Last year, both Scottie Upshall and Scott Gomez earned jobs with St. Louis after coming to camp on a tryout basis. While Gomez didn’t make it through the year with the club, Upshall performed well enough to earn a second one-year deal with the Blues. St. Louis appears to be going back to that well again by inviting six players to camp on PTO agreements. Those in search of a job with the Blues are Yan Stastny, Chris Porter, T.J Galiardi, Eric Nystrom, Scooter Vaughan and Mike Weber.
Writing for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Jeremy Rutherford provides a closer look at each of the six players invited to camp. Included in the post are comments from Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. Those comments provide unique insight into the odds faced by each of the players attempting to make the 2016-17 Blues.
The Blues lost team captain David Backes and veteran power forward Troy Brouwer as free agents this summer. But the team acted quickly by signing David Perron to fill a hole on the wing. St. Louis also expects Vladimir Sobotka to return this season from the KHL and play a regular role with the Blues. That would seem to limit the opportunities for a forward to earn a job.
The team’s blue line is also stocked with enough quality players to fill all six regular slots, as the team’s depth chart on Roster Resource shows. Robert Bortuzzo is listed currently as the team’s seventh option on defense and he’s a decent fit for that role. Additionally, the team has their 2012 first-round pick, Jordan Schmaltz, waiting in the wings. The North Dakota product made his pro debut in 2015-16 with Chicago of the AHL and tallied 36 points in 71 games for the Wolves.
Stastny, the older brother of St. Louis center Paul Stastny, last appeared in the NHL way back in 2009-10, seeing action in four games with the Blues. For his career Stastny has scored just 16 points in 91 games. His presence is likely more about giving Paul a chance, albeit a brief one, to suit up on the same squad as his brother than it is about trying to find a diamond in the rough.
Hitchcock appreciates Yan’s intelligence but admits it’s going to be an uphill battle for the elder Stastny brother to make the team given how long he has been out of the league.
“With the way our team is built, the thing that impresses you about him is his smarts. To me there is always room for intelligence, and he’s a very, very intelligent player. The challenge for Yan is having not played in the league for a little while, how is he going to feel about the pace of practices and games.”
Porter appeared in parts of six seasons with the Blues but participated in no more than 47 games or scored more than eight points in any single campaign. He spent this past season with Minnesota, who claimed the forward off of waivers from Philadelphia. The Flyers had inked Porter to a one-year deal last summer.
One advantage Porter has is his familiarity with Hitchcock and new assistant head coach Mike Yeo, having played under both coaches with the Blues and Wild respectively.
“There’s a real trust with Chris’ game and now he’s got familiarity with both coaching staffs, ourselves and also the guys coming in from Minny. So there’s a real comfort level with him.”
Galiardi burst onto the NHL scene as a 21-year-old with Colorado during the 2009-10 campaign. Skating in 70 games with the Avalanche, Galiardi tallied 15 goals and 39 points in his first full season in the league. Since that impressive rookie year, Galiardi has failed to record either double-figures in goals or exceed 17 points in any single campaign.
Of course Galiardi was a teammate and sometimes a linemate of Paul Stastny when both were members of the Avalanche organization. That experience combined with Galiardi’s speed and skill could increase his chances of making the team in a depth role.
“We know his chemistry, playing with Paul (Stastny) in Colorado. He was a really good third-line player in the National Hockey League, and if he comes to camp and plays with an edge, based on his skating ability and his skill, he has a chance to make an impression.”
Nystrom, chosen 10th overall in the 2002 draft by Calgary, never developed much of an offensive game but adds plenty of grit and toughness to the lineup. Hitchcock knows Nystrom well as each has spent the last six seasons toiling in the Central Division, albeit for different clubs.
“Knowing him and having coached against him, every game is going to feel like his first and last, and our feeling is he’s going to want to make a real impression.”
You can never have too much blue line depth and that mantra gives Weber a realistic shot of making the Blues despite the appearance their defense corps has plenty of quality players. Weber, a veteran of 351 NHL games – all but 10 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres – plays a simple game and competes with a bit of an edge. Considering the praise Hitchcock bestowed upon Weber, it would seem as if he has an excellent chance to make the Blues, assuming he turns in a solid performance in camp.
“We really like ’Webs.’ We know him from coaching against him last year. He’s a guy that is really good at killing penalties, he’s really strong in his coverage responsibilities and he’s really dependable from a competitor standpoint. Another honest guy that you want to give a shot too.”
Finally, Vaughan would seem to be a real long shot to make the team and appears to be an organizational depth guy. After finishing up his senor season at the University of Michigan, Vaughan began his pro career with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL in 2011-2012. Since his pro debut, Vaughan has gone on to suit up in 70 more ECHL games and 190 in the AHL for the Islanders and Blues organizations.
Vaughan is listed as both a defenseman and a right-wing, suggesting his versatility might be a strong selling point. He’s never been much of an offensive producer in the minor leagues, notching a career-best 20 points in 50 games for South Carolina in the ECHL during the 2012-13 season. Hitchcock seemed to confirm the odds are likely stacked against Vaughan in his quest to make the NHL this year with the Blues.
“Multi-dimensional, competitive as heck, a hockey player that really helped (with the Chicago Wolves) a lot and that didn’t go unnoticed by the team here.”
“It’s up to them,” he said. “This is 100 percent up to each guy individually, it’s not up to the coaches. Guys that have come in have earned jobs. This is all about winning, and if any of these guys look like they can help us win hockey games, then it’s up to us to make space for them.”
It’s difficult to envision there being a regular role available for any of these players to earn even with an outstanding training camp. But every team needs quality depth and St. Louis is well aware that you can find solid contributors via the PTO. The guess here is Weber and Nystrom have the best chances to make the team out of camp. Hitchcock is an old-school coach and values grit and toughness, qualities both players bring to the table.