Author: Ryan Dadoun

Stu Bickel
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Blues release Bickel from PTO, reassign Schmaltz, Vannelli

The St. Louis Blues weren’t shy about inviting veterans to join their training camp on a tryout basis, but naturally most of them weren’t going to end up making their opening game roster. Stu Bickel is among those that have fallen short, per the team’s website.

The 28-year-old defenseman is a veteran of 76 NHL games, including nine with the Minnesota Wild last season. Along the way he has accumulated 10 assists and been charged with 203 penalty minutes.

Forwards Evan Trupp, Eriah Hayes, Spencer Asuchak, and Zach O’Brien were also released from their tryouts. Between them, only Hayes has any NHL experience.

In addition to shedding some PTO players, St. Louis also reassigned 14 players to AHL Chicago. Although there were no surprises among them, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz stands out on the list given that he’s a former first rounder (25th overall, 2012). Schmaltz, 21, is beginning his pro career after spending three seasons with the University of North Dakota.

Defenseman Tommy Vannelli and goaltender Jordan Binnington are two other prospects on that list that are seen as having the potential to become good players. Vannelli, who was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft, had 35 points and 52 penalty minutes in 44 contests with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers in 2014-15. Binnington, 22, posted a 2.35 GAA and .916 save percentage in 45 AHL games last season.

St. Louis has 33 players remaining on its camp roster.

Elias isn’t sure if he’ll play in opener

Patrik Elias
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Patrik Elias will not play in any preseason games, but he doesn’t want to dismiss the possibility that he’ll be ready for the New Jersey Devils’ season opener on Oct. 9.

“I really don’t know. I wish I could tell you more,” Elias told NJ Advance Media. “It won’t be long. I’ll be back soon. I’m just having a little lower body issue. It’s not a big thing.”

The Devils and Elias are erring on the side of caution though to give his lower-body ailment a chance to heal. He has played in fewer than 70 contests in each of his last two campaigns and is now 39 years old, so issues like this could unfortunately be a recurring topic for him this season.

Elias is in the final season of his three-year, $16.5 million contract and it’s not clear what his plans are beyond that. It doesn’t sound like his goal is to extend his career for as long as possible though as he made it clear last season that he wouldn’t be interested in a fourth-line role if it came to that.

In the short-term, that’s likely not an issue. He might not be the offensive force he once was, but the hope is that he can be a key player for the Devils this season.

Lupul bulks up, sets sights on comeback season

Joffrey Lupul
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Even in the context of the Leafs’ brutal 2014-15 campaign, Joffrey Lupul is coming off of a particularly rough season, but he has reason to hope history won’t repeat itself.

Looking to change direction, the 32-year-old forward hired a new trainer over the summer and showed up to camp with 10 extra pounds of muscle.

“I added a little bit of size and more strength,” Lupul told the Toronto Sun. “Hopefully that turns into some more speed and explosiveness on the ice. I had worked with the same guy for a long time and just felt like I needed a change.

“I needed a new program, something to get me excited about training again.”

This season offers Lupul with an odd combination of fresh starts and reminders of his past. When the Maple Leafs hired Mike Babcock to serve as their head coach, they were reuniting Lupul with the man who oversaw him as a 20-year-old rookie with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04. Until now that had been Lupul’s only campaign under Babcock, but he credits the bench boss with helping him develop over that first year.

Since then, Lupul has enjoyed considerable highs, with the most noteworthy being his 67-point campaign in 2011-12, but he’s been plagued by injuries in recent years and struggled to produce even when he could play last season.

“When you work as hard as he did off the ice this summer, you’re way more likely to get more (good) fortune injury-wise,” Babcock said. “He’s tenacious. He works. He looks like a hockey player to me.”

While no one player is likely to single-handedly fill the offensive void left by the Phil Kessel trade, the Maple Leafs can certainly hope to lighten the loss through several players making moderate gains. A bounce back campaign by Lupul would ideally be part of the solution in Toronto.