As I discussed in my prior blog, the picture for the Blues defensive corps for 2014-15 is fairly clear with Cole, Prosser and Butler fighting to sort out the scraps unless there are injuries or trades. The forward picture is a lot more crowded and a lot less clear with likely only fourteen roster spots available. Some might argue there are nineteen NHL capable or soon to be NHL capable forwards in camp causing quite a log jam.
For the most part, I think you have two fights in camp. One group is fighting to be ten or eleven of the forwards that can be used in the top nine and three or four of the forwards to make up the fourth line. Versatility will definitely play a role in the final decisions.
In looking at the top nine, eight of the Blues top nine forward spots seem to be locked up with returning players Backes, Steen, Oshie, Tarasenko, Berglund, Schwartz and newcomers Stastny and Lehtera. Techinically, Lehtera is waiver exempt for most of the year but the Blues didn't give him a two year, $5.5 million contract to send him to the Wolves. So who seem to be left battling for the remaining top nine options? Based on the camp rosters, I think Lindstrom, Ott, Paajarvi, Mueller, Jaskin, and Rattie. How many of this group can also fill a spot on the fourth line? Ott, Paajarvi and Jaskin all seem capable. You wouldn't think the fourth line would be a natural fit for Lindstrom, Mueller and Rattie. Only Jaskin and Rattie don't need to pass through waivers to go down to the AHL. How much will that impact the decision making?
The options for the fourth line seem to be filled partially by Lapierre and Reaves and perhaps some of the overflow from the potential top nine forwards. Porter, Fraser and camp tryout invitee Bissonette are other options.
So what does it all mean? Part of that depends on if Schwartz signs before opening night. Regardless, barring other injuries or trades, I believe that eleven forward spots are predetermined - Backes, Berglund, Steen, Oshie, Tarasenko, Stastny, Lehtera
Ott, Paajarvi, Lapierre, and Reaves. Let's look at the remaining players:
Bisonette - The only way I see him on the NHL club is replacing Reaves either as a result of trade or injury. He'll be lucky to get a two-way contract offer from the Blues.
Porter - He is battling with Fraser for a potential roster spot, especially if an additional spot is available from Schwartz remaining unsigned.
Fraser - He is battling with Porter for a potential roster spot. He will really need to impress in order to overtake Porter as Porter is a known quantity, even if there is an additional spot is available from Schwartz remaining unsigned.
Rattie, Mueller, Lindstrom and Jaskin - If Schwartz is unsigned at the beginning of the year, two or three of this group makes the big club. If Schwartz is signed, only one or two make the club. Due to contract status and waiver options, Rattie and Jaskin will have to really impress over Mueller and Lindstrom in order to get the nod. Worse for them, they will have to impress so much that they are getting real, regular minutes on the big club, not just sitting as the extra forward. The Blues Rattie and Jaskin playing every night, getting valuable experience and developing, not getting stale in the press box every night.
I think the opening roster is Steen, Oshie, Berglund, Backes, Tarasenko, Stastny, Lehtera, Paajarvi, Ott, Lapierre, Reaves, Porter, Mueller and Lindstrom with Schwartz still unsigned. The waiver situation and wanting Rattie and Jaskin to get first line minutes send them to the Wolves to start the year. If Schwartz is signed, I think Porter is the odd man out again. Maybe it is the optimist in me but I just have a feeling they will want a longer look at Lindstrom and Mueller and will risk Porter to waiver yet again.
As always, it's a great day for hockey.
ETA - Lehtera with his first Blues goal in his first game, all be it a preseason game.