Friday, September 24, 2021


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."

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