Battle for St. Louis Blues’ Final Roster Spots Cleared Up as Team Makes Cuts

Sep 25, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Chris Porter (32) checks Columbus Blue Jackets defender Dillon Heatherington (37) during the first period of a preseason hockey game at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Chris Porter (32) checks Columbus Blue Jackets defender Dillon Heatherington (37) during the first period of a preseason hockey game at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The Blues let go of two forwards and a defenseman who were said to be battling for NHL roster spots on Monday, providing some clarity to the front office’s plans.

The St. Louis Blues made five roster moves on Monday morning, sending defensemen Chris Butler and Tommy Vannelli along with goalie Pheonix Copley to the AHL Chicago Wolves while releasing forwards Chris Porter and Eric Nystrom from their professional tryouts. After this round of cuts, the Blues’ roster now stands at 36 players.

The most surprising moves are the Porter and Nystrom cuts. While their roster odds certainly weren’t the highest considering that they didn’t have contracts, it was widely expected that they’d stick around longer as the Blues try to find a player to replace Jaden Schwartz, who will miss at least two weeks to begin the season, on the NHL roster.

The 32-year-old Porter, a veteran of seven NHL seasons, had a ton of experience playing for the Blues (he was in the organization from 2007-15) as well as two of the new coaches on the Blues’ staff, Mike Yeo and Rick Wilson, who both coached him with the Minnesota Wild last season. While it looked like he was slower than he was in seasons past, Porter’s skill set seemed to mesh well with the tenacious, speedy style that the Blues want to play this season.

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The 33-year-old Nystrom, who’s played in 593 NHL games since the 2005-06 season, is a physical, tenacious player who could have picked up some of the slack that David Backes and Troy Brouwer left behind when they signed long-term deals with other teams this offseason. Nystrom seemed to make a good impression when he led the team with eight hits in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. After his release, though, it’s clear that the Blues will be emphasizing speed and skill over physicality when it comes to roster decisions this season.

Butler was considered to be an outside candidate for the Blues’ seventh defenseman job this season, but it was always more likely that he’d go back to Chicago after signing a two-way deal with the Blues this offseason. Robert Bortuzzo, Petteri Lindbohm, Jordan Schmaltz, and Mike Weber (the only professional tryout player left in camp) are now left battling for the final defenseman spot on the NHL roster. With Monday’s cuts, though, perhaps the Blues will end up keeping eight blueliners to start the season.

With Porter and Nystrom gone–and assuming the Blues keep Ty Rattie and Magnus Paajarvi in the NHL to start the season–the battle for a presumed 14th forward spot is now down to Kenny Agostino, Samuel Blais, and Landon Ferraro.

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Agostino has been the star of camp so far, leading the entire NHL with six preseason points over four games. The 20-year-old Blais has never played in a professional game, but he’s caught the eye of coach Ken Hitchcock and has a goal and three assists in two preseason games.

The 25-year-old Ferraro is the most experienced among the bunch, having played in 75 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins over the past three seasons, but he’s perhaps the least likely to make the team, as he hasn’t really done anything to make himself known during the preseason. All three among Agostino, Blais, and Ferraro will suit up for Monday’s exhibition tilt with the Washington Capitals.

It’s always possible that the Blues could end up going a man short to begin the season and just wait until Schwartz comes back. GM Doug Armstrong didn’t sound so certain that the spot would be filled while doing an interview with Chris Kerber (which can be seen on the Blues’ Facebook page), and they’ve made similar decisions to preserve cap space before, most recently beginning the 2014-15 season with just six healthy defensemen while Carl Gunnarsson recovered from an injury.

As far as the other cuts, Vannelli missed the entirety of training camp while dealing with an undisclosed injury suffered at the Blues’ Traverse City prospect tournament. If healthy, he’s expected to get a good bit of action with the Wolves this season as he bounces back from a concussion that cost him almost all of the 2015-16 season.

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Copley will battle with Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso for the first call-up should the Blues need a third goalie at some point this year. He allowed no goals over 48:41 of preseason action and looked noticeably more polished than he did last season. With Jake Allen and Carter Hutton set to get all of the game action the rest of the way, Copley wasn’t going to get any more game opportunities and will instead get the opportunity to see more frequent action as the Wolves begin training camp. Binnington is likely to follow him after backing up Hutton in Monday’s preseason game.