The Patrik Berglund injury opened up a plum roster spot in the Arch City and a mixture of prospects and wily veterans are doing battle to pick it up. There’s also talent pushing up for a job on an already impressive blueline.
When the timeline on Patrik Berglund’s recovery from shoulder surgery was announced as four months, the St. Louis Blues had to launch a plan of attack. The Swedish center may end up missing half the season, so a band-aid solution wouldn’t do. Fortunately, St. Louis has several options and really, two different ways to go from there.
On the one end, you have veterans Scotty Gomez and Scottie Upshall, both in camp on tryouts. But the Blues have also built up a nice pipeline of youth featuring Ty Rattie, Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev, all of whom appear to be ready for their rookie NHL campaigns.
GM Doug Armstrong told me recently that the mix of vets and kids serves a dual purpose: Gomez and Upshall provide competition for the prospects, but at the same time the vets are also trying to earn full-time contracts of their own.
For a team that finished tied for first in the Western Conference last year, you’d think a roster spot would be hard to come by, but the Blues are re-jigging after another disappointingly short post-season. T.J. Oshie is the biggest name gone up front, traded for big right winger Troy Brouwer. Kyle Brodziak also comes in for bottom-six duty (Jori Lehtera is recovering from ankle surgery right now but is expected back for the start of the season).
“We’ve obviously altered our forward makeup this year,” Armstrong said. “We’d like to try David Backes on the wing a bit, so Berglund was going to play our third-line center position.”
But Berglund’s replacement doesn’t necessarily have to be a carbon copy. Armstrong noted that wingers Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz have both played center in the past too, so the puzzle is still being put together. In St. Louis’ most recent pre-season game, a 3-1 loss to Chicago, all five of the Berglund replacement hopefuls suited up.
Interestingly enough, it was Fabbri, the youngest of the cohort, who got the most ice time with more than 17 minutes of duty, including power play and penalty-killing assignments. Fabbri, who is in his second NHL camp after the Blues tabbed him in the first round of the 2014 draft (21st overall), is drawing off that initial look.
“Last year was a great experience and learning curve and I’ll use that,” he said. “I’m going in with the same attitude: earn another day every day.”
The OHL Guelph product does have one disadvantage, however: Fabbri is still 19, so the Blues can’t send him up and down to the AHL like they could with the older Rattie and Barbasev this season – it’s junior or the NHL, with no backsies.
“We have to get a good read on Fabbri,” Armstrong said. “Because when our decision is made on him, it lasts for the year.”
Wherever Fabbri ends up, it will be interesting year for him. Obviously making the Blues would be awesome, but the fall-back isn’t bad, either. The speedy and talented center was part of Canada’s gold-medal squad at the world juniors in Toronto, but had to watch from the sidelines after he sustained a high-ankle sprain early on in an 8-0 quarterfinal mashing of Denmark. Should he return to Team Canada for this year’s installment in Finland, he would be a favorite to lead the squad.
The youngster also acknowledged that taking another year in Guelph (or wherever – he would likely be traded to a contender since the Storm are rebuilding right now) wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
“It wouldn’t hurt me to go back for another year and it would be great to stay with the Blues,” he said. “It’s about getting better every day and working for everything coming up, whether it’s world juniors or the NHL. It’s a win-win for sure.”
The other interesting race to watch in St. Louis is on the blueline, where big, 22-year-old Joel Edmundson is making noise. Edmundson played on a pairing with Carl Gunnarsson against Chicago and scored the Blues’ only goal, a power play marker that came off a sweet feed from Rattie.
Edmundson would have to usurp veterans such as Chris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo to earn a spot, but he’s doing his best so far. And at this time of year, for a franchise seeking a Stanley Cup destiny, competition all-around is a good thing.