With the Blues’ training camp officially underway today at the Centene Community Ice Center, fans are becoming focused on the season’s start. What will this year’s Blues team look like? What lines will the coaching staff put together?
Most importantly, how will this year’s team respond to last year’s quick playoff ouster and piecemeal effort over the course of the season? There’s a lot to look at for a team with heavy expectations, and a team that is - as fans and the team itself are quick to remind people - only a little over two years removed from a Stanley Cup.
What is Vladimir Tarasenko’s status?
All signs point to go with Tarasenko’s start to the season. He’s been working out with and skating with the team for the past couple of weeks, as he should be, because as of today he is a member of the St. Louis Blues. He’s also said to be in some of the best shape of his career, which is an excellent sign on two fronts. One, that should make other teams more comfortable about taking a gamble on him and two, if the Blues have to have Tarasenko on their team for any amount of time this season, a healthy and productive Tarasenko is much better than one who is just biding his time. Playing well boosts his trade value for the team (and could lessen the amount of salary that Armstrong has to hold on to, if any), and playing well benefits the team’s productivity as a whole. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario any better than the one that it looks like the Blues are getting here with Tarasenko, aside from the dust-up about his shoulder surgeries never happening to begin with.
Will the additions of Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad cushion the losses of Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman?
They should. Both players are of significant importance to the Blues’ season, and Armstrong is banking on them pushing the offense, which struggled at times last season, over the edge. Buchnevich and Saad are of differing skill sets to the two players that they replaced - neither can be described strictly as a power play specialist like Hoffman - but that’s to the team’s advantage. Neither new addition will balk at getting into scuffles defending their crease, and neither will hesitate in skating to the tough areas in front of the net where the greasy goals are scored. For whatever reason, the Blues have not been their usual selves recently when defensive or offensive net-front presence is concerned. That has to improve significantly, and adding two hard-nosed players will go far to fixing that problem. Head Coach Craig Berube certainly can’t complain about either guy.
Will the defense be improved?
Hopefully? Armstrong didn’t go out and make any groundbreaking acquisitions this off-season; it’s clear that he likes what the team has right now, and is betting on improvement from key players. Torey Krug had a tough first year with the Blues from an offensive standpoint, and while his year wasn’t as rough as Justin Faulk’s first year with the Blues, it also wasn’t smooth sailing. Hopefully getting a season under his belt will have the same effect on Krug as it did on Faulk.
Colton Parayko’s new contract is both a vote of confidence and evidence of Armstrong hedging regarding Colton Parayko. Parayko’s the top defenseman now that Alex Pietrangelo is in Las Vegas, and his ongoing back injury last year was a detriment to the Blues’ defense. Armstrong signed him to an extended deal with faith that Parayko had recovered; the below-market cost of the deal is more than likely a direct result of that injury and the question marks that surround it. If Parayko bounces back this season and maintains that level of play with no future issues, that contract is going to look like a massive steal... because it is.
How much game experience will the prospects get during the pre-season?
A lot, initially - the first couple of pre-season games are always very prospect heavy, so keep your rosters handy if you’re going to the game Saturday night.
By the end of the pre-season, the prospect who will more than likely be the remaining one on the ice will be Scott Perunovich. He’s high on the list of young players ready to make that leap, especially after a strong showing at Traverse City. If Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman falter or get injured, he’ll probably get a chance to get NHL games in - which is a significant improvement over getting perfunctory playing time during pre-season games.