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Blues begin to push young talent @NHL

ST. LOUIS (AP) - David Backes is the star of an entertaining TV commercial setting the tone for the St. Louis Blues' elevated expectations. He pokes fun at T.J. Oshie's frosted, curly locks and David Perron's white skates and says it's time for the young team to become a legitimate playoff contender.

The Blues began the push Friday, opening training camp with grueling skating drills and other testing. Trying, as the commercial says, to make sure that every game counts.

"It's kind of our mantra," Backes said. "We have no excuses."

The ad illustrates Backes' role as a team leader. Although veteran defenseman Eric Brewer remains captain, Backes has long served as a de facto team spokesman and will be among the alternate captains.

"I've tried to lead as far as doing the right things and lead by example, working hard since I've been here," Backes said. "It's kind of just a little more official."

A 2010 U.S. Olympian, Backes was the obvious choice to be the ad spokesman.

"That was definitely a script that was edited by me and made a little less cheesy," the right winger said. "But it works, I guess. I had to definitely get out the red ink and make sure it was appropriate for me to get just a little grief in the room, and not a ton."

Minus Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya, the team has gotten younger. That includes goalie, with former Montreal star Jaroslav Halak the big offseason pickup.

"We realize we've got a guy who's capable of special performances," said coach Davis Payne, signed to a contract extension in April after replacing Andy Murray in midseason. "We don't necessarily want him to have to be special every single night."

That's where players like Oshie, Perron, Patrik Berglund and defenseman Erik Johnson, all first-rounders, and Backes, a second-rounder, come in.

"No more 1,000-point guys that you just expect to go out there and get a clutch goal," Backes said. "There's going to be other guys in those roles and it's time to step up and either earn that spot or be pushed away by someone else. An awesome opportunity for everyone here."

Conditioning won't be a problem. Oshie was the last man standing in his group during an endurance skate, cruising up and down the ice for about 12 minutes and outlasting another former No. 1 pick, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

"It gets to be a grind and you just go until you can't go," Oshie said. "It's nice having someone there to push you. Last year I had Perron and this year Petro - a little friendly competition."

A poor home record doomed the Blues' playoff chances last season. For the second straight season they surged in the second half but finished ninth in the Western Conference and five points out of the final spot.

"I think the important thing for us to realize is what happened and why we missed out last year," forward Alex Steen said. "It's a tough league to play catchup. We need to put ourselves in a better spot from the beginning."

The Blues have only four days of practice before opening the exhibition season Wednesday night at Minnesota.

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