Thursday, September 29, 2022

Tarasenko, Thomas, Buchnevich debut in 4-2 preseason win over Blue Jackets

ST. LOUIS -- For Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich and Robert Thomas, it's not a question of if they'll get their chemistry and mojo back, it's when.

It's all about timing. That's it. Nothing more.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Robert Thomas (18) debuted on Thursday in the preseason
against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The trio took the ice for the first time Thursday as a line in a 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the preseason home opener at Enterprise Center.

Admittedly, it wasn't as if they could just pick up their sticks and start whipping the puck around on a string, making tic-tac-toe plays right off the hop. The Blues, 4-0-0 in the preseason, actually didn't make many plays in the first period, including that top line, but thanks to another solid outing from goalie Thomas Greiss, who played two periods and made 23 saves on 25 shots, the Blues only trailed 1-0.

But then the chemistry and began to formulate, things started to click and the players jelled.
Buchnevich finished with a goal and an assist, Tarasenko had an assist and Thomas didn't have any points, but his playmaking abilities were on cue and his pinpoint passes started to come back again.

It was one of the more dangerous lines in the NHL last season, and it's expected to be one again. Thursday was a step in that direction.

"We gelled well together and we moved the puck pretty well in the O-zone and have some fun, now it's just about getting the puck to the net and not stick-handling and passing it around," Thomas said. "So I thought we did a pretty good job tonight. We had some good looks and I had a couple open nets I would have liked to score."

Buchnevich had a power-play goal that got the Blues on the board after falling behind 2-0 and it was clear what his linemates were wanting to do as the game progressed: get as many reps as possible to be as ready for the season-opener against Columbus on Oct. 15.

"I don't think there's any excuses, just get used to playing a game," Tarasenko said. "It's the first game, need some time to adjust. I think we'll be better in the future.

"I don't think we think like that, that it's the preseason, we don't have to try hard or something like that. Just find that chemistry again, play for each other and enjoy our time together. I don't think it matters, like I said before, what kind of game it is. It's a chance for us to go out there together and make some plays, enjoy the game of hockey."

Buchnevich, who had career highs in goals (30), assists (46) and points (76) last season, his first in St. Louis, said things will come.

"It felt better after the first period," Buchnevich said. "The first period’s tough for us. We didn’t create anything. Second period, power play gave us momentum and we started creating something. First game’s always tough.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) and Pavel Buchnevich debuted for the Blues on
Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a 4-2 win, at Enterprise Center.

"Just a couple games and we’ll be fine. The first games, it’s always boom-boom-boom. Everybody dumps the puck or tries to backcheck and make the lineup – like hit you. People run around when you don’t expect it, and it’s always hard. I think a couple games we’ll be fine."

The Tarasenko, Buchnevich and Thomas line produced 235 points and each was over a point a game player, including Buchnevich, who had his 76 points in 74 games, Tarasenko led the trio with 82 points (34 goals, 48 assists) in 75 games and Thomas with  77 points (20 goals, 57 assists) in 72 games.

"I think mostly unselfishness when we play," Tarasenko said. "If something open maybe, we try to pass too much, but it's very important to enjoy the game when you play and enjoy through the hard work and create the chances for each other. We have to learn to be happy for your teammates when he score goals so I think that's what make us successful. No one cares who is scoring, just enjoy the game and try to play for each other."

They'll try and replicate that again this season.

(9-29-22) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- A group that was projected to have some depth now may be faced with an early-season challenge.

Blues coach Craig Berube didn't have any new news to report, but it doesn't appear that Scott Perunovich will see any game time in the near or foreseeable future after the defenseman left Tuesday's 4-1 win at Chicago in the first period with an upper-body injury to the hand/wrist area.

Perunovich was retrieving the puck behind his net when he was bumped from behind and slumped over after bracing himself with his left hand on the glass. He left the game and did not return.

"Just being evaluated still," Berube said Thursday morning prior to the preseason home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m.). "We'll know more tomorrow or maybe the next day. He's still being looked at. I can't give you any real information on it right now. He's still being looked at.

"It's been tough for him. He worked hard all summer and came ready to prove himself. Unfortunate incident. ... It was great he got to play some playoff games for us at the end last year, did a good job. Worked hard this summer to be a permanent player, find a spot. Now he's got to wait."

With Perunovich down and Marco Scandella (right hip joint surgery) out for a minimum of six months, a suddenly deep group has become a bit thin. It vaults Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola into the mix as the third defensive pair, and the Blues are good with that, but now the depth falls into the lap of next skaters up, which would be veterans Calle Rosen and Steven Santini.

But it also now casts an eye on some of the younger, drafted players, and Tyler Tucker (seventh round pick, 2018) and Matthew Kessel (fifth round, 2020) have been a couple of the players that have caught the eye of the coaching staff.

"I really liked Tucker's game last game," Berube said. "I thought he was engaged. When we were down to five D, he was out there a lot, played a lot. The thing with Tucker for me, we all know he's a physical, big guy, but I thought he did a good job when he got the puck and was skating right away and moving it and moving the puck, did a good job. That's what stood out for me with him. 

"You'd say maybe he needs some more time, whatever, but if a guy plays well enough and he proves himself, then he's obviously ready, but who knows, we've still got a ways to go here in camp.

"Kessel's got the ability to obviously skate, he's got good feet, good size, strong. He's got the NHL qualities to play. He's just got to go do it."

But Berube cautioned that there's still plenty of time to determine how the d-unit plays out.

"Training camp's still going on so there's going to have to perform at a high enough level that we feel are capable enough of getting a spot or being one of the guys in the group here," he said. "It's a little early for that.

"There's a spot available there maybe and there's probably more than those two guys (Rosen and Santini) fighting for it."

Perunovich can't seem to catch a break. This is his third injury since 2020, including wrist surgery last season and a shoulder injury that sidelined him the entire 2020-21 season.

"There's a lot of players that are injury-prone, whatever you want to call it and unlucky at the same time," Berube said. "This kid worked hard all summer and was in great shape. That had nothing to do with it. It was just kind of an unlucky play."

The Blues are fortunate that they have a top four of Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Nick Leddy that if need be, they can hoard plenty of minutes on a nightly basis if need be.

"That helps a lot for sure, those guys can play a lot of minutes," Berube said. "I love puck play and the skating out of those four guys. They get up the ice, they move it well. They all have that capability to do that, which is important."

- - -

Along with Bortuzzo, the Blues (3-0-0 in the preseason) will trot out a top line of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko for the first time.

"Get going. These games you've got to find your legs, find your timing, things like that," Berube said. "Do it within the system. It's important to play the right way in these exhibition games so that when we start the season, we're good to go. We made some changes, just play the right way. Like the third period in Chicago, we finally started to skate and work. That's the key. You get a puck, skate with it, make plays, skate and work, and when we do that, we're find, and when we don't do it like the second period, you sit in your own end the whole period."

Brayden Schenn, Jordan Kyrou and Jake Neighbours, playing in his third preseason game already, will be featured as the next set of top six forwards.

For Neighbours, it's been a rock solid start to the preseason; he did not participate for Team Canada in the World Juniors to rest after a long and extended season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. Neighbours, a first round pick in 2020, did play in the Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich. and had two goals and an assist in the preseason opener in a 5-4 win against the Arizona Coyotes in Wichita, Kan.

"I think the most important thing is just playing the right way," Neighbours said. "Obviously any time you can find the scoresheet, that's a bonus. But I thought with the changes we've made so far this year in terms of structure, I was good in those areas and good in areas I need to be. I think that's what led to success on the sheet (in Wichita).

"I think at that point in time, it was time to shift my focus into becoming a St. Louis Blue and becoming an NHLer essentially. World juniors was just not in the timeline for me as far as what my body needed. I needed to be in the gym building muscle and strengthening myself. I think any time you make a long playoff run like that, into the finals of the (Memorial) Cup, it's a long season and you don't necessarily get a lot of workouts. I think I lost a lot of muscle mass and this summer was just about putting that back on. I felt really good, and I've been feeling good so far."

- - -

Another forward who will get a third look this preseason is Klim Kostin (first round, 2017). Kostin, who had an assist in Chicago Tuesday, is on a one-year, one-way contract ($750,000) and is in a crowded room as far as players trying to vie for time in the bottom six.

"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."

- - -

The Jackets (2-0-1) are bringing a raw lineup to St. Louis for tonight's game, but it will include O'Fallon, Mo. native Josh Dunne and veteran James Neal, who made the Blues roster last season after coming in on a professional tryout. Neal, 35, who helped the Springfield Thunderbirds reach the Calder Cup Final last season, is in Columbus' camp on a PTO this season
- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Nathan Walker-Noel Acciari-Tyler Pitlick

Zachary Bolduc-Hugh McGing-Klim Kostin

Torey Krug-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Tyler Tucker-Brady Lyle

Thomas Greiss will start in goal and is expected to play two periods; Colten Ellis will be the backup and likely play the third period.

- - -

The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:

Gustav Nyquist-Victor Rask-Yegor Chinakhov

James Malatesta-Brendan Gaunce-James Neal

Justin Danforth-Josh Dunne-Jordan Dumais

Mathieu Olivier-Owen Sillinger-Cole Fonstad

Jake Bean-Marcus Bjork

Gavin Bayreuther-Billy Sweezey

Tim Berni-Cole Clayton 

Pavel Cajan is projected to start in goal; Nolan Lalonde would be the backup.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

(9-27-22) Blues-Blackhawks Preseason Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The Blues are starting to trickle out the top guns for preseason games.

Tuesday night in Dallas, a 4-0 win to run their record to 2-0, the Blues implemented defenseman Colton Parayko and Torey Krug. Today at 7:30 p.m. against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center, Ryan O'Reilly, Brandon Saad, Jordan Kyrou, Brayden SchennJustin Faulk and Nick Leddy will each make his preseason debut.

For the Saad, O'Reilly, Kyrou line, it's a look at what could potentially be a top line when the regular season opens. Coach Craig Berube has used Saad, Schenn and Jake Neighbours up there through the first week of camp and is trying to find the right combinations as we go along here leading up to the start of the regular season.

Tonight, it will be Saad.

"I think that whether it's Saad or Schenn up there on left wing, they've all played together," Berube said. "I've just got to see how the third line, other lines are shaping up. As of right now, that's kind of where we're at.

"It could be something where they're together."

Neighbours will get a look with Schenn tonight, a spot where he played last year when he played nine games to begin his NHL career.

It will be Neighbours' second preseason game after scoring twice in Wichita, Kan. Saturday in a 5-4 win over Arizona. Oh, he also had a jarring check in the third period.

"He's feeling good, he's playing really well for sure," Berube said of Neighbours. "He finds a way to get things done, whatever way you want to shape it. He's involved physically, he's around the net and makes little plays all over the ice, a very highly competitive player. 

"That's a good hit, it's a clean hit. That's what I mean, he's not going to shy away from that stuff. He doesn't care if guys go after him or whatever at the end of the game. It doesn't bother him."

- - -

Josh Leivo gave his thoughts Saturday on trying to crack a tough lineup; the forward had two goals and an assist Monday and now it'll be guys like Matthew Highmore (two-way contract) and Tyler Pitlick (professional tryout) looking to make another impression on the coaching staff tonight.

Pitlick, 30, split last season with Calgary and Montreal, played in 39 games due to injury and had a goal and four assists; he has familiarity with Leddy and Faulk being a Minnesota native and was a teammate of Leddy's in their younger days of triple-A 

"It's definitely interesting. It's something I'm not used to," Pitlick said of the PTO. "It's a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling not having a job right now, but all I can do is come in, do what I do and play hard, show all the things I do well and hope that things work out well. 

"They invited me and kind of laid out how things were shaking out. It seemed like a good opportunity for me to come and try to win a job so I'm here.

"I think I've just got to keep showing my speed, get in on the forecheck and making the other team's life miserable. Just get on the puck, get the pucks, make some plays, be physical, good defensively, show that I can be trusted out there, that when I'm in the game, they've got nothing to be worried about. They know what they're going to get.

"I know I didn't have a great year and I had the injury, just didn't get in a lot of games. I think a guy that's been around for a while would get something, but it is what it is. A lot of teams want to give their young guys a shot and that was kind of the consensus that I kept hearing from teams, that they want to see what the young guys had. We'll see how that goes. Sometimes it doesn't work out how they think and jobs open up later on, so we'll see."

For the 26-year-old Highmore, who signed a one-year, $750,000 NHL/$400,000 AHL contract, a familiarity of playing against the Blues as a member of the Blackhawks (2017-21) and the past season and a half with the Vancouver Canucks along with word through the grapevine that this could be a good fit enabled the Halifax, Nova Scotia native to make his way to St. Louis.

"You know that this team always competes, always has a chance every year," Highmore said. "I've heard a lot of good things before I got here regarding the coaching staff, players, camaraderie and how much everybody cares for each other and ultimately wanting to win. That's the most important thing.

"I'm still learning it here as we go during training camp. A little bit different than what I'm used to so still trying to get used to it. I think once you start reading and reacting instead of thinking out there, I think it's going to be a pretty good fit and everything works out. 

"I'm just going to try and get in on the forecheck and create energy. When you do those things, you end up creating chances and chances for others. That's what I want to bring and continue to get better as we go through camp here and ultimately we'll see where that ends up."

Players like Highmore, Leivo, Pitlick, Martin Frk, Nathan Walker, and Klim Kostin, who will play tonight, are trying to leave those favorable impressions, and they can by doing the little things, such as be heavy on the forecheck and creating energy.

"That's a big part of the game, especially if you're not Robert Thomas or (Vladimir) Tarasenko or (Pavel) Buchnevich who ... these guys are highly-skilled players who can make plays off the rush and do things," Berube said. "These other guys, they're trying to find a role. It always impresses a coach when you see a player forecheck hard, finish his checks, gets in there, fight for loose puck battles, win those puck battles and create offensive zone time. That's an important part of the game.

"They've played well, all of them. They're doing what they're supposed to do. It's just going to come down to decisions and we still have lots of games left for them to prove themselves and look at them."

- - -

Berube said Frk and Mathias Laferriere, each who sustained a lower-body injury in Dallas Monday, are "banged up." Neither skated on Tuesday.

Berube said Laferriere has a chance to play in the home preseason game Thursday against Columbus; he's not sure on the status of Frk as of Tuesday afternoon.

- - -

Junior-eligible players were not part of practice Tuesday and it's likely that they are the first cuts of camp and will be assigned to their junior teams. They include defensemen Tyson Galloway, Michael Buchinger and Marc-Andre Gaudet, forward Landon Sim and goalie Will Cranley. That would reduce the Blues' camp roster down to 48.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Ryan O'Reilly-Jordan Kyrou

Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Klim Kostin

Matthew Highmore-Nikita Alexandrov-Tyler Pitlick

Brayden Guy-Dylan McLaughlin-Nathan Todd

Scott Perunovich-Justin Faulk

Nick Leddy-Matthew Kessel

Tyler Tucker-Griffin Luce

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Vadim Zherenko will be the backup and play.

- - -

The Blackhawks' projected lineup:

Andreas Athanasiou-Max Domi-Patrick Kane

Taylor Raddysh-Jonathan Toews-Tyler Johnson

Buddy Robinson-Cole Guttman-Colin Blackwell

Samuel Savoie-Josiah Slavin-Michal Teply

Alex Vlasic-Seth Jones

Kevin Korchinski-Connor Murphy

Caleb Jones-Ethan Del Mastro

Petr Mrazek will start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the backup.

Monday, September 26, 2022

With Scandella down, opportunity knocks for Mikkola, Perunovich

Defensemen get chance to thrive, earn more opportunity on Blues' 
blue line with veteran out for at least next six months due to injury

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- For the Blues, a situation has presented itself where someone's bad fortune turns out to be opportunity for another.

In the case -- or cases -- of defensemen Niko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich, opportunity knocks, and it all stems from the injury to veteran Marco Scandella.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Niko Mikkola (second from left) defends a play Monday in
an exhibition game at Dallas, a 4-0 Blues win.

When the Blues announced Sept. 20 that Scandella would miss at least the next six months after surgery on his right hip joint stemming from a training incident, it thrust Mikkola and Perunovich into the spotlight.

Mikkola already put himself on the map of the Blues' defensive corps with his coming out party last season, but he's in line to be even a bigger force, all 6-foot-4, 209 pounds of him, and Perunovich has been touted as the next big -- well not in size terms but for his play -- offensive weapon after winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2020.

And take it from someone who got the very same chance to thrust himself into the foray and forge an NHL career for himself, as defenseman Torey Krug did with the Boston Bruins late in the 2011-12 season when Adam McQuaid was injured late in the season. 

Unfortunate timing for one could be good timing for another.

"To be honest, that's how I started my career," Krug said. "Any time you something like that happen, you feel for the guy that goes down. Scandy's a big part of this locker room, for this team and you don't want to see that, but now it's a chance for someone to step up and get more ice time and create a spot for themselves in this league. That's how I got my start and try to help those guys through that."

Mikkola, who played big minutes last season and averaged 16:59 in 54 regular-season games playing mostly with Colton Parayko in a shutdown role, really asserted himself in the postseason against Minnesota and Colorado and played an average of 15:39.

The coaching staff didn't hesitate putting the big Finn on the ice against the likes of Kirill Kaprizov, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.

"It's a bit of confidence when you can see you play like pretty good hockey against top teams in the playoffs like Minny and Colorado," Mikkola said. "I felt good in the playoffs. That was good for me for this season. It's still just a memory right now and I would like to do it all over again and get right back at it.

"There's one D less now and we hate to see it too. It would be nice to get Scandy back to the lineup too, but it's of course opportunity to get more ice time for me too and maybe more PK time. Try to take it and work hard."

Mikkola was a solid penalty killer on a Blues unit that was fifth in the NHL last season; he had 81 blocked shots on the season and 109 hits using his strength to play a more physical role to provide in an area the Blues used to be exemplary in.

"I think he has been improving year to year," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Mikkola. "I think the development for me is just puck play, coming out of your own end, making plays, breakout plays, things like that, seeing the ice a little bit better. He actually does a good job offensively in the offensive zone. He attacks at the right time, gets his shot through, things like that. Coming out of his own end, he can work on it just improving his puck play there, making subtle, little plays and things like that.

"He was a good penalty killer for us with his stick and big body. He's aggressive. He takes time and space away from opponents. Every time he goes at somebody, you know you're going to get hit. He finishes his checks hard and he's difficult to play against. That's what it boils down to."

What it boils down to for Perunovich is a matter of staying healthy. 

Since the Blues drafted him in the second round in 2018, Perunovich has been relegated to just 19 regular-season games due to a shoulder injury in that forced him to miss the 2020-21 season, then he missed a large chunk of last season after having wrist surgery before returning to the playoffs.

"Very frustrating. I didn't really have any real injuries in my career, but these two injuries just kind of happened," Perunovich said. "It's definitely frustrating, but you learn from these things and that's life and that's what happens in this business. You'd just like to take as much as you can from it and learn to be better and stronger now and hopefully you take care of your body more so that stuff doesn't happen.

"I feel 100 percent. I've had a lot of good trainers and rehabilitation during this whole time, so I'm feeling great and hopefully I can stay that way. 

"For sure you always want to come in 100 percent and give yourself a chance in camp and not really take anything for granted and do the best you can and set yourself up to be successful."

The intention going in before the Scandella news for the Blues was to perhaps carry eight defenseman on the opening night roster, including Krug, Parayko, Justin Faulk, Nick Leddy, Robert Bortuzzo, Scandella, Mikkola and Perunovich. Two would sit on any given night if everyone was healthy.

They could always still carry eight d-men, which would vault Calle Rosen as the likely eighth defenseman into the mix, but Mikkola and Perunovich are now considered Nos. 6 and 7 in no particular order, and depending on if they perhaps each are in the lineup, could be Nos. 5 and 6.

"It opens a job up," Berube said. "Obviously you don't like to lose the player right before training camp, but it is what it is and someone else is going to get an opportunity."

Mikkola hopes to continue to ascend as a strong, physical and even chip in on the offensive side making the plays in smaller areas of the ice. That's where he will make his strides.

"I feel like I'm still pretty young," Mikkola said. "I don't feel like I'm too old for this sport. Every year I try to be better and come prepared for the camps and the next season. That's my goal every year and try to get more ice time, more a place on the team.

"The first couple passes and just a simple game. I think my defense is there. There's some areas like when you don't have that much space, you need to make good a first pass. I think that's about it. Maybe I can do a little bit more on offense too."

And for Perunovich, who had six assists in 19 regular-season games last season and another four helpers in seven playoff games as a power-play specialist quarterbacking that unit, the goal is to improve and develop more of a 5-on-5 game to show the coaching staff he can handle all situations, despite being smaller in stature at 5-10, 175.

"That was my main focus, more 5-on-5 and d-zone positioning-wise," Perunovich said. "I'm working with someone here too, going over film and kind of fixing some holes in my game. That's starting in the offensive zone that helped me transition into my d-zone game. I think's definitely going to be a different year 5-on-5 and I'd like to contribute more and affect the game.

"Just gap control, skating forward. If I can close on a gap 10 feet earlier, than maybe I can create a turnover earlier and get a puck going in the offensive direction. If I just basically play better coming out of the zone, I can create more offensive and play less defense.

"These guys are the fastest and best players in the world. I think I've gotten away with it throughout my career just with my offensive ability, but that's not the case anymore. I'm learning that more and more and trying to make that a staple of my game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Scott Perunovich (middle) moves the puck up ice last season
during the second round of the playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche.

Scandella will be reevaluated in six months, and there's no telling or guarantee he will even return in the regular season or postseason. If Mikkola and Perunovich want to make a mark on this franchise, the opportunity presented to them here will be as big a chance as any.

"Health is obviously important for (Perunovich)," Berube said. "He's had some bad luck, but definitely he's one of the guys that we're looking at closely. 

"He's done a good job on the power play, and I think he's done a good job moving the puck 5-on-5. From a defensive standpoint, he's a young guy that got here, it's a big adjustment coming from college and playing in the minors than playing in the NHL. He's not an overly big guy, so he's got to use his brains and his stick, try to break plays up that way. He's improving, but again, the health thing got in the way a few times for him and it's unfortunate. He needs to stay healthy and I thought he had a good first day today.

"I think Mikkola did make a lot of progress last year. He's in the playoffs playing in significant minutes and doing a good job for us."

(9-26-22) Blues-Stars Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Noel Acciari wants no part of the conversation anymore.

And for the record, he said he was tripped by Tyler Bozak in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final while with the Boston Bruins playing against the Blues in 2019.

Sure, Acciari has answered the question multiple times when he was with the Bruins afterwards and probably during his past three seasons with the Florida Panthers, but the Blues' newest free agent signing (signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract on July 13) wanted to set the record straight.

For those that can't recall, don't remember or simply have no clue what transpired, it was in the third period of Game 5 and the Blues holding onto a 1-0 lead. Acciari was upended by Bozak, no call was made, much to the dismay of the TD Garden crowd and probably everyone else in the building, the Blues would to on to get a goal from David Perron seconds later to take a 2-0 lead and win the game 2-1 to take a 3-2 series lead, eventually winning the Cup in seven games.

"This will probably be the last time I want to answer this, but I do think he did," Acciari said Monday morning. "Honestly when I hit my head, I don't remember coming to until later on the bench. It's over with, you can't go back. I want to get back there with these guys now. ... Now that I'm with them, we want to get back there together."

Acciari was brought in to help forge an identity on the fourth line, something he'll get the chance to do with the Blues.

"He's a good player, plays hard, gritty, battles, penalty killing and checking and things like that," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He drives that side of the game.

"He's going to give some identity in that situation. He's going to be used as a penalty killer and go out and check."

Acciari, who scored 20 goals for the Panthers in 2019-20, is likely to be paired with Ivan Barbashev on the fourth line and whoever else steps into that role and wins a job. Alexey Toropchenko, who is rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, is a likely candidate but there are a host of others to battle for the position.

But after spending the past three seasons with the Panthers, Acciari couldn't help beat the Blues three years ago, so he felt like the next best thing will be to join them.

Acciari, 30, will make his Blues debut today at 7 p.m. when they play against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.

"I think what made a good fit for me signing here was the style of play that they play," Acciari said. "I think that fits how I play. I had a lot of experience with this team and just seeing how relentless and how strong and good they are, I love joining it.

"We're going to play hard every shift. We're going to finish every check. We want to hem guys in their zone, whether it's their first line. If we keep them in their d-zone, they're not scoring. If we get that matchup, we want to be hard to play against and make them not want to come out against us.

"I want to score whenever I can. When it's there, I want to put it home. Every night I want to be effective in one spot, whether it's on the scoreboard, in our d-zone, whether it's blocking shots, finishing hits. I just want to make sure I do something every night for them."

Remember the identity the fourth line of Barbashev, Alexander Steen and Oskar Sundqvist created en route to winning the Cup? Perhaps that's an element that's been missing and the Blues would like to get it back again.

"I think it's nice to have an identity down there with those guys, your bottom-six type players on what we need on a given night to be successful," Berube said. "Those guys, they drive the culture. hard forechecking and physical play and penalty killing and checking and things like that. They're important guys to have."

- - -

Forward Martin Frk will get a second look in a preseason game tonight.

Frk, who signed a one-year, two-way contract ($750,000 NHL/$500,000 AHL) after scoring 40 goals for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League last season, is one of the forwards battling for a bottom-six roster spot.

"There's a lot of guys fighting for spots," Berube said. "He's just got to do what he does best. He shoots the puck really well obviously. He's going to get a chance to do that again tonight on the power play or 5-on-5. He's just got to keep playing and working hard. He's got to play 200 feet of hockey. That's the most important thing. It's tough to have just specialty guys to play the game. You've got to be good defensively and need to play the right way."

- - -

Forward prospect Keean Washkurak will have surgery on his left wrist and the Blues, who announced it on Monday, said the 2019 fifth-round pick will be reevaluated in 4-6 weeks.
Washkurak played in Saturday's 5-4 win over the Arizona Coyotes in Wichita, Kan. on Saturday but the injury did not occur then.

"I don't think so," Berube said. "I think it's been an ongoing issue. He gives you 100 percent, goes hard all over the ice and finishes checks. He's noticeable that way."

- - -

Also making his Blues debut tonight will be goalie Thomas Greiss, who was signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract to back up Jordan Binnington.

The 36-year-old spent the past two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and will split tonight's game with 2019 third-round pick Colten Ellis.

"He's played that role before," Berube said of Greiss. "Our conversation with him is he's going to play games. We need him to win games and play good games for us. He's going to be used. The way we use our goalies here, so-called backups, they've played a lot of amount of games."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Nathan Walker-Noel Acciari-Josh Leivo

Ivan Barbashev-Logan Brown-Martin Frk

Landon Sim-Hugh McGing-Will Bitten

Andrei Bakanov-Mathias Laferriere-Anthony Angello

Torey Krug-Colton Parayko

Tyson Galloway-Niko Mikkola

Marc-Andre Gaudet-Steven Santini

Thomas Greiss will start in goal; Colten Ellis will be the backup and play.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jacob Peterson-Roope Hintz-Joe Pavelski

Jamie Benn-Ty Dellandrea-Wyatt Johnston

Matej Blumel-Mavrik Bourque-Logan Stankoven

Riley Tufte-Riley Damiani-Marian Studenic

Esa Lindell-Nils Lundkvist

Thomas Harley-Jani Hakanpaa

Artem Grushnikov-Joseph Cecconi

Jake Oettinger will start in goal; Anton Khudobin will be the backup.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

(9-24-22) Blues-Coyotes Preseason Gameday Lineup

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- After two days of training camp skating, the Blues hit the ice running -- or skating -- with preseason game action.

They'll take on the Arizona Coyotes to kick off the preseason today at 7 p.m. at WINTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

It will be a very raw group for the Blues, who are taking none of their core players aside from goalie Jordan Binnington, who is expected to play at least the first period, if not half of the game. 

The lineup will be filled with plenty of hopefuls, guys that are on the fringe of making the opening night roster and guys like local native Logan Brown, who could open the season slotted in as a third-line center and is being given looks in an offensive role thus far in training camp.

"Just play hockey again and getting back out there, competing against other teams, getting back in the flow of things," Brown said. "We've had a good couple days here at camp and just trying to carry that hard work we did in the summer into the first preseason game."

The Blues signed a number of skaters to one-year contracts, whether they're one-way deals or two-way deals, that will be competing tonight, including Josh Leivo, who they brought in on a one-year, $750,000 one-way contract.

The 29-year-old Leivo, a third-round pick by Toronto in 2011, just wrapped up a season with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, the Carolina Hurricanes' affiliate, and won a Calder Cup.

Leivo went up against a number of skaters in Blues camp currently because the Wolves defeated the Blues' affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, in five games in the Cup Final.

"It was definitely fun, what a group we had," Leivo said. "Obviously they had a good group too to go that far. Coming into it, didn't know what to expect, but everyone's been positive, a lot of jokes. I guess they said I had a better summer than them. They went so far without winning, but it's been a good little transition here and happy to continue it."

Leivo, who had 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 54 games with the Wolves and a goal and two assists with the Hurricanes in seven games last season, had 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games for the Wolves in the playoffs.

"I had that big injury in Vancouver (fractured kneecap in 2019), it set me back, took me a while to get back into the offensive mind I've always known I can do. Obviously getting down there and playing a lot, having a long run, it always gives you confidence coming into the next season. That's what I'm coming into this camp and expecting to produce and to help make the team."

Why were the Blues a good fit? Well, a one-way contract for one is not a bad place to start, but also because, "I like the older group, their mentality," Leivo said. "I've played against them, I kind of knew the system, knew how these guys play, played them a lot when I was in the West. I think they've always had some interest. It was always in the back of my head and then when they called, just got it done and happy to be here."

Also in the lineup tonight are Matthew Highmore, who signed a one-year, one-way contract after spending last season with the Canucks; Martin Frk, who scored 40 goals with the Los Angeles Kings' affiliate, the Ontario Reign, last season, and Tyler Pitlick, who is the lone skater this year on a professional tryout.

"I think it'll be exciting, a bunch of guys fighting for spots," Brown said. "We're going to go out, play hard and start the preseason off right."

Blues No. 1 draft picks, Jake Neighbours (2020) and Zachary Bolduc (2021), will also be in the lineup, as will 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin, who is fighting for a roster spot in the bottom six.

The Blues' projected lineup:

Zachary Bolduc-Nikita Alexandrov-Josh Leivo

Jake Neighbors-Logan Brown-Martin Frk

Matthew Highmore-Nathan Todd-Klim Kostin

Landon Sim-Keean Washkurak-Tyler Pitlick

Scott Perunovich-Matthew Kessel

Calle Rosen-Brady Lyle

Michael Buchinger-Luke Witkowski

Jordan Binnington is expected to start in goal; Joel Hofer will play and be the backup.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Blues open training camp with expectations, veteran lineup that didn't change much

Minimal additions to squad that was 49-22-11 last season, made it to 
second round of playoffs looked upon make bigger push moving forward

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Craig Berube was already in midseason form, barking at the Blues during the first day of training camp, which opened Thursday at Centene Community Ice Center.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Goalie Jordan Binnington faces a shot during the first day of training
camp on Thursday at Centene Community Ice Center.

The Blues coach, opening his fourth full season guiding the ship behind the bench, was on top of a group of skaters that included 54 skaters that began the process for the 2022-23 season.
With the first preseason game on Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Arizona Coyotes in Wichita, Kan., it's time to hone in on fine-tuning the game.

"Since I've been here, we've had good camps and practices," Berube said. "The first days have been good, good pace. Guys worked hard trying to accomplish some stuff. The pace was good.

"You've got to prepare. Guys start in the offseason with their training and coming into camp in good shape. You take camp and you take the next step preparing for the regular season. Obviously there's some players fighting for some jobs and young guys and things like that, but as a team, you're trying to prepare your team to play a certain way and a certain style and make sure they're ready to go."

The Blues made minimal changes to the roster, most notably losing David Perron (free agency) and Ville Husso (trade) each to the Detroit Red Wings. They added forward Noel Acciari (free agent, Florida), goalie Thomas Greiss (free agent, Detroit) and resigned defenseman Nick Leddy and are bringing back a veteran cast that pushed the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season in the second round before falling in six games. 

"It's always exciting to be back out with the guys," said center Robert Thomas, who signed an eight-year, $65 million extension July 13, which was the richest contract in Blues history before . Always an exciting time of year and feels like hockey's coming around the corner.

"We're pretty much the same team. We've got young guys pushing for spots and a lot of other guys pushing for spots that are really good players. I like the way our direction's going. I think we were so close last year. A couple bounces and it's a different end to the season. We're right there. Happy we've got pretty much everyone back and I feel like we're going to be right there again and we're pushing for it.

"Everyone's chasing Colorado. We all got to get better and match their level. We feel like we've got a good chance of doing that."

There will be some battles for spots, albeit very limited, but there are veterans in camp, such as veteran forwards Josh Leivo (free agent, Carolina), Matthew Highmore (free agent, Vancouver), Martin Frk (free agent, Los Angeles) and Tyler Pitlick (professional tryout, Calgary) in to battle for bottom forward spots, and high-end draft picks in forwards Jake Neighbours (first round, 2020) and Zach Bolduc (first round, 2021) battling for jobs.

"There's jobs," Berube said. "There's some jobs available there that guys are going to be fighting for, which is a good thing. We want a competitive camp.

"Jake Neighbours last year really proved himself in camp coming in here and playing extremely well in exhibition games. He's a hard-working guy. I thought he did a really good job and that's why he made the team. He didn't last, but he made the team and he's going to have to do the same thing. You've got to work, you've got to compete and you've got to play at a high level and prove yourself, same as Bolduc and other guys. Bolduc didn't get as many games last year with injury and stuff like that, but I thought that he played well the games he played."

The 30-year-old Acciari, who the Blues faced when they defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, was brought in on a one-year, $1.25 million contract to supplant the loss of Tyler Bozak, who remains unsigned.

"From obviously coaching against him in that series against us, he's the type of guy that goes out there, checks hard, he's physical, he's hard to play against, smart player defensively," Berube said of Acciari. "Obviously he has some touch. He scored 20 goals two years ago. Pretty good. We're excited to have him."

The 36-year-old Greiss replaces Husso, who was traded to the Red Wings before signing a three-year contract worth $4.75 million per season. Greiss, who spent the past two seasons with the Red Wings, got a one-year deal for $1.25 million to be Jordan Binnington's backup.

"We're going to need good hockey out of him, we're going to need games," Berube said of Greiss, whose best seasons were with the New York Islanders 2015-20. "If you look at the past, our backup goalie or whatever you want to call him, he's played significant amount of hockey and won us hockey games. We're going to need the same thing.

"Pretty consistent. He knows where he's at and where he stands with us. This league is tough. We need two goalies. Not every team uses two goalies as much as we do, but that's where we're at."

Forward Alexey Toropchenko skated with both groups on Thursday, showing signs of quick healing from offseason shoulder surgery he said he played with for much of last season, including in Springfield of the American Hockey League.

"I'm working hard. I've been here all summer," Toropchenko said. "I just went after surgery for like couple weeks for vacation because I couldn't do anything still. I came back here earlier in July and I was working out. ... I feel better every day. Still no contact yet, but very soon. 

"Just happened earlier in the season when I was in Springfield. I was hoping that I don't need the surgery but the doctor said I need to do that. I was playing with a brace for like half of last season. After that, they did an MRI and x-ray and they say it will not heal by itself so you need to do surgery. It was a good time to have it done."

The original prognosis was for Toropchenko to be out until mid-December, but that process appears to be on track for a much sooner return date than that.

"I can tell you it will be very soon, very soon. I don't know the date exactly, but it will be soon," Toropchenko said. "... I already like skate for a month. I'm shooting, passing, dribbling, everything is fine. I need more time to have bone heal 100 percent to get ready."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Jake Neighbours (left) will be one of the younger players to watch out for at
Blues training camp this season. 

Binnington skated in full after the left knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the playoffs stemming from the collision in the first period of Game 3 of the second round against the Avalanche with forward Nazem Kadri and Blues teammate Calle Rosen, and defenseman Torey Krug was a full participant after missing the final nine postseason games last season due to a lower-body injury sustained in Game 3 of the first round against the Minnesota Wild.
And finally, the Blues will have a closer, more broadened look at their blue line due to veteran Marco Scandella to miss a minimum of six months following right hip joint surgery.

That means lefties Niko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich, who were already in the mix for the top eight, will get even more extended looks.

"It's always tough when a teammate goes down," Perunovich said. "'Scandy' has always been unbelievable to me and all the younger guys, kind of takes us under his wing. You never want to see that happen and you feel for the guy, but he'll have a good recovery and be back stronger and better, but obviously that means the spot's open and you want to try and capitalize on it and have a good camp and see what happens."

* NOTES -- Friday's practice sessions will be at 10 a.m. for Group B and noon for Group A at Centene, and both sessions are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Blues extend Kyrou with eight-year contract for $8.125 million per season

Contract equals what team signed Robert Thomas for two 
months ago, making each the richest in franchise history

ST. LOUIS -- Move over Robert Thomas; you have company.
Jordan Kyrou

Two months to the day after signing Thomas to the richest contract in Blues history, the team announced on Tuesday they've accommodated Jordan Kyrou in the same fashion by signing the winger to an eight-year, $65 million extension that will pay the 24-year-old $8.125 million per season.

The contract will kick in for the 2023-24 season and run through 2030-31.

"Pretty cool feeling. It's definitely awesome," Kyrou said Tuesday. "It's like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm super grateful for sure. ... Growing up as a kid, it's something you dream of, right? This is it. Now it's just time to focus on getting better, getting stronger, faster, working on my game and how I can improve my game."

Kyrou, the 35th pick (second round) in the 2016 NHL Draft, had his breakout season in the NHL last year with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 74 games. He is entering the final year of his current contract that pays him $2.8 million before he could have been a restricted free agent after the upcoming season.

"We're excited to have a player of his caliber locked up for the meat of his career," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Coming in as a high draft choice, what he did as a junior hockey player, Ontario player of the year, won a World Championship, came in and was a good player in the American (Hockey) League and he honed his craft coming here last year and being a over a point a game player. We're excited to have that done with Robert Thomas. We're playing for today and building for the future. Having those two guys signed long-term is the cornerstone of what we're trying to accomplish moving forward. It's great news for the organization, great news for the city, great news for the players obviously themselves."

The two sides spoke around the draft and the Blues made it a priority to get their two young cornerstone players locked up to contracts before the season started.

"I talked to both players at the end of last year and I told them they were going to be our priority this summer," Armstrong said. "Both players, I don't want to say played ball, but they took bridge deals and our cap situation is our cap situation with the flat cap. They took two-year contracts and with the understanding that if they did their job, we would do our job and within a year, I realized they were doing their job being players on our team at 22, 23. 

"When you look at the other players around the league that are signing these deals maybe coming out of entry level, there's more prove-it to their contracts than our contracts. Our guys have proved it. When you look at all the guys that have signed for $7.5-$8.5, none of them are a point a game players or very few are point a game players. They're on the if-come and hope. We have a little bit of that with our guys but less than I think with some of those other contracts, and that's why I think these bridge deals are important for us is to get a little bit more information. But when you're coming out of a bridge deal, you have to make that decision if you want to commit long term. If not, they're just a year or two away from free agency and all the leverage certainly changes to the players knowing that in a year, I can see what 31 other teams think of me and I can always come back, but we wanted to get ahead of that and they wanted to be a part of our team now moving forward."

Per cap friendly, Kyrou gets a full no-trade clause from 2025-26 through 2029-30, then has a modified no-trade clause for the 3030-31 season in which he has a 15-team no-trade list. The salary breakdown for Kyrou, which includes no performance or signing bonuses is $9 million in 2023-24, $10.9 million in 2024-25, $10.5 million in 2025-26, $8.25 million in 2026-27, $6.6 million in each of 2027-28, 2028-29 and 2029-30 and $6.55 million in 2030-31.

The Kyrou contract is down the very same details as that of Thomas, so the Blues not only hold each player in high regards as their future but also that as equal players.

"Obviously it's nice to get something done and just kind of not have to worry about that," Kyrou said. "Now I can just go focus on playing hockey and working on my game and working on what I need to do to be at the peak of my game. I think for me, it just gives me this whole year to continue and work on my game and just get better and not even focus on any of the contract talk and any of the stuff like that.

"Sometimes you wait a week, you wait two weeks to hear something. You're kind of just sitting there waiting, waiting for that call right? But at the same time, it's obviously the summer time and I'm just focusing on training and focusing on getting myself on getting better and getting stronger."

Kyrou completed his second full season last year but played in 16 games in 2018-19 and 28 more in 2019-20; he has 122 points (46 goals, 76 assists) in 173 regular-season NHL games and 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in 21 Stanley Cup playoff games.

"You've got room to improve every year and I think every summer you've got to go back and train hard and work hard," Kyrou said. "It's going to pay off during the year."

Armstrong worked on similar parameters of that with Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko, each who got long-term contracts (Pietrangelo seven years, $45.5 million and Tarasenko eight years, $60 million) when they were in their early 20s.

"Both of those were a little bit different because they were out of entry level," Armstrong said. "They were I think second-team All-Stars. They were just more advanced than these two players coming out of entry level and they got those deals without the bridge. This is more like the 'Schwartzy' deal (Jaden Schwartz) with the bridge and then signing them after. But these are cornerstone players for us. You don't have an ownership willing to commit that type of money if there's not a belief that these guys can grab the flag and lead the charge."

Is there risk in doing these deals? Sure. But history says the Blues have made good calls on them. They're hoping to add to the list with Thomas and now Kyrou.

"Well, I think there is risk. There's always risk," Armstrong said. "But when you look at the number of players that are getting extended like this after two years of service or three, these guys have four years of service so there's less risk than other teams are taking, but there's always risk. There's risk of injury, there's risk of poor play, there's risk of not getting along with the manager, not getting along with the coach. There's always risk out there, but there's a belief that I have in these two players that they're going to be the pillar of what we build around."