Going from the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft to fighting for a roster spot on a pro tryout contract with the St. Louis Blues hasn’t humbled veteran left winger Scottie Upshall.
The 31-year-old forward welcomes a chance to prove himself worthy of not only a roster spot, but as a contributing member of the Blues.
Upshall is coming off a four-year, $14 million deal with the Florida Panthers that saw him have some success while also battling injuries and being in and out of the lineup.
“It’s a chance for me to come in and make a good, quality hockey club and play with some unbelievable players,” said Upshall, who made his Blues debut Tuesday in an exhibition game on the road against Columbus. “That’s a little bit different than what I’ve had the last couple years. I’ve been in Florida, where our goal was just to make the playoffs and get better every year.
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“Right now the goal in here is to win the Stanley Cup and to be the best team in the NHL. Those are goals that are reachable for this group, and to be part of something special like that was at the top of my list.”
Upshall is a physical, grinding style of player who has primarily been on the third or fourth line in recent seasons. He had eight goals and 15 points in 63 games a year ago with Florida while dealing with an ankle injury, but had 15 goals and 37 points in 2013-14.
He began his career with Nashville and also has played for Philadelphia, Arizona, Columbus and Dallas. Upshall has 115 goals and 234 points in 553 NHL games, but more than scoring provides an experienced, versatile player that knows the league.
“It’s not about the money, it’s coming in and still being an NHL quality player and playing at this elite level,” Upshall said. “It’s the best game in the world and it’s the best league in the world. It’s something special to be able to put on this jersey. You don’t want to ever let them take it off your back.”
He’s one of several veteran tryout players in camp, including center Scott Gomez and defenseman Stu Bickel.
Why did Upshall decided to pursue a job with the Blues?
“I had a chance to talk to Hitch (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock) and I’ve known a couple guys on this team for a long time,” said Upshall, who grew about five hours away from Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in northern Alberta in Canada and also played with both Bouwmeester and Blues winger Steve Ott on Team Canada during their junior hockey days. “Just the reputation here, the organization and the success here spoke for itself. Having a chance to come in and play with some unbelievable players was a big thrill for me.”
Buowmeester, who played against Upshall while growing up, said Upshall’s best asset is his energy.
“He’s always been a high-energy guy,” Bouwmeester said. “He works hard, he’s a good penalty killer and does a lot of those sorts of things. He’s excited to be here.”
Upshall plans on throwing everything he has into this opportunity. His typical game is one valued by Hitchcock, who stresses defensive responsibility and physical play.
“My game’s pretty simple, play aggressive and play an in-your-face style of hockey,” Upshall said. “That hasn’t changed since day one. I’ve always treated this game like it’s the best game on earth and as you get older you really appreciate that.
“When the game gets tough as it did this summer for me, you want to work that much harder and you’ve got that much more drive to be successful.”
Upshall said he is in great shape and ready to show the Blues his best.
“That’s where I am,” he said. “I feel great, I feel healthy and I’m in a good spot with an opportunity to show this organization and the rest of the league that I can still play and still be effective.”