The Blues held their first open practice to the media this morning and reporter Jeremy Rutherford was granted insider access to the Centene Community Ice Center.
First of all, let me tell you if you haven’t been able to visit this state-of-the-art facility that the Blues and the city built in Maryland Heights, please put some time aside to come visit.
In addition to three indoor sheets of ice, the fourth outdoor rink is multipurpose, intended for winter pond hockey and year-round community events. In warmer weather, the rink transforms into a covered 4,400-spectator amphitheater.
The center houses the new Mercy Medical Sports Performance Center, the Bauer Skills Training Center, a restaurant, a grab-and-go market, concession stands for every rink, and separate locker rooms for the public, Lindenwood University Men's hockey team and, of course, the Blues.
As I entered the rink, I saw coach Michel Therrien and his assistants putting the players through their paces. Line rush after line rush, followed by some instruction near the boards or in the corner. Most of the reporters were gathered by the ice waiting for an opportunity to talk to the likes of Crosby, Hedman and first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere.
As I looked around, I saw up in the corner Blues GM Todd Snider sitting alone and wondered if I could get a word with him.
I approached Snider and asked if I could interview him as I was doing a preview article for upcoming season. He agreed on one condition - I call him Todd instead of Mr. Snider. He said that was his dad’s name with a little laugh and even he doesn’t go by it!
Jeremy Rutherford: Let me just say this this is a first-class facility.
Todd Snider: Thanks Jeremy. When you treat your players and fans like winners, they become winners!
Jeremy Rutherford: Your first year GM, you built a quality team through the Dispersal Draft and trades. What do you see as your team goals this year?
Todd Snider: Our goals never change and never will. First goal is to finish first in our division, make the playoffs, and then win the Stanley Cup. I don’t think that will ever change, Jeremy.
Jeremy Rutherford: How is this team built? What’s the makeup? What can we expect to see?
Todd Snider: This team is strong down the middle with Sidney Crosby, Nazem Kadri, Ryan Kesler, and Jesper Kotkianiemi. We have veteran leadership, we are tough on the wings with guys like Evander Kane and Brendan Gallagher...they will forecheck like crazy. Our defense can move the puck and be nasty as needed.
In goal, we are set. We have Carter Hart, who is only 22 years old but plays like he's already in his prime. And I’m sure Michel (Therrien) has no problem going with veteran Ryan Miller to give him a break.
Jeremy Rutherford: Todd, how many players remain in camp?
Todd Snider: We have four goalies, twelve D-men, and 22 forwards left in camp. We have reassigned 13 already to our AHL camp.
Jeremy Rutherford: Are there any position battles we should watch out for in remainder of camp?
Todd Snider: I think if you look at this team on paper Jim, you can see most of our positions are set. Our battles are probably for 11, 12, 13th forwards and sixth or seventh D-man. We haven’t decided if we will carry a third goalie yet or maybe and extra forward. We will carry a 23-man roster. Our cap dictates we have room to do that.
That said, I don’t want to carry a guy that we might hinder development to where he could be getting significant time in minors. We’ll take a look at the waiver wire when the time comes and see if there maybe is a guy or two to fill those rolls for us.
Jeremy Rutherford: Is it safe to say Alexis Lafreniere will make the team?
Todd Snider: I think it's safe to say he has looked good so far in training camp and barring any additions to the team, we expect him to start the season in St. Louis. Sidney and Kathy (Crosby’s girlfriend) have agreed to have Alexis stay at their home much like Mario did with Sid when he first came into the league. Crosby should become a mentor to Alexis on the ice and how he handles himself off the ice.
Jeremy Rutherford: Can we talk about line combinations, Todd?
Todd Snider: I think that is something you should discuss with Michel.
Jeremy Rutherford: Fair enough. But I am looking out there and see Kadri with Gallagher and Kane on his wings. Crosby with Sheary and Lafreniere, Kotkianiemi with Roussel and Byron.
Todd Snider (chuckling): How would you like your #1 line facing Kadri and those two every shift? Might make for an unpleasant night! But as far as lines go, that's completely up to Michel. I can tell you we can sport a power play unit of Crosby, Lafreniere, Kane, Burns, and Hedman. Other guys like Gallagher, Byfuglien, and Kadri will fill in too.
Jeremy Rutherford: They say you could be most penalized team.
Todd Snider: Let me just say we won’t be pushed around by any team in the league. We’ll take our fair share I’m sure, but Michel will preach discipline. Besides, we have the bodies to kill them off. Sid himself is good penalty killer as are Kane, Kesler, Paul Byron, and Antoine Roussel. I’m pretty confident in our back end to kill any penalties. They are all big with extreme reach and active sticks to cut out the passing lanes and remove bodies from the front of the net.
Jeremy Rutherford: Todd, the AHL pipeline looks like it could boast significant talent. Who do you say are your top players in Springfield?
GM Snider: Well I think your going to see a top AHL team as far as talent. Dylan Cozens, Oliver Wahlstrom, Ryan Poehling, Nathan Bastian, Klim Kostin, Cale Fleury, Logan Stanley Rasmus Sandin...I could go on and on. A couple of guys are close to making the jump and challenging for spots here in St. Louis.
Hey Jeremy, got to run. Got a text from rival GM looking to deal. If anything breaks, I promise I’ll give you the scoop!
Jeremy Rutherford: Thanks Todd. Looking forward to the season.
FORWARD LINES SEEN AT CAMP (possible starting lineup)
Sheary - Crosby - Lafreniere
Gallagher - Kadri - Kane
Roussel - Kotkianiemi - Byron
Gauthier - Kesler - Rinaldo
DEFENSE PAIRINGS AT CAMP
Hedman - Byfuglien
Burns - Mete
Kulak - Johns
Hart - Miller
Jeremy Rutherford is a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.