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
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?