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Blues Capitals Hockey

Blues defenseman Mitch Reinke (39) chases the puck against Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) in an NHL exhibition game on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Defenseman Mitch Reinke was with the Blues for most of their Stanley Cup playoff run last season, albeit as a “Black Ace” — or roster extra.

He rode in the back of a pickup truck down Market Street with goalie Ville Husso during that amazing victory parade.

“As far as you could see there was people,” Reinke said. “It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of.”

He even got the Cup for half a day back home in Stillwater, Minn.

“It was pretty special for my family and friends and my whole community,” Reinke said. “I took it to the Stillwater rec center — that’s where I played my youth hockey . . . and then I had a party at a family friend’s house. We just enjoyed it and had some fun with it.”

There’s only one thing missing from the equation: namely, making the Blues’ “varsity” roster.

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan Tech near the end of the 2017-18 NHL regular season, Reinke actually played in one Blues game that year — a forgettable 6-0 loss to Arizona on March 31.

This past season, Reinke enjoyed a record-setting campaign for the Blues’ San Antonio affiliate in the American Hockey League. He set Rampage records for goals (12), assists (33), points (45) and power play goals (nine) for a rookie defenseman and was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team.

“Mitch had an outstanding season,” San Antonio coach Drew Bannister said. “I think it started early on — he was really good here (in Traverse City) a year ago. Had a good camp in St. Louis.

“Started off (in San Antonio) the way you would expect a first-year player coming out of college. Took his lumps early on but learned very quickly. And obviously towards the end, the second half of the season, he was outstanding for us — playing in every situation, playing against other teams’ top lines. Just really worked hard at his game.

“He’s gonna be someone that’s gonna be pushing for a spot in St. Louis here in the next year.”

Bannister is in Traverse City coaching the Blues’ youngsters in the NHL Prospect Tournament. Reinke is back for his second prospects tournament — and is the Blues’ captain this time.

“Obviously it’s just a short tournament, and the captain of the St. Louis Blues is Alex Pietrangelo,” Reinke said. “So this is just a very part-time thing. But for sure it’s a good honor. It just means they respect you and think highly of you.”

Whether that respect leads to a spot on the Blues’ regular-season roster remains to be seen.

At one point, veterans Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo were scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2018-19 season, but all three re-upped with St. Louis. Joel Edmundson entered the offseason as a restricted free agent but now is under contract as well.

As a result of those signings, the top seven defensemen from the Stanley Cup-championship team are returning this season. The only departure was veteran Michael Del Zotto, who returned to Anaheim via free agency in July.

Barring injury, that lack of movement on the blueline doesn’t leave much room for Reinke.

“At the end of the day, in pro hockey that’s out of your control,” said Reinke, 23. “So I think you just try and go in and play your game. And if you do that, you’ll eventually be recognized for it.”

Obviously, Reinke wants to perform well in the Traverse City tournament, which concludes Tuesday. But he really wants to shine when training camp starts Saturday in St. Louis at the new Centene Community Ice Center.

“I think that’s where I need to prove myself the most,” Reinke said. “I want to feel good here (in Traverse City) so I have confidence going into training camp. I feel like I’ve moved the puck well here, and I feel like I’m getting there. So I’m just looking to keep doing that.”

At 5 feet 11, 181, Reinke doesn’t fit the mold of the Blues’ D-corps in terms of height and reach. He’s more Vince Dunn than Colton Parayko, Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Edmundson, etc, in terms of stature.

But he’s a puck mover who can contribute on offense, and those types of players are in demand in today’s NHL.

“He went into the American Hockey League and produced points, which is very hard for a first-year player,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We like his skillset, we like his ability to skate and move the puck.

“It is a ‘first-pass’ league from the back end. You gotta be able to skate. And he has a lot of those qualities that we saw in some of those Boston players like (Matt) Grzelcyk and (Torey) Krug. That’s the type of game that he has to model his game after.

“He’s not gonna play like Colton, or ‘Bouw’ or ‘Petro.’ But you have to have a balance, and we’re excited to see him in the main camp. Hopefully our skill players enjoy playing with him and we’re gonna see if his skillset and brains are up to the task of putting those guys in good positions.”

One thing Reinke learned from up close is that it takes a village to win a Stanley Cup.

“You look at some of the contributors in major games, like Carl Gunnarsson had a huge overtime goal (in Game 2 of the Cup final against Boston),” Reinke said. “He’s not a guy that normally scores goals but he got the job done for the team that night.

“There’s several guys that I could list that stepped in and made a big play in the game.”

Reinke would like to be one of those guys this season.


Quick Hits: Jim Thomas on the Blues

Jim Thomas covers Blues hockey for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.