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Blues counting on depth to overcome injuries

Roster spots up for grabs with Bouwmeester, Steen, Berglund out, Fabbri done for season

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

The St. Louis Blues are hoping a few offseason additions to a mostly unchanged roster can help them take the next step in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Center Brayden Schenn was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers on June 23 and will be one of the top six forwards. Center Oskar Sundqvist (acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 23), forwards Chris Thorburn and Beau Bennett, and defenseman Nate Prosser signed as free agents and should provide depth for the Blues, who have qualified for the playoffs for six straight seasons but have advanced past the second round once in that span.

"We've pretty much got the same group of guys," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Everyone's a year older, which is only, for the most part, a good thing because it's another year of experience. It's obviously [coach Mike Yeo's] first training camp with us. But overall, it's the same type of group playing the same type of system. We had success doing it, so we should be able to carry it over from the start."

Yeo is beginning his first full season after taking over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1. The Blues, who were in jeopardy of missing the playoffs when Hitchcock was fired, went 22-8-2 over the final 32 games and finished third in the Central Division before they were eliminated by the Nashville Predators in six games in the Western Conference Second Round last season.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Blues, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:



1. Overcoming injuries

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (left ankle), left wing Alexander Steen (left hand), center Zach Sanford (left shoulder) and forward Robby Fabbri (left knee) were injured in training camp. Fabbri will miss the entire season, and Sanford is out until at least February. Also missing center Patrik Berglund (left shoulder), the depth will be tested early. On Thursday, general manager Doug Armstrong said the possibility of signing 45-year-old free agent forward Jaromir Jagr has been discussed.

Video: STL@PIT: Kyrou buries loose puck to put Blues ahead

2. Play with speed, tenacity

Yeo wants to instill a quicker style of play while not sacrificing anything defensively.

"We want to be a fast-paced, aggressive team," he said. "If you want to be successful in this league, you have to be strong defensively. I don't care how much firepower you have on your roster, you have to give yourself a chance to win night after night by being a strong defensive team. We also want to be a puck-possession team. Part of that is you pressure, and you pressure with structure to recover pucks. But when we have a chance to go, you get going."

3. Encore for Allen

Jake Allen will begin his second season as a No. 1 goalie, and the Blues need him to take the next step. After struggling for the first four months of the season, Allen was 16-7-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage under Yeo. Allen signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract extension prior to last season.

4. Strong penalty kill

The Blues finished in the top 10 in penalty killing each of the past six seasons, including three times in the top three (third last season, 84.8 percent; third in 2015-16, 85.1 percent; second in 2013-14, 85.7 percent). That level of consistency has been in part because of the minimal roster turnover of their defensemen and penalty-killers.

5. Adapting to new coaching staff

Besides returning video coach Sean Ferrell, Yeo will have a new coaching staff, with former Chicago Wolves (American Hockey League) coaches Craig Berube and Daniel Tkaczuk joining Steve Ott, who retired as a player after last season, and goaltending coach David Alexander, who took over after assistant general manager Martin Brodeur filled in last season after Jim Corsi was fired with Hitchcock.



Biggest lock

Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues in scoring each of the past three seasons; he had an NHL career-high 75 points (39 goals, 36 assists) last season after scoring 40 goals in 2015-16 and 37 in 2014-15. Tarasenko (6-foot, 219 pounds) changed his diet this summer and came into camp lighter. 

Video: Vladimir Tarasenko comes in at No. 14 on the list

Biggest battle

With Steen, Fabbri and Bouwmeester injured, their spots are up for grabs. At defenseman, Prosser, 31, likely will step into the top six until Bouwmeester returns. There are a number of prospects vying to make the roster, including forwards Samuel Blais, a sixth-round pick (No. 176) in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Tage Thompson, a first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2016 NHL Draft. Vince Dunn, a second-round pick (No. 56) in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Jake Walman, a third-round pick (No. 82) in the 2014 draft, are vying for a spot at defenseman.

Most intriguing addition

Schenn gives the Blues a much-needed boost at center and will fuel a power play that was eighth in the League last season (21.3 percent) but ranked last in the postseason (6.7 percent). Schenn was tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17) with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov.

Biggest potential surprise

Forward Wade Megan signed as free agent July 2, 2016, and has been one of the more pleasant surprises in training camp. Megan, 27, scored 33 goals and had 33 assists in 73 games for Chicago of the AHL last season and scored in his NHL debut against the Lightning on Dec. 22. Because of injuries, he could make the opening night roster.



Jaden Schwartz -- Paul Stastny -- Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Sobotka -- Brayden Schenn -- Samuel Blais

Magnus Paajarvi -- Ivan Barbashev -- Dmitrij Jaskin

Wade Megan -- Kyle Brodziak -- Chris Thorburn 

Joel Edmundson -- Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn -- Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson -- Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen

Carter Hutton

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