By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Another dress rehearsal for the Blues (3-2-0) when they host the Dallas Stars (4-0-1) today at 7 p.m. (FOXSportsGO.com, KMOX 1120-AM, KMOX.com, stlblues.com, Sports Radio 98.1 HD3) gives another audition for a number of young players.
Most notably, the defensive pair of Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman will get tested against a veteran-savvy Stars lineup.
Schmaltz will most likely get a good look in the final two preseason games considering there's a better than average chance that he will be in the lineup opening night on Oct. 4 against Winnipeg with Robert Bortuzzo being suspended for the first regular season game.
"It's another opportunity for me," Schmaltz said. "Playing with Walman tonight, so it should be good. We've got to be good. We've got to move the puck quick and be good on our retrievals.
"It's still about a week away. I've just got to keep playing well and asserting myself and we'll see what happens next week. ... I'm controlling what I can. I'm playing pretty well. I just need to keep going and give these coaches no excuse (not) to put me in the lineup."
Coach Mike Yeo said that there is that opportunity knocking now that Bortuzzo, who was handed a three-game suspension on Thursday for his elbowing infraction Tuesday on a hit to Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny.
"There's an opening right there in itself that we have to fill," Yeo said. "It's an opportunity for somebody to grab a hold of potentially that spot, maybe another.
"Take advantage of the opportunity. This is a good lineup that they're going to face and with that, comes the opportunity to send a pretty good message. If you go out and play well in a game like this, it's going to be competitive, they're going to be more on top of their game than a week ago or so when we played them. They're going to have more NHL players in the lineup. You play well in a game like this, you show us that you're close to being ready to be an NHL hockey player."
For Walman, a 2014 third-round pick, last season was a bit of a lost season having to play for the Chicago Wolves and Binghamton Devils of the American Hockey League, two landing spots not affiliated with the Blues' farm clubs and not getting the proper coaching from organizational coaches.
Walman finished with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 59 games, of which 40 were with the Wolves (two goals, 11 assists) and 19 with the Devils (two goals, five assists).
"It was a tough year to say the least," Walman said. "There's adversity that every player has to go with at some point in their career. I guess I was fortunate enough for that to happen early on. I can get that stuff out of the way and now I know what to build on. Any circumstance that comes along, I know how to take advantage of it.
"I had to work hard for everything I got last year. I wasn't with a team that was affiliated with the Blues, so I had to work extra hard and nothing was guaranteed with lineup spots. Even in practice, I wasn't getting as many reps. I definitely learned to work my butt off outside the rink and with my teammates in the rink."
Yeo said he's seen a gradual increase in Walman's game.
"I've seen a big jump in his progress, a big jump in his development," Yeo said. "The offensive side of things, I'd still like to see him move the puck quicker, still would like to see him distribute the puck, get involved in the play, jump up in the play. Sometimes he hangs onto it a little too long. But that for me is a young offensive defenseman ... this is a different game here than it is in college. This is a different game here than it is in the American (Hockey) League. I think he's just trying to learn that and I've seen improvement in that area. The biggest improvement for me is competitiveness and his defensive game. He's a player that I trust on the ice right now, he's a player that's going to use his skating ability to play tight, to play our system, to be aggressive as far as his gaps as far as how he closes on people down low in the defensive zone. A big jump in his progress there.
"I don't know what it was (last year). It's hard to say right now. We can speculate, who knows. Maybe he would have had a tough season if we would have had our own farm team. It is what it is. We're here today and it was a tough season in that regard but probably built a little bit of character in him that he can deal with that stuff. I'm sure he learned things along the way. It's tough to say what last year was. I have seen improvement in him and it's been a good camp up to this point. I'd like to see him have a heck of a game tonight."
Chances are Walman will be in San Antonio this season; he doesn't have to clear waivers to go down, unlike Schmaltz, who does. But knowing he will be handled by organizational coaches is a comforting feeling for the Toronto native.
"This year is going to be a great year for me," Walman said. "I know that. Wherever I end up, I know I have a place to play and a home wherever that may be and I'll finally feel like I'm a part of the family.
"I don't think about that stuff (cuts) too much. I think last year, I focused on it a little more than I should have. This year, I've just been focusing on myself and hanging with the guys around the room, getting to know everyone pretty well. It's just feeling like home here. That's my biggest focus."
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Jordan Kyrou, a 2016 second-round pick, gets the chance to audition himself in even a bigger role playing with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn tonight.
Kyrou only played 8 minutes, 19 seconds on Tuesday but given that Yeo has moved him up in the lineup, this is another chance at perhaps solidifying his spot on the opening night roster.
"I thought I've had a good start and I've played really well out of the games," Kyrou said. "It's not over yet. We still have two games left to show what you've got. Continue to go out there and play my game and help the team win.
"They're great players and it's exciting to play with them tonight, so I'm excited. They're giving you opportunity and you want to go out there, take it and play well."
Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbashev will all be in the lineup again tonight.
"It was tough to evaluate Kyrou last game," Yeo said. "I thought that he did some good things. He only played eight minutes or so of ice time, was on neither special team and playing a fourth line. Our focus right now has to be in part making decisions, but heavily it has to be making sure that our veteran players are ready to play and starting the season and getting the ice time that they need. Tonight, we have an opportunity with 'Steener' out of the lineup that we can get Jordan more ice time, a bigger role with quality players and get a really good look at him here. I thought 'Blaiser', for me, he took a step back last game. He's still doing some great things, but it was a little bit of a step back. What I want to see tonight, I'm not holding that against him. I'm giving him an opportunity and the benefit of the doubt that he played a hard game in Columbus with lots of ice time and a really hard practice the next day and I thought he didn't have the same jump in that game. But he's going to get another really good opportunity tonight and I think that he's going to show well."
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Alexander Steen and Vince Dunn, who sat out Thursday's practice with upper-body injuries, were both on the ice Friday but will not be in the lineup, and Zach Sanford, who returned to practice Thursday following the death of his father, Michael Sanford, skated for a second straight day.
Robby Fabbri, nursing a Grade 1 groin strain, was not on the ice Friday.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Pat Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou
Sammy Blais-Tyler Bozak-David Perron
Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Oskar Sundqvist
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Walman-Jordan Schmaltz
Jake Allen will start in goal and play the whole game; Ville Husso will be the backup.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Blake Comeau
Jason Dickinson-Radek Faksa-Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore-Roope Hintz-Gemel Smith
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Marc Methot-Miro Heiskanen
Gavin Bayreuther-Julius Honka
Landon Bow will start in goal; Ben Bishop will be the backup.