Patrik Berglund

Patrik Berglund looks to be the secret weapon in St. Louis

If you were to ask people right now who their pick for the sneaky, surprise team in the Western Conference might be this season, the St. Louis Blues is the one team you’re going to hear a lot. With a healthy Jaroslav Halak in goal and with guys like David Backes, Chris Stewart, and T.J. Oshie to lead the way at forward and growing into better players with coach Davis Payne at the helm, some feel that that’s a good mix to shake things up in the West.

One guy who might be the key to seeing the Blues get things turned around for good is Patrik Berglund. The Swedish center is coming off his best season as a pro in 2010-2011. After three seasons in the league, the Blues are hoping his 22 goal, 30 assist season is the first of many that see his offensive numbers climb. His performance in the 2011 IIHF World Championships (8 goals, 2 assists in nine games) showed that his big regular season wasn’t a fluke.

Lou Korac of In The Slot talked with Berglund and finds out that maturing and growing into the game at the NHL level could be the keys to help him become even more of a factor in helping the Blues bounce back into being a perennial playoff team.

Berglund, 23, feels good about where he is as well as the Blues, but he also understands there’s more where that came from. There’s more to achieve and with the effort he’s putting into his progress, boundless opportunities exist.

“I’m not satisfied. I want to keep developing,” Berglund said. “That’s the only thing I’m thinking about when I’m working now.

“I had a great year, but I don’t want to stop. I want to be … this year, in five years, I want to be a player that is one of the best in the league. That’s my goal. I know I can get there if I work hard and things go my way. That’s my belief. I think it’s important to have those expectations on yourself and not just be happy you had a good year. … If I play well all over the ice, the results will show. We’ll see where it takes me.”

Korac sees Berglund lining up with Oshie and Stewart on one of the Blues’ scoring lines. With that kind of mix on one line and with Backes, Andy McDonald, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Alexander Steen finding their way around elsewhere on other lines, the Blues could indeed be a handful to deal with.

If Berglund can have another 50+ point season and improve upon what he did last year, it’s a huge lift for a team that’s missing one of their other young and talented guys in David Perron thanks to his recovery from a concussion going slowly. The forwards for St. Louis look to be good and strong and if they can get solid play from their defense, the Blues very well could be a surprise team in the West.

With the likes of Chicago and Detroit being in their division along with an always difficult Nashville team and an improved Columbus squad, it’s going to be difficult. That said, the Pacific Division showed last season that everyone in a division can have a good season and if the Central Division works out to be as tough as it’s setting up to be, the Blues mix of youth and veteran experience could make them a fun team to watch.

Devils send ’15 first-rounder Zacha back to junior

2015 NHL Draft - Round One

Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.

Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.

The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.

“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.

The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.

Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.