Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Pietrangelo said he wanted to make it work with Blues

Defenseman, captain for past four years said Blues were in it until "I put pen on 
paper yesterday;" gets full no-move clause, $35 million in signing bonus money


ST. LOUIS -- Alex Pietrangelo sat in front of his computer talking to the media for the first time as a defenseman for the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Sounds strange, doesn't it?
It was almost printed in this space as 'defenseman and captain of the Blues,' because it's been something done regularly for the past 12 years. But alas, here we are, talking about former Blues defenseman and captain since 2016 after Pietrangelo put pen to paper on a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with an average annual value of $8.8 million to join Vegas.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo will go down as the first captain in Blues 
history to hoist the Cup when St. Louis won it all in 2019.

Pietrangelo's contract includes a full no-movement clause and $35 million in signing bonus money to be distributed variably over the first six years of the contract.

But as he was speaking glowingly of the new challenge that awaits him in Sin City and the excitement of making an already strong hockey club even stronger, Pietrangelo wanted to make clear that he made every intention of remaining with the squad that drafted him with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft an the thought of wanting a new challenge, something reported early Tuesday as a tipping point that Pietrangelo wanted out of St. Louis, wasn't the case.

"Well, I think it was taken out of context a little bit to be honest with you," Pietrangelo said. "The goal was always to get something done in St. Louis. I don't think my mind ever really flipped to that point until we tried and tried and tried with St. Louis and it didn't look like something was going to get done. My kids are here, they're in school here, my wife's from here, I don't know any different. We pushed and pushed and pushed. Sometimes things just don't work out the way you expect it to be. I think that was taken out of context a little bit. 

"(But) I welcome the challenge. I welcome something new. I think it's going to push me to become a better player. I think it's going to hopefully get me outside my comfort zone to certainly try something that I've never done before. This is a good team and I think I can really help. I think I can help (Shea Theodore) too. I love the challenge of helping young players and young guys. There's a lot of guys on this team that play at an elite level and I think I can fit in well."

Perhaps the initial process for the writing on the wall came when the Blues surprisingly acquired and signed Justin Faulk to a seven-year extension last September. They also signed Brayden Schenn to a new eight-year contract prior to last season, they acquired Marco Scandella when Jay Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac episode and signed him to a new four-year contract, and there was still nothing in terms of progress for Pietrangelo and his contract status.

Then there was the shock of all shocks (the pandemic) and when the Blues moved into this past Friday and players officially became unrestricted free agents and the thought of losing Pietrangelo and not having a backup plan, general manager Doug Armstrong moved in on Boston Bruins UFA Torey Krug and inked him to a seven-year, $45.5 million ($6.5 million AAV) contract, it all but spelled the end for Pietrangelo's tenure in St. Louis.

"No. I was a little surprised," Pietrangelo said of Krug's signing. "I wasn't really following everything during the day. I was putting my kids to bed. I did my best to just kind of shut everything off and worried about us to try and take away the outside noise. Everyone's asking what's going on and what the plan is. Army saw an opportunity to get an elite player and he did that. I guess I was surprised. I wasn't really paying attention either. I didn't know what was going on throughout the day. I tried not to pay attention so I could make the best decision possible. I never really counted the Blues out until I put pen on paper yesterday. I went into this thing with an open mind not really knowing what to expect and I think this year was a little bit different obviously because of what's happened with the cap and the pandemic and every team is operating differently right now. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. I kind of went into this thing with an open mind knowing that yeah, there's a very good chance that I wind up back in St. Louis. That was our mindset the whole time.

"I don't know if frustration is the right word. Army's going to say the same thing. We tried and we tried and we tried. Sometimes things just don't work out. I wouldn't necessarily say frustration. I think both sides are disappointed. But as I talked to teams and flew out to Vegas, you get excited about that opportunity, you get excited about trying to fit into a new group and a new challenge of fitting into a new system, new coaches and all that. I'm excited for that. Jayne and I are completely getting outside of our comfort zone from what we have in our life right now. I think it's a challenge that we're going to kind of welcome with open arms."

The Blues were willing to give Pietrangelo a partial no-move and perhaps some signing bonus money but couldn't match what Vegas was willing to do. But in order to do that, the Golden Knights had to move former Blue Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt in separate trades to make it happen.

"I think now more than ever for players, the uncertainty of what can happen. This is an extreme circumstance that we're in right now," Pietrangelo said of the importance of the no-move clause. "I don't think anybody could have prepare for that. I think for me, with my family situation, having four kids under the age of two, if I'm going to pick them up and away from somewhere that if it's the only thing that they know, I want to make sure that I was going to be comfortable there for a period of time. They were prone to understanding that and committed to that and it made me feel comfortable knowing that they understood why I was asking those questions and why I wanted that."

Pietrangelo and his wife flew to Vegas Saturday afternoon and spent a a few days touring the city and surrounding areas with team owner Bill Foley, president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

Oh, and there were assurances from Stastny, who hosted the Pietrangelos when they came to visit, former Blues teammate and Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves and perhaps former Blues teammate David Perron, who spent 2017-18 in Vegas.

"Yeah, I guess playing against them every time we came into Vegas, obviously a difficult place to play being the visiting player, obviously the atmosphere," Pietrangelo said. "I think everybody agrees it's probably the best place to play in the NHL right now. Team-wise, it's a difficult team to play against. I think top to bottom, everyone knows their role, well-coached, good goaltending, good balance and I think coming from a team that played a similar style, it's definitely a difficult one to play against. I think that's part of the reason that brought me here is that it fits into my style, they play the game the way that I think it should be played. You want to go somewhere where you feel comfortable and then you can help. I think going into a system the way Pete (DeBoer) coaches, it's going to allow me to do that. 

"We're friends with the Stastnys, really close friends. We had asked them about it and what they thought and obviously Reavo too. Him and I are really good friends. Between them two, then we flew out there, we went to go see the Stastnys, we felt like they said all the right things. They spoke extremely high of the organization, the way players are treated, the way families are treated and more importantly, the way wives are treated. It certainly helped us make a decision knowing that everyone's taken care of."

The idea for Vegas was not to let Pietrangelo leave without signing a contract, which he did, but it left the favorable impression that Pietrangelo didn't consider going anywhere else after returning to St. Louis Monday.

"There were multiple teams that we had interest in that we knew could probably try and make it work," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously the goal all along was to get something done in St. Louis, but as Friday came, Vegas called, we thought we'd entertain the idea. I had the thought just by the way they play it would be a good fit. So I flew out there Saturday not knowing what to expect from Friday morning. I flew out there Saturday, met with George and Kelly and met Bill and kind of took a tour of outside the city where the players live and kind of got a feel for the atmosphere, lifestyle. I really felt we were more comfortable knowing what to expect. Vegas is known for the Strip, but I think it was a good opportunity to go out there and see a different side of the city, see the facilities and certainly I was impressed. I was impressed with the organization and what they were able to offer."

Now Pietrangelo knows he'll be a Golden Knight for the next seven years, taking him up to the age of 37, but before he leaves, he'll have the chance to visit and catch up with his now former teammates, who he's already spoken to, and who he won the first Stanley Cup with in Blues history in 2019.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (27) is leaving the Blues after 12 years when he signed a 
seven-year contract Monday to join the Vegas Golden Knights.

"Yeah, I talked to a bunch of the guys," Pietrangelo said. "I don't know if it's really sunk in yet. Maybe when we move, it will when we're trying to pack up four kids, that's never an easy thing to do. Maybe it will sink in then. 

"We still have a house here. I'm going to be here. Probably will come back in the summers and skate with these guys. I'm around the city. I'm all friends with them. They understand. I've talked to them and I'm looking forward to catching up with them. I haven't seen them since last week. We'll probably get out and play some golf together. When you develop relationships and you go through what we went through last year, you become friends for life. The good part about Vegas for us too is, part of the decision was it's easy to get on a flight and get back to St. Louis if my wife wants to come home and see her family. That certainly played a part in it and having that access for us."

Monday, October 12, 2020

Pietrangelo leaves Blues, signs seven-year contract with Golden Knights

Captain who helped lead franchise to first Stanley Cup in 2019 departs 
via free agency, gets $61.6 million, full no-movement clause to join Vegas


ST. LOUIS -- Alex Pietrangelo chose the city that never sleeps.

After what seemed like a months-long debate where Alex Pietrangelo would be playing hockey in 2020-21, it won't be in St. Louis for the first time in 12 years.
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo holds the Stanley Cup after a Game 7
win in Boston on June 12, 2019.

What's been a rumored hotbed since the 30-year-old NHL Draft hit the free agent market on Friday at 11 a.m. and compounded after the Blues stunned the hockey world when they signed former Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract Friday night, Pietrangelo made his next destination Las Vegas when he agreed to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night. It carries an average annual value of $8.8 million and includes a full no-move clause.

So the first captain in Blues history to lead them to a Stanley Cup just 16 months ago is here no more. Instead, he gets $800,000 more per season in face value money from the Golden Knights, who traded away two popular players (former Blue Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt) in separate deals to help Vegas be cap compliant before signing Pietrangelo, who gets a full no-move clause in a contract that runs through the 2026-27 season.

Pietrangelo's contract benefits in Nevada due to no state tax there, and with a 5.4 percent state tax in Missouri, for the dollars to equal out, Pietrangelo would have to get $9.4 million per season in St. Louis to make the dollars work at face value, but there's the cost of living factor that's higher in Nevada as opposed to Missouri that brings that number down some.
The Blues were reported to have offered Pietrangelo an eight-year, $64 million contract ($8 million AAV) and, according to general manager Doug Armstrong, a partial no-move clause in the ladder portion of the contract with undisclosed signing bonus money.

But after Pietrangelo rejected the Blues' last offer and St. Louis moved ahead and signed Krug for $6.5 million AAV, Pietrangelo was on a chartered jet to Las Vegas to meet with the Golden Knights brass before returning to St. Louis Monday and finalizing his deal later in the evening.

It ends Pietrangelo's 12-year run with the Blues, who selected the King City, Ontario native with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. He finishes his Blues career with 758 regular-season games played, which is fifth in franchise history to go with 450 points (109 goals, 341 assists). In 92 Stanley Cup playoff games, Pietrangelo had 51 points (eight goals, 43 assists), including 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 26 games en route to winning the Cup in a seven-game series against Krug and the Bruins in 2019.

Pietrangelo's 341 assists go down as third in Blues history behind Bernie Federko (721) and Brett Hull (409), and his 450 career points are ninth in franchise history (two behind Al MacInnis).

Pietrangelo did not speak to the media on Monday but is expected to address the situation on Tuesday, but Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon told the media via Zoom conference on Monday night that Vegas "wouldn't have gone to these lengths for anyone but a player that we think can do as much for our team as Alex can. ... With Alex, we get a guy that's in the discussion for the Norris Trophy each year."

Pietrangelo finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting this past season behind winner Roman Josi of Nashville, John Carlson of Washington and Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay. Pietrangelo was named to the NHL's Second All-Star team this past season for the third time in his career (2011-12, 2013-14).

But with that, comes an end to a Blues career that can be compared to the likes of Hull, Chris Pronger and Federko, prominent players to finish their respective careers elsewhere.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) departed the Blues after 12 seasons 
when he signed a seven-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Pietrangelo was the Blues' 22nd captain and had the distinction since taking the reigns from David Backes in 2016.

"Trust me, Alex, we tried to re-sign him," Armstrong said Friday. "... The contract I think is well-documented that was out there that was offered, we used every tool under the CBA to ensure that we could get something done and it just didn't work out. There's no good or bad person in this. It's just the business side of it. Alex is a great guy and we had a great conversation (Thursday) night. 

"I look back on it, and I'm not really sure why (a Pietrangelo contract wasn't completed). I was hoping to get something done. He has great representation from Newport Sports. We talked a lot, we exchanged offers during the season, during the pandemic, multiple offers post-pandemic. We couldn't find something that made everyone comfortable. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time this happens in the NHL. You just wish it didn't happen because of the desire and the respect we had to keep Alex here."

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Blues add veteran Clifford for backend depth at forward

Formerly of the Maple Leafs and Kings, Clifford gets $2 million 
on two-year contract, will provide veteran leadership on fourth line

ST. LOUIS -- A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Kyle Clifford hopes to add to his trophy case after signing a two-year, $2 million contract ($1 million average annual value) with the Blues on Sunday.

Clifford, a 29-year-old winger, comes to the Blues after splitting last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings (seven goals, 10 assists) in 69 games.

He won the Cup with the Kings in 2012 and 2014 and spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career with the Kings, who picked him in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
(Toronto Maple Leafs photo)
The Blues added Kyle Clifford for veteran experience and grit when they 
signed the forward to a two-year, $2 million contract. 

"I just wanted to set myself up for the best chance for success," Clifford said. "I thought St. Louis, they've gone far along. Obviously they won a Cup (in 2019) and confident that I can contribute down there and hopefully we can bring another Cup home to St. Louis."

Clifford, who has 132 points (61 goals, 71 assists) plays with an edge and can add to the Blues' fourth line, and with Alexander Steen's injury perhaps not having him available for at the very least, the start of the season, Clifford can add his abrasiveness and sandpaper to the mix.

And the 10-year veteran likes how the Blues set up.

"Their style of play. They're a hard-nosed team," Clifford said of the Blues. "They've got a lot of depth. They're always tough to play against and I just think I fit in really well. I'm looking forward to getting down there, helping to contribute and the idea is to win another Stanley Cup."

Clifford, who will make $700,000 for the upcoming season and $1.3 million in 2021-22, spoke with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong and heard all the convincing he needed.

"I've been told (unrestricted free agency's) a different experience than other free agencies," Clifford said. "Obviously with the times right now, a flat cap, it was a lot of ups and downs. I took my time to listen to what teams had to offer and where they were at in their journey to winning. 

"What I liked in my phone calls with Doug, he just kind of laid it out, he was honest and I really appreciated that."

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Blues sign Krug to seven-year, $45.5 million contract

Defenseman comes from Bruins to off-set potential loss of Alex Pietrangelo, 
who hit free agent market Friday and is not likely to return to St. Louis


ST. LOUIS -- Well, that was certainly unexpected.

Even for Torey Krug, now ex-Boston Bruins defenseman after joining his new team, the Blues, after signing a seven-year, $45.5 million contract that carries a $6.5 million average annual value. The contract carries a full no-trade clause for the first five years and a modified no-trade clause in which the player submits 15 teams he can't be dealt to, per various reports.
(Boston Bruins photo)
Torey Krug left the Boston Bruins after nine seasons to sign a seven-year, 
$45.5 million contract with the Blues on Friday. 

It was a surprising move by the Blues, who have been in negotiations and trying to bring back captain Alex Pietrangelo, who hit the free agent market Friday at 11 a.m. But when things didn't progress on a new contract for the 30-year-old Pietrangelo, general manager Doug Armstrong moved in on another player after speaking with representation of three players on the first day of free agency, including the 29-year-old Krug, who faced the Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final who spent his entire nine-year career with the Bruins.

"We only actually called three people today that we felt made an impression on our team and Krug was one," Armstrong said. "It started at 11:15 when the calls went out. I had a conversation with him just to introduce myself, talk about the organization, asked him and his agent if we were in serious consideration, I'd like for him to talk to the coach. That call didn't happen (but) it just started picking up steam after that and he felt we were a good fit for him and then we went to work on the contract."

That's it. Kaput. Signed, sealed and delivered. 

The Blues have themselves a left-handed shooting offensive-minded defenseman that had 49 points (nine goals, 40 assists) in 61 games with the Bruins last season and 160 power-play points in his career, including 28 last season.

"It's great. To be honest, it was kind of not expected, but as the day went on, it just seemed like more and more like a perfect fit," Krug said. "Going through some of the things that were available, with the roster that the Blues have in place and the core group, it just seemed like a match made in heaven. It feels great. I'm very excited to get going.

"I was surprised for sure. I mean we talked all along in this process during it, there would be a team that comes out of left field and surprises you that you might have to take a longer look at. That's what happened. I had a good talk with Doug and a great talk with the coach [Craig Berube] and we just looked at the roster and we really sat down and analyzed what we wanted and the opportunity to win year in and year out was something we just couldn't pass up."

Krug is listed as 5-foot-9, 186 pounds, and Armstrong said, "He's not tall obviously but he is thick and he plays above his size. But his quickness is very important for us. He gets back, he retrieves pucks, makes an excellent first pass out of the zone. I talked to some players in our group and asked how he was to play against and they said he's very elusive on the forecheck, very hard to get at. We know the player, we know what he can do on the power play. 

"I think when you have players like (Marco) Scandella and (Robert) Bortuzzo and (Colton) Parayko with great size, Niko (Mikkola's) got great size, you're allowed to input different players. And we have (Justin) Faulk, (Vince) Dunn and Gunny (Carl Gunnarsson) still. We have a really good group back there now. It's just a different element of a player that is 29 years old so he's right in that age group of the guys that are competing who are trying to win now. I think he's going to fit in very well."

Krug's signing likely spells the end of Pietrangelo's tenure in St. Louis, which drafted him fourth overall in 2008 who spent his entire career with the Blues and helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup against Krug's Bruins in 2019.

But for whatever reasons, the two sides couldn't come to an agreement at this time, but Armstrong, somehow, isn't ruling out a Pietrangelo return.

"No. You never know what happens in the future," Armstrong said. "We'd have to get very creative, but Alex has been a great part of this franchise and you never know what happens in the future. What we were trying to do is knock things off as they came and this (Krug contract) came first.

"We didn't (to Pietrangelo) talk this morning. We had some really good conversations in the last evening and we just couldn't get anything done, so he was going to hit the market and I said, 'Keep us in the loop,' and I hope he still does keep us in the loop.

"You have to get creative, but I never say never on something like that. The likelihood isn't great, but if I ever got the call that he wanted to see if we can make it work, I'd certaily put pen to paper and see if there was a way we could do it."

It had been reported that the Blues offered Pietrangelo the max eight-year contract for $64 million ($8 million AAV) that he had until 11 p.m. (CT) to sign on Oct. 8, but once that didn't materialize, Pietrangelo went to free agency and thus putting the Blues in the same boat as the remaining 30 teams, in the seven-year maximum contract category.

Rumor has it that some of the sticking points were that Pietrangelo's camp was looking for a full no-movement clause and signing bonus money that Armstrong has never stipulated in any of the contract's he's negotiated since joining the Blues.

The $8 million AAV is less than what Pietrangelo could command on the open market, and it's something that sounds like he was willing to take less on to stay in St. Louis, but now low enough, according to Armstrong. 

"If the dollars are ready, we're not going to lose this over structure," he said. "There were certain areas in our organization that we tried to stay away from. Alex was a special player and that didn't pertain to him.

"I'll start with the no movement clause, it's just my belief that when you give someone a no-movement clause, they basically have more power in your organization than your owner does," Armstrong said. "I don't really understand the logic of that. I know guys don't want to move around or go on waivers, but just the thought of having a player have more power than the owner, it doesn't make sense to me. But with Alex, there was a no-movement clause that we included there. It was partial, it was for certain years, it was to protect him at the end of his contract plus signing bonus that we don't do that we talked to Alex about too. 

"Alex, I treated him differently than I treated anybody else. It's part of the CBA and we have to use every tool under the CBA, as does the player. The only hard, fast rules you have to follow are the ones in the CBA of things you can't do. Others are we don't believe in doing certain things and it takes a special person to get those things and Alex was a special person."

Armstrong said they did everything they could to get Pietrangelo under contract.

"Trust me, Alex, we tried to re-sign him," Armstrong said. "I want to give our ownership group a ton of credit going to the maximum number of years available. The contract I think is well-documented that was out there that was offered, we used every tool under the CBA to ensure that we could get something done and it just didn't work out. There's no good or bad person in this. It's just the business side of it. Alex is a great guy and we had a great conversation last night. As I said, I don't close any doors yet, but I was very impressed when you're in a pandemic, when you're talking about starting next season in January, when you're not sure of you're going to have fans here, our ownership group never blinked. They wanted to continue to play with the big boys at the cap. I tip my cap to our ownership group for not wavering in a time where it would have been easy to waver."

"I look back on it, and I'm not really sure why (a Pietrangelo contract wasn't completed). I was hoping to get something done. He has great representation from Newport Sports. We talked a lot, we exchanged offers during the season, during the pandemic, multiple offers post-pandemic. We couldn't find something that made everyone comfortable. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time this happens in the NHL. You just wish it didn't happen because of the desire and the respect we had to keep Alex here. But with that being said, we have Torey Krug here and I know there's a lot of excitement in our group to have a fresh body in here, a fresh face, somebody that has that same hunger to win as they have."

Krug was faced with issues of his own in returning to the only team he knew, but apparently, unlike the Blues with Pietrangelo, there seemed to be no going back to Boston, and Krug, who said the last contract offer he received from the Bruins was "about a year ago," also said the two sides were, "Not close.

"There was just no communication, nothing happened. Once the opportunity presented itself to be a Blue, I had to take a chance and jump on it.

"Not at all. We tried to do our due diligence and look at the rosters and see what teams might need what on the left side, specifically a power play guy that can play both sides of the puck and can be in every situation. This was just one of the teams that we didn't know what was going to happen. When I showed up, we had to take a better look at it and see what we can do here. We really like the fit. Obviously it all came together quickly and we're very happy with how it worked out."

With Krug's contract, the Blues are over the $81.5 million salary cap hit by roughly $1.4 million, and should the Blues try to do anything else in the off-season, they'll have to move some salary to do so, or utilize their right to put players on long-term injured-reserve, such as Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder surgery) and Alexander Steen, who missed the end of the playoffs with an undisclosed injury.

"With Tarasenko's injury and Alexander Steen wasn't healthy at the end of the season and really hasn't progressed much since then, we won't have to do anything regardless of when the season starts to be cap-compliant because of these injuries," Armstrong said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
With Friday's signing of Torey Krug, has Alex 
Pietrangelo (pictured) seen his last days with the 

With Krug in the fold, he will likely be paired on defense with either Colton Parayko or Justin Faulk, who was his partner recently at the World Championships. But in looking at the Blues from the outside in, Krug said he wasn't aware of the Blues' dilemma with Pietrangelo.

"I wasn't aware, no," Krug said. "From my own perspective, this is a trying time for myself and my family. I had to think of us and take care of us. When the opportunity presented itself, I had to do what was best for our family and I moved on it when I had the chance. There wasn't a rush or a sense of urgency, just an excitement and overall, I knew where I wanted to be. I'm very excited that it worked out this way.

"I didn't know what today was going to bring and I was going to welcome anything that came through the door or ring through the phone. It didn't work out (in Boston). I was looking forward to having a conversation with them. It just didn't happen, but I'm very lucky and I feel like an opportunity to join the Blues was just lucky and very happy that it worked out. I'm very excited to join this group."

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Blues conclude 2020 draft by picking two forwards, three defensemen, goalie

Long second day for prospects who awaited to hear their names called, 
including third-round pick Dylan Peterson; Feltrin likes Blues' selections

ST. LOUIS -- The second day of the NHL Draft can be a long one. 

Ask any of the players, particularly this year when the 2020 draft was conducted in a virtual manner, one in which took nearly eight hours to complete.

In the case of Dylan Peterson, the wait wasn't as long as some other Blues prospects on the second day, but long enough.

Peterson, a 6-foot-4, 192-pound center, was taken in the third round (86th pick), followed by 6-2, 176-pound defenseman Leo Loof with the 88th pick to kick off the day for the Blues.

Peterson, 18, who played for the US U-18 National Team Developmental Program and had eight goals and 17 assists in 45 games last season and another four goals and seven assists in 19 games for Team USA in the United States Hockey League, was excited when told he had been chosen and where.

"Obviously I'm super excited and super stoked to get my name called by the Blues," Peterson said. "It was a long day, but I couldn't be happier with what the outcome was."

Peterson, whose father is a civil engineer, spent much of his early childhood in Taiwan and has moved around the globe quite a bit.

"I was born in California and I lived there only for a couple months," Peterson said of being born in Roseville. "My dad moved my family to Taiwan overseas actually and I lived there until I was four, closing in on five and then he moved us back to Calgary and that's where I started (playing hockey). My dad was always a hockey fan, but up until about the ages of four or five, I hadn't even seen snow or ice or anything like that because I was overseas in Taiwan. When I got back home, my dad got me right into hockey and right into a pair of skates. 

"It's funny, the first school I went to was in Taiwan, so I actually at one point spoke fluent Mandarin, but we moved back to Calgary and my mom stopped putting me in classes. It's gone, not a lick. Nothing anymore."

Loof, 18, was in Sweden with his twin brother Linus, also hopeful of being drafted, and watching the events unfold together.

"I'm very excited and I'm very happy to be a part of St. Louis, of course," Leo Loof said. "I think I am a two-way defenseman who plays the puck very well, play physical and make some good plays in the offensive zone, as well."

Loof had two goals and 13 assists in 43 games for Farjestad Jr. of the Sweden-Jr. League.

"I'm going to train very hard every day and try to come to St. Louis and play in the NHL," Loof said. "I don't know when, but I'm going to compete every day and train as hard as I can. I hope some day I play for St. Louis, of course."

At No. 119 of the fourth round, the Blues went back to center and selected 6-0, 169-pound Tanner Dickinson, who spent last season with Sault Ste, Marie of the Ontario Hockey League and had 40 points (nine goals, 31 assists) in 64 games.

"Obviously I was looking forward to it. I wasn't trying to think about (being drafted) too much," said Peterson, who received multiple texts from friends to find out he was drafted. "I was trying to keep myself busy, but I'm really excited right now to be with the St. Louis Blues. I'm happy and I'm excited to work hard for the organization and do what I can."

The Blues originally had two picks in the fifth round, but traded one of them (No. 146) to Minnesota for the Wild's sixth round pick (No. 163) and seventh round pick (No. 194). They had a pick at No. 150 and used it to select UMass defenseman Matthew Kessel, who led all freshmen at the collegiate level in goals with seven.

A 6-3, 203-pound right-handed shot, Kessel, 18, was one of six players to skate in all 34 games with the Minutemen last season.

"I started getting some texts and kind of knew from there, but very excited with the news," said Kessel, who made it clear he isn't related to Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel. "I like to think of myself as a big, complete defenseman, just a two-way player who can shut down other teams' top lines and very mobile for my size. I can use my shot to help out offensively as well and I'm good at puck movement.

"The coaching staff here has been great. They got me comfortable right away and stuck me in a good opportunity here. I'd say the defensive part of my game is my strength. Being able to use my size and being mobile, I think I take pride in the d-zone and getting the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and then just going from there.

"I was definitely hoping (to get drafted). I was just going to go with whatever happens. I knew some way it would pan out."

With the 163rd pick, the Blues chose 18-year-old goalie Will Cranley from the Ottawa 67's of the OHL. 

Cranley, who is listed at 6-4, 183 pounds, was 18-2-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average and .894 save percentage last season with the 67's and was the backup goalie last season who won the Dave Pinkney Trophy with teammate Cedric Andree for allowing the fewest goals last season.

"I was able to earn a couple games on the back end of the season and our coach put me together with the schedule and I thought that worked out really well for me and I was able to put together a solid second half," Cranley said. "I had that shutout streak (of 159:36). It was really exciting. I've got to give a lot of credit to my team too. 

"I came in (to the draft) with really no expectations. I knew my draft stock or whatever, I really tried not to worry about it and not focusing on it. I have a season to focus on ahead here. I'm actually going back to Ottawa to start training again, but I really had no expectations for the draft. I knew I was in a difficult situation for teams just because of the games played or whatnot. I was really happy to get drafted by St. Louis. It's a real honor. ... I had an open mind for sure. I know I had a really good conversation with St. Louis."

The Blues were to have two seventh-round picks but traded one of them (No. 203) to the Detroit Red Wings for the Wings' 2021 seventh-round pick so at No. 194, they closed their draft by taking tall and lanky 6-4, 184-pound defenseman Noah Beck, who will play college hockey at Clarkson University this season after leading Fargo of the USHL among defensemen with 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 42 games.

Beck, 19, couldn't believe he would be among the chosen in the draft class after congratulating some friends upon being picked.
"I had practice today and then class right after. I was checking the draft a little bit to see a couple friends' names and sending some congratulations texts," Beck said. "Honestly wasn't really expecting to see my name there, but I couldn't be more excited right now."

And how did Beck find out about himself?

"My teammate pulled me out of class and basically just started video-taping me and all of my friends and family started calling. That's when I found out. My one teammate texted me and said, 'Hey, come watch the draft,' because I think a couple of my teammates had a couple hints, but I walked out and didn't think too much of it until the camera came out. Then I sort of realized and I was sort of shocked. (Being drafted) wasn't really my mindset. I didn't want to be disappointed if I didn't get drafted, so my mindset going in was if I don't get picked, I'm here to focus on my season right now anyways.

"I'm still a little bit in shock shaking a little bit, but I have soaked it in now. It's an honor, hopefully can't wait to get started. A little bit speechless."

The Blues concluded the draft with seven picks after selecting left wing Jake Neighbours of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League Tuesday with their first-round pick at No. 26.

Amateur scout Tony Feltrin and Dave Ginnell ran the draft after assistant GM Bill Armstrong left last week to take the GM job at Arizona and Feltrin said the Blues accomplished what they wanted despite a long and strenuous day.

"It's an exciting day when you're scouts," Feltrin said. "Everybody's anxious for getting their players' names called out so perhaps a little long on the clock, but well worth the wait from a scout's perspective.

"A good balance for the Blues. Good prospects. Three forwards, three D and one goaltender. I think we've got character kids, kids with skill, kids with size, lots of ability. I think we did better than expected or certainly as good as expected and certainly ecstatic about it.

"We were sitting without a second round pick, so we knew that a number of players that we had interest in wouldn't be there come the third round. Of course the names that were there, we were very excited. And with our first pick, Jake Neighbours, we had an inkling that he could be at our pick at 26 and fortunately for us, he was. I wouldn't say that we were shocked that players were there for us. We position the players as we see them in our eyes as prospects and we're glad to take them in the position that we had."

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Blues select Neighbours with first round pick

St. Louis takes left wing from Edmonton of WHL with 
pick No. 26 NHL conducting 2020 draft in virtual style 

ST. LOUIS -- Jake Neighbours was surrounded by some of his closest family members watching and patiently waiting not knowing what to expect on Tuesday night.

As Neighbours and roughly 10 or 11 other family members were watching the broadcast of the 2020 NHL Draft, done virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, jumped in jubilation when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the Calgary native the Blues' first-round pick (No. 26 overall).
Blues first round pick Jake Neighbours talks to reporters in a Zoom
conference call after being picked No. 26 at the 2020 NHL Draft.

"Actually I had no idea," Neighbours said. "I was coming into it with an open mind. I'm trying to enjoy the night with my family. If you can believe it, actually that's every parent and sibling that I have. It's a pretty extended family as it is and I'm trying to keep it as small as we could. Nothing's for sure. We didn't come in here knowing we were going in the first.

"It's insane. Kind of throughout the summer, I had lots of talks with the Blues and they had good things to say about me and I had nothing but great things to say about them and I thought I interviewed pretty well. Coming into the draft, you had no idea who it was going to be. To be drafted to a recent Stanley Cup winning team, an amazing organization with a lot of great players on it, I'm very, very excited and I'm very honored."

The Blues went with the 5-foot-11 and 3/4, 194-pound left wing who spent last season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he produced 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in 64 games. Neighbours, 18, made his WHL debut as a 15-year-old in 2017-18.

"We spent a lot of time watching (him). He's a left winger. He plays 'Blues style hockey.' Very competitive, can play up and down your lineup," Armstrong said. "Goes to the hard areas of the ice very willingly. Someone that I think can complement very good players. Someone that is just, I think, going to fit in with his character and his work ethic into our group moving forward.

"... It was best available player, whether it was a centerman, a defenseman, a winger ... it didn't really matter to us. We wanted to get a player that we think can complement our group moving forward. As you know, the player you take today, when you're picking, you hope can get on your roster in two or three years and maybe make an impact in four or five. The roster is going to change a bit between now and then, so we were just looking to take the best available player."

So Neighbours, who 34 goals and 64 assists in three seasons in the WHL and also represented Canada's U-18 squad last season at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, gets picked by a team one year removed from winning a Stanley Cup he knows little about other than watching on television.

"Obviously not too much. I watched a lot of hockey, I watched them play a lot of games, seeing a lot of players go through there," Neighbours said of the Blues. "I think obviously they're a great hockey team. They're always competitive and they're fun to watch. They've got great fans and I've heard it's a great city. I'm very excited to get to know them a little better and the city better and everything like that, so it should be fun."

Neighbors fits the mold of what a Blues player is about, who plays with an edge, plays physical and isn't afraid to forecheck and defend both ends of the ice with an added scoring touch.

"I'm someone who plays with a lot of compete, a lot of intensity," Neighbours said. "I think I play St. Louis Blues hockey. I'm in there banging bodies and I'll be physical and in on the forecheck and blocking shots, doing what it takes. But at the same time, I'm going to bring you a steady pace of scoring and offense and I'd like to think I'm a good producer as a forward someone who can kind of play up and down the lineup and be versatile for the Blues."

His bio says a comparable player is that of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Neighbours said he emulates his game after that of St. Louisan Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames and Armstrong said Blues scouts said Neighbours reminds him of longtime Dallas Star and former Blue Brenden Morrow.

"Well, the player that our scouts compared him to, which was music to my ears, who is a player I was part of in Dallas selecting, Brenden Morrow," Armstrong said. "That's the type of player they think he can become.

"... We got all of our scouting done before March. We were hoping to see him in the playoffs, in the different tournaments. Our scouts obviously saw him as an underage, which would have been last year and then focused in on him this year. I was was in Edmonton earlier in the year and spent some time with the Oilers staff and met the junior general manager and we talked a little bit about him. Everyone raves about his character and his desire to get better. I've had a couple texts from some friends in Edmonton telling me that it's a very strong pick. He's a Blues-style player and you love to hear those type of things.

"I think when you look at all the mock drafts, where he was, he was somewhere between where we picked and 31, 32, 33 ... so it wasn't like it was right out of left field. We think he's a player that can help us and we didn't want to risk moving back into like 29, 30, 31 because he's a player we targeted. I certainly respect the mock drafts, but I also respect our scouting staff that spends their livelihood doing this for their opinions."

Neighbours is ready and committed doing what it takes to make it to the NHL, even if that means putting in all the hard work and going through the pipeline, which is something the Blues like to do with their prospects and not rush picks.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues first round pick Jake Neighbours competes with the Edmonton Oil 
Kings of the WHL last season.
"A hundred percent. I think right off the bat, I'm obviously going to push for a roster spot. I'm always going to do that," Neighbours said. "Every time I come to camp, I'm going to compete my hardest and do my best to showcase myself. Obviously I know the NHL is a jump for sure and it's a process. This is one step in it and we've just got to continue from here. I'm ready for whatever amount of work I need to put in or however long this is going to take because at the end of the day, to pull over that Blues jersey will be insane and to play an NHL game with them would be absolutely crazy. I'm ready for whatever it takes."

The Blues will head into the second day of the draft (10:30 a.m. CT) on Wednesday without a second-round pick but two picks in the third round (Nos. 86 and 88), one in the fourth (No. 119), two in the fifth (Nos. 146 and 150) and one in the seventh (No. 203).

"We have two thirds. I think you can move those two thirds into the second round if the player is there that we want," Armstrong said. "We're going to re-evaluate as soon as we're done with this Zoom call. I'm going to sit with our scouts, look at all 31 picks, get our list back in order and see what's available. We don't have a second, we have two thirds, so we have to be prepared tomorrow to get some work done."

* NOTES -- The Blues also announced Tuesday that they've extended qualifying offers restricted free agents Vince Dunn, Austin Poganski, Mitch Reinke and Jake Walman.

By extending qualifying offers, the Blues will retain player contract negotiation rights when free agency opens on Oct. 9. 

Players that do not receive qualifying offers become unrestricted free agents, and the deadline for said qualifying offers to be submitted by 4 p.m. (CT) on Wednesday.

Also, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced prior to the draft that the league and NHL Players' Association agreed they will target Jan. 1 for the start of the 2020-21 regular season. Estimated timing for the start of training camp will be announced at a later date.

Of course, under normal circumstances, the season would be getting underway this week, and the Blues were scheduled to play against the Minnesota Wild at the 2021 Winter Classic but that is now up in the air.