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30 in 30

Bulk of Blues' roster returning after huge step forward

Monday, 08.20.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

After a 109-point season, the St. Louis Blues spent the summer locking up the talent that made it happen instead of making changes after a second-round playoff exit.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong signed forward David Perron to a four-year deal, then followed that by inking forward T.J. Oshie with a five-year deal. Perron, 24, and Oshie, 25, had arguably their best offensive seasons as professionals. Oshie had a career-best 54 points in 80 games while Perron's 42 points were nine short of a career high, but he reached that number in just 57 games after returning from a concussion.

"With both David and T.J., those are two players that we've spent quite a bit of time cultivating and ... it was important for our organization to keep these players through the prime of their careers," Armstrong told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "Both of these players, especially David Perron at such a young age coming into the League, he'll be right in the middle of his prime years when his contract is up in four years. T.J. Oshie is a little older and signed up for a longer time.

"It's important to have these guys that we believe can be a large part of the solution signed up."

It's not just Oshie and Perron who are back -- it's almost everyone.

Offense, goalie rotation biggest questions for Blues

Monday, 08.20.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

When a team puts together a 109-point season and has almost its entire roster back for the following season, there aren't too many questions surrounding the club.

The Blues ran into the Los Angeles Kings' juggernaut in the second round and lost in four games, ending a season that was as remarkable as it was surprising. What must the Blues do to get back to the postseason and beyond the second round? Here are some questions that could affect that.

1. How will Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott co-exist this season? -- The tandem was one of the most effective in NHL history last season, as it nearly had an even split in starts and combined for a 1.78 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Halak went 26-12-7 in 46 starts and Elliott went 23-10-4 in 36 starts.

Elliott found himself in the net far more often than expected because of Halak's early-season struggles, but the firing of coach Davis Payne and hiring of coach Ken Hitchock changed the fortunes of Halak and the Blues.

Blues’ Stewart aims for bounce-back season

Monday, 08.20.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Jason Arnott is no longer on the roster of the St. Louis Blues, gone after one season in which the 37-year-old had 17 goals in 72 games.

Chris Stewart
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 30
SOG: 166 | +/-: 1
The veteran had two more goals than Chris Stewart, who was expected to do big things last year after two consecutive seasons of 28 goals. Whether Stewart bounces back this season remains to be seen, but he has spent the offseason doing everything possible after listening to advice from Arnott.

"I talked to a guy like Jason Arnott, who really prides himself on his nutrition and who really takes care of himself," Stewart told reporters. "We talked about it during the year, but at the end of the year, we sat down, talked about it and he really said if I can commit myself to the gym this summer and come back here that I can be a difference-maker next year.

Deep lineup could give Blues top seed in West

Monday, 08.20.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

The timeline for teams who have committed to rebuilding through the draft has worked almost like clockwork in cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington. Absorb many defeats on the ice for two-to-three years, collect high picks and watch the franchise go from pretender to contender almost overnight.

This is not how the script played out in St. Louis. After the Blues were bad for a few years (with a slightly surprising surge toward the middle after hiring Andy Murray mixed in), they made the playoffs in 2008-09 but were knocked out in the first round. Instead of taking the next step forward and becoming a serious contender, the Blues went sideways for two years.

The collection of young talent finally, after another coaching change, put it all together in 2011-12. St. Louis roared toward the top of the Western Conference, winning arguably the strongest division in the League and earning the No. 2 seed for the postseason.

With Ken Hitchcock in charge, the Blues expect their upward development curve to continue. To that end, the only major addition to the lineup this season will likely be top prospect Vladimir Tarasenko. Considering that the only other playoff team from the West last season to add an impact player without subtracting was San Jose -- the team St. Louis dispatched in the first round -- the Blues should be considered one of the favorites to win the conference this season.

Tarasenko tops Blues' batch of prospects

Monday, 08.20.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

The St. Louis Blues had their fair share of struggles from 2005 to 2011, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of six seasons. But with those setbacks come high draft picks, which the Blues used to transform themselves into an elite team in the Western Conference last season.

There's still plenty of talent in the system, so much so the Blues dealt goaltender Ben Bishop to the Ottawa Senators last year because of a logjam at the position.

The next prospect to get a chance is a talented Russian, but who else do the Blues have that will make an impact down the road? Here are 10 talented players in the system who have yet to play 20 NHL games.

1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW: He has yet to play a game in the NHL, yet on the Blues' website, he's listed on their main roster and not the prospects list. It's a sure sign the 6-foot, 200-pounder will be a member of the big club when camp breaks.

Tarasenko played his first Kontinental Hockey League game as a 16-year-old and has grown into one of the top prospects in all of hockey. He was a force on Russia's gold-medal team at the 2011 World Junior Championships with four goals and seven assists in seven games, tied for second at the tournament with countryman and Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Oilers want to turn potential into playoffs

Sunday, 08.19.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

New coach. New phenom. Is it the dawning of a new era for the Edmonton Oilers?

General manager Steve Tambellini certainly hopes so after selecting Russian wing Nail Yakupov with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on June 22 and hiring Ralph Krueger to be the 11th coach in franchise history five days later.

Along with the signing of defense prospect Justin Schultz as a free agent on July 1, those were the major offseason moves by the Oilers, who chose to stay the course with their rebuild rather than make a big trade or chase an established player on the open market.

Instead, Edmonton will look to a nucleus that includes No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, up-and-comers Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk, and veterans including Ryan Smyth to snap a skid of three straight last-place finishes in the Northwest Division and six consecutive seasons missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Surprise addition of Schultz boosts Oilers' defense

Sunday, 08.19.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

 While the Edmonton Oilers have stocked their offensive arsenal over the past several years with a trio of No. 1 draft picks, the key piece in the club's rebuilding efforts may have been delivered on July 1 when another team's inability to come to terms with its own prospect ended up as Steve Tambellini's good fortune.

In search of a dynamic young defenseman to complement the cadre of talented forwards he's been adding to the mix with regularity, the Oilers general manager got his wish with the signing of 22-year-old Justin Schultz to a two-year, entry-level contract. Highly sought throughout the NHL once he became a free agent, the product of Kelowna, British Columbia, chose Edmonton as the place he wanted to break into the League.

New coach Krueger leads Oilers' six questions

Sunday, 08.19.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

On June 19, 2006, the Edmonton Oilers attempted to complete their rally from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, coming up short in a 3-1 Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

That remains the most recent playoff game for a storied franchise that once boasted the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr, so the biggest question on the minds of many Oilers fans heading into the 2012-13 season revolves around whether the club is finally set to end that drought.

The answer: probably not yet. However, with a roster that figures to include the three most-recent No. 1 NHL Draft picks (Nail Yakupov is expected to join predecessors Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall), in addition to a plethora of other young, skilled talent not only up front but along the blue line and in goal, the Oilers are in position to at least challenge for a top-eight seed in the Western Conference and break a streak of three straight last-place finishes in the Northwest Division.

Whether that happens will depend a lot on the answers to the following six questions:

Oilers' top 10 prospects line up behind Yakupov

Sunday, 08.19.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

Edmonton Oilers fans have grown accustomed to not having to wait very long before seeing their top prospects become NHL regulars.

By virtue of holding the No. 1 pick in three consecutive drafts, the Oilers have been able to select from among not only the most promising but the most NHL-ready players available. The past two seasons have seen Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jump right into the lineup and put up impressive numbers.

That figures to continue this fall -- top pick Nail Yakupov and free-agent signee Justin Schultz, an Anaheim Ducks selection in 2008, are expected to win roster spots out of training camp.

Yakupov and Schultz are the prospects likely to make the biggest impact in Edmonton during the 2012-13 season, but they're only the beginning of a talented crop the Oilers hope will help turn things around in the standings over the decade to come.

Here's a look at Edmonton's top 10 prospects:

1. Nail Yakupov, F: Central Scouting's top-ranked skater among North Americans, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound right wing saw his final season in the Ontario Hockey League curtailed to 42 games as he battled several injuries, but the 31 goals and 69 points he compiled when in the lineup was more than sufficient in displaying the kind of dynamic offensive ability he brings to the table -- as was his performance at the World Junior Championship, where he led Russia with nine assists and a plus-5 rating. Yakupov posted 49 goals and 101 points in 65 games for the Sarnia Sting the previous season.

Jets' lineup altered by addition of Jokinen

Saturday, 08.18.2012 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

The first season with NHL hockey back in Winnipeg was a big, successful party. Fans flocked to see the new Jets, turning MTS Centre into the closest thing the NHL has to a college atmosphere, complete with creative chants and wonderful spurts of near-deafening noise.

There were November nights in Manitoba that sounded like other NHL arenas in the postseason. The Jets were a significantly better team at home than on the road, and the crowd played a role in that (though tough travel, both for the Jets on the road and teams coming to MTS, also was assuredly a factor).

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made one big addition and a secondary one to help his club's forward group. He also added a new backup goaltender, and locked up the franchise guy in net. Whether or not the improvements are enough to make the Jets a playoff contender remains to be seen -- they are still in the Southeast Division, which significantly improved, thanks to major moves by the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning.

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