Training camp for the 2023-24 St. Louis Blues begins on Sept. 21. This season will be a huge determining factor in the future of many players on the roster and head coach Craig Berube. The Blues are coming off of a rough 2022-23 season, where they missed the playoffs by a mile.
While most of their lineup is likely set, there are still young players and prospects that can make an impact in training camp. Here are three Blues to watch as training camp gets underway.
First up is 22-year-old center Nikita Alexandrov, who appeared in 28 games last season for the Blues. Although he got limited ice time, he made an impact despite some struggles in the faceoff circle at 35 percent. He tallied seven points in 28 games with under 10 minutes of ice time.
It’s clear that Alexandrov will be in the mix when the Blues decide who their fourth-line center will be. One thing working against him is the Blues’ signing of Oskar Sundqvist, who is a favorite of Berube and has performed well for the Blues in that role in the past. However, Alexandrov will be quality competition for this spot after he got experience last season and the necessary instincts he has to succeed in the Berube system. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks in both training camp and the preseason.
While I don’t necessarily expect Zach Dean to make the Blues roster this season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him show flashes in training camp of what’s to come. The Blues acquired Dean from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Ivan Barbashev prior to the trade deadline last season. He was taken with the 30th pick in the 2021 Draft by the Golden Knights but hasn’t appeared in an NHL game yet.
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Dean projects as a similar player to Barbashev, and that’s part of why I believe the Blues liked him so much. He’s an energetic player and hounds the puck in the offensive zone.
“Dean is a player that has a constant hunger for the puck and wears his heart on his sleeve each game. However, that desire and drive has also led to injuries over the past few seasons, even preventing him from participating in Canada’s World Junior Championship camp this past summer. Should he continue his development and do his best to limit injuries, he could eventually become a valuable middle-six contributor for the Blues moving forward.”Mike Meyer, The Hockey Writers (Blues Prospect Report: Dean, Buchinger, Hofer & More)
His production over the past two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has been terrific. He tallied 70 points in 50 games last season, including 33 goals. The plan for Dean to start the season will likely be to play in the top six with the Blues’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Don’t be surprised if there is loud chatter about how good Dean looks in training camp. Outside of Zachary Bolduc, Jimmy Snuggerud, and Dalibor Dvorsky, Dean is one of the most exciting Blues forward prospects.
A player that will certainly be on the Blues roster this season is 23-year-old goaltender Joel Hofer. It will be interesting to watch his growth from last season to this season in training camp.
The hope for Hofer this season is that he pushes Jordan Binnington to be better, similar to what goaltender Ville Husso did in 2021-22 before scoring a multi-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Hofer had a save percentage (SV%) of .905 last season after a few lackluster starts to end the season. However, prior to that, he had three tremendous starts with a .959 SV% and a 2-0-1 record. While his NHL sample size is small, he played well in the AHL and has the upside to be an NHL starter. I wouldn’t be stunned to see Hofer make major strides in both training camp and the regular season.
The Blues won’t have many major roster or lineup battles in training camp this year, but these three players are ones to keep a close eye on.