What We Learned in Preseason
The official start to the 2011-12 season for the St. Louis Blues sits just a handful of days away. Just like any other year, the Blues had numerous questions hanging over their heads heading into the preseason and now some of those have been answered. In a short amount of time, we learned quite a bit about the Blues just in time for 2011-12.
If you’re unfamiliar with this name, now might be the time to learn it. Grachev joined the Blues as a low-risk, high-reward signing and so far things are looking pretty positive. Prior to the preseason, it wasn’t clear what Grachev might bring to the table. A 75th overall pick by the New York Rangers in the 2008 Entry Draft, Grachev doesn’t have much NHL experience to his name – just eight games.
However, Grachev has shown at various stages of his brief career that he can be a valuable asset. He has represented his country twice, first at the World Junior Championships U18 where he tallied five points in six games and then at the World Junior Championships where he added five points in seven games.
With that, Grachev came to the Blues and most fans likely weren’t sure what to expect. Realistically, the management of the Blues probably weren’t entirely sure either. Following five preseason performances it appears the Blues might be in for a real treat. Through his five contests, Grachev has scored three goals and added two assists to go along with a healthy +1. He has looked strong on the puck and is using the most of his 6’4″, 224 lbs. frame.
What we learned: Grachev has played himself into earning time with the Blues at the NHL level. It remains to be seen what he can contribute with regular playing time but there’s really no reason to not be optimistic at this stage.
Brian Elliott – The Backup
As I discussed recently, Brian Elliott won the backup goaltending job over Ben Bishop. Whether this is due to his NHL experience or some other factor, he will be the man called to spell Jaroslav Halak.
If Halak struggles, the Blues likely want to turn to a goaltender that has experience taking the reigns – something Elliott has and Bishop currently lacks.
What we learned: We learned that though Bishop will start the year in Peoria, this probably won’t be the last time we talk about him this year. If Elliott struggles you can bet the Blues won’t hesitate in getting Bishop in the mix. Both goaltenders had pretty strong preseasons that could have earned them positions. Each man found his GAA around 2.00 and his save percentage over .900. Don’t be surprised if Bishop earns his playing time this year. As I’ve said, Elliott is the backup – for now.
Like Grachev, Jonathan Cheechoo is another story of low-rish, high-reward. Unfortunately, where Grachev thrived, Cheechoo has struggled. Through four preseason games, Cheechoo failed to make an impression. He finished with one assists, a (-1) plus/minus rating and 12 shots.
As a result of his less than impressive play, Cheechoo will find himself starting the year in Peoria.
What we learned: Despite rigorous training this summer Cheechoo clearly is quite a long way from the form that allowed him to have a 50-goal season. Still, four preseason games are a small sample and I’m not ready to close the book on this story yet. If Cheechoo turns things around with the Peoria Rivermen, don’t be surprised if he is among the first names called when the Blues need some reinforcements. However, as of this moment, Cheechoo has to really step his game up if he wants to see any time at the NHL level.
David Backes / Chris Stewart
Each skater appeared in four preseason games and each found their name in the boxscore on a regular basis. Backes tallied two goals and three assists while Stewart scored once while adding four assists.
What we learned: As expected, these two will be the driving force behind the St. Louis offense. Once again, if healthy, these two could be in for big offensive numbers.
Crombeen suffered a shoulder fracture during a preseason tilt against Dallas. He’s is out indefinitely.
What we learned: Hello injury bug, long time no see. The Crombeen injury while disappointing isn’t one that I’d label as “critical” or is one that’s overly damaging. It would’ve been nice to start the year with a 100% squad, but that’s why the Blues worked on their depth over the summer. Clearly, injuries (like every year) will play a role and the Blues will have to respond.