Less than three weeks away from the 2017-18 season, the St. Louis Blues opened training camp on Friday with a new dynamic compared to past preseasons.
For the first time in five years, the Blues entered training camp without Ken Hitchcock as head coach. After taking over midseason and leading St. Louis to the second round of playoffs, Mike Yeo received his first opportunity to work as the Blues head coach for a full season.
This year’s training camp roster consists of 51 skaters to start, divided up into Groups A and B for specialized practice routines. Nine skaters from the Blues summer prospect camp participated in the first training camp practice, highlighted by first-round draft picks Tage Thompson, Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin.
Some of these talents had the opportunity to compete in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament last week. The extra conditioning could lead to some promotions sooner rather than later. Robby Fabbri is a prime example of a prospect who made the cut for the Opening Night roster after a strong preseason a few years ago.
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The training camp has even larger significance to Fabbri this year, as he looks to re-establish himself as a Top-6 presence after missing the final three months last season with a torn ACL. The 21 year-old looked comfortable in speed drills. He also participated in practice routines as a center with two different lines.
Zachary Sanford, who was part of the second group, left practice early after taking a hit to Dmitrij Jaskin. Early reports, including one from Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, say Sanford left with an upper-body injury and his injury status will be known later into the weekend. No other injuries were evident after the first practice.
More than half of the training camp roster did not skate in at least one game with St. Louis last year. One of the more notable newcomers, Brayden Schenn, was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers in June.
Schenn participated in drills designed for centers, even though he worked primarily at left wing in two of his previous three seasons with Philadelphia. The Blues will look for Schenn to embrace roles as Top-6 forward and power play catalyst.
Other summer acquisitions competing for regular season time include Beau Bennett, Chris Thorburn and Nate Prosser. Bennett and Thorburn make sense as fourth-line fill-ins, while Prosser adds depth to fairly young defensive core. All could build stronger physical identities with former enforcer Steve Ott now serving as an assistant coach.
Jake Allen and Carter Hutton sported new masks ahead of the upcoming season. Auditioning behind the tandem are Jordan Binnington, Ville Husso and Evan Fitzpatrick, all who worked on positioning and tempo with first-year goalie coach David Alexander on Friday.
Training camp will resume on Saturday through Tuesday with the A and B teams set to scrimmage against one another on Sunday. St. Louis’s first preseason game comes against the Dallas Stars on September 19.
After training camp and eight preseason games, the Blues begin the 2017-18 campaign on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.