The St. Louis Blues opened their 2014-15 training camp last Thursday with off-ice conditioning and fitness testing. Over the past week they have trimmed their roster from 52 players to 46 sending such prospects as Thomas Vannelli, CJ Yakimowicz, and Samuel Blais back to their respective junior teams.
However making the first round of cuts was simply the beginning, and from here on out the organization will really have to examine each prospective team member under the microscope to dissect their value in order to get to a finalized game day roster. The team simply has too much talent, and too many NHL ready players vying for too few spots on that final roster, causing a very healthy problem in St. Louis.
There’s no Such Thing as Too Much Talent
Granted there is nothing wrong with healthy competition in any sports setting, but at this time of year it can cause gray hairs and balding heads around the world. The problem the Blues are currently experiencing is one of that very realm. After the boys in blue (and white) hit the ice on Friday morning, and as they skated through the weekend heading into Sunday evening’s affair with the Columbus Blue Jackets squad, it was apparent that every player who’s “on the bubble” came prepared to fight for those last few roster spots.
— 101espn (@101espn) September 22, 2014
Crafty Vets Prove to be in Top Shape at Training Camp
Though the Blues’ 2014-15 training camp is still underway, there have been an abundance of standouts to this point. The most surprising fact may be that some of the players showing the most improvement are those who’ve been in the league for years (we’ll see what happens when the puck drops on the regular season in October though). Two of the veterans who caught the coaches’ eyes early in training camp were Peter Mueller and Steve Ott (yes Steve Ott). Mueller was originally skating with newcomer Jori Lehtera and budding superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, which definitely helps (as Lehtera and Taro have previously played with one another in the KHL) make his life easier, but Muller managed to keep up with their torrid pace, and even chipped in on most plays showing he has great hockey IQ, and a creative style of play, which is something the Blues are looking to have more of in their game this season.
Ott, who came over from Buffalo at the deadline last season in the infamous Ryan Miller trade, didn’t show much of anything last season, but is seemingly eager to make up for lost time. His hustle was the best at camp last weekend bar none, and he’s already cracked the preseason score sheet with an assist in Dallas. His smooth stride and quick feet seem to be back under him, and coaches were very impressed with his improved shot and quick release. This could be a true comeback year for the veteran, now that he’s in the role he was meant to be in at the NHL level.
Young Stars and Prospects Equally Impressive
With such budding stars as the aforementioned Vladimir Tarasenko and the (hopefully) soon to be signed Jaden Schwartz expecting big seasons, it may be the silent, strong type of youngster who finally helps the team get over its recent Stanley Cup playoff woes. Magnus Paajarvi has been talked up by coach Ken Hitchcock as a player to watch, and it showed throughout the camp last weekend. His speed has improved, his sight-lines seem impeccable, and his shot is more powerful than it ever has been. If the coaches allow him the additional playing time he needs to continue his NHL development, he could really be the missing piece to the depth puzzle the Notes have been looking for over the recent years past.
Though Paajarvi won’t likely be a standalone superstar, he could very well balance the team’s scoring with a 35 point season (something he hasn’t done since he amassed 34 points his rookie season in Edmonton) which would help win those ever-so-tight games the Blues often seem to find themselves in. Alongside Magnus will be young guns such as Dmitri Jaskin and Ty Rattie, and other NHL vets such as Ben Ferriero, Joakim Lindstrom (though he’s an NHL rookie), and defensemen Nate Prosser who will be filling in throughout the season as needed which provides a healthy competition throughout the year. These key pieces once again show the Blues’ healthy problem, an abundance of talent at every position to provide that balanced scoring they’ve been long searching for.
Other Training Camp Not(e)ables
The list of competitive players at the Blues’ training camp keeps on going because of great front office moves and player development increases over the past several seasons. Such players as the previously mentioned Joakim Lindstrom, St. Louis native Chris Butler, and everyone’s favorite tough guy Ryan Reaves have shown they are ready for the upcoming NHL season and have made the coaches decisions about the final roster that much more difficult.
Blues lost 4-3 elliott gave up 1 . Looked strong. STL goals by whitney berglund cole. Joakim lindstrom looked fast and strong, jaskin toLGB
— The 6th ATTACKER (@STLBlues5thLine) September 23, 2014
This healthy competition in training camp should lead to an impressive season, especially with back-end talent like Brian Elliot and Jake Allen splitting time between the pipes. This should mean more goals for, less against, and more wins to boost the team further into the playoffs than ever before. Let’s just hope they can stay healthy and focused for a full 82 games plus playoffs, so the city of St. Louis can finally celebrate down Market Street. With so many players ready to jump into the lineup at any given time, this could truly be the Blues’ year.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.