Analyzing Blues’ Final Roster Decisions

Every NHL team, especially projected contenders, faces a series of tough decisions at this time of year. Inevitably, teams have young players that should make the roster but might not, and they often have aging veterans who might be past their prime. General managers are forced to make calls and cut their roster down to 23, sending their remaining camp players to the American Hockey League (AHL) or back to their junior teams, or — in the case of veterans who can’t quite keep up — to free agency unexpectedly.

The St. Louis Blues have cut their training camp roster down to 29 players, which leaves them with about 10 players outside the obvious “core” who are on the fringes of making the roster. It is safe to assume that Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso will be the team’s two goaltenders. In this article, we’ll look at the forwards and defenders who are fighting for final roster position, and project which players will end up in St. Louis, who will end up with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL, and who, if anyone, might be looking for work.


There are currently eleven forwards who can comfortably assume their place in the Blues’ main roster:

That leaves seven players still in St. Louis fighting for four roster spots (for the time being, while Sundqvist continues to recuperate). Let’s discuss each in turn.

Logan Brown

Projected Destination: AHL Springfield

The Blues made a surprise move late in September, sending Zach Sanford to the Ottawa Senators and bringing back a pick, along with hometown prospect Logan Brown. The towering 23-year-old forward is a former 11th-overall pick who still has a lot of promise, but he struggled to crack the NHL roster in Ottawa and desperately wanted a change of scenery.

Logan Brown Ottawa Senators
Logan Brown, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brown will be eager to play in real regular-season action for his hometown team, and he will get that shot eventually. With 30 NHL games under his belt, it’s not impossible he becomes the fourth-line center. But it’s much more likely, given his newness with the organization, and the fact that he spent much of last season injured, that he begins the season in the AHL and has to wait for an opportunity either earned by his play or forced by an injury.

Kyle Clifford

Projected Destination: NHL Roster

Kyle Clifford is in the final year of a two-year, $2 million contract, and he was always meant to be a fringe roster player and contributing veteran on the fourth line. His first season in St. Louis wasn’t stellar, but he is a veteran, and cutting him would make a dent in the salary cap, however marginal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, and GM Doug Armstrong has been known to make unexpected cuts in the past when younger players earn a roster spot. It is possible that Jake Neighbours, whom we will discuss shortly, forces Armstrong’s hand, which might lead to a cut for Clifford. But the most likely result is that he ends up in the NHL to start the season.

Dakota Joshua

Projected Destination: NHL Roster

The Blues made a nice move when they acquired Dakota Joshua for next to nothing in 2019. He has developed into a fine bottom-line forward who can play center, and that always has value in the NHL. Moreover, the former Ohio State University captain is a character player and it seems his team and teammates like him. That goes a long way when you’re fighting for final roster spots. Joshua acquitted himself well in his NHL action last season, and he will likely start there again this season, especially with Sundqvist on LTIR.

Klim Kostin

Projected Destination: AHL Springfield

Fans won’t like this at all, but former first-round pick Klim Kostin is almost certain to begin the season on the AHL roster. The 31st-overall pick in 2017 has not had a meteoric rise to the NHL by any means, but most fans still view him as a top prospect. He had a breakout season in the KHL last year, even winning a Gagarin Cup with Avangard Omsk. But he wasn’t an immediate hit with head coach Craig Berube last season, and many were upset to not see him feature in the Blues’ brief playoff stint.

Klim Kostin St. Louis Blues
Klim Kostin, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

Kostin has never been given a shot at extended NHL playing time, but he also hasn’t been without opportunities to prove he deserves one. And he has never seized those opportunities. He has not been a standout player in the preseason, and now that the Blues have a controlled AHL relationship, they will likely want to see him playing top minutes in the top North American development league, rather than playing in Russia or fighting for scraps of playing time in the NHL. Kostin still can be the top call-up when the team suffers a significant injury, as all teams do in the NHL; however, he won’t start the season with the Blues, and fans need to adjust to that.

MacKenzie MacEachern

Projected Destination: AHL Springfield

MacKenzie MacEachern was a 2012 third-round pick, and after years of fighting his way to the NHL, has now played 101 NHL games. But he is, by his very nature, a fringe roster player on the final year of a two-year contract with a $900,000 AAV. He has not looked good in the preseason and doesn’t have the veteran cache that Clifford does. it is a strong possibility he gets waived to make room for the two players we’ll talk about shortly. If that happens, the Blues will hope that he passes waivers. They certainly don’t want to lose him for free. But players like MacEachern who have long NHL careers usually encounter this scenario more than once or twice. Resiliency is important when you’re a fourth-liner.

James Neal (Currently on PTO)

Projected Destination: NHL Roster

Now we move to the two unlikeliest developments of the preseason, on opposite ends of the age spectrum. All signs point to NHL veteran James Neal making the Blues’ roster after signing a professional tryout (PTO) alongside Michael Frolik before the preseason began. The Blues recently released Frolik from that tryout, but Neal remained through the final round of cuts. He has looked strong in the preseason and even scored a hat trick in the team’s first game. Even so, no roster spot is guaranteed, but a subtle comment in a recent tweet from Blues’ beat reporter Jeremy Rutherford strongly hints at Neal’s destination.

Neal’s admission that he is looking forward to a trip exclusively for the final 23-man roster is surprising, but his place on the roster isn’t unjustifiable. The Edmonton Oilers bought him out over the summer, but he still has something to offer an NHL team on a basement-level contract. He can provide a veteran presence, antagonization, and depth goal-scoring in a bottom-six role. With Sundqvist still out, that has value. And if it doesn’t work out, the team can move on quickly with few regrets.

Jake Neighbours

Projected Destination: NHL Roster (nine-game tryout)

Almost no one expected 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours to still be fighting for a roster spot in the last game of the preseason. And fewer people would have projected his making the roster. But at this point, it would be hard for Armstrong to justify not at least giving Neighbours a nine-game tryout to reward his hard work in the offseason and his impressive preseason showing.

Neighbours is still only 19, which means he is the victim of a rule that prevents an NHL team from sending him to the AHL for the season. The Blues will have to choose between giving him an NHL opportunity or returning him to the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings, where he dominated last season. But there is a bit of a middle ground: teams are allowed to give a young player a nine-game NHL tryout without burning a season of his entry-level contract (ELC). Afterward, they can keep him in the pros or return him to juniors without penalty. Armstrong should take this option for Neighbours. At worst, he doesn’t look ready during his tryout and returns to the WHL hungrier than ever. in the best case, he proves he’s ready and gives the Blues a special young player to fit into their roster, giving them added insurance should they choose to move Tarasenko. Neighbours has earned this shot, and the Blues should give it to him.


The Blues have five clear NHL defensemen:

  • Robert Bortuzzo
  • Justin Faulk
  • Torey Krug
  • Colton Parayko
  • Marco Scandella

That leaves a sixth starting spot and a seventh-defenseman role for three young players.

Niko Mikkola

Projected Destination: NHL Roster

Niko Mikkola is as natural a “seventh defenseman” as there is. He is defensively responsible enough to play just about anywhere in the lineup, but he offers next to no offensive upside, which is a pre-requisite for consistent playing time up the lineup on a modern NHL defense.

Niko Mikkola San Antonio Rampage
Niko Mikkola, San Antonio Rampage (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Mikkola is a solid player and offers a lot to the Blues. But his ceiling is pretty low, unlike the player we’ll talk about next. Could he be sent to the AHL to give the blue-chipper a shot? It’s possible. But as we’ll explain next, that likely won’t be the Blues’ thinking.

Scott Perunovich

Projected Destination: AHL Springfield

Scott Perunovich has shined every second he’s played this preseason, and he probably deserves a spot on the NHL roster. The problem he’s facing now is two-fold: one, no veteran ahead of him has really done anything to “lose” their spot, except arguably Marco Scandella, who is too expensive to waive; and two, he didn’t play last season. It will be all too easy for the organization to justify sending him to the AHL after a season of inaction with injury, even as well as he’s performed ahead of the new campaign.

Related: Blues Need Perunovich on Their Roster

Armstrong will be able to explain to Perunovich that the team wants him playing top minutes in Springfield so that he is prepared when a bigger opportunity opens up at the NHL level. He would hardly be the first young player to hear such an argument. If the Blues want the best roster coming out of camp, there is no excuse for sending Perunovich down. But if they want to keep the veterans happy and have an ace in the hole for injuries or when they need a change of momentum, sending him down will give them all of that without ruffling too many feathers.

Jake Walman

Projected Destination: NHL Roster

Once upon a time, Jake Walman looked to be the permanent odd man out in the Blues defense, but a rash of injuries last season gave him a shot, and he shined. He’s looked good in preseason, and his best game was arguably the team’s last on Friday night when he scored a goal. He’s almost certain to make the NHL roster and hold down the final spot in the top six out of the gate. And no one can argue he hasn’t earned it.

Armstrong’s Tough Decisions

Much of the Blues’ roster is set, but the strong preseason from Neighbours and Perunovich has left them in a pickle. Should they reward the young players for working hard at the expense of veteran roster spots? Or should they find a way to make them hungry for the future and rely on proven NHL commodities? We anticipate a little of both; however, it is well within Armstrong’s history to give young players a chance. He surprised many when he gave both Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou roster spots a few seasons ago, waiving Dmitrij Jaškin and Chris Thorburn in the process. Later that season, they won the Stanley Cup. of course, making the same decisions this time won’t guarantee the same result. But the precedent will make a youth movement that much more tempting for Armstrong.

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