When the Blues finalized last season’s opening-night roster in early October, forward Dmitrij Jaskin and defenseman Petteri Lindbohm were among the final four players re-assigned by the club.
Jaskin, a second-round pick in 2011, had seemingly done enough to make the cut, but a numbers game forced him to begin the year with the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Lindbohm, a sixth-round choice in 2012, was a virtual unknown before training camp, but his performance was so impressive that the Blues told the Finnish native to remain in North America and be ready when called upon.
Jaskin, 22, and Lindbohm, 21, were eventually recalled last season and both contributed to the Central Division-winning club. Jaskin netted 13 of his 14 career NHL goals in 54 games, while Lindbohm held firm through 23 games with a plus-minus rating of minus-1. He also accrued some respect from teammates by racking up 26 penalty minutes, including two fighting majors.
In St. Louis more than month before Blues’ camp commences Sept. 17, Jaskin and Lindbohm will be off the bubble this year. Two of 14 skaters on the ice at the club’s facility last week, they are potential replacements for a couple of high-profile positions on this year’s roster.
“You can really prepare, but it’s still home, you’re thinking about a lot of different stuff, you don’t really think about just hockey,” said Jaskin, who arrived from the Czech Republic earlier this month. “When you’re here and you see everybody around, that gives you a little more push to work harder. I know what to expect now. I thought I knew last year, but I didn’t. But this year, I know what to expect.”
Jaskin is a candidate to inherit ice time on one of the top two lines that became available after the trade of T.J. Oshie to Washington in July. The spot could go to the player acquired in the deal, former Capital Troy Brouwer, but if Jaskin is ready for prime time, the Blues could put Brouwer alongside David Backes and Patrik Berglund on what the team envisions as a hefty third line.
Jaskin has played 74 games in the NHL, primarily in a third-line capacity because that is what has been available. He has accepted the assignment, and even thrived in the role, but after he posted 46 goals and 99 points in 51 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League three seasons ago, there is curiosity about whether a promotion could lead to more offense.
“Maybe that (skill) will come,” said Jaskin, who is expected to be around 215 pounds at the start of camp. “When you play on the third and fourth lines, you don’t want to really make any mistakes. You do what you’re told to do and don’t do anything else to make bad mistakes. It takes time. Some guys are ready at 18, but not a lot of them. I’ve been here three years and I know everything around me and I feel really comfortable. I think I’m ready.
“I did play with (Backes) and (Oshie) and it didn’t change anything. You just get a little more ice time and you’ve got to prove that you belong there. But I’m not really thinking about it. The coaches are going to talk to everybody and say what kind of ideas they have. I’m not the most skilled guy in this room, we have enough of these guys. I know what I’ve got to do, so I’m just getting ready for that.”
Lindbohm is also busy getting himself prepared. A year after arriving with little fanfare, he has been penciled into the club’s starting lineup, replacing longtime Blue Barret Jackman. Jackman went unsigned by the Blues, and the unrestricted free agent inked a two-year contract with Nashville this summer.
“Last year when I came over here, I just tried to do my best every day,” Lindbohm said. “This year, I guess same thing. I just give you everything I’ve got on the ice, and we’ll see how far that goes. Last year, nobody really knew me, but it’s still the same thing this year. I want to play up here, so I’m fighting for that. There’s still a lot of (defensemen) fighting for that position. I’m one of those guys and I hope I get it.”
Jaskin and Lindbohm aren’t the only players who, with something on the line, arrived in St. Louis earlier than usual.
Forward prospects Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev were also on the ice last week, as well as defensemen Colton Parayko and Jordan Schmaltz.
“There’s just so much competition and it’s all younger players,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s like anything else with any of these players ... it’s really in their court. There’s openings and it’s really in their court. What they do with it is up to them, but we’re going to give them every opportunity to have success — every opportunity.
“For a lot of these guys, it was really new to them last year, and now they understand what’s going on. They’re not wide-eyed. It’s not like they’re just happy to be here. It’s like ‘OK, when does this thing start, I’m ready.’ They’re serious about their craft and that’s the part that you love. They want to come in and make a difference. They don’t just want to come in and make the team, they want to come in and make a difference.”