Monday, October 4, 2021


Opening night roster starting to shape into form; Neighbours, Perunovich could 
affect what Blues decide to do; Perron mum on extension; Kostin OK after injury

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- As the Blues begin their final week of training camp that include preseason games, there's a sense of what a potential opening night roster and perhaps lineup will shape out to look like.

Monday's practice still included two groups, but line combinations and defensive pairs started to take some form of shape of what the coaching staff and management could be looking at with these final three preseason games in preparation for the Oct. 16 opener at Colorado.

Monday's forward lines and defensive pairings from the first group included:

Jake Neighbours-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Jordan Kyrou-Brayden Schenn-Pavel Buchnevich

Brandon Saad-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dakota Joshua-Logan Brown-Klim Kostin

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko

Niko Mikkola-Scott Perunovich

Of course the second group included Tyler Bozak, Ivan Barbashev, Robert Bortuzzo, Jake Walman, Kyle Clifford, Mackenzie MacEachern and PTO's James Neal and Michael Frolik, so anything is still possible, but with camp days dwindling down and the countdown on to the opening of the regular season, decisions are looming. Oskar Sundqvist, who will start the season on long-term injured-reserve rehabbing his torn ACL, is also skating.

"I think this year's tougher," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I think obviously some tough decisions that are going to have to be made.

"We're going to be facing good lineups on the other side (this week). We're looking for competitive hockey, good team hockey, good team play within our structure and just keep working on our game. But the intensity level's probably going to be a lot higher than it has been in the previous exhibition games."

It means goalies will start playing full games as opposed to splitting time or playing a couple periods or one period the first five exhibition games. Parayko even indicated that he and Scandella could play a couple preseason games together, indicating there is a good chance they start the season together.

"It's starting to kind of shape up a little more obviously," Parayko said. "The team kind of coming down getting closer to the team and these last three preseason games are going to be important for us to kind of find our game, getting into game shape and hit the regular season running on a good note."

Veteran players, or guys who know they're a lock for the team, they're using the end of camp here to hone in on what they feel are the necessary steps to get them ready for the season.

"You try to get down to your details of your game as a group and also individually it makes you play good hockey," Perron said. "And for guys like O'Ry and I, we really need that tight-checking, that type of stuff. That's when we thrive, that's when we go in the o-zone and we make those little plays and we score. It's tough to find that same level in preseason, but you're still trying to push for that level and we're excited for whenever we play next."

Some of the guys will increase their minutes to get them up to speed to the minutes they will play once the season opens.

"I think so, continue to focus on how it's going to be more game-like in different situations that we're going to be in throughout the season here," said Parayko, who is also recovering from a back issue that bothered him throughout last season but feels good in camp. "Obviously early on, it's a little different, but now that we're kind of getting down to where we want to dial it in for the last three, make sure we find our spots. Just being put in different game situations is important when you get more used to it, you get more confident, and that's what you want going into the season.

"I just think working on the little things. We've changed a few things in our systems that you just want to continue to work on, but I think the biggest thing is going through different reads, getting put in different game situations, things like that. I think it is kind of the best thing about what preseason is, just seeing the ice differently, just seeing different situations and go from there."

* Neighbours could see extended stay -- The wildcard in all the roster dominoes will be Neighbours, the 26th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, who's had a fantastic camp thus far.
Neighbours has a goal and two assists (all against Chicago on Oct. 1) in three preseason games and has been playing on top six lines throughout camp.

He and defenseman Scott Perunovich have shown the most upside of all those wanting to debut in the NHL this season.

"I never say surprised," Berube said. "These are good players. We know that. We knew coming into camp that they were good players so I don't really get surprised, but they've been impressive."

The Blues could keep Neighbours in the NHL for as long as it takes for him to play nine games, then decide if they sent him back to juniors or keep him in the NHL. 

Neighbours skating with O'Reilly and Perron on Monday was a first.

"He's done a lot of good stuff," Perron said of Neighbours. "Also how he is off the ice, I think he's a really good guy. He's kind of listening to everything. He's working hard in practice. I think he's got some poise with the puck. He obviously's made some ... I haven't really seen him to be honest much. Because of games, I think one of them was on the road, but he had three points. I'm guessing he had a really good game. As a young guy, it gives you confidence. As the roster narrows down. I remember myself being 19. You're not too sure how camp is working and stuff like that, but you have older guys telling you like, 'Hey, if you're still around at this time, maybe they're starting to look at you.' It's a great opportunity for him."

* Bolduc debuts for junior team -- Zack Bolduc, the 17th pick in this year's draft, was returned to his junior team, the Quebec Ramparts, of the Canadian Hockey League, on Sunday, after earning an assist in his only preseason game with the Blues against the Blackhawks on Oct. 1. 

Bolduc, 18, who had an assist in the 6-3 win at Chicago, didn't miss a beat in the CHL and had a three-point game (two goals, one assist) in a 5-3 win against his former team, Oceanic Rimouski.

"I think he's pretty confident," said Perron, a fellow French-Canadian. "I think I saw he came back yesterday to junior and he had three points already. I think he's going to tear it up pretty good there. I think it was a great experience for him to come. 

"I didn't see the game he played (Friday in Chicago), but I know he was really excited. He was worried with the injury he had if he was going to be able to get the experience of at least getting in one game before going back. I think it's important for those guys to see what level it is. It's something I talked to him about for next year already. Does he want to come in early? I will have to anyway. I guess I got one year left, I will have to if I'm still here with the kids starting school early, if he wants to come to my house or something like that along those lines, but I was very impressed with him. I think it's something that would be very important to come here early and and get guys to be used to him and things like that. He's done a lot of good things."

* Perron's contract status -- Speaking of "if I'm still here," Perron was asked about his contract status and if there have been talks with Doug Armstrong about an extension beyond 2021-22, the final year of a four-year, $16 million contract he signed in 2018. 

"Next question," Perron said, not wanting to address it.

Even though Perron, 34, has one year remaining, one would think the Blues would entertain bringing the 15-year veteran back since he continues to play at a high level.

And on the funnier side of Perron, going back to last week's joke of his collision with Berube to someone drawing up a crime scene with cones on the practice ice, Perron said he didn't have anything to do with the artistic rendering.

"I absolutely buried Chief, but I did not do that drawing on the ice," Perron joked. "I'm not sure if I found out who did it, but I'm also going to say next question to this I guess. It was just funny. 

"Chief, we all know obviously he's a big boy. That's not someone, like, the Roman Polak Door, same type of thing, you don't want to open his door. I actually am surprised I was able to put him back. I'm sure if he stood his ground, I would probably be the guy that was going to go the other way. We made a joke out of it. It was pretty funny. He takes that stuff pretty well. He was chirping me on the ice today. We did like the same drill or very similar and he said, 'Hey, I'm going to be in that corner, so if you come to me this time ... ' you know, like joking about it. He's good with that."

Berube said his fighting days are over, but Perron is not so sure. He was asked if he could take the 'Chief.'

"Absolutely not. No," Perron said. "Even if he decides to do it in 10 years, if he gets going, he could be a scary guy."

* Kostin OK -- Kostin returned to practice two days after leaving Saturday's 5-1 exhibition loss against the Blackhawks in Independence, Mo. after the first period with an upper-body injury.

Berube said his removal from the game was more precautionary.

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