As the St. Louis Blues approach the end of training camp, they’re going to have to begin making some tough decisions on the composition of their roster. With 33 players on the roster (including an emergency third goalie, two guys on professional tryout contracts, and two others, Chris Butler and Colin Fraser, who have effectively been eliminated from the competition by being placed on waivers), the Blues must pare things down and get to 23 players over the next few days.
They’re likely to carry 14 forwards and seven defensemen, so that means five forwards and four defensemen (three if Carl Gunnarsson begins the year on injured reserve) must be removed from the roster. As the Blues played the Carolina Hurricanes in their fifth of seven preseason games on Tuesday night, the decisions didn’t get much easier.
Magnus Paajarvi, who was penciled into a spot on the NHL roster entering camp, has not really done a whole lot to make a good case for himself. The 23-year-old Swede was a liability on Tuesday night, as he was on the ice for Carolina’s lone goal and later took an interference penalty. Paajarvi also picked up an embarrassing high-sticking double minor which resulted in a power play goal in last week’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Paajarvi has great size at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds and has some legitimate talent. But after playing in the NHL for the past four years and failing to really contribute anything substantial, you have to wonder if he’s ever going to put it together. With so many talented forwards on the Blues’ roster, time may be running out for Paajarvi to prove himself.
One of those talented forwards is 2014 first-rounder Robby Fabbri. There wasn’t really any discussion of Fabbri making the NHL roster coming into camp this year, but the 18-year-old has done nothing but impress and now looks to have a legitimate shot at sticking around. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock really talked up the rookie following Tuesday’s game, according to NHL.com’s Lou Korac:
Hitch on Fabbri: “He’s not missing a beat. He’s not going to go away.” #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) October 1, 2014
Hitch on Fabbri: “He’s pushing for a job here right now. He’s a legitimate guy that’s looking for work right now.” #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) October 1, 2014
Fabbri worked with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko on Tuesday, a combination of forwards which may be the Blues’ best scoring duo this year. The left wing spot on that line is projected to be filled by Jaden Schwartz this year. Even if Schwartz assumes the position, though, Fabbri says he’s comfortable contributing on any line, saying “it’s kind of easy to feel comfortable on any line you get put on here. Playing with different guys every game, you learn different things”.
As far as the numbers game goes, it’s difficult to project a scenario where Fabbri would be able to get consistent meaningful playing time. But perhaps if he’s impressive enough, he could win a top-nine role and push someone like Patrik Berglund to the fourth line.
Jaskin and Mueller played on a line with Paajarvi on Tuesday, and neither was particularly impressive. Both took penalties—Mueller for hooking, Jaskin for interference—and they were somewhat shaky on defense. Jaskin has turned into a more complete player recently by increasing his physicality and beginning to work at center in addition to both wing spots, but if he’s not going to be in a regular role, the Blues may prefer to have the 21-year-old playing regularly in the AHL rather than sitting with the big club.
Mueller, meanwhile, was going to have to have a very good camp to win a spot, and while he’s been solid, he hasn’t necessarily wowed. He’ll probably have to go down to the AHL and earn a call-up later on.
Porter doesn’t seem to have gotten a whole lot of exposure this camp, and he may be forced to head to the minors for a second year in a row after signing a one-way contract prior to last season. The 30-year-old is a very reliable player who seems to come up well in the clutch, but he doesn’t have the raw talent that many of the other forwards on the club seem to have this year.
Things aren’t clear on defense either. The club had a projected group of seven defensemen entering camp, set to include Ian Cole and Jordan Leopold at the back end. But impressive training camp performances by veteran Nate Prosser and 21-year-old Petteri Lindbohm appear to have muddied that picture. More likely than not, the Blues will roll with the seven guys they originally planned to open the season with, but the pressure has definitely been put on Cole and Leopold as the preseason nears its end.