With training camp drawing to a close, it was a good time Tuesday to catch up with St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock after the Barret Jackman retirement press conference.
Hitchcock discussed the roster, which seemingly holds little in the way of openings for rookies or free agents except for an opening because of the left elbow injury to veteran forward Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz is scheduled to miss three more weeks, so a few interesting battles are shaping up for the final few roster spots.
At forward, Blues prospects Ty Rattie and Ivan Barbashev were battling it out with free agents Kenny Agostino and Landon Ferraro. Agostino, reportedly placed on waivers Wednesday, had two goals and five points in a recent preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As of Thursday, Agostino’s six points were the second highest total in the NHL among preseason scorers but he is likely destined for the minors along with Barbashev.
Ferraro has also looked good, according to Hitchcock.
About the only remaining question on defense is who might fill the eighth and final spot, if the Blues even decide to keep eight defensemen. That spot would likely go to Petteri Lindbohm or Jordan Schmaltz.
Hitchcock also was asked to gauge the progress of defenseman Colton Parayko and forward Robby Fabbri, both of who had stellar rookie seasons a year ago.
The Blues played Washington on Wednesday in Kansas City, then play host to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday for their final exhibition game. The Blues open their 50th anniversary regular season next Wednesday in Chicago against the Blackhawks before taking on the the Minnesota Wild in the Oct. 13 home opener.
Here’s is a question and answer session with Hitchcock, with the questions paraphrased for clarity:
Q: How close are you to determining the final Blues roster?
A: We’ll be down to roster by Sunday, so we’re not far away now. We’ll get a couple further looks at some guys to see what they look like. Now we know what our roster is, but who’s going to be part of our group 23, that’s still very much up in the air. We haven’t made that determination yet. Anybody could tell you right now what the group of 20 is, but the extra three are definitely in competition and it’s up for grabs.
Q: Will you keep 14 forwards or 13 on the season-opening roster:
A: I don’t know. That’s something that (Blues General Manager) Doug (Armstrong) and I will talk about, what’s the best route to go. There’s a number of guys that have had really good camps, especially on defense. Some young guys have really pushed for work and have played awful well in the preseason here.
Q: What have you thought of Rattie, Barbashev, Agostino and Ferraro?
A: “They’re in the mix for the 23, so whether it’s 14 (forwards) and seven (defense) or 13 and eight, we’ve still got to make that determination. Every day you’re here is a chance to get better and they had a great attitude (Tuesday). They were working hard and they want to push back into the group.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge for defenseman Colton Parayko and forward Robby Fabbri after having big rookie years?
A: We’re really counting on those guys taking steps. Travel won’t be a surprise, the buildings they play in won’t be a surprise, the competition won’t be a surprise. How do they play and act when there is no surprises any more? They’re used to it. I love both guys’ attitudes right now. They’re some of our best players in practice. I love what they’re bringing to the team right now. They’re bringing a lot to the team, actually, to be honest with you.
Q: How big of a jump has Parayko made since making the team last year?
A: I think it’s hard to tell that yet because we haven’t been organized. You’re going to get a better read here in the next two games. Physically, he’s made a big step. He’s a much stronger person, he’s a much bigger guy. He’s got a chance to be a really good player really early in his career. He’s got such a tremendous attitude towards leadership, the team, practice, everything. He’s got such a great attitude towards our sport. You really hope for these guys that they’re going to reach they’re potential because he’s got a world attitude and one of the best attitudes around.”