With great depth, comes great competition. That is what the Blues have this coming season in all aspects on the roster this season. This year, however, there will be competition for every single roster spot. Forwards, defensemen, and even in net, battles will be going on to see who makes the opening night roster.
So today I’m going to run down my top five picks to either make the roster out of camp or to come in halfway through, to make an impact, or to stick the rest of the season.
#5 – Ben Bishop – G
I rank Bishop fifth because he is fighting it out with only one person, Brian Elliott, for the back up role in St. Louis. Bishop, a native of St. Louis and a former Chaminade High goaltender has spent the last three seasons in the Blues organization, racking up wins for Peoria and getting a handful of games in net for the Blues.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience compared to Elliott, but he’s certainly has had the more time to show the organization what he can do. He’ll have a shot of making the back up role out of camp, and honestly I feel that it’s his to lose, but if he doesn’t bring it all, the former Senator and Avalanche goalie could snag it right out from underneath him.
I see Bishop landing the back up role out of camp, but all of that is subject to change as Elliott could come in and really prove he belong in this league as well.
#4 – Philip McRae – C
Phil McRae got his first taste of NHL action last season with the Blues, playing in 15 games last season with St. Louis. He notched a goal and two assists but brought more to his game to give himself a viable look for next season. His discipline surprised me as a lot of first year players are over anxious and pick up a lot of penalties in their first handful of games in the NHL. McRae only had two penalty minutes in 115 minutes of playing time. That is very impressive for a young rookie, something that will help his game along in the future.
The other aspect to his game that the Blues needed a lot of last year was his ability to win face-offs. This kid has quick hands and has a keen ability to come away with the puck. Manny Malhotra type face-off skill. It’s very impressive for a kid his age.
Now I don’t think that McRae will make the starting line up this season, but if injuries occur, he could get a look throughout the season and again show the skill that made him a second round pick of the Blues back in the 2008 NHL entry draft.
#3 – Adam Cracknell – C/RW
Adam Cracknell got his first ever taste of the NHL last season with the St. Louis Blues. The 26 year old played in 24 games last season with St. Louis, posting three goals and four assists. What surprised many fans the most was his ability to get up and down the rink so quickly, be defensively responsible, and be good on the forecheck as well.
Cracknell, while on the Blues, was one of the fastest players on the ice. He can flat out fly on the ice and uses it to make an impact at all ends of the rink. One thing about Cracknell is you’ll notice when he’s on the ice, and not in a negative way. He’s got solid offensive skills while being responsible enough to play on the Blues PK unit at times last season.
Cracknell is another player who I think could get called up throughout the season if a bottom six player goes down in with injuries. Still has NHL potential as a bottom six player.
#2 – Ian Cole – D
Ian Cole is very highly regarded by the Blues brass, and has been since before they even drafted him. One thing Jarmo Kekalainen had to say about Cole during his draft year was ‘He’s a man now.’ Talking about the amazing fitness level Cole during the draft. He’s a horse on defense, with a great center of gravity, makes him hard to knock off his skates. He’s so strong and he loves playing that rough and tough shut down game. That doesn’t discount his ability to jump up in the rush and make some offensive magic happen.
Cole played in 26 games last season, scoring a goal and three assists. The 6’1″, 221lbs defensemen from Notre Dame has top four potential and could be a mainstay on the Blues as soon as the 2012-13 season rolls around. As for this year, I have him starting off in Peoria but he’ll get a good look before the season ends. I’d expect to see him about 25-35 times this season. About the same number of games while showing improvement of his impressive first showing last year.
Right now, Nikita Nikitin will get a spot Cole, Nikitin is a player I see big things for this season and I expect for him to have a solid break out year.
#1 – Evgeny Grachev – LW/C
Standing at 6’4″, and weighing in at over 225lbs, Evgeny Grachev is very difficult to miss on the ice. He’s got top end skill and a very steady two-way game, but one thing lacking is his skating ability. To me, that wont stop this kid from being a force in the National Hockey League.
St. Louis picked up Grachev from the New York Rangers during this past years draft for a third round pick. Grachev himself was a third round pick, so his value hasn’t change much since his draft year, but his skill level and his want for the NHL could very change that this season.
Grachev was moved from center to wing when he turned pro with the Hartford Wolfpack and his game was noticeably different. This past year, it took him a while to pick up his game, but towards the end of last season, Grachev was becoming an offensive factor in the game. I see this being the case this year as well. Yet it wont be in the AHL.
Grachev is my pick to come in and steal a roster spot on the Blues out of training camp. He’s big, skilled, and hungry for the National Hockey League. His scoring ability and two way play makes him an ideal forward on the third line for the Blues. If he doesn’t make the roster, a call up during the season could allow him to stick as well.
There will be other players getting looks as well and they make my HM list.
HM : Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, Stefan Della Rovere, Brett Ponich, Cade Fairchild
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