Armstrong laying caution to the wind as far as immediate activity,
said Blues will implement all avenues to make necessary additions
ST. LOUIS -- As the 2018 NHL Draft is set to get underway Friday through Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas, 31 teams will begin the process of putting in place their initial plans for the upcoming season.
As far as the Blues are concerned, it's all systems go, whether it's using all seven of their picks, including the 29th pick of the first round (acquired from Winnipeg in the Paul Stastny trade), or getting involved in pulling the trigger on a trade(s) as they did last season in acquiring Brayden Schenn and Klim Kostin while dealing away Ryan Reaves and Jori Lehtera.
|Blues GM Doug Armstrong|
The Blues could go anywhere from picking 29th or perhaps using that pick as a trade chip to acquire an impact center/winger or even packaging the pick with other current picks/future picks to move up in the draft.
"I don't think you go into the draft looking to fill needs because it's an 18-year-old draft and you're always looking for the best available player," Armstrong said via phone on Thursday afternoon. "Unless you're probably picking in the top two or three and there's a centerman or a defenseman that can help your team immediately, your roster's going to change a lot from today to where the guy that we're going to draft is going to enter the league or make an impact in 3-5 years."
As far as the potential prized free agent goes, New York Islanders center and captain John Tavares, the Blues will most certainly be all-in on a potential franchise impact player is concerned. Armstrong didn't want to comment on the specific player for fear of tampering, but he did say the Blues are in a good spot from a cap standpoint should they delve into the free agent market. But should Tavares hit July 1, and teams can begin talking to potential UFA's beginning Sunday, the Blues will definitely be all-in on the player.
"I don't want to use John's name specifically for tampering rules, but whether it's a centerman, a winger or defenseman, goalie, when there's premier players out there, we're incumbent to talk to them and find out the level of interest they may have on our team," Armstrong said. "We have the cap space, so we're situated correctly if we do decide to get into the free agent market."
Free agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk is another player mentioned as a possible destination for St. Louis after playing the past five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia.
It's been rumored that the Blues have reached out to Kovalchuk's camp but to what extent those conversations went is not known.
"We're always looking to talk to unrestricted free agents that we think can help us," Armstrong said. "It's different than a restricted player or making a trade where the player follows his contract now. As an unrestricted free agent, the team's desire has to meet the player's desire to be on that team. You just have to go through the process."
There's been lots of chatter outside the lines, but Armstrong said there hasn't been as much talk as the smoke from the media indicates.
Names thrown out in the loop include Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, among others.
"Quite honestly, I haven't followed much of the media lately, so I'm talking to the managers and there doesn't seem to be as much conversation as there have been in past drafts," he said. "That could change, but it's actually been pretty quiet this week."
Armstrong feels the Blues are set in goal with Jake Allen, who is under contract for three more seasons at a $4.35 million cap hit, and have spoken with Carter Hutton, who can become a UFA July 1, about the possibility of coming back but are open to understanding that he can very well leave; Armstrong likes the Blues' defensive corps but acknowledges that up front is where improvements need to be made.
"I think when you look at our group, our goaltending is set with Jake. We have to find a partner for him," Armstrong said. "We have two options in that area. We've talked to Carter Hutton. If he hits the market, we can either find a veteran No. 2 or we can go with a really good guy that can compete with [Ville] Husso and have those guys as our 2-3 in sharing duty. We're in an interesting position because we really like where Husso is and what he's done and knowing he's on the doorstep. It puts us in a good spot with a future goalie.
"On defense, we have all of our seven players that ended last season under contract and we will get [Jordan] Schmaltz under contract at some point, so there's not a lot of necessity to focus in on that area. I would say up front is an area where we have the ability to move some of the guys we've used on the wing back into the middle and find wingers or look at centermen. You always have to have an eye looking to the outside to improve your team, but the reality is on trades or via free agency, teams have options on trades and players have options via unrestricted free agency, so you have to be prepared to go with the group you have and if we go that direction, I'm excited obviously. It creates such an opportunity for probably multiple players like Kostin, [Jordan] Kyrou, [Robert] Thomas, [Tage] Thompson, and [Sammy] Blais."
When it comes to how many of these young prospects can be relied upon to make impacts in the NHL this season and how many players need to be brought in from the outside can't necessarily be answered immediately.
"I think that question can be answered with more clarity on Aug. 1 than July 1 because I just don't know what the market's going to bear at the draft and from the talking period Sunday through the middle of July," Armstrong said.
As far as the first round goes Friday, it wouldn't be a surprise of the Blues used multiple picks to try and move up. One intriguing possibility is to perhaps move up to as high as the No. 4 pick with the Ottawa Senators and getting the opportunity to grab hometown kid Brady Tkachuk. That however can change should the Montreal Canadiens take Tkachuk at No. 3 and makes such a trade option a risk but one worth monitoring as an option.
The Blues have a number of injured players on the mend this summer, from Vladimir Tarasenko (dislocated shoulder), Jaden Schwartz (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (hip), Carl Gunnarsson (torn ACL) and Robby Fabbri (torn ACL) are all on target for training camp.
"I talked to our medical staff last week, and everybody's doing well, healing and scheduled to be ready for camp," Armstrong said. "They're all performing well, getting clearances from doctors and training to be prepared for camp."