Here we are, day one of a new hockey season and already excitement swirling around St. Louis. An exciting off season created plenty of buzz for this new look to the Blues team. The new coaching staff, the draft night trades, and the young rookies looking for a spot. Here are the top 10 things to watch for during this weekend’s training camp (in no specific order).
1.) Brayden Schenn
Welcome to St. Louis #10. Possibly one of the biggest trades during the Draft sent Jori Lehtera to Phildadelphia for the young offensive weapon, Brayden Schenn. First off, the Blues rid themselves of the looming contract of Lehtera which was helpful. But the return of a player who can take over the center position or on the wing and still be effective, that’s even bigger. The last two consecutive seasons he amassed 50 points for an under performing Flyers squad. Could he play with Tarasenko? Could he become the #1 Center? All we know is he is an upgrade to the already potent offense. That has all Blues fans’ eyes focused on Schenn.
Related story: St. Louis Blues Top 5 Offseason Moves
2.) New Coaches
This is going to be a big weapon that goes under the radar all season long, the coaching additions. Mike Yeo has his first full season as Head Coach after proving his success last season once Hitchcock was relieved of his duties. He spent the off season adding some intriguing names to his staff, Darryl Sydor, Craig Berube and Steve Ott. Those three have coaching experience, Cup experience, 3000+ game experience, and player relationships. Not many teams have all of those tangibles for a season. I can’t wait to see the creativity these four come up with as well as their rapport with the players.
3.) Jake Allen
Possibly one of the best “in-season comeback” stories in the NHL last season. Jake Allen had a tough year losing the job for a month to Carter Hutton. But, he turned his entire season around by leading the team to a playoff berth, all the way to Game 6 in the 2nd round. A lot was the relationship and knowledge he gained from working with Martin Brodeur. So with no Brodeur, the team hired someone who was close with Jake, David Alexander, and now Jake begins this year as one of the top goalies in the league. Watch for Jake to spend lots of time working with his defense so that his October starts off fast.
4.) The Parayko Effect
Something that has been talked a lot about for the last few seasons, where’s the team’s depth? Well, you get to see it first-hand starting today. The mix of youth in the minors that will fight for competition is possibly the best it’s ever been. Plenty of scouts talked highly of what the Blues had to offer at Traverse city last week and there’s a chance one could make the roster. I call it the “Parayko Effect”, a kid that wasn’t on the radar to start the season, came in and impressed so many that he took the spot from another player. That could happen with a guy like Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin, Jake Walman, or maybe someone else. This team is deep so it won’t be easy, but that makes it even the more entertaining.
5.) Who Plays Center
No Patrik Berglund for the first few months could pose a problem for this team’s depth, or maybe not. The Blues have Stastny and Brodziak as two obvious centers for this team which leaves two holes. The competition is going to be fierce and nowhere near obvious. Brayden Schenn looks to be one of the obvious options but the other one presents opportunities. Maybe a Tage Thompson who has impressed many, or a Vladimir Sobotka who had one heck of a return last season, or a guy like Robby Fabbri who has been a winger for the team during his pro career, but his natural position was Center. Watch for Fabbri to get a shot at the position throughout camp, but he has a lot of guys he’ll have to fight through to earn that spot.
6.) Emergence of Paryako
A new contract for Colton and this one could be his breakout year. Parayko goes into year No. 3 with a new identity for this team. With Shattenkirk gone, Parayko becomes a leader in the locker room and on the ice. More ice time and a QB on the power play is on the horizon for the 6’6 right-hander. Parayko didn’t have a huge offensive season last year but was one of the leaders in ice time and plus/minus. Colton may only be 24 but he’s become one of the top D-men in the league.
7.) Where Does Thorburn Fit
One of the bigger questions for this off season was, “who takes over the protection role that is left by Reaves.” A question that was answered when Thorburn was signed in free agency from Winnipeg. He’s an enforcer who isn’t too shabby with the stick, but will he be on the ice consistently like Reaves was. If so, he’ll have to prove it in camp that he can hold his own with the 4th line. Chemistry was huge last year for the 4th line and the only one returning is Brodziak. Can Thorburn find his identity on this Blues roster or will he be a depth guy for the team?
8.) Fabbri’s Return
The loss of Fabbri was missed as the season ended in the 2nd round. Depth was gone and players took advantage of their opportunity, but Fabbri’s offense was missed. He started his long-road to recovery during season last year and expected to start camp at 100 percent. Will he slide back into his same role, or will he hit a wall from the extended time off? Having him back on the ice will only add to the firepower on the ice and many hope he will jump right back into finding the back of the net often.
9.) Klim Kostin
“One of the top European prospects,” that’s all that needs to be said. Kostin was the result of a Ryan Reaves trade and it could be a steal for the St. Louis Blues. Kostin has already impressed in training camp and Traverse City. He’s already said he wants to be in North America, which is huge for a Russian prospect. It will be tough for him to make this team out of camp but this year in the AHL is going to be a big tone setter for his future in the NHL.
10.) The Duos
This was something that many paid attention to in the last few training camps under Hitchcock he spoke of the “duos,” players that were attached to another one and build around that. Who knows if Yeo will use this approach moving forward but there have been signs of chemistry with individual players the last few seasons. Stastny-Fabbri, Tarasenko-Stastny, Steen-Paajarvi. There are plenty of scenarios for the “lines” this season but keep a close eye out for any consistent match-ups set by Yeo.