It's that wonderful time of the year - it's finally getting cool(ish) outside, fall is in the air, and NHL training camps begin. Next week marks the start of pre-season hockey, and before you know it, the season's starting. The off-season's been long and not exciting, but it's amazing how quickly it's passed for Blues and Thrashers fans. Now we get to see what the trade acquisitions and free agent signings bring to the make-up of the teams, and we get to see what rookies have to return to the AHL or juniors for one more year of seasoning.
The Blues' camp began this morning at St. Louis Mills shopping center. Full rosters are up on the Blues' website, of course, and it looks like it'll be a bit of a packed house for sure. The roster guys from last year are basically going to be back on the team this season, so very few roster spots (fourth liner and probably two defensive slots including the 7th guy) are up for grabs for the youth to pick and choose from.
The minor league goalies know that they're not cracking the team this year with Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin as the tandem. However, look for Jake Allen and Ben Bishop to play well, but they'll be the goalie pairing in Peoria for another season. The healthy scratch position is Matt D'Agostini's to lose, which stands to reason since this is the position that he'll probably play in the NHL for the bulk of his career. The real intrigue lies in the sixth and seventh defensemen positions that lay open.
As it stands, the Blues defense looks like this:
Cola-?? 7th Man - ??
Two slots open, with five guys fighting for it. Yep, I know that there are eleven prospects fighting for them, but out of all eleven, there are only five that will really challenge for those two spots. Alex Pieterangelo is 20, and steamrolled the other prospects at Traverse City. It's more than evident that he has hit his level of development at the junior level and probably at the AHL level, and deserves the opportunity to continue to improve at the NHL level. The 6th pairing will be complete with him, giving the Blues a solid defensive corps with room to mature and grow - or improve their +/- rating, as it applies to them. The seventh guy - the healthy scratch - comes down to Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Nathan Oystrick, and Tyson Strachan. Strachan needs the work in Peoria to smooth out rough edges, as does Cole - and being the 7th man will do their development no good. Nikitin continues to impress, but Oystrick has the most NHL experience and is as developed as much as he can be. He's a perfectly servicible last pairing/7th d-man who had been pushed down the depth charts of Atlanta and Anaheim. In order to not stunt the development of the youth, he's probably the safest option for the Blues to use as the scratch.
The Thrashers camp starts tomorrow, and I'll be there taking notes and observing and whatnot - as well as pontificating here and on SBNation Atlanta regarding what the team's up to. If you're planning on going, the roster and schedules have been posted on the official Thrashers site - all skates at the Ice Forum are open to the public.
There're roughly two roster spots open at forward, if that many. Honestly, the main spot of contention will be for the third line center slot, and barring a broken foot from a blocked shot yesterday, Patrice Cormier should be a lock. The other rookie forwards looking to make an impression are Spencer Machacek, Angelo Esposito, Alex Burmistrov, and Fredrik Pettersson. I wish I could shake a Magic 8 Ball and tell you who'd make the cut, but I can't - it's tough competition made harder by the signings of Freddy Modin and Nigel Dawes.
As has been mentioned many times here and elsewhere, defense is a bit crowded - like the Blues, the Thrashers have (maybe, if Byfuglien has to move to forward for any reason) their 6th and 7th spots open, with three players legitimately fighting for those two positions. Boris Valabik was the 7th man last year until his injury caused him to miss the rest of the season. Freddy Myer was an off-season signing from the Islanders who is on a 2 way contract, and Arturs Kulda played solid hockey when given the chance here last season, as well as outstanding hockey in Chicago. One of these three guys will be disappointed.