vladimir has been dealing -- in my understanding -- two components, the NHL and KHL. I can't confirm he's in the KHL. I'm just going on information that I've been getting, but I've seen nothing written and we're moving under the impression that we're heading to arbitration on July 21st to make sure that he stays a St. Louis Blue."

The Blues now must turn their attentions towards another RFA, Jaden Schwartz, who doesn't have arbitration rights.

"Now we'll move forward with Jaden, and Jaden is in a different spot," Armstrong said. "I don't want to bore the fans, but the NHL is a business. There's a collective bargaining agreement and there's different ebbs and flows in that agreement. Steve Ott's an unrestricted free agent, Vladimir's a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Jaden Schwartz is at the entry level portion without arbitration rights. So sort of put all these pieces into place and we want to do what's right for the player, but obviously I have to do what's right for the St. Louis Blues first and foremost."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hitchcock likes free agent additions

Blues coach feels Stastny should get hype but not to underscore additions 
of Lehtera, Lindstrom; feels trade for Gunnarsson gives team puck-mover

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock won't hide the fact they fortified their center position with the addition of Paul Stastny.

But make no mistake about it: Hitchcock is not adding secondary meaning to a different pair of free agent signings: Jori Lehtera and Joakim Lindstrom.

The 28-year-old Stastny, who inked a four-year, $28 million contract July 1 to come back to the city where many of his childhood years were spent, adds the spice to the Blues' shopping season during free agency. But the 62-year-old Hitchcock feels the 30-year-old Lindstrom, signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract in June and the 26-year-old Lehtera, who signed for two years and $5.5 million July 1, greatly enhances the team's forward mix.
(Getty Images)
The Blues were finally able to land center Jori Lehtera (left), signing the
Finland native to a two-year contract.

"The three guys we got ... 'Stas' is obviously a big boost for the organization, a big boost for our team," Hitchcock said Monday at the Blues' prospects camp. "Players like him, players know him. He's got tremendous friends and teammates on the team from USA competitions, but adding Lehtera and Lindstrom are going to help us, too, because these are two guys who could potentially play in our top nine. When you add three players who potentially could play in your top nine, it puts significant depth into your roster. 

"Those three guys could make a big difference for us because it's going to allow us to play players in the right spots. It's going to give us more scoring probably than we've ever had, at least since I've been here, so hopefully it's going to balance things out a little bit better for us in the West here."

Lehtera, drafted by the Blues in the third round in 2008 (65th overall), was the wildcard signing that nobody saw coming. When Blues general manager Doug Armstrong attempted to get Lehtera to the NHL last season and was turned down for a three-year contract to play with Sibir Novosibirsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, it was viewed as a possible last grasp at attempting to bring the Finnish-born center into the fold.

But after a conversation with Armstrong at the Winter Olympics, in which Lehtera admitted to the Blues GM that he made a mistake in not coming to the NHL last year, Armstrong re-opened a rapidly closing door and ignited the switch again. And Hitchcock is thrilled after Lehtera reportedly paid in excess of $1 million of his own money to get out of his KHL deal.

Lehtera, part of Finland's bronze medal-winning squad at the Sochi Olympics and silver medalist at the World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, had a goal and four points in six Olympic games and added another three goals and 12 points in 10 games at the World Championship after a 12-goal, 44-point season in 48 games with Sibir Novosibirsk.

"Jori started out as the fourth-line left winger on a pretty good Finnish team and ended up as the second center," Hitchcock said. "He turned around four months later and was the No. 1 center on the World team in the World Championships. He's a guy to me they trust, he can play up and down the lineup, he played some left wing, he played a lot of center. He killed penalties, quarterbacked the power play in the World Championships, ended up on the power play at the end of the Olympics. So to me, when coaches play him like that, they trust him. 

"I talked to two of the coaches during the Olympics, what he was like and things like that. They really liked him. They thought he had ... the word that kept coming up was hockey savvy. They really felt like he's got hockey savvy. They took him ahead of some of the people that were in the NHL. It's a pretty big feather in a guy's cap when you get to be like that."

Lindstrom last played in the NHL with Stastny and the Colorado Avalanche in 2011-12, when he scored two goals and had five points in 16 games.

Over the past four seasons, Lindstrom has shined with Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League, where he scored 76 goals and added 121 assists, including 23 goals and 63 points in 55 games a season ago. He also had five goals and 11 points in nine games for Sweden at the World Championship.

Lindstrom, who is close friends with Blues left wing Alexander Steen, was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (41st pick) in 2002. His best season was 2008-09 when he had nine goals and 20 points in 44 games with the now-Arizona Coyotes.

Hitchcock also addressed the acquisition of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a draft day trade along with the Leafs' fourth-round pick for defenseman Roman Polak.

It diminishes the Blues physically on the backend but gives them more mobility and puck-moving ability with Gunnarsson, 27, who can play with either Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Pietrangelo ... something Hitchcock did not rule out. It will also give Ian Cole a legitimate shot at cracking the top six.

"We're less physical but better transitionally," Hitchcock said. "We're going to be better on our exits, we're going to be better on our puck movement, we're going to be able to make more direct plays. 

"We're going to lose some physicality without 'Romy' there, but we think we can make it up by adding a guy like Ian Cole, who's got size and mobility. We just feel like we've got to create a spot for Cole. I think he can play the right side. He looked better on the right than he did on the left. We think it's his time. He's mentally ready. He's really grown up in the last 12 months. We just felt like we've got to create room and make that opportunity and we also need a better transition player, puck moving-wise for either 'Shatty' or 'Petro.'"

With a plethora of options at forward, Hitchcock will have lots of options with line combinations, but Lehtera and Lindstrom seem to be the wildcards that could set all the wheels in motion. 

"I just feel like with seven exhibition games, we've got lots of time to look at players," Hitchcock said. "I really would like to see some different combinations at training camp and see how they look. 
(Getty Images)
The last time Joakim Lindstrom donned an NHL jersey
was in 2012 with the Colorado Avalanche.

"I think it really depends on how far Lindstrom and Lehtera work their way up the lineup. I want to give them every chance to play as many exhibition games as they can so that they get used to the competition and so that it also gives us a chance to see where they fit and how much they can help us (and) how far up the lineup. Both guys are really good pros. They're not 22-year-olds. One guy's (26), the other guy's 30 years of age. They know how to play. So I just want to find out how they look. I think the two combinations -- if training camp started tomorrow -- that we'd look at is (Vladimir) Tarasenko with Lehtera because it's worked before and then we'd also want to see Steen with Lindstrom because those guys know how to play and they've played a lot together."

As far as Stastny, Hitchcock needs forwards that will go hard at the net.

"He's a great positionally defensive player from that standpoint," Hitchcock said. "He gets a lot of his offense from certain players on the ice, so we need people to complement that. When he's on the ice, we need people that really attack the net on his line. So whoever he plays with defensively isn't going to matter because he's positionally sound. He's going to be able to do all the low work. He can carry his own weight there, but offensively, we need a player or two that really go to the net because he puts the puck into those short scoring areas, those bang-bang areas better than anybody that we've had here. We're going to have to find guys that know how to do that."

Lots for the coach to decipher and yet there's still more than two months before camp opens.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blues' future on display this week

Prospects camp being held at Ice Zone 
through Wednesday, with 22 top players on hand

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For the first time since before the Dave Checketts era, the future of the Blues franchise was on display in the summer months of St. Louis.

Blues prospects have converged on St. Louis this week as the franchise has reinstalled the prospects camp, with 22 of the organization's top prospects on hand to give Blues fans, who were out in full force at St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone to witness firsthand, a glimpse of what the future of the Blues will look like.

Nine of the Blues' 10 picks from the draft that just recently concluded in Philadelphia two weeks ago were on hand, including first-round pick (21st) Robby Fabbri, who scored 45 goals and had 87 points in 58 regular season games for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, who won a title this past season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman and 2012 first round pick Jordan Schmaltz is on hand this
week at the prospects camp.

"It was fun finally putting on the jersey, the fans and everything like that," Fabbri said. "Such a great organization and you can tell that by the fans out there that it's a great city to play in.

"This is when your career starts and you want to start off on the right foot and you want to work as hard as you can every time you get the opportunity to prove what you can do."

Blues brass, including owner Tom Stillman, general manager Doug Armstrong, vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, senior advisor to the GM Al MacInnis and coach Ken Hitchcock were on hand to observe the prospects.

"For most of the players, this is the first look for us, too," Hitchcock said. "So I think just being able to visit with them, talk to them and hopefully try to educate them on what it takes to be a professional because they really got almost a full two months before they get going here. They really have an opportunity to do some real good, hard work in the off-season here."

Second round pick (33rd overall in 2014) Ivan Barbashev, who had 25 goals and 68 points in 48 regular season games for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, comes in with extra motivation. 

After being touted as a mid-first round pick before the draft, the Russian native didn't have to wait long into the second round before the Blues selected Barbashev but the center/wing feels like there's extra incentive to prove the naysayers wrong because of what is being dubbed the Russian factor.

There have been many Russian prospects in the past that have been touted as first round talent but teams have shied away from them because of the fear those players will never come to North America. 

"It's not my fault a lot of the guys before me did that," Barbashev said. "I just didn't think about that. I forgot about it. For sure I'm (motivated). I'm here now and I think I need one year to get stronger and bigger. I'll probably be ready then for sure. I think I'll be playing in Moncton next year. I need one more year.

"It's a lot of fun to be a part of the Blues organization. Great players are here."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues prospects, including Austin Poganski (47), Robby Fabbri (12) and
Colton Parayko (78), listen to instructions from coach Sean Farrell.

The camp is being run by Blues director of player development Tim Taylor, video coach Sean Farrell and minor league goaltending coach Ty Conklin.

"Every year we come here, it's good to learn new things and be able to take new things back, especially skating this year," said defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, the team's first round pick (25th) in 2012 who will play again at the University of North Dakota again this fall after a six-goal, 24-point season in 2013. "Hopefully we pick up on a few drills or whatever it may be. Come in here with open ears and take everything in. Hopefully take back some things wherever you're from."

The players come in in the morning and do weight training before on-ice drills. Tuesday and Wednesday, players will be divided into two groups and hit the ice beginning at 2 p.m. Sessions are open and free to the public.