TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — After two tough games to open the NHL Prospect Tournament here in northern Michigan, the Blues stayed out of the penalty box. And got into the victory column.
After spotting the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Blues scored the game’s final four goals — including three in the final period — to register a 4-2 victory Monday at Centre Ice Arena.
Goals by Nikita Alexandrov, a second-round draft pick in June, and 2017 first-rounder Klim Kostin tied the game 2-2. Defenseman River Rymsha, a free-agent invitee from Miami (Ohio), scored the winner through traffic from the left point with just 58 seconds remaining in the game. Another free agent invitee, forward Kevin Hancock of Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, finished off the Blues’ scoring with a short-handed empty-net goal with just two seconds remaining.
(Hancock’s goal mistakenly was credited to Mitch Reinke in the tournament boxscore.)
All in all, it was a dramatic turn of events for the Blues’ prospects, who were outscored by a combined 13-5 in losses to Toronto and Detroit to begin the tournament.
The Blues had six penalties in their tournament opener, a 6-2 loss Friday to Toronto. They had eight penalties, one a double-minor, in a 7-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
Even in those defeats, Blues prospects coach Drew Bannister generally was pleased with the team’s five-on-five play. Well, the Blues stayed out of the box for the most part Monday — with two minors and a fighting major — and walked away with their first victory of the tournament.
“In the third (period) we kind of took over,” said Bannister, head coach of the Blues’ San Antonio affiliate in the American Hockey League. “We started to create a little bit more offensive opportunities.”
The Blues close the tournament Tuesday in the fifth-place game with an 11:30 a.m. contest against New York Rangers prospects.
KASPICK INJURED AGAIN
Last year in Traverse City, forward Tanner Kaspick suffered an upper-body injury that limited him to only two games in the tournament, getting his season off to a slow start.
This time around he made it through only one game in Traverse City. The 21-year-old forward from Brandon, Manitoba, suffered an upper-body injury in the Blues’ opener Friday and hasn’t played since.
“He’s gonna be questionable, I think, for the start of camp,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We’ll get more information when we get back home. That’s sort of the yin and the yang of these tournaments.
“They’re competitive and people get hurt. I know Tanner was really looking forward to having a good camp and getting ready. So it’s difficult, but that’s just the ‘rub of the green.’”
As in back luck.
“He’s a competitive player,” Armstrong said. “He’s tenacious. He’s a good worker. He’s a guy that sort of plays the style that we like to play. Like all young players they gotta find a consistent role on a team and excel. I thought last year, his first year of pro, there were some ups and downs. The second year’s gonna be a better year for him.”
Kaspick, a fourth-round pick (No. 119 overall) in the 2016 draft, had four goals and four assists in 48 games last season in San Antonio. He also played six games for the Blues’ Tulsa affiliate in the ECHL, with one assist.
Quick Hits: Jim Thomas on the Blues
BRINGING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER
QUESTION: I'm jacked about the fact that most of the team is returning. Maybe it's recent Stanley Cup bias, and there is a bit of a risk being so close to the cap, but I love this team's tenacity and most of the top players should have a few good years left in the tank. Good move, in your opinion?
JIM THOMAS: I think it's a plus to basically have a defending Stanley Cup championship team return intact. There's a lot of character on the team, and even if that wasn't the case, Craig Berube has shown he will keep them motivated.
The team will miss Maroon's tenacity and physical play, plus his locker room and on-ice presence. But I think that means players such as Blais, Sanford, Fabbri and MacEachern have the opportunity for larger roles.
And certainly Kyrou is expected to make a push for a roster spot.
NEVER TOO EARLY TO TALK ABOUT THE LINES!
QUESTION: With Barbashev and Maroon figured out, what is your guess on the opening night roster and who are the two extra skaters?
JT: Potential lines:
Extras: Fabbri, MacEachern. (Under this scenario Kyrou does not make opening-day roster.)
Extra: Edmundson (Yes, it seems odd to have Edmundson as an opening-day scratch, but somebody has to sit, barring injury.)
Goalies: Binnington ... Allen
BOTTOM LINE ON THE MAROON DECISION
COMMENT: Loved the Barbishev re-signing, and had to agree on the Maroon decision. Your take?
JT: Barbashev is only 23 and has plenty of upside. Maroon is 30, and pretty much what you see in him now is what you get. So I can understand the decision-making, although in no way do I want to demean Maroon's contribution in 2018-19 and what he brought to the team in terms of intangibles.
It was clear that signing all the RFAs was the priority for Armstrong this offseason. A few of them, in my opinion, may have come in a little higher than expected. And that ended any chance of there being enough money to bring back Maroon.
WHO FILLS THE MAROON ROLE?
COMMENT: Seems like M MacEachern should be able to fill the Maroon role quite well, maybe better in the regular season, than Maroon did. He got regular ice time until late in the season.
JT: MacEachern was a forgotten man down the stretch. He was a healthy scratch in the last 10 regular-season games as well as all 26 playoff games. But he has some size to him (6-3, 197) and isn't afraid to hit somebody. Hasn't displayed great offensive prowess, but once in a while he will surprise. So I can see what you're saying to a degree.
Another candidate could be Sammy Blais on the third line. Blais hasn't shown himself to be one that drops the gloves, and hasn't really been a net-front presence. But obviously he will throw his body around. Also, Klim Kostin has shown himself to be very physical in San Antonio, will drop the gloves, but still may need some AHL seasoning.
SURPRISED BY TERMS OF BARBY'S DEAL?
COMMENT: I was surprised by the contract terms for Ivan Barbashev. I thought he would have gotten more $$$ and perhaps another year.
JT: Agreed. I thought he'd get closer to $2 million, but $1.475 million a year is still a nice boost from the $863,000 he was making. Keep in mind, he's still not arbitration eligible after this two-year deal ends, so that hurts his leverage.
As for the contract length, if you're Barbashev, you get more money and a little security with the 2-year deal, but you don't want to box yourself in for longer if you continue to progress like you did last year.
EXPECTATIONS FOR A REPEAT?
QUESTION: Can (will?) the Blues repeat as Cup champions? Or should we brace ourselves for the boys to fall victim to a massive hangover this season?
JT: History says no repeat, and I don't expect a repeat.
I think some kind of hangover is possible — a slow start wouldn't shock me in the least. But I don't expect a "massive hangover." I think the massive hangovers took place in late June.
TRADE TALK INVOLVING SCHENN?
QUESTION: Why is there discussion about Schenn being traded? What's going on there?
JT: I haven't really heard much chatter on that front, but I guess I understand it given the Blues' cap situation, the fact that Schenn's production was down last season, and the fact that he's entering his walk year.
I'm sure the Blues would like to make room on the roster for Kyrou and Kostin at some point in the near future — this year or next.
Follow-up: What players one from the Blues varsity rooster and the other a prospect within the organization you suppose currently have the highest trade value?
JT: I guess I'd have to say Kryou and Schenn. And that's with the assumption that Parayko and Thomas aren't going anywhere.
Follow-up: How would you feel of a trade of Gunnarsson (maybe to Calgary) for a draft pick, to free up more cap space? Maybe Fabbri as well.
JT: Well, it wouldn't free up much. Combined Gunnarsson and Fabbri count only $2.65 million against the cap
ALL EYES ARE ON . . .
QUESTION: What one player on the team has the most pressure to perform better than ever before?
JT: Interesting question. Not that it's fair to expect him to be better, but I'd say all eyes will be on Jordan Binnington again this season. He won't sneak up on anyone this season.
Follow-up: How likely is Allen to be trade bait for a contending team at midseason, should their primary goalie go down before then?
JT: I'ts certainly in the realm of possibility, depending on how Binnington plays, how Allen plays, and just as importantly, how Husso plays in San Antonio.
DOES THAT AMOUNT OF CAP SPACE REALLY HELP?
QUESTION: Please explain how the $1.2 million left under the cap would be used to solve an injury shortage.
JT: Simply stated, say Jordan Binnington gets hurt, Ville Husso is called up, Husso's salary counts against the Blues cap if he's at the NHL level. He would make $700K at the NHL, pro-rated of course.
So if he's up for one-10th of the season, it would be $70K. And so on.
LOOKING AHEAD TO YEAR 3 ON THE BEAT
QUESTION: As you start Year 3 with the Blues, are there any aspects of the hockey beat that stand out as your favorite or least favorite? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known on Day One?
JT: I love the speed of the game. I like the fact that the game basically is all in front of you — unlike football where you really can't get a great feel for line play unless you watch game tape. The access is good. Love the Canadian travel, specifically the western Canada trips. Writers, PR staffs around the league are good to deal with.
Playoff intensity was more than I anticipated.
On the minus side, the deadlines for night games can be nerve-wracking. There are occasions when I wish it was an open locker room instead of a few select players available postgame — although Blues PR does a good job of getting us who we need. Those are just a few things off the top of my head.
WHERE'S GARRY UNGER?
QUESTION: Has anyone checked in with my boyhood idol Garry Unger, either during or after the Blues' epic run to winning the Cup?
JT: Not to my knowledge. I can remember going to a Blues game with some friends during Unger's time here. After the game, we waited at the players' entrance and out came Unger with a blonde on his arm, stepping into a sports car and driving off into the night. Just as you'd imagine it, right?