Author: Mike Halford


St. Louis Blues ’15-16 Outlook


Do something in the playoffs, maybe?

That’s certainly the Blues’ objective next year, something that’s been made abundantly clear by everyone in the organization — but, quite frankly, that topic has been done to death.

So how about a new angle? Consider what GM Doug Armstrong told Sportsnet in May:

“There’s the Bell Curve of a career. The data is being redefined. Age brackets pre-expansion were older… The slower game allowed longer careers. Now, the maturity of young players, with strength coaches at age 15. It’s tending to a younger man’s game every year.

There’s anomalies to all of this; every player says they are the anomaly… That’s what makes them great. But young players are driving the bus at an earlier age of their career.”

Translation: It’s time to go young, and St. Louis is ready to embrace it.

The trend began this summer when the Blues made 23-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko its highest-paid player with an eight-year, $60 million extension; in explaining the deal, Armstrong called the Russian sniper a “great building block” that could “help lead us now.”

Those were telling words from a franchise often identified by its veteran leaders.

And Tarasenko isn’t the only youngster looking at an increased role.

Gone from last year’s team are Chris Porter, Zbynek Michalek, Marcel Goc, Olli Jokinen and, most notably, two of the most prominent Blues — Barret Jackman and T.J. Oshie. If there’s one thing that linked these guys together, it’s age; Oshie is the youngest of the crew, and he turns 29 in December.

St. Louis has been stockpiling draft prospects for years, and this could be the time for some to break through: Ty Rattie, Robby Fabbri, Jordan Schmaltz and Ivan Barbashev, all top-35 picks, will get their looks to varying degrees, and Dmitri Jaskin — the 22-year-old Czech winger that scored 13 times last year — and Finnish d-man Petteri Lindbohm will try and take stronger holds on roster spots.

In fact, the development of some of these kids could have a profound impact on another Blues veteran — team captain David Backes.

“I think where we play David now depends on (Dmitrij) Jaskin, (Ty) Rattie and (Robby) Fabbri,” head coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “How they do in camp and what level of play we think they can arrive at will determine how much we play David on the right wing.

“I can tell you right now, (Backes) is going to play more right wing than he’s played since I got here. Whether he’s a full-time player there or not, we don’t know yet. That depends on those three young kids.”

Looking to make the leap: Matt Puempel

Toronto Maple Leafs v Ottawa Senators

Matt Puempel got a taste last year. Now he wants more.

Puempel, taken by Ottawa in the first round (24th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, made his big-league debut last season and looked as though he’d stick around — only to suffer a high ankle sprain after 13 games, and miss the rest of the season.

“I’m actually impressed with how strong and how good it feels,” Puempel told the Ottawa Sun in July, while attending his fifth (!!) prospect development camp. “It probably bugged me until the middle of May with all the workouts and the rehab. I’ve been working out on it. The recovery is different for everybody.

“With a high ankle sprain, the ligaments inside have to heal and I have no restrictions on it now.”

A former standout with OHL Peterborough, Puempel has shown well at the AHL level over the last couple of years. Prior to his call-up last season, he had 12 goals and 32 points in 51 games, and there is hope in Ottawa that he can transition to the NHL like other past scorers in Bingo, such as Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, the rookie duo that carried the Sens at time last season.

It certainly seems like Ottawa’s brass thinks Puempel can produce at the NHL level.

In his brief cameo last season he skated on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan. But the way Puempel sees it, he needs to keep working, have a good camp, and make the Sens’ opening-night roster before thinking about potential linemates for this season.

“When you’re playing on a line with Mika and Bobby it’s a pretty cool thrill but at the same time it’s a job,” he explained. “You have to do your job and you can’t be wowed by anything out there.

“By that time I was more used to the lifestyle and the pace of the game and how I felt. I was confident for sure and felt good.”

It’s Ottawa Senators day at PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa’s 2014-15 campaign was one for the record books.

Thanks to a remarkable 23-4-4 run down the stretch, the Sens staged a furious comeback to make the playoffs, becoming the first team in NHL history to qualify for the postseason after sitting 14 points back.

“It was special,” said Kyle Turris, per Sportsnet. “So many things happened and so many guys stepped up. It was a real special run and we won’t forget and we’ll learn from ultimately going forward.”

It was a special run indeed, and one filled with emotion. The Sens dealt with adversity throughout the way; GM Bryan Murray was diagnosed with colon cancer, assistant coach Mark Reeds passed away just before the playoffs and owner Eugene Melnyk was gravely ill before a successful liver transplant.

From that adversity, some new stars came shining through.

Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond went from obscure backup goalie to one of the NHL’s best stories, posting a 20-1-2 record with a .929 save percentage. The rookie tandem of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone carried the club offensively at times, with Stone finishing the runner-up for the Calder. Erik Karlsson won his second career Norris trophy, and Turris continued to emerge as a bonafide No. 1, playmaking center.

In light of all that, Ottawa’s season had to be considered a success, even with its disappointing opening-round playoff loss to Montreal.

Off-season recap

It was a quiet summer in Ottawa. All of the club’s young skaters — Hammond, Stone, Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Alex Chiasson — were re-signed, and Murray did little in free agency.

At the draft, Murray sent goalie Robin Lehner to Buffalo (along with David Legwand), which gave him two first-round picks; the Sens then proceeded to select Quebec League d-man Thomas Chabot, and USNTDP product Colin White.

Dallas has ‘deepest bench of defense prospects in the league,’ says owner

Dallas Stars Unveil New Logo and Uniforms

Though his team’s defensive play left plenty to be desired last season, Stars owner Tom Gaglardi is bullish on the blueline’s future.

“We’ve got the deepest bench of defense prospects in the league quite honestly,” Gaglardi told the Stars website this week.

The remark came during a wide-ranging interview about the club’s offseason moves. It’s certainly an interesting one to make — Dallas allowed the fourth-most goals per game last year (3.13) — though Gaglardi had no issues explaining his thought process:

— John Klingberg “has become the player we thought he might be able to become and maybe even better than that.”

— Patrik Nemeth “is a top four defenseman for a long time in the league.”

— Jyrki Jokipakka, “a seventh-round draft pick, two years ago he is a guy who has a chance and he comes in and plays, and he’s an NHLer.”

Those three, all 23 or younger, make up the core of Dallas’ young defensive prospect pool. But according to Gaglardi, there’s plenty of talent behind them:

“The list of guys back there – [Esa] Lindell is going to be a player, [Mattias] Backman, [Ludwig] Bystrom. In terms of the roster guys, there’s [Jokipakka] and Jordie Benn is capable to playing great hockey and [Jamie] Oleksiak is a first-rounder who is in that group as well. There’s a lot of promise there.

A year or two ago there were guys who were concepts and have now proven they can play at the NHL level and give us lots of options. We’ve got a healthy situation. We’ve got six spots for a game and eight guys on one-way contracts that are going to be battling to play.

And there are some guys coming up that have the capability to knock those guys out in Stephen Johns, Lindell and [Julius] Honka.”

It’ll be interesting to see which of the guys Gaglardi mentioned, if any, will push for minutes this year. Dallas’ top six looks to be comprised of Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Klingberg, Nemeth and Jokipakka, with Benn and Oleksiak as the Nos. 7 and 8.

Just don’t set that in stone.

Johns, acquired in the Patrick Sharp trade, said he’s ready for the NHL and Honka, the 14th overall pick in 2014, might be the most promising of the lot.

Guess that’s why Gaglardi’s so excited about what’s on the horizon.

Report: Ex-Wild, Preds d-man Blum signs in KHL

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild

Sounds as though Jonathon Blum is headed overseas.

Blum, a former first-round pick that’s spent time with Nashville and Minnesota, has reportedly agreed to join KHL club Admiral Vladivostok, per Sport-Express.

The signing was also reported by Russian news outlet R-Sport.

Taken 23rd overall in 2007, Blum spent the majority of his pro career within the Preds organization until he was cut loose following the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign.

After catching on with Minnesota, he appeared in just 19 games over two years with the Wild, spending the majority of his time in AHL Iowa.