Palushaj Leading Way For Baby Blues

Three of the Blues' top prospects -- from left, Aaron Palushaj, Brett Sonne, and goalie Jake Allen -- are honing the skills with the Baby Blues at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament. ('Game Time' photo by Brian Weidler

It's a prospect samiche.

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan -- The St. Louis Blues' prospects have been hot and cold thus far in the annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament. 

On the hot side, the Baby Blues' top line of Philip McRae between Aaron Palushaj and Anthony Nigro -- all recent draft picks by St. Louis -- have combined for seven goals and 16 points through three games played, and the scoring has been ably backed up by forwards Anthony Peluso (3 GP, 2-1-3, minus-1, 7 PIM) and FA Jack Combs (3 GP, 1-2-3, even, 4 PIM). The special teams, both power play and penalty kill, are leading the tournament, and the local players attending camp on a tryout basis (Combs and defenseman Tony DeHart) have played well.

Cold as ice, however, have been highly-touted draft picks Alex Pietrangelo on defense, and forwards Brett Sonne and James Livingston. Each is projected to play a key role in the Blues' near-term future, but they are a combined minus-8 with two goals and two assists between them at the tournament.

After the jump, a look back at the three games played by the Blues thus far in Traverse City, and a preview of the third-place tilt coming up on Sept. 10. 

The tournament opened for the Blues with a 9-6 barnburner of a win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday, Sept. 6. Sonne opened the Blues' scoring with a goal at the 7:00 mark of the first period, and the race was on from there.

Eight different players notched goals for the Blues in this one, with Palushaj being the only 'Note to tally twice. Solo goals came from the sticks of Sonne, Combs, T.J Fast, Anthony Peluso, McRae, 2009 draftee Tyler Shattock, and an empty-netter from Ian Schultz at 19:38 of the third period.

"Goalie of the future" Jake Allen got the start, and played reasonably well despite allowing six goals. Allen faced 37 Dallas shots for the game, 15 second-period shots against sandwiched by 11-ahot efforts from the Stars in the first and third periods.

On Monday, Sept. 7, the Blues faced off against Central Division rival Columbus. The Jackets struck first in this one, with 2008 draftee Matt Calvert beating Blues' tryout goalie Peter DiSalvo at 1:21 of the first period. A pair of 2009 draft picks built a 2-0 lead for Columbus, with forward Tomas Kubalik scoring off of a feed from defenseman and first-round pick John Moore, before Pietrangelo got the Blues on the board with a power-play tally from McRae at 14:17 of the opening stanza.

The Blues pulled to within a goal on three different occasions in the game, including Fast's power-play tally that literally beat the buzzer with under a second to play in the game, but were unable to get the equalizer past Jackets' netminder Andrew Loverock.

After a day off on Tuesday, the Blues faced off against Minnesota for a shot at a share of first place in the torunament's Western Conference alignment. A regulation win for St. Louis would tie the Blues and Wild with 2-1-0 marks in the tournament, and for most of the game, it looked like that was exactly what was destined to happen.

The Blues built a 3-0 lead early in the third period, thanks to Nigro's second goal of the game and the tournament, but Minnesota struck back to spoil Jake Allen's shutout bid just 42 seconds after Nigro's goal. The Wild tallied three times on 18 shots in the third period, including a goal with just three seconds to play and goalie Matt Hackett pulled for the extra attacker, to send the game into overtime.

Two five-minute OT periods later, with the game still knotted at three, the teams went into a shootout session. McRae and tournament scoring leader Palushaj (3 G, 4 A) each tallied for the Blues, while Allen stoned all four Minnesota shooters he faced to give the 'Note a 4-3 shootout victory. The SO win gives Allen a 1-0-1 mark for the tournament, with a 4.15 GAA and 87.3% save percentage in 130 minutes of playing time.

The Blues will practice tomorrow morning, and face the New York Rangers (also 2-1-0 in the preliminary round) tomorrow at 6:00 PM Eastern time for third place in the tournament. The Rangers are led by FA winger Luke Walker (3 GP, 2-2-4, +1, 4 PIM) and backstopped by goaltending prospect Chad Johnson (2 GP, 120 minutes, 2-0-0, 2.00 GAA, 93.8% save percentage).

Blue Notes from Traverse City: The Blues were the only team in the eight-team tournament to be designated the "home" team in each of their three preliminary round nd games ... special teams have played a big role in getting the Blues to this point; they lead the tournament with six power-play goals in 19 attempts, a 31.58% mark, and also have the best penalty kill in the tourney, successfully nullifying 17 of 18 penalties against (94.44%) ... on the downside, the Blues have also allowed the most shorthanded goals in the tourney, with three against in three games ... through three games, Palushaj leads the entire tournament in scoring with three goals and seven points, one ahead of Columbus prospect Matt Calvert ... Palushaj is also the tournament assist leader with four, while Calvert leads all goal scorers with five in three games ... Nigro and defenseman T.J. Fast lead the Blues in plus-minus, each at a plus-3, while Alex Pietrangelo is tied with tryout players Leigh Salters and Adam Perry at minus-4 for the worst marks on the team ... Pietrangelo has been a minus player in each game of the tourney for the Blues to date.

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