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Blues Turning to Younger Core

by Louie Korac / St. Louis Blues

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the St. Louis Blues.

The St. Louis Blues reached the Western Conference Final last season for the first time in 15 years, and under normal circumstances, there would have been more roster additions than subtractions heading into this season.

But if the Blues are to build off last season's success, it will have to come from a younger core.

The Blues reached the conference final for the first time since 2001 and lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games but did it with a veteran-laden group. St. Louis will rely on youth this season after losing captain David Backes (Boston Bruins), right wing Troy Brouwer (Calgary Flames) and left wing Steve Ott (Detroit Red Wings) in free agency, and trading goalie Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames.

The Blues invested in left wing Jaden Schwartz with a five-year, $26.75 million contract (average annual value $5.35 million), signed veteran fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak to a two-year contract reportedly worth $1.9 million (AAV $950,000) and brought back former first-round pick David Perron, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract (AAV $3.75 million) to come back to the Blues, where the forward spent the first six years of his career.

Jake Allen, who had shared goaltending duties with Elliott the past two seasons, has been entrusted as the No. 1 goalie, and the Blues rewarded him with a four-year, $17.4 million extension (AAV $4.35 million) that begins next season. Goaltender Carter Hutton, Pekka Rinne's backup with the Nashville Predators the past three seasons, signed a two-year, $2.25 million contract (AAV $1.125 million) to be Allen's backup.

Forward Vladimir Sobotka, who most recently played in the NHL with the Blues in 2014, could return after spending the past two seasons playing for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

The biggest piece of the young core is their leading scorer last season, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who had 74 points (40 goals, 34 assists) in 80 games. The Blues will lean on Allen, Schwartz, center Robby Fabbri and defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson to carry the bulk of the load, along with veteran left wing Alexander Steen and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.

St. Louis rewarded Pietrangelo by naming him captain, replacing Backes. Tarasenko, Steen, Shattenkirk and center Paul Stastny will be alternate captains.

"We're one of 30 teams that is seeing this phenomenon take place right now of the evolution of the game," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I think we're as current or ahead of the curve in a lot of different areas. I think puck-moving defensemen, we've put a premium on, the last little while. I think the game's gone to a less physical, more puck-oriented game from your back-end players. ... It's just staying current with the game.

"We're a different [lineup]. ... I think with Tarasenko and Schwartz and Fabbri and Parayko and Pietrangelo, we have a lot of good, younger players and it was time to move in that direction. We're a younger team. We're a different team and we're going to be putting a lot of responsibilities on the younger players."

The Blues will transition to a new coach and staff next season. Coach Ken Hitchcock announced at the conclusion of last season that this would be his final season, and the Blues hired Mike Yeo, who signed a four-year contract, to replace Hitchcock. This season, Yeo will be the associate coach and join new assistants Rick Wilson, who was an assistant under Yeo with the Minnesota Wild, and Steve Thomas, formerly with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wilson and Thomas replace Brad Shaw, who joined the Columbus Blue Jackets staff, and Kirk Muller, who will be an associate coach with the Montreal Canadiens.

"[Last] season has invigorated me like no other season before," said Hitchcock, who will be 65 in December. "I really think we have another gear in us and I want to be part of that, but from a self-improvement standpoint, and I know this is strange for some people unless you're a career coach, but I just feel like if I'm not getting better, I'm getting worse. I'm not prepared to do the offseason work after this offseason.

"To me, I'm ready to go for [this season]. I'm excited. This is an unbelievable group of guys with a lot of potential and I'm ready to do it."

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