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Three talented rookies forced way on to Blues roster

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- There was a sense during the summer that the St. Louis Blues would give forward Robby Fabbri a chance to make the opening-night roster out of training camp.

Fabbri, the Blues' first-round pick (No. 21) in the 2014 NHL Draft, left a lasting impression at camp last year before a shoulder injury cut his time short.

However, the rise of defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko, two 22-year-olds, was something the Blues didn't necessarily anticipate but are happy to address.

Edmundson, a second-round pick (No. 46) in 2011, and Parayko, selected in the third round (No. 86) in 2012, were going to be given a fair shot at competing and perhaps leaving a lasting impression before being assigned to Chicago of the American Hockey League. Petteri Lindbohm and veteran Chris Butler were penciled in as the sixth and seventh defensemen.

But Edmundson and Parayko had other ideas. Each is on the Blues' opening-night roster while Lindbohm and Butler were assigned to the AHL.

The Blues, a perennial contender in recent history, were expected to use a veteran-heavy lineup in pursuit of another push toward the Stanley Cup. Instead, they had no choice but to include Edmundson, Parayko and Fabbri into their plans. All three have earned the right and will be included in prominent roles.

"It's not too likely that three of them make it, but Colton and [Edmundson] were great players all camp," said Fabbri, who had 80 goals and 171 points in three seasons with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. "They lived up to that talk and they're special players.

"We're all here together and we're planning on staying the rest of the year."

Parayko, who's 6-foot-5, 214 pounds, played at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks last season before moving to the AHL and playing 17 games in Chicago. He was recently compared to having a heavy shot from the point like the one Al MacInnis possessed.

"They were very strong and supportive [about] all three guys, but really strong for Colton," Hitchcock said. "They felt like this is a guy that had no pulse, nothing bothered him, obviously he's got the bomb from the point, scares the hell out of everybody, including his own players. They felt if there's ever a guy who looks like he's ready to go, this is a guy who looks like he's ready to go. … He looked ready to go and has stayed in that mode really since Day 1 of training camp."

Fabbri (5-10, 170) could be sent to Guelph after a nine-game trial. But he will play in a top-nine role and the Blues will make the decision whether to retain him or send him to the OHL, where he would remain for the rest of the season. The sentiment is Fabbri will stay in the NHL.

"He's a really competitive guy. He's got quickness, he's fearless, he's got great hockey sense, fits the way we play," Hitchcock said. "He's going to have a learning curve. … I get the fact of the nine games and we all understand that, but boy, the way he's played, he hasn't missed a beat. He augments whatever line he plays on. He can play left or right, he can play center. We're not going to overwhelm him by putting him on special teams the first month of the season; we're going to give him the opportunity to ease into it. He's just going to mostly play 5-on-5, but he's a young guy that looks like he's going to have a big season for us and a big career."

Edmundson, listed at 6-4, 207 pounds, brings physical play and a flare of offense from the blue line. He's particularly proud to be on the opening-night roster after a bulging disk in his back last season limited him to 30 regular-season and five Calder Cup Playoff games with Chicago. Three years ago, Edmundson sustained a high ankle sprain that cut his time in St. Louis' camp short.

"I didn't really know what to expect so I just came into camp looking to steal a job," Edmundson said. "I thought I had a pretty solid camp. I know Colton and Robby had fantastic camps too. It worked out well for us.

"I knew they had a bunch of defensemen trying to make the team and I had no control over that, so I just came in, did what I had to do and focused on one day at a time. After the [back] injury I had, I thought I had a good summer and came in here with a good mindset."

Now that Fabbri, Parayko and Edmundson have made the roster, the real challenge begins in trying to maintain a high level of excellence.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work to do everything we can possibly do to help this team get better and be successful," said Parayko, who could see time on the second power-play unit. "It's obviously a win-loss business right now.

"Obviously going through camp was a good experience, but to me right now, I think it's going to be the toughest time. Teams are going to have their best players in there. You're going to have to come to the rink every day prepared, and do what you can do to be prepared every day and make sure you stay at a top level."

And when the chips are down, Hitchcock's message is to not get discouraged.

"They're going to make mistakes," Hitchcock said. "There's going to be lots coaching, lots of teaching going on here. They're going to get to see the assistant coach every day for video sessions and evaluations and reads, and there's going to be lots of information. Just don't get down when you make a mistake, because you're going to make a mistake.

"This is a hell of a League. A lot of veteran players that are in. They're going to have their share of learning experiences here in October. We just don't want to see them get discouraged if there happens to be something that goes wrong because … man, the potential's with the three guys, [and] including Lindbohm, it's really high. We just want to see them play to their potential and not worry about a few things that go wrong."

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