Monday, September 30, 2019


Blais earns spot in top six; Berube's message to Kostin; 
power play gets new looks; Kyrou to stay in St. Louis for now

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Sammy Blais kept the momentum he picked up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and rode it into training camp.

It's earned him a top-six role, at least to begin the 2019-20 season.

Blais was paired with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron at practice Monday as the Blues prepare to defend their Stanley Cup championship when they open the regular season Wednesday against the Washington Capitals, who won the 2018 Stanley Cup.

Blais and Zach Sanford have taken turns playing on the left wing with O'Reilly and Perron, but it was Blais who emerged with a solid training camp and will get the job to begin the season.

"I just got to do my job, work hard, not think too much, play my game and I'll be fine," Blais said. "... Just create chances with my forecheck. I have a pretty good IQ and I can make plays out there.

"I think it's confidence with the puck. I think I made plays, I was physical getting the puck back on the forecheck. That's what they told me, that I had a pretty good camp. Just keep going, skate hard and try to make plays. I play with two good players. They make the game easier. Just try to get better every day."

Blais burst onto the scene in the playoffs in Game 6 of the second round against the Dallas Stars; he scored a goal in a 4-1 win and has kept that momentum since.

"I thought he had a great summer for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Blais. "Coming into camp and the way he's played. He obviously put the work in this summer, which is great. He's the type of player that I think over the last three years I've seen improve every year. He keeps improving every year, which is a good thing.

"It's kind of how it happened. He's played there with those guys before with them in the playoffs in the Dallas series. I thought he played pretty well there. They've got some chemistry, which is good."

O'Reilly, who won the Selke Award last season and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoff MVP, said Blais brings a plethora of qualities that can make the line better.

"I think he brings tons of good things," O'Reilly said. "Getting to play with him, having a little chemistry there, I think he's a big body that's very physical and is going to make a lot of good hockey plays. He possesses the puck well, he's got a great shot. I think, especially on the forecheck, he makes us dangerous because he goes in there and he finishes and he creates a lot of off that. He gives a nice spark for us. It gives us the physicality to our line.

"He continues to get better and (he's) more confident. He impacts the game. He's got a great set of hands. The more confident he gets in that, the better plays that he makes. It's really good to see, I think it'll be an effective line."

Blais, a 2014 sixth-round pick, has been able to balance hos role since entering the NHL but knows the Blues would love to see him provide more offense.

"I'm an offensive player, I've always been an offensive player," Blais said. "They told me they wanted more offense from me and I think during training camp I tried to play more with the puck and just keep the puck on my stick more and I did that. I think it went pretty well."

* Kostin back to San Antonio -- Berube said he had a good conversation with 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin before the Russian power forward was assigned to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Sunday.

Kostin, who led the Blues with six points (three goals, three assists) during the preseason, had his most impressive camp yet and arguably outplayed some of the forwards, but with the glutton of players and virtually no roster spots available, the Blues continue to progress at a reasonable pace for the 20-year-old.

"Go down, continue to play well," Berube said of his message to Kostin. "He had a good camp, but there's still things that he has to do, work on and improve at. He's a young kid; he's only 20 years old. We were really happy with his camp, but at the same time, we've got pretty much the same team back here, not a lot of room. He has some things that he still has to work on. ... There's little things we talked to him about."

Fabbri, Sanford, Blais, Mackenzie MacEachern are some of the forwards Kostin would have had to wrestle a roster spot away from, but in his case, the best bet for him in the NHL would be a top nine position, not on the fourth line.

"We've got good depth there," Berube said. "They're going to play. I thought 'Fabs' had a good camp. 'Sanny', maybe not quite as good a camp as those guys. It's just the way it worked out. 'Fabs' looked good, he's skating well. Hopefully he continues to get better and better and feel more comfortable as it goes along."

* New power play looks -- The Blues rolled out some interesting power play units at practice on Monday, and with the addition of defenseman Justin Faulk, gives both groups a good balance.

On one unit, it was all right-handed dominated with Alex Pietrangelo, Faulk, Tyler Bozak, David Perron and the only lefty in O'Reilly, and on another unit, it was left-handed dominated with Vladimir Tarasenko and Vince Dunn on the points with Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and one righty in Robert Thomas.

"The one with Petro, Faulk, Perron, those righties can all really shoot it and one-time pucks," Berube said. "With O'Reilly on the goal line, he's got a lot of options looking at Bozak in the slot, right hand, Petro, Faulk up top. It's a shooting power play for sure, guys that can shoot the puck and the other one is a little bit more of a downhill power play the way we look at it with the lefties. It's the way we put them together right now and we'll see how they work out.

"Definitely good balance. We talk all the time, we need two units, it's important. Our success is because of our team and I feel like we can use a lot of guys in that situation."

New assistant coach Marc Savard has come on and along with assistant Steve Ott, have implemented a few subtle changes in which pucks are coming off sticks quicker, but Schenn said there's been no informational overload.

"You want to keep it simple early on and build from there," Schenn said. "I think if you overload with too many plays and too much movement and everything else like that, it just gets complicated, so we'll keep it simple for now and see how it goes.

"We have lots of weapons capable of putting some good units together, but Day 1, you don't look too far into it. You keep on practicing and see how it works. Those will be something like the units going into Game 1 and you try and find chemistry with your group as soon as possible because we all know how important special teams are."

O'Reilly said, "I think we've got two good units that if we work hard, it tends to give us tons of looks. That's what it's supposed to be, that's what we have to do. With the depth that we have as a team, we need the mindset to go out there and leave it out there and the next unit is going to come out and get it done. I think it's a good thing to have."

If you noticed, there was no mention of Colton Parayko and his booming shot from the point, but with the addition of Faulk and with Parayko being used seldomly last season, he'll likely be even used there less this season unless needed.

"I like 'Bouw' [Jay Bouwmeester] and Parayko coming back after power plays," Berube said. "They're going to get a good line obviously, usually the top line on the other team. They've been such a great shutdown pair for us. Everybody's got a job to do. That's kind of the way we look at things. That's part of the sacrifice of putting the team first and that's our message here. These guys are all dialed into that."

* Kyrou to stay for the time being -- Forward Jordan Kyrou, who was designated as an injured non-roster player on Sunday, will continue to work with the Blues and rehab his knee after off-season surgery.

Kyrou was injured late in the season with the Rampage and has progressed a little slower than maybe he anticipated. 

Berube said he still doesn't know when the 2016 second-round pick will be ready to play games.

"I can't answer that question to be honest with you," Berube said. "He still has to go through some evaluation an things like that. I know he's getting one done today, so we'll probably know a bit more tomorrow."

* Blues lose a preseason game -- With Sunday's cancellation of their preseason finale at Columbus, the Blues finished with seven games as opposed to eight and finished 4-3-0.

Their plane was scheduled to take off at noon for Columbus but experienced mechanical issues. With a 4 p.m. (CT) game start, the team announced it would not be able to play the game, and thus it was cancelled.

Despite losing one final chance to see guys play, Berube said the evaluations of those in need were enough.

"They played a lot of games, a lot of these guys that we were looking at," Berube said. "We got a good evaluation."

No comments:

Post a Comment