St. Louis Training Camp – Battles to Watch

St. Louis Training Camp
Battles to Watch

Ryan Reaves

Arguably, the St. Louis Blues have some of their best depth in recent memory. Talented youngsters and veteran leadership can be found littered throughout the lineup. Heading into training camp, there aren’t quite as many question marks on the roster (injuries aside) as we might be used to seeing in recent seasons. This leaves a few key battles to follow as the Blues prepare for the 2011-12 season ahead.

Backup Goaltender

Brian Elliott or Ben Bishop, that is the question. I’ve discussed this topic before, as you can see linked in the previous sentence, and I’ve found myself teetering from one goaltender to the other. Bishop proved last season that he is capable of being the backup netminder behind Halak while Elliott has proven in the past (though not recently) that he can be a tremendous competitor.

On paper, it’s tough to give an edge to either man as each one’s brightest selling point is countered by the other. Bishop has experience within the St. Louis organization but is lacking overall NHL experience while Elliott has been around the block longer but has lost the success he tasted in 2009-10.

This might be the best battle to follow in the entire camp. Currently, I’m not about to label either man as a favorite and I can’t wait to see how each one looks in training camp and the upcoming preseason.

Seventh Defenseman

Barring injury, the Blues defensive unit is all but set. Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, Carlo Colaiacovo and the newly signed Kent Huskins round out the team’s blueline. Then there’s the muddled picture of the seventh defenseman, Nikita Nikitin vs. Ian Cole.

Nikitin and Cole are both extremely talented at their position, but it is worth noting that Nikitin’s new one-way deal with the Blues likely indicates he has earned the 7th slot heading into training camp. Still, Cole won’t sit ideally by and could put on a display in camp that makes the organization reconsider sending him to Peoria.

Ryan Reaves

While the backup goaltender situation will steal most of the attention, one of the decisions I’m most interested in concerns Ryan Reaves. The question is, of course, will Ryan Reaves crack the roster?

Thanks to the depth brought in this summer such as Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott and Scott Nichol, the Blues have perhaps their best depth offensively in recent memory. However, that leaves a skater such as Ryan Reaves in doubt of being a regular figure in the lineup. Now that Cam Janssen has found a new home with the New Jersey Devils, the Blues lack a true enforcer (by definition) if Reaves isn’t in the mix. This might cause players that should focus on scoring instead of fighting (Chris Stewart, I’m looking at you) left to drop the gloves more frequently as the team would be lacking a regular fighter.

A while back, writer Jeremy Rutherford prognosticated that Reaves would skate in 30 games for the Blues in 2011-12. It’ll be interesting to see how close that prediction is once the season concludes and just how well the Blues react to not having (potentially) a regular enforcer in the lineup.

Jonathan Cheechoo

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from Jonathan Cheechoo in camp. Clearly, his best days are behind him. However, Cheechoo appears to have found a new fire and believes to have uncovered the reason behind his dramatic decline in production the past several seasons. Perhaps with his new efforts and redefined tactics in positioning and speed he might be able to recapture the magic of his 56-goal season from 2005-06.

It seems pretty unlikely, barring a major surprise, a huge camp by Cheechoo or a few injuries, that we will see Cheechoo anywhere other than in Peoria to start the year. Still, consider this one guy you should keep an eye on purely for the enormous upside and low risk he possesses.

Injuries (Knock on Wood)

They’re inevitable and annoying. They are the sprains and strains and other injuries that always creep up during training camp and preseason. There’s really no predicting what might happen once the players return to regular practice and exhibition games but the possibly is always there that someone might go down with an ailment.

Thankfully, the Blues have improved their depth and have new options waiting in the wings in Peoria (Brett Sterling, perhaps Jonathan Cheechoo) if things go sour.