HAZELWOOD - So it’s official. Hockey season is here.
The players reported to training camp Thursday to participate in off-ice testing, take their annual headshot photos and film promos and features that will be used throughout the season on the Scottrade Center scoreboard and on FOX Sports Midwest.
In the morning, General Manager Doug Armstrong and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock answered questions from the media and touched on a variety of topics. Below are some notes from those conversations.
1. Jaden Schwartz
Schwartz was not present for the first day of training camp. The Blues and Schwartz, a restricted free agent, have not come to a terms on a new contract.
“We’ve had some dialogue recently, but I don’t know when he’s going to be here,” Armstrong said Thursday. “He’s not here today and I don’t expect him here tomorrow. And we're just going to now concentrate on the players that are here, try and find some synergy with the center men that are in camp with some wingers. And when Jaden reports, when we get a contract done with him, he can work his way back into that group. But right now it's focus on the guys that are here.”
Schwartz had 25 goals and 56 points last season. He completed the final season of his entry-level deal last year.
2. Carl Gunnarsson
The Blues acquired defenseman Carl Gunnarsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Roman Polak at the 2014 NHL Draft. Gunnarsson is expected to help the Blues in their transition game, but he’s spent the summer recovering from a hip injury.
Hitchcock said Gunnarsson would be between a 3/4 participant and a full participant.
“He’s going to skate with the training staff and then join us for the first phase of the (training camp) sessions,” Hitchcock said. “The whole focus is to get him up to speed towards the end of camp. He’s really progressed nicely, so he’s going to participate with the group.
3. The Blues really like their depth
Both Armstrong and Hitchcock commented that the team’s depth was the best it’s been since they’ve been here. Forwards Peter Mueller and Joakim Lindstrom, and defenseman Chris Butler and Nate Prosser to name a few, give the Blues plenty of bodies for healthy competition in camp.
“These are guys who legitimately can play in the National Hockey League and can compete for spots here,” Hitchcock said. “There’s going to be more internal competition for ice time and for roles than we’ve ever had here.
“If you’re good enough to play, you’re going to find a spot. I think the truthful aspect of this is anybody that isn’t a veteran player is going to have to be a little bit better. If you’re a little bit better, Doug (Armstrong) will find a spot for you, and he’s not afraid to put (players on one-way contracts) down (at the Chicago Wolves). This is full-on competition.”
4. Preseason rosters
Not that any stretch of an NHL season is easy, but the Blues face a very tough October that sees them facing off with the Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers, the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks twice and the Chicago Blackhawks.
With that in mind, Hitchcock said he’ll really stack his rosters in the final three preseason games to get ready for the season.
“The first four games are evaluation of skill and readiness, and the last three games are get ready to build the team… we get punched right in the face right off the bat in October, so we’ve got to be ready to go. The last three games are there strictly to get the team ready to play."
5. Ryan Reaves can bench press more than you.
Blues Strength and Conditioning Coach Nelson Ayotte said Ryan Reaves finished first among all players in camp by bench pressing 305 pounds during off-ice fitness tests.
Vladimir Tarasenko and prospect Yannick Veilleux were tied for second at 300 pounds.