Friday, September 15, 2017

Blues open camp with plenty of intrigue

Schenn debuts; Fabbri returns; do young guns Thompson, Walman, 
other have a shot; Steen healthy; other newcomers all part of storylines

For The Telegraph
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues opened training camp for the 2017-18 season on Friday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall with plenty of questions and intrigue heading into a 50th season in the NHL.

"Probably the first group was maybe a little sharper than the second, but I think from what we wanted to accomplish today as far as getting some of our systems work in and those first glimpses of getting the guys into the battle and seeing what they can do against their competition is a good first step," Blues coach Mike Yeo said.

The Blues, who finished with a 46-29-7 record (99 points) before losing to the Nashville Predators in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, head into a new season with plenty of storylines that will catch the eye of Blues fans everywhere, even those that packed into the Ice Zone on Friday to catch the first glimpses of two groups that skated.

Among them:

* Brayden Schenn's first practice with his new team. How he fits into the top six after being acquired at the draft in Chicago from the Philadelphia Flyers for Jori Lehtera and two No. 1 picks. Schenn was skating on a line in Group A centering Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwartz.

"It's been good. The guys have been awesome. Super welcoming," Schenn said. "Coming to an organization where you don't know a whole lot of people, guys have been good. I feel comfortable right off the beginning and having fun with the guys and happy to get Day One out of the way.

"It's definitely a huge opportunity for me. At the same time, they're a deep group here that have a lot of forwards up front. For me, I've just got to come in and try and jell with the guys, fit in and find chemistry. They've got a good group here already. I don't think I've got to try and do anything special, just try to fit in."

* Robby Fabbri is 100 percent healthy after sustaining a torn left ACL on Feb. 4 that forced the forward to miss the remainder of the season. Fabbri was on the ice playing center, his natural position, and between Magnus Paajarvi and 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson.

"The offensive part of it will take care of itself," said Yeo, head-manning his first training camp after taking over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1. "He's obviously not a huge guy in comparison to a lot of centermen around the League. What he's going to have to prove is he can do the dirty work, defend, make sure that he's able to keep the puck out of his net, but more importantly, is he able to get to his offensive game. Some smaller centermen have a tough time. They have to battle so hard in d-zone, they have nothing left when it's time to go on offense. That's part of it. We want to see how he defends, how he learns to defend. Not because we want him to be a defensive specialist, but good players need to find a way to separate and need the opposition from the puck and to get to their game. That's what we're looking for."

* Alexander Steen is skating healthy again after playing throughout the playoffs with a broken toe.

* New skaters include Chris Thorburn, signed as a free agent to replace the departed Ryan Reaves, Oskar Sundqvist, acquired from Pittsburgh as part of the trade sending Reaves to the Penguins, Beau Bennett and Nate Prosser. Where do those new faces fit in?

* How do the young players fit in, such as Thompson, Jake Walman, Vince Dunn, Jordan Schmaltz, Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin, Robert Thomas, Samuel Blais (more on him below)?

"You have to know that No. 1, there's not a lot of jobs available, but that doesn't mean that somebody can't win a position," Yeo said. "As a coach or when you're a part of this, you know coming in who you're going to keep a real close eye on. That doesn't mean somebody can't grab your attention and all of the sudden earn that same look from you as well. We have a good sense of who we think is knocking on the door. Part of that might be Traverse City, part of that might be what they've done in Chicago or junior hockey for that matter. It's always a fun time to see how those guys come in."

Thompson led all scorers with nine points (four goals, five assists) at Traverse City in four games.

"That was kind of the main key going in, hope to have a good showing and kind of carry it into main camp," Thompson said. "I've done the first part. Now I have to carry it over."

* Blais getting a shot; he played with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko.

"I think we just talk to him," Stastny said. "Anyone that plays with Vladi, I think you just try and find him all the time, but sometimes you try and do too much. I think those first couple days for him, just making him be comfortable. I think he's a good player, a smart player, good hands. Anytime you play with good players, the more you talk to a guy, the more time you have and the easier it is for him."

* Tarasenko comes into camp lighter, quicker on his skates. The Blues' leading scorer with 39 goals and 36 assists last season, changed his offseason workout regimen.

"I just needed to work on the balance and things like this because technology go really high right now and new drills," Tarasenko said. "I was just in touch with our strength coach Eric (Renaghan) and practiced with my hometown team (Sibir Novosibirsk). It was really good summer but happy to be here."

Yeo liked what he saw.

"His fitness testing scores were very high," Yeo said of Tarasenko. "Extremely pleased about that. His work ethic in practice was very high. I think that Vladi is really starting to grab hold of that he's a leader. He wants to be a leader for this group. Obviously with that comes a lot of responsibility.

"He looks really good, so that's a good sign. We'll just have to make sure we stay on it."

* Center Zach Sanford was the first injury casualty as part of the second group; he departed immediately and seemed to favor his left shoulder during a battle drill in the near right corner of the rink. Sanford was checked into the boards by Dmitrij Jaskin, who tried to pull his teammate back as they were fighting for puck possession, but Sanford went down right away and was taken off the ice.

"I'll have more of an update for you tomorrow, but I think we all saw him go into the boards there and he was pretty uncomfortable," Yeo said of Sanford. "Don't have much of an update right now, but he was certainly in some discomfort."

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