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.

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