Backes and Brouwer may be gone, but Hitch says Blues youngsters still have room to grow

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The St. Louis Blues may have lost David Backes and Troy Brouwer to free agency, but head coach Ken Hitchcock is confident that what’s left on the roster is more than enough to keep his team competitive.

“We’ve got experienced players who are just hitting their prime now,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch in a summertime interview. “We have a lot of guys that started young and we’ve grown them into the group. We are a veteran team that has a chance to get even better because they’re just starting to reach maturity.”

Among the forwards, the Blues still have veterans like Paul Stastny, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund. They also signed David Perron on July 1 and are still expected to get Vladimir Sobotka back (though nothing is official yet).

But what Hitchcock seems to be counting on is getting even from already-accomplished youngsters like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Recall that the former went through some struggles in the playoffs, particularly in the Western Conference Final against San Jose, an experience the coach referred to as “learning hard lessons, like any young player.”

Another key forward next season will be Robby Fabbri, the 20-year-old who finished second in Blues playoff scoring with four goals and 11 assists in 20 games. Can he take his game to an even higher level?

Similarly, on defense, what can 23-year-old Colton Parayko do for an encore after his surprising rookie season? If the Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk, which remains a possibility, that question becomes even bigger.

“We have experienced players who have a lot of growth still in them and that part is exciting,” Hitchcock said. “Everybody is good in the Central (Division), everybody. But who’s going to get better? Well, I look at us and we’ve got a real chance to get better because we’re not bringing in a bunch of first-year players and seeing if they can play.”

That last part sounded a bit like a shot at the Blackhawks, but Hitch would never do that, would he?