Wednesday, September 29, 2021

(9-29-21) Blues-Blue Jackets Preseason Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Logan Brown has worn the junior Blues logo many times throughout his young life.

Tonight, he will wear the Bluenote of the St. Louis Blues for the first time in a game.
Brown will make his Blues preseason debut when they play their first road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 6 p.m. at Nationwide Arena ( stream, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Brown, acquired from the Ottawa Senators on Saturday along with a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick for forward Zach Sanford, has practiced three days now with his new team and is looking forward to turning the page on his NHL career to a new chapter.

"Yeah it'll be exciting. It's been a couple years since I've worn it, but I'm looking forward to wearing it again," Brown said. "I'll be pretty comfortable in it.

"I'm just trying to make the most of it. It's a great opportunity in front of me. You don't get opportunities like this often. Whenever it presents itself, just got to do whatever you can to make the most of it."

Brown will center the second line tonight between Ivan Barbashev and PTO veteran Michael Frolik and will see time on the second power play unit on the right wall.

"It'll be good to show them that side of my game," Brown said. "Hopefully I'll prove myself there."

Blues coach Craig Berube said he's spoken to Brown, who stands at 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds, and just wants to see him play to get a better evaluation of the player.

"He's got good hands for a big guy that size for sure," Berube said. "When you get a guy that big, he moves well too for his size, but he's got good hands. He's a high pick, so he's got good ability. ... I've had a couple conversations with him. He needs to just go out and play and get confidence more than anything, I think. Things haven't gone his way in Ottawa. This is a new place for him and he just needs a place to be a confident hockey player more than anything right now and use his ability and his size. When you're that big, you've got to be strong on pucks. Like anybody else we want, we want to play a heavy game on the puck and use his ability with his hands and his feel. He's got good ability making plays. Use your ability.

"Don't know a lot about him, but big kid for sure, moves very well out there for his size and has got good hands. I'm looking forward to seeing him in some games here coming up."

- - -

Marco Scandella is the last of the veterans to make his preseason debut tonight.

The defenseman sat out the first two preseason games, a 6-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and 2-1 overtime win against the Dallas Stars on Monday. 

Scandella will be paired with Colton Parayko tonight.

"I'm pretty excited," Scandella said. "It's been a long time. ... Just seeing some of the new guys (watching). Saader's (Brandon Saad) really good, Buch (Pavel Buchnevich), they've had great games. I'm pretty excited about the group we have this year."

- - -

Klim Kostin will play his second preseason game tonight and feature on a line playing right wing with Hugh McGing on left wing and Dakota Joshua at center.

Kostin had an assist in the win against the Wild and continues to be evaluated by the coaching staff as he battles for a spot on the team.

"He's been fine," Berube said. "I think the practices and stuff, when I see him, his shot has been noticeable in camp, he's really shot the puck well scoring on the goalies and things like that. The game he played, I thought that he had a good third period. He was more assertive in the third period using his feet skating, getting on top of people. He's got to be a pretty straight line player for us, up and down, banging bodies, going to the net, using his shot and just playing a simple game. He doesn't need to complicate things. He has to be a power forward in my opinion, be good around the net, get to the net. We're going to use him on the PP tonight in front of the net a little bit. He'll get some looks there, but so far, I think he's been fine."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

James Neal-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Ivan Barbashev-Logan Brown-Michael Frolik

Hugh McGing-Dakota Joshua-Klim Kostin

Keean Washkurak-Matthew Peca-Mathias Laferriere

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Jake Walman-Steven Santini

Tommy Cross-Josh Wesley

Joel Hofer will start in goal; Charlie Lindgren will be the backup.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Patrik Laine-Cole Sillinger-Jakub Voracek

Gregory Hofmann-Boone Jenner-Yegor Chinakhov

Liam Foudy-Justin Danforth-Emil Bemstrom

Josh Dunne-Brendan Gaunce-Tristan Mullin

Zach Werenski-Adam Boqvist

Gabriel Carlsson-Scott Harrington

Dean Kukan-Thomas Schemitsch

Daniil Tarasov will start in goal; Jean-Francois Berube will be the backup.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Saad brings a winning pedigree, sandpaper mentality to Blues

Winger signed to five-year, $22.5 million contract fitting 
into system that suits his playing style, to no one's surprise

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- New players getting acclimated to new surroundings and new teammates may need some time to get adjusted.

Sure, Brandon Saad will need it himself, but having played against the Blues enough during his 10-year NHL career, liking their system and feeling like it fits his style, it's been a solid, seamless transition for the 28-year-old thus far.

And nobody is really surprised, are they? If they are, they shouldn't be.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues winger Brandon Saad (20) battles with Wild forward Jordan
Greenway during exhibition play Saturday at Enterprise Center.

"I thought even from playing against the Blues that I liked their style of play, playing that aggressive style, holding into pucks, supporting each other in the offensive zone, kind of grinding and wearing teams down," Saad said. "That's all things I like to do. That's something that's been preached here and I'm looking forward to getting into the games. ... I think the first couple days have went well. To finally be with the group and learn the systems and things like that, be on the ice. It's been good so far."

Saad admitted he didn't know too many of the Blues on the roster but played with Justin Faulk on the US national team 10 years ago and with Colton Parayko on the Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. But guys like Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Faulk and Torey Krug were among the first to reach out to Saad when he signed with the Blues.

"Any time over the past few years going to a new team, it takes a little time, but there's a great group of guys here," Saad said. "It seems to be that way in the NHL with whatever team you go to. You've got guys reaching out to you. Sometimes you have a couple buddies already on the team. It doesn't take too long. Guys are all great. Now it's nice you can get some dinners on the road now and get to know each other a little bit better. It was tough during the COVID year. Just getting a feel for the city, learning your way around, not having to use a GPS as much, things like that, getting settled into the house. It takes time any time in a new place, but the guys have all been great."

When Saad signed a five-year, $22.5 million free agent contract ($4.5 million average annual value), it helped the Blues solidify a spot vacated by the versatile Jaden Schwartz, who himself signed elsewhere this off-season, going to the expansion Seattle Kraken on a five-year, $27.5 million contract.

Saad, who spent last season with the Colorado Avalanche, has already found himself on a line that's raised some eyebrows early in camp with Robert Thomas in the middle and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right.

That trio was noticeably good throughout a 6-2 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, with Saad scoring off a nice feed from Thomas.

"I think it's going to be a fun line," Saad said. "A lot of skill, a lot of speed. Trying to get to know each other over these couple practice days, get a feel for tendencies and a little bit of chemistry. I think we can make some plays and hold onto pucks out there.

"I'm familiar with them from playing against them but it's kind of a whole new thing when you're on a line with them, trying to read off each other and kind of make plays out there. They're great players, so hopefully it doesn't take too long. Just trying to bring what I bring to the table."

Thomas said, "Saader is a fast, smart player. I think us three together will look really nice."

Saad, who has scored 371 points (184 goals, 187 assists) in 632 regular-season games, won't ooh and ahh you on the ice. In fact, O'Reilly had the perfect description for the Blues left wing.

"Saad is, I think, like a swiss army knife," O'Reilly said. "Anything you can think of what he can do, watching his touch around the net, his stick, the stuff he does with that. Anything you need, I think he can do."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues winger Brandon Saad (20) is fitting in well in his first few days with
the Blues since signing a free agent contract this past off-season.

But the most important quality Saad brings to the Blues: a proven Stanley Cup winner when he won it twice with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. He's also played with the Columbus Blue Jackets in his career where he scored a career-high 31 goals in 2015-16.

"Proven winner. He's won before," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Saad. "He knows what it takes to win. He scores goals, big guy, skates well, goes to the net, things like that. He's got real good awareness defensively."

Which is why Saad can be the perfect fit for a team that thrives with plumbers on their team, not necessarily the guy with all the flash and dash.

"That's something that I've always tried to do regardless of who I'm playing with or where I fall in the lineup," Saad said. "Just play my game and bring what I can to the team and try to help the team win. So obviously that's a nice compliment from (O'Reilly). That's what I try to do is be an all-around player and help the team."

Monday, September 27, 2021

(9-27-21) Stars-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will insert more regulars into the lineup today when they host the Dallas Stars in the second preseason game (7 p.m.; Bally Sports app, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Torey Krug, Justin Faulk and Jordan Kyrou will be among some of the regulars making their preseason debuts and newly-acquired Pavel Buchnevich will make his Blues debut tonight.

"There's nothing like game action," Krug said. "To get in there, get your feet wet is important for everyone as part of the process to get ready for the season."

Prospects Scott Perunovich and Jake Neighbours, who played in a 6-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, will get another game tonight, a sign the organization continues to be high on the two draft choices and are wanting to keep getting extensive looks at them.

"Individuals are trying to impress management, coaching staff," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "There's guys fighting for jobs. I'm looking for some of that too, but overall, just playing the game the right way, the way we want it to be played, competitiveness. Effort's a big thing.
"They're the type of guys that need to play with good players. They're two young guys that are real good prospects for us amongst others. We want to see them again."

- - -

Some of the power-play looks the Blues will utilize tonight include Neighbours with Perron, O'Reilly, Kyrou and Krug running the point, and Perron and Kyrou pulling double duty with Schenn and Buchnevich with Perunovich running the point.

"Buchnevich is guy we added to our lineup. He's got good ability on the power play, but obviously Kyrou and 'Tommer' (Robert Thomas), they're high-end ability guys with the puck that can make plays and they've been power-play guys pretty much their whole junior career," Berube said. "We're looking for those guys to evolve power play-wise in the NHL, become better at it. Tommer's had more power-play time than Kyrou for sure because he's been here longer, but they're two guys that we're counting to do a good job on the power play for sure."

- - -

Count Berube among those not wanting to add the shootouts to preseason games. 

During the preseason, teams have the option of having a shootout at the end no matter the score, but the Blues did not do it Saturday and will not do it again tonight.

"Not necessarily. I think it's real early to be honest with you," Berube said. 'We get more out of it working on it in practice. I know that Dave Alexander and the coaches get together after a lot of practices and grab six or seven guys that are shootout guys and they work on it. I'm not sure doing it in-game in these exhibition games what you really get out of it."

- - -

Some other news and notes of the day include Logan Brown being on the ice for the first time since the Blues acquired from the Ottawa Senators along with a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick for Zach Sanford.

Brown, who skated on a line at left wing with Ivan Barbashev and Michael Frolik with the non-game practice group, is wearing No. 22. 

If you remember, his father, defenseman Jeff Brown, who played for the Blues from 1989-1994, wore No. 21 but that number is currently held by Tyler Bozak.

"He'll be the biggest guy on the ice, about the same size as (Colton) Parayko tall-wise," Berube quipped of Logan Brown, who is 6-foot-6. "You guys will know who he is."

* Also, Berube said that assistant coach Jim Montgomery will be on the bench this season. 
Montgomery was the eye in the sky, up in the press box, last season.

"Monty will be down on the bench this year," Berube said. "He's obviously been a head coach his whole career pretty much. He has a lot of good ideas and sees the game really well and I think with him running the PK, he can be down there changing things, corrections and talk to players. He's got a lot of good insight."

* Defenseman Marco Scandella will be among the last of the regulars to get into a preseason game.

Scandella did not play Saturday and is not in the lineup tonight.

"It's just the way we designed it," Berube said. "He's going to play. I didn't have him in the first two games."

The next chance will be Wednesday when the Blues travel to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

David Perron-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Pavel Buchnevich

Mackenzie MacEachern-Nikita Alexandrov-Sam Anas

Nolan Stevens-Tanner Dickinson-Nathan Walker

Scott Perunovich-Justin Faulk

Torey Krug-Niko Mikkola

Tyler Tucker-Calle Rosen

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Joel Hofer will be the backup.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Riley Tufte-Ty Dellandrea-Tye Felhaber

Jacob Peterson-Riley Damiani-Nick Caamano

Rhett Gardner-Mavrik Bourque-Joel L’Esperance

Fredrik Karlstrom-Oskar Back-Tanner Kero

Thomas Harley-Jani Hakanpaa

Joel Hanley-Joseph Cecconi

Jerad Rosburg-Ben Gleason

Braden Holtby will start in goal; Jake Oettinger will be the backup.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Bozak had no desire to leave St. Louis

Veteran center signed one-year, $750,000 contract filled with incentives late in 
the free agency process, wasn't worried about not getting contract, leaving here

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- In the end, it was a slam dunk decision for Tyler Bozak.

The 35-year-old and elder statesman on the Blues' roster will wear that moniker for at least another year when he signed a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth the league minimum of $750,000 that can grow to $2 million with performance bonuses of $750,000 for 10 games played, another $250,000 for 41 games played, $100,000 for winning the first round of the playoffs and $150,000 for winning a second round in the playoffs. And it includes a no-trade clause until March 6, 2022.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Tyler Bozak (21) will play a fourth season with the Blues when he signed a
one-year contract at the start of training camp.

"There was a lot of different ways we were trying to find a way to make it work for both sides," Bozak said. "I think this way works, I think it keeps the cap hit down to help the team but also gives me some incentive to perform well, play hard and play a lot and for the team to do well in the playoffs too. I think it's good for both sides."

Bozak, who spent the past three seasons with the Blues after signing a three-year, $15 million contract to join them from the Toronto Maple Leafs, has become entrenched in the city with his wife Molly and three kids. 

There are more than just a job to consider with the Bozak clan. It includes lifestyle, loving where you live and schooling for kids. Bozak checked off all the markers again that he checked when first coming to St. Louis in 2019 and knew all along that there would be a place for him where he helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup his first season here.

"Obviously it was the place I wanted to be from the start," Bozak said. 'I was in no rush to get it done. I always thought it would (get done). There were other opportunities too, but there's a lot more that goes into it now in making those decisions than when you're a young kid and single with no kids. A lot of that stuff comes into play. I love the guys here, love everyone here. My family loves it here, my wife loves it here, kids have all their friends and the schools that they're in and stuff. It was obviously a place I wanted to be, so I'm happy we did get it done.

"Wherever you are, there's going to be good schools, but at the same time, your kids have their friends they're comfortable in the places they are at. Obviously you never want to take that stuff away from them, especially if they are close with their friends and love what they're doing. I'm sure maybe later in life, they won't remember it, but it is a difficult decision for sure and a lot goes into it."

Bozak had gone through the free agency process twice before, once re-signing with the Maple Leafs, where he spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career, and then joining the Blues. But in those instances, contracts were consummated pretty quickly, but as Bozak said, there was no rush, even as training camp approached quickly. But still, there had to be some tense moments in the end.

"It was different," Bozak said. "... The second time, I had a good idea that I wasn't going to be back in Toronto and it happened pretty quick. This dragged out a little bit longer, but I'm 35 years old now so I didn't really expect to sign right away or something like that. We were patient. I was fine with it. I know how the business side of it works and all that stuff. I wasn't caught too off-guard by any of it."

Bozak, who scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 31 games that cut his season down by a concussion suffered against the Vegas Golden Knights on a blindside hit by their captain Mark Stone, drew interest from a few different suitors, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will begin the season without their top two centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. 

"I had a few teams and some opportunities there," Bozak said. "You have to weigh all the pros and cons, but this was the place I wanted to be. The priority was to get it done here first and foremost."

Bozak, who played in the Blues' 6-2 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and assisted on James Neal's second goal of the game, has been as versatile as any player on the roster since he arrived playing a variety of jobs. Being a third-line center has been first and foremost, but being an exceptional face-off specialist, penalty killer, power-play duty, play the wing when necessary, leader on and off the ice. A jack of all trades that will likely start the season as the team's fourth-line center.

"I think just the same as how it has been," Bozak said of his role. 'Obviously bringing good leadership and play wherever is needed. Obviously throughout the season, things change and you know you're going to move up and down the lineup playing different spots, there's going to be injuries, different things that happen. Just be ready to play in all positions. I think I can bring that kind of flexibility and versatility where I can slide into different roles and different spots throughout the lineup."

Blues coach Craig Berube has always been a Bozak fan and is pleased the veteran is back.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Tyler Bozak (21) had opportunities to sign elsewhere as a UFA but did not
want to leave St. Louis.

"A super guy, we all know that," Berube said. "Great guy in the locker room for sure. Guys love him. He's a pretty solid two-way player. Very smart and intelligent player that we can use in a lot of situations and he's a great team guy."

When Bozak sustained the concussion last season, he missed 21 games because of it. It wasn't his first concussion, and even though there is a wife and three kids to also consider, Bozak and his family gave him a green light to return.

At least for one more year, and here.

"I definitely didn't think about not playing this year," said Bozak, who's scored 449 points (167 goals, 282 assists) in 12 NHL seasons. "I think if last year would have ended different for myself, when I did come back from the concussion, I felt great, I played really well, produced well and had good numbers. Obviously that gave me the confidence to know that I can still play and still wanted to play. That wasn't on my mind at all. Obviously when you do have head injuries, it's something that you don't take lightly, especially with a family. The whole family's on board wanting me to play. I feel good, I still feel I can contribute, still confident. I wasn't thinking about that at all this off-season."

Neal's hat trick good first step as PTO trying to earn contract

Veteran's trying to earn job with Blues , scores three goals in 6-2 exhibition 
win over Wild; COVID-filled last year in Edmonton, which bought out his contract

ST. LOUIS -- James Neal has been around the game of hockey long enough to know that careers don't last forever and that jobs are precious.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
James Neal (81) celebrates one of his three goals scored with Steven
Santini in the Blues' 6-2 exhibition win over Minnesota on Saturday.

Considering the type of year Neal, a goal-scoring sniper throughout his 13-year career, had last year in Edmonton, it gives a veteran of his ilk a different perspective of earning a job.

The 34-year-old Neal, who is with the Blues on a professional tryout, got off to the kind of start a player looking for a contract wanted with a hat trick in a 6-2 exhibition win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at Enterprise Center.

Neal, playing on a line with veteran Tyler Bozak and 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours, is in a training camp for the first time looking for a job.

There were different avenues Neal could have chosen, and even though the odds are stacked against him, Neal found a fit with the Blues in hopes of landing a deal, and maybe can find one since he and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong go back to their roots with the Dallas Stars where Neal played 2008-2011 and Armstrong was the GM there.

"For me, I've been around a long time and played on a lot of different teams," Neal said. "There's a few different options for me, but I felt like this team's a really hard team to play against. I played against them a lot. They're a team that wants to win and is on the verge of winning again. For me, I just wanted an opportunity to come here and show the work I've put in this summer and that I've got lots of game left. It was a good start. I'm excited for the opportunity. I had Army in Dallas. He's my first general manager. It's kind of come full circle here and it's nice to have a tryout here.

"... I wanted to come here. This is a good team, this is a culture around here. You could tell that right from the start of camp the way things are run. I'm excited to be here."

Having to prove yourself over again can't be easy for a veteran player, especially a goal scorer. Neal, who has reached 20 or more goals in the first 10 of his 13 NHL seasons, a 40-goal scorer once (41, 2011-12 with the Pittsburgh Penguins) and the 30-goal marker once (31, 2015-16 with the Nashville Predators) had a rough campaign with the Edmonton Oilers last season, scoring 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 29 games.

Neal had the last two years of his five-year, $28.75 million contract he signed with the Calgary Flames July 2, 2018 bought out by the Oilers, who owe him $1,916,667 over the next four seasons. It was the capper to a season that never got on track, and health played a large role in it.

"It's definitely a different situation. Last year was tough," Neal said. "I went into the year, I had COVID at the start of the year. Nothing was right, it took me a long time to get over it. Just kind of fell behind, then getting bought out and trying to figure out a new path and what I wanted to do, I just kind of focused on myself and getting myself on getting into the shape that I need to be. If I did that, I felt things would take care of themselves. Here I find myself fighting for a job, which is a great way to do it. I've looked forward to the challenge all summer. This is a good team. This is a winning culture here and hopefully I can be a part of it. Just take it one day at a time here and continue to get better. It was a good start tonight."

Neal and fellow veteran, 33-year-old Michael Frolik, are in the same position that could potentially add quality veteran leadership from a group that is two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup but fell void of some of the veteran presence of the past two seasons when the Blues were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

"I think he's a guy that loves to score goals, loves to be around the boys and I think that just adds onto our group for sure," said Blues winger David Perron, Neal's teammate and linemate with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. "Any time you have a chance like him and Frolik to have experienced guys come in and really add to that, they can play up and down the lineup. Those guys in their careers have played either first line or fourth line and at this point, power play, PK for Frolik more. So it depends how they fit with our group, how their camp goes and all that stuff. We're excited to see them and really be on board. It shows that our team's still got a chance to compete, to contend with the good teams when you have guys like that that want to join our group for professional tryouts like this. I think for me and Neal, we certainly have chemistry from that year. It still has been a while. Things have changed, but we're in training camp together. It's really hard to say those first couple days. There's not much happening out there. Guys are showing intensity instead of smarts yet, but if we do get a chance to play an exhibition game together or something, it would be fun to see."

Neal scored from a sharp angle along the corner boards on the first period Saturday on Wild goalie Kappo Kahkonen that made it 2-0 in the second period, then scored the fourth and fifth Blues goals, which capped his hat trick on a strip, steal and score in the third period to cap off a positive first impression on Blues coaches.

"He's scored a lot of goals in his career and he knows how to score," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Neal. "He worked hard tonight and he wanted to make a difference. He did. He had a solid game.

"They still want to play the game, so they're coming in here, I wouldn't say they're desperate, but they're going to give you everything they've got. I thought both of them did that tonight. They competed hard and they worked hard tonight, so that's what you're going to get out of them. ... They've got to come in and earn a spot so they're going to give you everything they've got."

"They both played great tonight," Blues center Ivan Barbashev said of Neal and Frolik. ""It's really nice to see that they're trying to make the team and just to prove that they can be here. I think they both did really well. That's what it's about in the training camp. You're trying to compete for a spot and there's not many spots left to be honest, but those guys are fighting really hard."

Neal finished with 15:16 ice time and had four shots on goal, two hits and was 1-for-2 on the face-off dot, while Frolik, who also scored along with free agent signee Brandon Saad, played 13:40 with three shots on goal and one blocked shot.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
James Neal is congratulated by the bench Saturday after scoring one of
his three goals in a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

When Neal scored his third of the game, naturally, the hats started coming down from a nice-sized crowd that appreciated his work.

No matter what happens the rest of training camp, Neal just wants his name in the ring when roster spots are decided on, and with the trade of Zach Sanford to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday for St. Louisan Logan Brown and a 2022 conditional pick, who knows what may lie in store for the Blues for a player six goals shy of 300 for his career (294 goals, 261 assists) in 850 regular-season games.

"It's a good feeling," Neal said. "The work I've put in this summer, I just wanted to get back to myself. It's nice to see that happen. I know it's nice to play with 'Bozie' and Jake there. Jake's a young kid who's a great player coming up and I've played against 'Bozie' a long time and he made some great plays out there. It was a fun game, fun first one for sure."

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Brown hopes homecoming can fuel his NHL career

Blues acquire St. Louis-grown center, conditional pick in 2022 from Senators 
for Sanford; could join father Jeff as fifth father-son duo to play for Blues 

ST. LOUIS -- Not even a 16-hour drive could erase the happiness Logan Brown was feeling Saturday afternoon.

Heck, a week ago, he just made the trek north -- for 16 hours! -- to get to Ottawa for the start of training camp with the Senators after signing a one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000 NHL/$100,000 AHL. 
(Ottawa Senators photo)
Logan Brown returns home to St. Louis after the Blues
acquired him from the Senators on Saturday.

Turn back around Logan, you're coming home.

The Raleigh, N.C.-born, St. Louis grown native is headed to the Blues after he was acquired, along with a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick for forward Zach Sanford.

Brown, whose father Jeff was a defenseman for the Blues from 1989-1994, was the 11th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, one of five St. Louisans (six in total overall) to get selected in the first round of the 2016 draft along with Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary), Clayton Keller (Arizona), Luke Kunin (Minnesota) and Trent Frederic (Boston), becomes the first of returning to his hometown in hopes of one day soon wearing the Bluenote.

"I definitely didn't see (the trade) coming, but absolutely I'm pumped," Brown said. "I grew up in St. Louis. I've played for the junior Blues my whole life. Honestly, it's surreal. To be able to get an opportunity to play in my hometown in the NHL is what every kid dreams of."

If Brown, who played in 30 games for the Senators over four seasons and has scored nine points (one goal, eight assists) over parts of four seasons, could become the fifth sets of father-son duos to dress in a game for the Blues, joining Bob and Brent Johnson, Mike and B.J. Crombeen, Basil and Philip McRae and Peter and Paul Stastny.

"One-hundred percent it's a dream come true," Logan Brown said. "To get an opportunity to play in your hometown with all my friends there, it's what you dream of growing up as a kid. When you're with the junior Blues, that was your dream to play for the real Blues."

Sanford, 26, was a bit of an enigma for the Blues in the sense that he had his good moments and frustrating ones. 

Sanford, who signed a one-year, $2 million  contract avoiding arbitration in August, scored 26 of his 38 career goals the past two seasons, including 16 in 2019-20. But he was given opportunities to play with playmakers in the top six and never could seem to get on any type of consistent footing here. He did score in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins that helped the Blues seal a 4-1 win and their first title.

But in moving Sanford's contract, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was able to remove $2 million in cap space, putting the Blues roughly $731,000-plus under for the time being and looking at potential prospects to fill spots on the team, and or the potential of signing one or two veterans in training camp on professional tryout contracts, James Neal and Michael Frolik. 

"It was something that was made out of necessity and not out of desire in the sense that when we made our qualifying offers this summer, we didn't know what was going to happen with (Tyler) Bozak, we didn't know if we were going to be able to sign a free agent, we didn't know if we were going to be able to trade for (Pavel) Buchnevich, so there's all those things, and then at the end of the day you add it up and the cap was 81 (million) and we were 83 (million)," Armstrong said. "It's as much having to get cap-compliant and in doing that, we wanted to bring back a player that we saw upside in. 

"Logan's obviously a big man. He's 6-6, can play center and left wing, drafted I think 11th overall so he's got pedigree. Everyone evolves and matures at a different time and he needed a fresh start. I think Ottawa felt he needed a fresh start and we were the recipient of being able to do that right now. So we're looking forward to getting him in here. I don't want to say where he's going to play or who he's going to play with. That's up to the coach, and that's up to Logan to get here. But our guys are familiar with him. That's one of the greater things about having all those young players here, whether it's the Tkachuks or Frederic or Logan. These guys are now skating with our guys in the summer now so we get to see them with our guys, our guys get to know them. I think for Logan, the transition, not only in his personal like coming back and not having to stay at a hotel, but he can bunk back in his dad's house and then come to the rink and know a lot of the guys on the team. The long answer is we're excited to give a young player an opportunity."

Brown admits a fresh start could benefit him. He played in just one game for the Senators last season after 23 the previous year. 

"It's definitely nice to get a fresh start," Brown said. "Things didn't go obviously as well as I would have liked them to in Ottawa at the start of my career, but I'm feeling great right now, I'm healthy and in good shape. A fresh start is just rejuvenating. I'm feeling really good heading back there."

Brown could challenge for one of those spots on the fringe, or back end, with a good camp, but chances are he'll likely begin in Springfield (Mass.) with the Thunderbirds of the AHL, but that doesn't mean he won't come here looking to make a good first impression.

Brown skated with many of these players in the summer and has familiarity with them.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Minnesota's Nick Foligno (right) blocks a shot by Zach Sanford last
season. Sanford was traded by the Blues to Ottawa on Saturday.

"They just won it, so obviously it's one of the best teams in the league," Brown said of the Blues. "Coming in, I just want to show the coaches and the players what I can bring and to help them win games and try to go on another run.

"I like to distribute the puck and try and make players around me better and give them lots of some opportunities and create lots of opportunities with my size and my skill."

When Brown got the call of the trade, he couldn't wait to tell his family. They spoiled his fun, though.

"My dad had actually found out about it through the grapevine before I could get a chance to call him," Brown said. "He knew about it. My whole family knew and they're just ecstatic for me coming home. It's really special. All my friends are texting me too. That's home. I grew up there. I know everyone there. It's surreal."

(9-25-21) Wild-Blues Preseason Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will drop the puck on the 2021-22 season, in preseason fashion, today when they open the exhibition schedule against the Minnesota Wild at 7 p.m. at Enterprise Center (Bally Sports App, ESPN 101.1-FM).

There will be a mix of veterans and younger prospects making their season debuts tonight, including 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours, who will be featured on a line with veterans Tyler Bozak and professional tryout candidate James Neal.

"Super excited," Neighbours said. "I think obviously a lot of emotions, a lot of nerves. Obviously not getting the chance to play last year, I'm super excited to get out there with the guys tonight and get to play in my first one. It'll be fun.

"I'm looking to go out there and do what I can and try and play my game and try and be ready for whatever situation they put me in. I'll be ready for the power play obviously. I'll be thankful I'll get to do that tonight and whatever else they throw at me."

It will also be the debut of defenseman Scott Perunovich (2018 second-round pick), who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury but since there were no preseason games last season, he wouldn't have had the chance to play anyway, and defenseman Tyson Galloway, a 2021 fifth-round pick.

"They're excited for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Like a lot of guys are. I think these guys have done a good job in camp so far, they've had a good development camp, real good at Traverse City, I thought. I'm hoping they keep it going. They're good players and they're young guys, future for us. They're turning heads already, which is a good sign."

- - -

* BREAKING NEWS -- The Blues announced a trade prior to their game against the Wild, sending forward Zach Sanford to the Ottawa Senators for Logan Brown and a conditional 2022 fourth-round draft pick.

Brown was raised in St. Louis and was the 11th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and is the son of former Blues defenseman Jeff Brown, who played here from 1989-1994.

Logan Brown, 23, is 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds. The center iceman has played in 30 NHL games and has nine points (one goal, eight assists). 

He just signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Senators on Sept. 18 for $750,000 NHL/$100,000 AHL.

Sanford, 26, has spent four of his five NHL seasons with the Blues. Last season, the 6-4, 207-pound forward scored 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in 52 regular-season games. 

Overall, Sanford played in 209 regular-season games and scored 74 points (38 goals, 36 assists) with the Blues. He was acquired along with veteran forward Brad Malone, a first-round pick in 2017 and conditional draft picks from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and minor league goalie Pheonix Copley.

Sanford's career with the Blues has been up and down throughout his tenure. He showed flashes of why the Blues acquired him and had his best season in 2019-20 when he scored 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 58 games.

The conditions on the draft pick the Senators are sending to the Blues is it reverts back to Ottawa if Brown plays in 30 or more games in the NHL this season.

With Sanford's contract off the books, the Blues save $2 million in cap space and according to, they are $731,131 under the $81.5 million limit, which includes 22 players on the roster.

The Blues do have Neal and Michael Frolik in on PTO's and could sign one to a league minimum contract, if one or both impress in training camp.

The Blues could also use Oskar Sundqvist's cap hit of $2.75 million since the center will likely go on long-term injured-reserve to continue rehabbing from an ACL injury sustained last season meaning Sundqvist will miss 10 games or 24 days before a decision would be made in that case.


- - -

The Blues will feature one of their top lines, which includes newcomer Brandon Saad, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko, a line Berube has looked at extensively through the first three days of training camp and wants to see in game action.

"They're talking too," Berube said. "I read notes and stuff, you (media) guys are asking them questions and they feel like they're pretty connected already and making some plays and starting to read off each other, so that's good. We'll see how it goes in the games."

- - -

Along with Neal, Frolik, also signed as a PTO, will get a look tonight. 

Neal, 34, most recently played with the Edmonton Oilers last season, while Frolik, 33, played sparingly with the Montreal Canadiens last season.

- - -

Goalies Ville Husso and Charlie Lindgren, who the Blues signed for depth this past off-season from the Canadiens organization, will split tonight's game, with Husso getting two periods and Lindgren, who spent last season with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League, will get one period.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Klim Kostin-Ivan Barbashev-Michael Frolik

Jake Neighbours-Tyler Bozak-James Neal

Kyle Clifford-Dakota Joshua-Alexei Toropchenko

Jake Walman-Colton Parayko

Scott Perunovich-Robert Bortuzzo

Tyson Galloway-Steven Santini

Ville Husso will start in goal and play two periods; Charlie Lindgren will be the backup and play the third period.

- - -

The Wild's projected roster:

Nico Sturm, Jordie Benn, Matt Boldy, Jordan Greenway, Marco Rossi, Nick Bjugstad, Dominic Turgeon, Joe Hicketts, Ryan O'Rourke, Daemon Hunt, Victor Rask, Adam Beckman, Joseph Cramarossa, Dakota Mermis, Calen Addison, Damien Giroux, Carson Lambos, Pavel Novak, Will Bitten, Kaapo Kahkonen and Andrew Hammond

Friday, September 24, 2021

With contract in tow, Thomas focuses on proving himself

Center signed two-year, $5.6 million contract, feels "the sky's 
the limit" as far as advancing his career moving into Year 4

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Robert Thomas knew he cut it close to reporting on time to the opening of training camp as far as signing a contract as a restricted free agent.

But in the end, it all worked out for the Blues' 2017 first-round pick and he's in the fold fresh, anxious and eager to take the proverbial steps forward in his career.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas (18) made it on time to training camp after signing a two-year
$5.6 million contract on Wednesday

Thomas agreed to a two-year, $5.6 million contract ($2.8 million average annual value) on Tuesday, signed it on Wednesday and was on the ice Thursday for the start of training camp.

Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

"We got it done in time. That's all that matters," the 22-year-old center said Friday. "I'm happy to be back for two more years. We've got a great group and a competitive group. I can't wait to get the season going."

Thomas said there wasn't anything particular that led to the delay in getting a deal done, other than, "It's a tough negotiation, but I'm happy it's done and I'm happy for two more years here. It's going to be a lot of fun."

With young players, it is critical that they don't miss camp and that they're getting the proper tutelage for the development of their growth.

For Thomas, who had an injury-plagued and inconsistent third season in the NHL last year with just 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 33 regular-season games, there was a slight bit of concern but not too drastic.

"Not too much," he said. "I came in probably a month ago. My whole thinking process was it was going to get done and not to worry about it and just prepare for my first day of camp. Overall, I wasn't too worried, maybe a little bit towards the end, but all in all, happy to be here for the first day of camp.

"Injuries suck. It's part of the game and especially during COVID, that's tough when you can't be around the team and stuff like that. It takes a lot out of you mentally and last year was not pretty obviously for me. I'm looking forward to turning the page and coming in more hungry and determined to prove myself."

Thomas sustained shoulder and thumb injuries last season that kept him out of the lineup for 23 games, and even when it seemed like he was picking up some steam as far as good play was concerned, an injury seemed to derail any progress. 

Thomas was wanting to get bigger and stronger heading into last year and that seemed to hamper what he wanted to do on the ice somewhat. So he changed his routine this year, went back home to Ontario for most of the summer, trimmed down, and it's been decidedly noticeable.

"I changed up my summer routine a little bit," Thomas said. "I came back a little bit early here to show how hard I worked all summer. It was pretty much that. There wasn't too much too it other than I thought just change it up a little and I'm really happy with the results.

"A little bit of strength, dropped some weight. Nothing too crazy, but I'm really happy with how I feel. I feel good out there."

Blues coach Craig Berube challenged Thomas to take his conditioning to another level, is grateful his third-line center is in camp on time and has seen the results early in camp.

"It's always important for a player to be in camp on time and be part of the team and get the work that's needed," Berube said. "'Tommer' did a great job this summer of working extremely hard. He's got himself in real good shape, very committed player, very happy that he signed a contract and that he's with us. 

"I don't really put expectations on players. I don't believe that's a fair thing to do. You put expectations on your team. Individuals, yeah, they have to perform at a high level for the team to have success. He's just been one of the guys that is going to need to perform at a high level for us to have success."

Thomas has started camp centering two veterans in Vladimir Tarasenko and Brandon Saad. It's a look Berube and the coaching staff will monitor closely and want to take a strong look at.

"I think we're starting to click," Thomas said. "Today in practice, I thought we were really good. We were moving it well, creating a lot of chances. 

"Vladi looks awesome this year. He's ready to rock. He's hungry. Saader is a fast, smart player. I think us three together will look really nice and looking forward to getting into some game action."

The Blues are going to give Thomas the roles and minutes needed to advance his career and think he's a good fit to get to where they feel he should be.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas (center) talks to Blues teammates Brayden Schenn (left)
and Justin Faulk during the opening of training camp Thursday.

"Year by year, I think you just feel more comfortable and confident," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "I think he's going to have a big year for us. We need him to have a big year. As far as being in camp, I think that's important. It wears on a guy when you're not signed and you're missing camp. It gets you thinking a lot. It's important that they got a deal done and he's here for Day 1 and I think he's happy to be here for Day 1 and being a part of it right from the get-go."

So where can Thomas get to? Where can his game go to get to a level he feels is suitable for his stance currently in the league?

"You know what, that's a good question," Thomas said. "I've got a lot of confidence in myself and a lot of belief. I think the sky's the limit. Now it's just up to me to go out there and prove it. I can believe in myself and trust myself and have confidence in myself. It's just up to me to go prove it and take advantage of every opportunity I'm given."


Tarasenko likes Blues roster, teammates say he's welcome in locker room 
after trade request; Blues looking to make changes on D; Neal, Frolik get looks

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Through all the trade questions, finally addressing what's been the elephant in the room since it was disclosed by Doug Armstrong on July 22 that Vladimir Tarasenko, through his agent Paul Theofanous, requested to be dealt by the Blues elsewhere, Tarasenko -- for the time being -- remains in St. Louis.

And on the first day of training camp Thursday, Tarasenko was asked to assess the Blues this season -- with him on the roster and in the lineup.

"On paper, it's a very good roster," Tarasenko said. "We have good players, a lot of experienced players. We won two years ago, but it's behind so I think it's time to kind of forget about it. We still have a lot of guys from that team, so we have winning mentality here. 
Obviously last couple years wasn't great as we want, but this is (a) new year. We always have the same goal and everybody ready to work."

Including Tarasenko?

"I have a lot of pride in my name," Tarasenko said. "... At first I will play for team and play for my name. I receive a lot of support but I also receive a lot of bad messages and articles. I have a big motivation to prove it wrong and this is it."

It's the big focal point on the first day of camp as the Blues, two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, look to take strides of getting back into the upper echelon of the NHL after two straight years of first-round playoff exits following their first-ever championship.

And with Tarasenko, for now, still in the fold with no trade suiting the Blues' purposes, his teammates -- on the surface -- are OK with him still being part of the plans.

"I'm not surprised at all. He's been here for three months now, and as far as we're looking at it as players, Vladi is a part of our team, he's a part of our locker room, he's welcomed into our locker room," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "That's something between him and Doug and the organization and as players we don't get involved. Trade requests happen and happen all the time throughout the league. So, he's been a good player for us for a long time, was a huge part of winning a Stanley Cup and it's something you don't forget. So, as long as he's in our locker room, he's a big piece for our team and a big part of it."

Which is why, at least Thursday, there was no awkwardness in seeing Tarasenko on the ice.

"No, not at all," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "He's been here for a long time, he's been a leader here for a long time and he's probably been here for at least a month skating with us. So not awkward at all. He's been a big part of this team, a big part of this organization. So we're looking forward to obviously having him and looking forward to getting the season going with him in the lineup."

Of course it's natural for conversations to happen, and Tarasenko has been in contact with his teammates throughout his time here and since he came back from an off-season spent in Miami.

"We talk to him every day," Schenn said. "But Vladi is a good player. He's going to be ready to start the season. He's a pro. He's going to do what it takes to be prepared and have a good season, so I think Vladi is going to have a big year and get back to scoring goals and doing what he's capable of. So we feel in our locker room he's ready to be a big piece for this team."

And that talk with the captain ... 

"I think it's very good," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "I think it's very positive talking to him. He's here and he's committed to that. Just watching him in practice right now and the way he's working, he's invested in it. Obviously there's a lot of unknowns, but we've gotten along fine and I think we will continue to do so. I think everything's looking great."

There's still the question of being fully invested in this group and being 100 percent on board, which Tarasenko said he's on board with despite his wishes of May 25.

"You only can show you can play hard by playing hard," Tarasenko said. "... I'm here to talk about the team and work hard, this is it."

And on we go.

* Defensive changes -- The Blues weren't happy with their defensive standing last season and are addressing it right out of the gates.

They were 19th in the NHL in goals allowed last season at 2.98, which was their worst ranking since allowing 3.02 goals per game in 2006-07. They were outscored 20-7 in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in the first round last season in the playoffs.

"We were a little bit soft at our net last year," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We've got to tighten that up and be a lot harder there and just have better coverage there in front of our net, certain areas like that. More than anything, the net-front was a big thing that we need to tighten up and be better at."

Having a healthy Parayko, who missed 21 games with a back injury that hampered him throughout much of last season, will certainly help, but a different defensive structure would certainly benefit the whole group.

"Just make sure that we continue to build," Parayko said. "I think it's going to be, as a group, we've got to stay connected and be a connection of five guys on the ice, six including the goalie obviously. It starts in the o-zone, I think. Our best defense is our offense when we're holding onto pucks down low and things like that and then just coming out of the o-zone, we're tight as d-men, circling pucks and the forwards are coming hard; they always have been. Obviously d-zone's going to be a big thing.

"We're changing a couple things in d-zone that we worked on today a little bit and we're working on in camp. As we continue to build on that, it's going to be good. I think just being net-front, just being hard on guys in front, just a combination of things that makes a good d-corps good."

* So long, my friend -- For t he first time since he was acquired in 2017, Schenn will be without one of his close friends and fellow Saskatchewans.

When Jaden Schwartz left via free agency to sign a five-year contract with the Seattle Kraken, it broke up one of the Blues' most consistent, hard-working pairs they utilized.

"It's obviously a little bit different," Schenn said. "Just seeing 'Schwartzy' around the locker room, his life and personality and lots of laughs, but at the end of the day, it's a business. I think he needed a change of scenery and just talking about me personally, I'm happy for him to getting a fresh start in Seattle. Maybe sometimes change is good when you've been in a certain organization for 10 years. He won a Cup here and all that, but he had his right to go to free agency and then he took it. I don't think there's any hard feelings on either side of him signing elsewhere."

* Sundqvist, Bolduc skate -- Blues center Oskar Sundqvist and 2021 first-round draft pick Zack Bolduc were on the ice for the first day Thursday.

Sundqvist is recovering from a torn ACL and will likely start the season on long-term injured-reserve, meaning he will miss 10 games or 24 days, while Bolduc skated after missing the Traverse City Prospects Tournament with a lower-body injury.

Sundqvist took some line rushes and non-contact drills before departing.

"Some of the drills, he can do, especially early on in practice, more flow stuff and things like that but once you get into the battle situations and stuff like that, he's not ready for that yet and he leaves," Berube said of Sundqvist.

* Kostin, Neighbours get good looks -- There's a good sense of where some of the veterans will line up when the season begins and where they will play, but for 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin and 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours, they're getting good looks with some prominent top-six forwards.

Kostin skated on a line at left wing with O'Reilly and Jordan Kyrou, while Neighbours skated at left wing with Schenn and newcomer Pavel Buchnevich.

"I've got some young guys playing with some veteran guys for sure," Berube said. "I want young guys to feel comfortable so you put them with some veteran guys. That's going to help them and help the kids feel comfortable. There wasn't a whole lot of thought going into some of the lines, but I wanted to see (Robert) Thomas and Tarasenko together. I thought (Brandon) Saad would be a good fit there. He's a big guy and goes to the net. That's some of the thought process there. We'll see how it goes. it's just the first couple days and then we've got a game on Saturday."

* Neal, Frolik debut at practice -- Veteran forwards James Neal and Michael Frolik, both at camp after signing professional tryout contracts, also skated with the team and made their first impressions.

Neal, 34, a veteran who's played with the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, skated with David Perron and Tyler Bozak, while Frolik, 33, who last played with the Montreal Canadiens last season but has also played with the Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Flames and Buffalo Sabres, are trying to get themselves noticed, if not for the Blues, then for someone else.

"Both of them have a lot of games in the league obviously," Berube said. "They've played a long time, they're good veterans. They're different players for sure. They both came in great shape. That's a huge start in my opinion. I thought they both looked good on the first day. We're going to see how it plays out in the exhibition games and see how they look and where they fit in. A lot of conversations with our GM, Doug Armstrong, with that stuff and the management group and the coaching staff. They're like anybody else, they're here to compete and compete for jobs and we'll see how it goes."