Draped in No. 15, Robby Fabbri darted for the net during the 4-on-4 scrimmage session Monday at the Blues’ prospect camp. Stepping in front of goaltender Ville Husso, Fabbri pulled the puck to his backhand and flipped it by Husso for the day’s top goal.
It’s only July and it would seem there’s little Fabbri can do two months before training camp to solidify his chances of making the Blues’ opening-day roster. But flashing his skill in front of general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock, the 2014 first-round pick is out to prove that every glimpse helps.
“I feel anytime you’re on the ice, or in the gym, it’s a good time to make a good impression,” Fabbri said. “I think having that mindset is key.”
Fabbri, 19, is no longer a secret. He was one of the Blues’ most impressive forwards at last year’s training camp before an injury ended his tryout prematurely. The team kept Fabbri around until the final cutdown before returning him to junior hockey with the Guelph Storm.
Fabbri continued with the Storm but then left to join Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, where he suffered a tournament-ending ankle injury. He eventually made it back to Guelph, finishing the season with 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games. When the Storm were eliminated, he wrapped up his year with the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate, where he netted a goal and three assists in six games.
Fabbri said that he was about “90 percent” healthy with the Wolves. He’s now fully recovered, something that was obvious in his movement Monday. The 5-foot-10 forward has spent the past month working out in St. Louis, helping him add eight pounds since last year and bringing him to 185 pounds for this week’s camp.
“Your first camp, the expectations aren’t there,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ director of player development, a second-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 1988 who played in 746 NHL games. “We all saw last year what he did in training camp, so now our expectations are a little bit higher. He’s (made) some real good strides here in early summer, but there’s a long ways to go, so we’re hoping that he’s going to make more.”
As Armstrong indicated last week when the Blues traded T.J. Oshie to Washington for Troy Brouwer, the club may be counting on a couple of young forwards to contribute this season. The team currently has 11 forwards on one-way contracts, excluding restricted free-agent Vladimir Tarasenko, so there could be two spots available when training camp opens.
“There’s going to be really good competition for the (Nos.) 13-14 roster spot on our team,” Armstrong said. “We have signed a couple of good players on two-way deals that have really good experience, so I think our depth is going to be strong.”
Jordan Caron and Jeremy Welsh, who recently signed two-way contracts with Blues, will be experienced options. Another could be Magnus Paajarvi, a restricted free agent who filed for arbitration last weekend. Armstrong plans to meet with Paajarvi’s agent again this week and resolve his contract. It appears the club wants Paajarvi, who finished last season in the AHL, to come back on a two-way deal; if he rejects, he could elect to play overseas.
Those players will be pushed, however, by prospects such as Fabbri, Ty Rattie and Ivan Barbashev.
“(Fabbri) obviously came in and had a really good training camp,” Armstrong said. “His season didn’t probably go the way he had hoped with the injuries coming out of camp and then with the World Juniors. This is a big summer for him ... and we’ll get a good look at him.”
Fabbri might receive a nine-game tryout with the Blues before the club must decide whether to return him to Guelph, but Armstrong said Monday, “I think that’s the cart in front of the horse. He’s going to have to have a good training camp.”
Fabbri said the nine-game possibility “gets me excited. I have something to look forward to and to make sure that I don’t lose that opportunity.”
Rattie, meanwhile, played 11 games with the Blues last season and had two assists.
“Ty came up and played in the NHL last year,” Armstrong said. “He’s going to get a really good look in camp. Barbashev, we’ll play some of these guys with our better players (in training camp), so they can really show us what they have and then we’ll go from there.”
The young players, Armstrong acknowledged, have one disadvantage. The team believes that playing every day in the minors or junior hockey is better than sitting out in St. Louis.
“They can get a little bit better by practicing with us,” Armstrong said, “but ultimately they need to play.”
Fabbri is ready to prove that he’s ready. He got off to a good start Monday.
“I like to set my goals high and getting here as soon as possible is one of my goals,” he said. “I thought I did pretty well (last year), but not well enough to stay, so that gives me something to work for. I just want to day by day try and earn another day. I’m going to do the exact same thing this year.”