Saturday, October 15, 2022

Blues third line has ability to change games

Even when numbers say they're not at their best, Schenn, Barbashev, 
Neighbours changed course of season opener in 5-2 win over Columbus

ST. LOUIS -- The analytics, for those that live and die by the numbers, didn't read particularly well for Brayden Schenn, Ivan Barbashev and Jake Neighbours.

Their corsi number read four shots for and 10 against, for a 28.57 rating.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Jake Neighbours (middle) is all smiles after scoring and celebrating with
teammates Ivan Barbashev (left) and Brayden Schenn on Saturday.

Not exactly beaming with dominance.

But for all the talk of how effective the Blues' top two lines can be, that third line, should it stay together, can change a game on a dime no matter how things are going.

Barbashev and Neighbours provided the goals that changed a game in the balance, scoring twice in 20 seconds in the third period to break a tie and send the Blues to a season-opening 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night in front of 18,096 at Enterprise Center.

What people tend to forget is that a third line, normally an energy-type line a coaching staff implements, also has the ability with the right players to be game-changers.

Last season alone, Barbashev was a 60-point player (26 goals, 34 assists) and Schenn had 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in just 62 games. And with the young buck Neighbours, whose motor is always in high octane mode, it can do things and get favorable matchups the coaches can certainly take advantage of.

"They have the ability to score, but they're a good identity line for us with work, physicality, doing all that kind of stuff," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "They can change a game when needed, change momentum of a game.

"They were fine. Obviously got us a couple big goals on the third period, but they're just a hard-working line, their forecheck's hard that just goes north. They didn't have a lot going on early on, but their work ethic and hard work paid off in the third."

All it takes is seconds, and the Blues are capable of striking, much like Barbashev and Neighbours did when they scored 20 seconds apart to make a 2-2 game into a 4-2 Blues lead.

"It's huge. You could tell with the emotion on the bench and in the building, it was a big one," Neighbours said. "Obviously with the flat second (period) we were eager to get out to a good start in the third. It was a great play, a good finish by 'Barby' and got the guys going."

"... The building still had so much energy. Everybody was still kind of on their feet. 'Barby' got right back to it, got on the forecheck there, created a turnover, and it was just kind of a hard working play by my line, and the D and everybody on the ice. It was a high-energy moment, getting two back to back there."

There's so much made of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko and Brandon Saad, Ryan O'Reilly and Jordan Kyrou and rightfully so. That set of lines has great capabilities and can be game-changers themselves. But imagine having the ability to affect the game the way Schenn, Barbashev and Neighbours can with the favorable matchups they'll get.

That line combined for four points tonight, with Schenn picking up two assists, but even at less than their best, they changed the game in a positive way.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ivan Barbashev is all smiles and celebrates with teammate Torey Krug (47)
after scoring in a 5-2 season-opening win over Columbus Saturday.

"'Schenner' and 'Barby' are two pretty elite players in this league," Neighbours said. "Their offensive talent is swept under the rug a little bit. They're two very talented players and can provide a lot of offense for this team, especially in a third-line role. My job is just to chip in when I can. I think at the same time we're reliable and physical and hard to play against. It's fun playing with those two and hopefully we keep it rolling."

Neighbours scored his second NHL goal, and put a stamp on what was a challenging opener.

"We started to play in the third period, just the way we wanted. We had to," Barbashev said. "If we’re going to play like this, it’s going to be a good season.

"I haven’t played a lot of games with (Neighbours) to be honest, especially with this preseason. I think it’s only our second game together. But he’s a really smart player. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He plays it simple, and it’s really simple to play with him. He’s been great whole camp and I hope he’s just going to keep improving."

(10-15-22) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Time to drop the puck -- finally.

For the Blues, it's been too long, long enough for them to be the last of the 32 teams in the league to play their season opener.

That will all change today at 7 p.m. (BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM) when the Blues open the 2022-23 season at Enterprise Center against the Columbus Blue Jackets (0-2-0).

"Everybody's ready," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It seems like we're the only team that hasn't played, but guys are excited and ready to roll.

"... You're off in the summer for a while, that gets boring. Not boring but you want to get back to doing what you do for a living as a player or a coach, or anything, management. We're always excited for the season. The start of the season, it's a great opportunity to see what your team can do and how they look. You're shooting for a goal."

The Blues made minimal changes, most notably the missing include David Perron and Ville Husso, each which has moved on to Detroit now, but the lineup remains relatively the same with a few exceptions.

Many of those that remain the same include veteran skaters that still get excited about opening night.

"Oh yeah, it's an honor and a pleasure to play in the NHL," center Brayden Schenn said. "Time goes by fast and you look forward to the start of every year. You work hard all summer in order to get ready and feel as good as possible and feel better than in the previous year. You're looking to find ways to make yourself better in the summer time. Opening night and the start of the season is when you have to try and show it."

Ready or not -- and they better be ready -- the Blues feel like they're prepared.

"I think we're ready," center Robert Thomas said. "I think we did a lot in the preseason to kind of ramp it up. I think in our team bonding trip (to Charleston, South Carolina earlier in the week) went really well. Everyone's pretty close and just ready to play for each other.
"We're out there getting that itch a little bit, but it's still been fun watching other games. It's been a while since the last game. Games are the most fun. Everyone's excited to not practice as much and play more games."

- - -

Forward Alexey Toropchenko has been confirmed to open the season in the lineup. 

That had been the going trend after Friday's practice session when the 23-year-old declared himself good to go, but Berube wanted to get through the day first before making any confirmation himself.

"He's good to go," Berube said. "We're excited, he's excited. He's a good player for us. I thought he brought a lot last year to our team and in the playoffs. We're really excited that he's early, going to play. 

"I think he's a smart player, which he's got really good hockey sense, which goes a long way. We all know his skating ability and his size, and when you put the hockey sense in there, he's a good player."

Toropchenko, who had shoulder surgery June 13, is two months ahead of the projected timeline of mid-December when the Blues felt like he could return, a remarkable turn of events.

"I've been here since July 10th, but since I had surgery June 13th and pretty much like two weeks of a little vacation and pretty much that's it," Toropchenko said. "Been here all summer working with (strength and conditioning coach) Ryan Podell and doctors."

Toropchenko will skate with Noel Acciari and Nathan Walker, a line Berube said has the capabilities of being tenacious, hard-nosed and checking.

"I think so," Walker said. "That's pretty much down to a tee of how we want to play and how we need to play in order for the team to be successful on that line. I think those three things are definitely part of our identity as that line.

"(Toropchenko's) done great. I always say he was built in a lab, but he's done really good. He's worked hard through his rehab. It's great to see him back again."

- - -

Forward Logan Brown, who has an upper-body injury, was not on the ice again Saturday. He has been dealing with the injury since Oct. 1, a 5-2 preseason loss against the Dallas Stars in Independence, Mo. after putting together a solid training camp.

"He had a great start to camp and it's an unfortunate injury," Berube said. "But he'll be back. He's just got to heal up. We'll get him on the ice as soon as we can and get him working again and get him back up to speed."

Asked if time is all Brown needs, Berube said, "Yes, that's all it is. It's nothing more than that."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Pavel Bucnnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Ivan Barbashev 

Alexey Toropchenko-Noel Acciari-Nathan Walker 

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Thomas Greiss will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Calle Rosen and Josh Leivo. Marco Scandella (hip) is on injured-reserve, Scott Perunovich (shoulder) is on long-term injured-reserve and Logan Brown (upper body) is out.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Boone Jenner-Justin Danforth

Yegor Chinakhov-Jack Roslovic-Jakub Voracek

Gustav Nyquist-Cole Sillinger-Kent Johnson

Eric Robinson-Sean Kuraly-Mathieu Olivier

Zach Werenski-Adam Boqvist

Vladislav Gavrikov-Andrew Peeke

Jake Bean-Erik Gudbranson

Elvis Merzlikins could start in goal; Daniil Tarasov would be the backup.

Healthy scratches could include Liam Foudy and Nick Blankenburg. Patrik Laine (elbow) is out 3-4 weeks and Joonas Korpisalo (hip) is out.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Toropchenko likely to play Saturday in season-opener

Forward was expected to be sidelined until mid-December following 
offseason shoulder surgery, rehab has done better than expected

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The remarkable run of Alexey Toropchenko appears to have parlayed into an opening night assignment.

And that's two months ahead schedule to boot.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Alexey Toropchenko (right) shoots a puck last year in the
first round of the playoffs against Matt Dumba and the Minnesota Wild.

He even made it known after practice Friday just how he feels.

"Incredible," the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Moscow, Russia native said.

Why? Because it appears that Toropchenko will make his season debut in the season-opener on Saturday when the Blues kick off the 2022-23 season against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Enterprise Center (7 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Toropchenko, 23, had offseason shoulder surgery on June 13, and when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced the injury/surgery on July 2, he projected Toropchenko to be on a 4-5 month timeline, sidelining the forward until mid-December.

But Toropchenko was on the ice, as has been the case for weeks, playing left wing on a line with center Noel Acciari and right wing Nathan Walker, doing all the battle drills and preparation as if he was going to be a player.

"Yep, 100 percent," Toropchenko proclaimed. "Excited, feels strong, healthy, ready to go."

The Blues have been diligent, yet deliberate with Toropchenko's rehabilitation, but through hard work with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Podell and the training staff and the advice from team doctors, the progression has gone better than expected.

"Yes, of course, hard work all summer," Toropchenko said. "You can see where I'm at right now. Way ahead of schedule and I'm ready to go. 

"I'm very excited that my body heals so fast, probably because I probably put a lot of work into it. I am very excited to play tomorrow night."

The coaching staff, including coach Craig Berube, hasn't made the final decision yet but the signs point to a season debut on Saturday.

"We'll make a decision tomorrow," Berube said. "Check out, see how he did today. He looks ready, he's skating extremely well and he's strong. We'll just see tomorrow."

Toropchenko has been skating regularly since the start of training camp, just three months removed from surgery on June 13. But it wasn't until a practice session 3-4 weeks ago with teammate Brayden Schenn that Toropchenko felt like this day could be possible.

"Probably more confidence gave me (was) Schenner when we did (a) drill 1-on-1 in the corner, he asked me, 'Can I push you?' I said, 'One-hundred percent, go right after me,'" Toropchenko said. "It pretty much gave me a lot of confidence about my shoulder. That was a point when I start thinking that I would be ready soon."

More recently, it was assistant coach Steve Ott that was providing the pushing and prodding, but don't think for a second Schenn went light on the second-year NHL pro.

"No, and he's not easy to move around either," Schenn said. "He's a big, strong kid. He's one of those guys, 6-5 or whatever he is, 220, and strong. It was just one of those battle drills where we weren't playing on a day. Nice to see that he worked extremely hard to get himself back earlier.

"It was just out of courtesy, he had the same color jersey on and I wanted to know if I could push him around and he got clearance or whatever and I've got to hand it to him, he put a lot of work in. He's a big, strong boy. He does extra in the gym, takes care of himself and I showed up to the rink this morning and asked if he's playing and he said yeah. I was shocked actually because I never had asked the status of it the whole time. He's a huge piece to our team. He's a north-south type of guy, big body, physical. We need players like that."

Toropchenko, who had two goals in 28 regular-season games last season and two assists in 12 playoff games, brings am element the Blues will find plenty useful on the fourth line.

"He's a great skater," Berube said. "He pressures the puck everywhere and is a good forechecker, big guy obviously. He can penalty-kill, check. He's got good details to his game, but when you see a guy like him out there, a team really feeds off his energy and his forechecking and his skating and his work ethic. It goes a long way.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Alexey Toropchenko (left) celebrates a goal with Jordan Kyrou during the
Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, is expected to play in Saturday's opener.

"It's hard work. He spent the whole summer here pretty much and worked. He's got a great work ethic. That's part of it. That's why he recovered so quickly I'm sure that he put the time in."

"You just know what you're going to get from him every single night," Schenn said. "The style that he plays, I'm sure that's why the coaching staff loves him. He's consistent with what his game is. It's north-south, chipping pucks in, he's hard in the forecheck creating energy like that. When he has the puck, he can take it wide, take it to the net too. He's come a long way probably in two years I'm assuming. He's a huge piece to our team."

And Toropchenko made one declaration that he wants the fans to understand, something he's already instilled in them through his style of play.

"I promise I will put (in) like 100 percent always," he said "... I just try and (put my) head down and just working. I didn't think too much actually (about the surgery). I just tried to do everything right and follow what doctors said and be smart with it."

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Blues unveil 23-man roster to begin regular season

Roster includes pair of defensemen who could miss most, if not entire 
regular season; Neighbours, Leivo assigned to Springfield to be cap-compliant

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues unveiled their 2022-23 season-opening roster on Monday, having to get it set at the 23-man limit and doing so with a little maneuvering.

The roster currently has 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies, along with injured defensemen Marco Scandella (hip) and Scott Perunovich (shoulder), who will miss the majority, if not the entire regular season, with long-term injuries.

The 23-man roster doesn't include forwards Jake Neighbours and Josh Leivo, who each was assigned to Springfield of the American Hockey League in order to be cap-compliant of the $82.5 million ceiling.

Their transactions was merely a paper transaction and those players will more than likely be recalled back to the Blues prior to their season starting, which is Saturday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, after the team places Scandella and Perunovich on injured-reserve, whether it be long term or not.

And Alexey Toropchenko, who had offseason shoulder surgery whose prognosis was determined to keep the forward out until mid-December, isn't projected to begin the season ready to play and it could promote 2019 second-round pick Nikita Alexandrov, who was assigned to the Thunderbirds on Saturday after impressing the coaches throughout training camp.

Without further ado, here is the 23-man season-opening roster:

Forwards (12): Noel Acciari, Ivan Barbashev, Logan Brown, Pavel Buchnevich, Jordan Kyrou, Ryan O'Reilly, Brandon Saad, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Alexey Toropchenko, Nathan Walker.

Defense (7): Robert Bortuzzo, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy, Niko Mikkola, Colton Parayko, Calle Rosen.

Goalies (2): Jordan Binnington, Thomas Greiss.

Injured (2): Scott Perunovich, Marco Scandella.

Monday, October 10, 2022

As time passed, Kostin trade seemed more and more likely

Commentary by Lou Korac

With each passing day and as potential skaters in search for a job in a crowded lineup for the Blues continued to pass him on the depth chart, Klim Kostin's days in St. Louis slowly became numbered.

On Sunday, that number came to a head when the 2017 first-round pick was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for defensive prospect Dmitri Samorukov, a third-round selection by the Oilers in the same draft class.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Klim Kostin (37) scores against the Minnesota Wild in a preseason game
last week. Kostin was traded Sunday to the Edmonton Oilers.

Call it a trade of giving each 23-year-old a fresh start, and all the signs point to that very thought, but let's look at it from a Blues perspective before we take a look at the defenseman the Blues acquired.

I remember when the Blues drafted Kostin in Chicago, first acquiring the pick along with Oskar Sundqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Ryan Reaves, and I kept thinking to myself who the Blues could potentially get as a terrific value after selecting Robert Thomas with the 20th pick. I remember the great Bob McKenzie talking at the time about who remained on the board for teams to select as the first round was winding down, and I remember distinctly him talking about Kostin and how he could be a steal for someone because had it not been for a shoulder injury Kostin suffered earlier in the year while playing in Russia, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward would have gone much earlier in the first round, potentially as a top-10 pick or close.

The Blues were able to get Kostin at No. 31, the final pick of the first round, and the timeline for the project was on.

The Blues were slowly able to nurture Kostin, ingratiating him into the North American style of hockey, first at San Antonio of the American Hockey League as an 18-year-old in a foreign country for two seasons. 

Kostin got his first taste of the NHL in November of 2019 as a brief call-up for four games and scored his first NHL goal against the Nashville Predators Nov. 23, 2019, but his stay was brief and the development continued in the AHL.

He had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 games in his first season with the Rampage in 2017-18; not bad by all accounts but not great either. We have to take into account that he's young and raw and that the Blues could and were willing to be patient with the progression.
There would be two more seasons in San Antonio, combined with two years of representing Russia at the World Juniors in 2017 and 2018, but the Blues were prepared to be as patient as they could until they felt like the player could one day be ready for full time NHL duty.

Kostin's third and final season in San Antonio gained some traction with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 48 regular-season games, but then COVID-19 played havoc on not only his life but the world's, but for Kostin's in particular, he spent 2020-21 in Russia playing in the KHL for Avangard Omsk, winning a Gagarin Cup, Russia's version of the Stanley Cup.

Kostin finally got his real shot at making the NHL roster last season, and he did so out of training camp, playing in 40 games in St. Louis, but after scoring two goals in his season debut Oct. 18 at Arizona, he would finish with nine points (four goals, five assists) and not really making much of an impact the way the Blues wanted or needed.

Coach Craig Berube would address Kostin's progression and play when asked, and the common theme was that the Blues needed him to play a north-south game, use his big body to hold onto and protect pucks and park his rear end in front of the net and develop as a power forward.

Unfortunately, there was too much zig and zag and not enough straight line play, and eventually, the Blues would assign Kostin to Springfield of the AHL last season, never to see the NHL last year again.

It was almost a sign as the beginning of the end then, and even though Kostin went up to Massachusetts and was part of the Thunderbirds' run to the Calder Cup Final, it was pretty clear even at the time that at 22 going into age 23, Kostin's make-or-break career with the Blues would be this year.

The Blues would give Kostin a one-year, $750,000 one-way contract, a sign that they were ready to say this is it, show yourself or there are others that will.

Well, Jake Neighbours (first round, 2020) came along, Zachary Bolduc (first round, 2021) came along, even though he has since been returned to his junior team in Quebec this season; Alexey Toropchenko came along, and heck, now even Nikita Alexandrov (second round, 2019) came along, players within the system that were drafted that certainly have made respective marks within the organization.

But as training camp was moving along, I asked Berube recently about Kostin's play and his remarks were telling.

"He's got to do more," Berube said. "He's got to show us a little bit more, he's got to get engaged more in the games. I'm not seeing enough yet."

In other words, "your time is running out kid. Either show us something quickly, or perhaps it's time to cut the cord."

And that cord was finally cut on Sunday, two days after the Blues put Kostin on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to Springfield.

There's no doubt Kostin has ability; I've seen it. There's raw talent there, but until he realized he's not Connor McDavid, who he may very well share a sheet of ice with, then being an every day NHL player is going to be a long shot. 

I've seen Kostin have moments, such as one recently in a preseason game against Minnesota in which he used his physical presence to lay a good, hard, clean hit that resulted in an end-of-period scrum, and he would go on to score a nice close range goal later on. And you say to yourself that this kid can play like this consistently but doesn't. He's got solid hands, a long reach and a strong body; use it to your advantage.

Instead, he almost tried to play like Jordan Kyrou instead, and that wasn't going to work, and the Blues finally feel like their time invested was not going to pay off.

As for Samorukov, he's also 23, and probably in need of a change.

Reporters in Edmonton say that the 6-3, 188-pound left-handed shot was behind a glutton of defensemen and that cracking the NHL roster would have been tough.
(Edmonton Oilers file photo)
The Blues are hoping defenseman Dmitri Samorukov can develop
with a change of scenery after being traded to St. Louis on Sunday.

Perhaps there's a chance of scenery that will do a player good, too, and with the Blues' left-handed d-men depth dwindling with Marco Scandella (right hip joint) and Scott Perunovich (shoulder) down for most, if not all of the season, Samorukov will get the opportunity to grow.

Coincidentally, his NHL debut came against the Blues last season on Dec. 29, 2021 and he played in just four first-period shifts and was a minus-2; one of them thanks to Kyrou's quick hitch-and-go before scoring in the first period:

I think in the end, each team got what it wanted. The Oilers will not give Kostin an opportunity to grow within their organization, and the Blues will give Samorukov the chance to ascend up the chain. 

Right now it's not one of those trades you grade in the spur of the moment but more down the line. Right now, it's a win-win for each side. It's just too bad Kostin didn't develop that power forward mentality, because his style could have suited the Blues well for many, many years. Maybe something will click in the Oilers organization, because the Blues have spent a lot of, quite frankly more than enough, time and energy with his development.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Alexandrov wanted, needed to prove himself, will parlay it into NHL job

2019 second-round pick wasn't on the radar initially, forward 
earned himself job when many didn't give him chance to crack lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jobs were already scarce when it came for the Blues this season. Nikita Alexandrov didn't care.
Nikita Alexandrov

The 2019 second round pick flew in under the radar this year in training camp, nobody ready to put him in the conversation to win a job out of training camp.

But there he was, playing with the rest of the varsity lineup, the final tuneup for the regular season Saturday afternoon in a 6-0 blitzing of the Chicago Blackhawks at Enterprise Center.

Alexandrov, who played left wing on a line with Noel Acciari and Nathan Walker, was up against it. Did anyone really think he could be on the radar coming out of training camp?

Well, probably nobody outside of the locker room walls. But somewhere along the line, the 6-foot-1, 177-pound forward served notice to the right people. Management took notice and the coaching staff took notice.

"He caught my eye in Traverse City for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I thought he had a good tournament there and was very noticeable, physical player, takes the body. His details jump out to me."

And there you have it. When the head coach takes notice, that's all that matters, and Alexandrov, who scored his second preseason again on a redirection of a Robert Bortuzzo wrist shot/pass in the first period, made sure his name was right in the mix.

"I think just my 200-foot game. I want to be an all-around player. I want to be good defensively and offensively. I put the work in for that. I'm trying to do the little things right and everything's going to come. I thought I was more confident this camp. I gained some weight, felt stronger and that helped me a lot.

"I think that's my second real main camp, so I kind of wanted to put some noise in and my time will come soon. I just had to be ready for that."

Has Alexandrov benefited from Alexey Toropchenko not being available right away due to injury and maybe the recent injury to Logan Brown? Perhaps. But opportunity knocked, and Alexandrov, who had 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 67 regular-season games with Springfield of the American Hockey League last season, pounced when others didn't.

"I'm impressed by his details," Berube said of Alexandrov. "Smart guy, in right positions, checks, does the right things, makes good puck plays. Now, he has growing to do but he's had a real good camp."

When guys like Klim Kostin, Matthew Highmore and Martin Frk (injury), fighting for jobs in camp but didn't make the initial cut -- each went on waivers Friday and assigned to Springfield on Saturday, Alexandrov decided that he would thrust himself up the ladder.

"I think it’s (his) compete level," defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s tenacious on the puck. I think as a staff, they really appreciate being hard on the puck. They don’t want you to murder guys, but he plays with a bite and an intensity. He competes and he’s done that all camp. He’s made his way to the end, played in the last game, which I’m sure is exciting for him. I thought he was really solid tonight, played with good poise along the walls and that’s a good sign for a young guy when they have a lot of poise coming out of your end and can make plays in that direction."

There's going to come a time -- and soon -- when Toropchenko and Brown return, and it could end Alexandrov's stint with the big club. Or it may not. It'll be up to the 22-year-old to maintain his status with the club, but the Blues know they have a player ready, winning and most importantly, able to perform at this level.

"He’s earned that right to be here," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "He’s a phenomenal player. Watching him in the preseason, he’s extremely smart. Reads the game very well, makes smart plays, good decisions at the right time. That’s the mature thing to do. So he’s earned it, and again there’s a lot depth in this organization and he’s a very good player.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Nikita Alexandrov (left) scores a goal in a preseason game in Chicago
against the Blackhawks on Sept. 27.

"I thought last training camp, got to see him a bit, too. And I was really impressed with him. And then again first preseason game watching him – just little things that he does. Yeah, it’s definitely impressive."

That's why Alexandrov came into training camp with an open mind. Stand side by side with the rest of the players at the start and try to get ahead of the pack, which he has done.

"Come in here, obviously try to do my best to my best here, work hard here and see where it goes," Alexandrov said. "Just come into camp, I didn't really have a lot of expectations. I know I just had to get in there and make some noise and work hard. That's what happened.

"At the beginning, they already told me how to play here, so I was just trying to build into that with my game and my skill set. It worked pretty well this preseason."

Alexandrov was assigned to Springfield after the game Saturday in what was likely a paper move, since he is waiver-exempt, for injured defenseman Marco Scandella, who will likely go on long-term injured reserve after the opening night roster is turned in.

Friday, October 7, 2022


Alexandrov could be surprise out of training camp to crack opening night 
roster; Kostin among players put on waivers; Rosen in as seventh defenseman

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- For those that have followed and covered the Blues felt like the inevitable was unfolding as training camps winds down.

The Blues will play their eighth and final preseason game Saturday at 2 p.m. when they host the Chicago Blackhawks at Enterprise Center, and Nikita Alexandrov, a second round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, could be not only in the lineup Saturday afternoon but also on opening night on Oct. 15.

What has amounted to be the surprise of camp, the forward was on the practice ice Friday as the Blues made roster cuts to reduce their roster down to the 23-man limit in time for opening night.

The 22-year-old hasn't really been talked about, nor has been asked about to the coaching staff, including Craig Berube, during this training camp, but with the roster reduced down to 23 skaters on the ice Friday at Centene Community Ice Center and another handful or so missing due to injury or being cut, Alexandrov was on the ice, playing left wing on the fourth line with Noel Acciari at center and Nathan Walker on the right wing.

"Real good camp. I'm impressed by his details," Berube said of Alexandrov. "Smart guy, in right positions, checks, does the right things, makes good puck plays. Now, he has growing to do but he's had a real good camp."

Alexandrov, who has 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 67 regular-season games with Springfield of the American Hockey League last season, has sold his game to the coaching staff in St. Louis in a big way with plenty of competition to go up against.

"He has offensive abilities for sure," Berube said, "but sometimes a player of his caliber has to start out in a certain area in the game and be a checker or be whatever and go into more of a puck-producer for you. We'll see how it goes. He has ability though. There's no doubt. He's got hands and his vision, he has those tools.

"He caught my eye in Traverse City for sure. I thought he had a good tournament there and was very noticeable, physical player, takes the body. His details jump out to me."

The Blues are still making the decision of whether Alexandrov, at 6-foot-1, 177 pounds, will make the final cut or not, but the trend is surely leaning that way.

* Blues reduce roster by 11 -- The Blues placed three forwards on waivers Friday, including 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin, for the purpose of assigning them to Springfield. Also going on waivers were Matthew Highmore and Martin Frk.

They also assigned forwards Will Bitten, Mathias Laferriere, and Hugh McGing, defensemen Matthew Kessel, Brady Lyle, Steven Santini and Tyler Tucker, and goalie Joel Hofer to Springfield. In addition, the Blues released forward Tyler Pitlick from his professional tryout.

"They're close," Berube said of some of the final guys cut/put on waivers. "There's not a lot of spots, right, but they're close. We had some good camps from guys that did a good job, but in the end, we've got to make decisions."

* Injury update -- Berube said Jordan Kyrou is fine and the forward practiced in full Friday after missing Thursday's preseason loss at Columbus.

Also, forward Logan Brown, who suffered an upper-body injury last Saturday against the Dallas Stars, wasn't on the ice Friday.

"Kind of took a backwards step after practice the other day, pretty physical practice, so I think that kind of set him back a bit," Berube said. "But I don't think it's long-term, I think he'll be fine."

As for forward Alexey Toropchenko, who continues to soar in his rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

Some of the final steps in Toropchenko's recovery is being able to absorb contact, which he has done for multiple days now.

"Really good, strong, very strong," Berube described.

An original time line of mid-December has not whittled down to possibly being available for opening night.

"There's always a chance, right, but again, we don't want to rush him," Berube said. "We're going to make sure that he's 100 percent ready to roll."

* Defensive unit set -- With Marco Scandella (right hip joint) and Scott Perunovich (left shoulder) out long term, Calle Rosen will begin the season as the seventh defenseman, behind Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy, Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola.

Projected to be the ninth defenseman coming into training camp, Rosen was quickly thrust up the depth chart with the injuries of Scandella and Perunovich.

"You never want to see guys go down obviously," Rosen said, "but it's a great opportunity for me to get started up here right now. I'm excited to be here right now and I'll just keep on working."  

The 28-year-old Rosen skated in 18 regular-season games with the Blues last season and had two goals and five assists before playing in nine playoff games.

"I'm not going to say a leg up (playing last year) but definitely confidence in myself, played lots in the playoffs and late in the regular season," Rosen said. "I know all the guys, know all the coaches and how everything works. I think that's just a confidence thing for myself and for my team too.

"I felt coming into training camp, my goal was to stick around as long as possible. It's nice to know all the guys and right now I'm happy to be here. You never know what's going to happen. I came in training camp working as hard as I could this summer to be as ready as I could. That's kind of all you can do. I'm trying not looking too much at guys here or there. You don't want to see guys go down, but now it's a chance for me to be here and that's something I'm going to take advantage of."

* Potential lineup Saturday -- The Blues are expected to ice a full, if not near-full regular lineup Saturday before heading to Charleston, South Carolina for a team bonding trip.

Friday's lines/d-pairs included:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Ivan Barbashev

Nikita Alexandrov-Noel Acciari-Nathan Walker

extras: Alexey Toropchenko and Josh Leivo

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Calle Rosen is the extra D

Jordan Binnington is projected to start and play the entire game in goal; the backup could be either Thomas Greiss or Colten Ellis, who was still in camp as of Friday.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

(10-6-22) Blues-Blue Jackets Preseason Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Thomas Greiss will play the full game when the Blues (5-1-0) close out their road preseason schedule today at 6 p.m. against the Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2-1).

The Blues backup goalie to Jordan Binnington has played in three periods this preseason spanning two games, most recently getting two periods last Thursday in a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets at Enterprise Center.

Greiss, signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract after spending two years with the Detroit Red Wings, will play the entire game tonight and be backed up by Joel Hofer.

Greiss, 36, has faced 34 shots in three periods and stopped 32 shots, including 10-for-10 in one period of a 4-0 win at Dallas on Sept. 26 and 22 of 24 shots against the Blue Jackets.

"It's been alright," Greiss said if his camp. "There's always things to work on. A couple bad habits over the last couple of years we'll get rid of just to sharpen up the game again. It's a good time for that and that's what I'm working on.

"On a good team, everyone looks better. On a worse team, guys don't look as good. It's just the nature of the game."

Greiss certainly hopes he's on a good team again after spending the past two seasons languishing in Detroit, going 18-30-9. In his previous five seasons playing for a defensively structured team with the New York Islanders, Greiss went 101-60-17.

"I'm looking forward to it," Greiss said. "Everyone wants that success. That's what you play for. You play to win. You don't play just to cruise around out there. ... I think it helps every goalie. Makes your reads easier. Every goalie profits from stuff like that.

"It's a good group of guys, very friendly, a few guys I've played with before. It's always good to know a couple familiar faces (Nick Leddy with the Islanders and Robert Bortuzzo with the Pittsburgh Penguins)."

- - -

The Blues are taking younger, more raw group to Columbus tonight than the one that played against the Blue Jackets last week, much like Columbus did on its trip to St. Louis.

The Blues will still feature Ryan O'Reilly, Jordan Kyrou, Jake Neighbours, Nathan Walker, Robert Bortuzzo and Klim Kostin among some of their regulars and hopefuls, but they called up five skaters from Springfield on Wednesday to fill up the roster.

So tonight's lineup will be filled with the likes of Nikita Alexandrov, Hugh McGing, Will Bitten, Mathias Laferriere, Matthew Kessel, Calle Rosen, Steven Santini, Tyler Tucker, Brady Lyle and possibly Martin Frk, who has been nursing a lower-body injury (more on him later).

"We've got some guys back up from 'Springy' to play the game tonight," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It's good, we get to look at guys, evaluate young guys and guys that are battling for jobs.

"Who knows, right? I don't have a crystal ball on things. It's important to go out and compete hard tonight. Columbus is going to have a good lineup. It will be good competition for them."
The majority of the Blues varsity players practiced after the game group and put in a hard, thorough workout, with plenty of battle drills and the like.

"The battles are really important. We've got to keep doing that," Berube said. "Those games we did today are good competition games, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, things like that, get some fight for pucks and battling for pucks. That's a big part of the game. We want to try to get as much of that as we can in before the season.

"We've got to amp it all up. You've got to amp up the competition. That's the big thing. It's important that we're competitive at practice."

Vladimir Tarasenko (illness) practiced for the second straight day, as did Ivan Barbashev (lower-body injury) and Logan Brown (upper-body injury).

"They made it through practice today, so it was good to see," Berube said.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jake Neighbours-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Nathan Walker-Nikita Alexandrov-Josh Leivo

Klim Kostin-Hugh McGing-Will Bitten

Matthew Highmore-Mathias Laferriere-Martin Frk

Calle Rosen-Matthew Kessel

Steven Santini-Robert Bortuzzo

Tyler Tucker-Brady Lyle

Thomas Greiss will start in goal; Joel Hofer will be the backup.

* Forward Noel Acciari was a late addition to the game group and it's unclear who's spot he will take tonight. It could be Frk, whose wife is due to deliver the couple's child any day.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Johnny Gaudreau-Boone Jenner-Patrik Laine

Yegor Chinakhov-Jack Roslovic-Jakub Voracek

Kent Johnson-Cole Sillinger-Justin Danforth

Mathieu Olivier-Sean Kuraly-Liam Foudy

Zach Werenski-Adam Boqvist

Vladislav Gavrikov-Andrew Peeke

Jake Bean-Erik Gudbranson

Danill Tarasov is projected to start in goal; Jet Greaves would be the backup.

Neighbours playing like he deserves to be, belongs in NHL permanently

2020 first-round pick by the Blues making strong case to 
cracking opening night roster again, staying on it this time around

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- If there's anybody on the Blues that understands what Jake Neighbours is going through these days, trying to make an impression on the coaching staff, Robert Thomas is most definitely the one.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jake Neighbours (middle) drives the net looking for a
rebound between Minnesota's Dakota Mermis (57) and Filip Gustavsson.

Thomas, the 20th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, didn't immediately earn himself an NHL roster spot after his draft season as a highly-touted center; he was sent back to junior hockey to get some seasoning in before making his impact on Blues brass the following year, much like Neighbours, the 26th pick in the 2020 draft, is currently trying to do.

"I think he's following in the right footsteps," Thomas said of Neighbours. "He's doing everything right."

Neighbours, 20, has gone a slightly different path than Thomas did; he actually made the big club in his first camp and played nine games last season before getting returned to the Western Hockey League.

Neighbours scored his first NHL goal Oct. 23, 2021 against the Los Angeles Kings and finished with a goal and an assist in his nine games. Sure, he wasn't seeing a ton of ice but the experience of it certainly prepared Neighbours mentally to go back, hone in on his game and get back here ready to go. Winning a WHL title as captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings was the capper.

After scoring Tuesday in a 4-2 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild, it's evident that Neighbours is making a strong push and not go away quietly; he's ready to not only make it for good this time around but make that choice as tough on coach Craig Berube and the rest of the staff as possible.

"Yeah he is, yeah. Definitely," Berube said after Tuesday's game.

And that's the plan, not give the coaches an easy out.

"I think it's kind of the same mindset I had last year is just come in with an open mind and anything can happen type thing," Neighbours said. "I think I've been playing well so far through preseason and camp and what not. Like you said, just try and make it tough on them to send me down. I think they know I want to be here, the guys know I want to be here. I'm trying to show them that every night."

Neighbours has three goals and an assist in four preseason games and is expected to play again tonight in Columbus; he's making a mark trying to win a job on the third line playing with perhaps Brayden Schenn and whoever else it may be, whether it's Ivan Barbashev, Logan Brown, Nathan Walker, or whoever. And doing so with a much more physical body than last year.

"He's stronger out there; he wins more battles," Berube said. "To me, he's quicker because he's stronger. I feel like (he's) a more confident player for sure in my opinion."

According to Thomas, who went through some of the same trials and tribulations, confidence is key.

"I think he's done a really good job. I think he looks ready," Thomas said. "He's doing all the right things. He's competing out there every night. It's fun to see. Obviously it's a tough time and nerve-wracking when you don't know your future. You come in every day and just try to make the best impression. I think he's done a great job and he looks ready to me.

"His compete level's there. He's up to speed, he's thinking the game at the right speed. I think he's just got his confidence. You saw that shot (Tuesday) night, it was a great shot. He missed me backdoor, but that's alright (laughs). I love the way he's shooting the puck, I love the way he's carrying it and he's confident with it. That's important to see."

Neighbours has been playing throughout the preseason in the top nine, mainly on that third line because the feeling is that he'd be better off assigned to Springfield of the American Hockey League and play a bigger role than play on the fourth line with the Blues.

But he's up for any assignment given, as long as it's in the NHL.

"At the end of the day, that's up to them," Neighbours said. "I believe they know what's best for me and I trust in them to do that to me. I'm a hockey player at the end of the day and wherever I'm at, I'm going to play hockey at the highest level that I'm playing at. Whether that's in Springfield with those guys, which is going to be a really good team this year, or up here, I'm going to try and play the same way and bring the intangibles night in, night out.

"My rookie year in the WHL, I played a lot of fourth line and I think I have the capabilities to play a fourth-line role and kind of grind it out and be around the net, be hard to play against, be physical. That's something I try to bring is that versatility. Just try and be versatile and whatever way they need me to be there."

Neighbours is certainly not afraid to mix it up and sacrifice his body in front of the net. At 6-foot-0, 202 pounds, Neighbours has the body equipped to play a power forward style with offensive flare. Berube likes the mix.

"He's going to be the type of player that's going to score his goals around the net," Berube said. "I know he made a nice goal (Tuesday) night on his shot, but most of his goals are going to be around the net mucking and grinding. If he's in front of the net for the power play or whatever, that's where he's going to get most of his goals. 

"He's definitely fearless. He puts himself in a lot of tricky situations. He's not scared to get in there, he's going to get in there in all situations and be physical and bang and muck and grind. Sort of an irritating player to play against."

And Neighbours is certainly using every chance he gets to play to mix it up, get in on the action and not shy away from confrontation, no matter the circumstances.

"When you're in my position every game, I don't take any game lightly," Neighbours said. "I'm trying to make the team here. I thought (Tuesday) was a good showing by the team and myself so try to continue that in the last two.

"I was playing with some real good players obviously on the power play with those guys, with 'Schenner' and 'Walks', I thought we worked well together. Starting to develop a little bit of chemistry with 'Schenner' playing with him the last couple games. You only get more familiar and create more chances and things like that. I thought structurally we were good and that leads to success."

Look at Thomas when he broke into the league in 2018-19; he played fourth-line minutes before eventually moving up to help anchor the third line on the Stanley Cup championship team with Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jake Neighbours scores on Wild goalie Filip Gustavsson
during Tuesday's 4-2 preseason win at Enterprise Center.

"There's always ways to kind of ease into it and improve your game," Thomas said. "I started on the fourth line for a while. You can start there and work your way up when you're ready. It's obviously hard. We have such a deep forward group that it's hard to crack. I don't think it's necessarily top nine or bust. I think there's different ways he can be used and learn and kind ease into it."

Neighbours has certainly put himself in the conversation of making the opening night roster again. There's always the possibility that the Blues send him down to Springfield for two reasons: 1) to play bigger minutes and get acclimated with the pro style game, contribute more and be relied upon more than he would be in St. Louis, and 2) it could come down to giving a roster spot to someone the Blues would rather protect than expose on waivers and risk losing. Those are managerial decisions that need to be made by GM Doug Armstrong. 

But bottom line for Neighbours: don't leave a stone unturned, dot all the I's and cross the T's and make it as agonizingly tough as possible for the coaches. 

"I'm trying not to leave any regrets out there or anything like that," Neighbours said. "I just try and put my best foot forward every day and work extremely hard and try and make plays when they're there and work within the system. I think I've done a good job of that so far."