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Youth Movement Coming In St. Louis?

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With the recent action -- and non-action -- by Doug Armstrong and the Blues at the draft and on the opening day of free agency, the question must be asked: Are the St. Louis Blues finally going to go all-in on a youth movement?

Will this be the year that Ty Rattie finally gets a real shot at sticking in the NHL?  Photo by
Will this be the year that Ty Rattie finally gets a real shot at sticking in the NHL? Photo by
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

...

Hail and Farewell, Captain America.

David Backes, the captain and longest-serving member of the St. Louis Blues, just got paid by the Boston Bruins, ending a run of over a decade wearing the Bluenote.

Veteran Troy Brouwer is also gone, departing for Calgary and a big paycheck along with playoff hero Brian Elliot (traded at the Draft).

Finally, grizzled and gritty veteran (and Hitchcock favorite) Steve Ott has also bailed, shipping out to the Old Folks' Home in Detroit.

Even down (or, according to the map, up) on the farm with the Chicago Wolves, the old-timers are being cleared out. Last year's depth signings like "Pistol" Pat Cannone, Danny Kristo, Jeremy Welsh, Andre Benoit and Peter Harrold have all been left by the wayside, with none of these unrestricted free agents being offered a new contract by the Blues. Cannone has latched on with the Minnesota Wild, while Kristo, Welsh, Benoit and Harrold remain unsigned by anyone.

A few days ago, the Blues re-signed a number of restricted free agents (RFA's) -- mostly players who had spent all or part of 2015-16 with the Wolves -- to qualifying offers. Those players were:

PLAYER Pos Sht Hgt Wgt DOB Birthplace
BINNINGTON, Jordan G L 6-01 167 07-11-93 Richmond Hill, ON
CARON, Jordan RW L 6-03 204 11-02-90 Sayabec, QC
COPLEY, Pheonix G L 6-04 196 01-18-92 North Pole, AK
DOTY, Jake C R 6-03 220 06-19-93 Denver, CO
NILSSON, Anders G L 6-05 229 03-19-90 Lulea, SWE
PAAJARVI, Magnus LW L 6-03 208 04-12-91 Norrkoping, SWE
RATTIE, Ty RW R 6-00 178 02-05-93 Calgary, AB
SCHWARTZ, Jaden LW L 5-10 190 06-25-92 Wilcox, SK

Not offered new contracts or qualifying offers, and thus departing as unrestricted free agents, are RW Cody Beach, D Richard Nedomlel, C Zack Phillips, C Ryan Tesink, and LW Yannick Veilleux. Beach, Tesink, and Veilleux were previously drafted by the Blues, while Nedomlel and Phillips were acquired during the 2015-16 season in minor "future considerations" trades.

Out With The Old, In With The New

Of the players offered QO's, Nilsson was the first domino to fall, traded to Buffalo on Saturday in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2017 Entry Draft. The Blues did not have a fifth-rounder for next year's draft in Chicago, having dealt their pick to the Blackhawks for a fifth-round pick in this year's draft, which they used to select the re-entering Conner Bleackley, who was formerly a first-round pick (23rd overall in 2014) of the Colorado Avalanche.

Also on Saturday, Bleackley and Doty signed new contracts as part of a group of nine players signed by the Blues for organizational depth (to be assigned to the Chicago Wolves). Bleackley signed a three-year entry-level deal, while Doty was signed to a one-year, two-way contract along with the other players on this list:

PLAYER Pos Sht Hgt Wgt DOB Birthplace
AGOSTINO, Kenny LW L 6-00 203 04-30-92 Morristown, NJ
AGOZZINO, Andrew LW L 5-10 187 01-03-91 Kleinburg, ON
BLEACKLEY, Conner C R 6-01 192 02-07-96 High River, AB
BUTLER, Chris D L 6-01 196 10-27-86 St. Louis, MO
ELLIS, Morgan D R 6-01 212 04-30-92 Ellerslie, PE
FRIESEN, Alex C/W L 5-09 185 01-30-91 St. Catharines, ON
HUNT, Brad D L 5-09 187 08-24-88 Maple Ridge, BC
MEGAN, Wade C L 6-01 192 07-22-90 Canton, NY

Analysis

The departure of players like Backes, Brouwer, and Ott opens up opportunities to play in the NHL for some of the Blues' younger players, the prospects who have been toiling in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. Youngsters like Ty Rattie and Ivan Barbashev may now finally get a real shot at full-time NHL duty after having had to work through not only Ken Hitchcock's bias against young, offense-first players on the NHL roster, but also against the Wolves' own bias towards playing their latest ECHL Journeyman O' The Week free agent signing ahead of the prospects assigned there by the Blues.

The signing of former NHL tough guy Craig Berube to a two-year contract as coach of the Wolves should bring a new outlook to the Allstate Arena, assuming that there is truth to the old adage that a new broom sweeps clean.

The departure of the five RFA's from last year's Wolves' club was predictable. Veilleux was a solid two-way winger, but his offense had not developed the way the Blues envisioned. Tesink's in-your-face playing style led to numerous injuries in junior, and that trend continued in the pro ranks, stalling his development.

Beach had given the Blues several solid years as a minor-league tough guy, but failed to develop beyond that. He and Doty are similar players, and with Doty being a year younger, the Blues opted to bring him back instead. Nedomlel and Phillips were longshots, brought in for cheap to fill holes in the Wolves' roster; if they had blossomed, it would have been a bonus, but no big loss that they did not.

Of the new signees, Bleackley is the most intriguing. A former first-round pick who got shuffled around two other organizations before landing with the Blues, he comes to this organization with something to prove and, perhaps, a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

St. Louis native Butler, and Brad Hunt, provide some veteran stability on the blueline for the Wolves next year, while Ellis is still young enough to prosper in the right circumstance. Up front, Agostino, Agozzino, Friesen and Megan combined for 63 goals in the AHL last season with various clubs, and all but Megan also had cups of coffee in the NHL.

Agostino may be the best of the RFA signings at forward. Drafted 140th overall by the Penguins in 2010, he spent four years at Yale (134 GP, 56-76-132, 140 PM, plus-49) and won a national championship with the Bulldogs in 2013 before turning pro in the Calgary organization. Last year with Stockton, Agostino struck for 23 goals and 57 points in 65 games.