By Patrick Kelly
The St. Louis Blues have their bags packed and are headed for the bubble in Edmonton today (Sunday). With Saturday being their last practice, the Blues released their expanded 31-player roster: Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Tyler Bozak, Troy Brouwer, Jacob De La Rose, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Mackenzie MacEachern, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Austin Poganski, Zach Sanford, Brayden Schenn, Jayden Schwartz, Alexander Steen, Oscar Sundqvist, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Robert Bortuzzo, Vince Dunn, Justin Faulk, Carl Gunnarsson, Niko Mikkola, Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, Derrick Pouliot, Marco Sandella, Jake Walman, and goaltenders Jordan Binnington, Jake Allen, and Ville Husso.
While some of these players have been absent at times from practice for “unknown reasons,” all players who have missed a day or two are on this roster, including Dunn. Barbashev is also on the list despite the fact that he will travel back to St. Louis at some point in order to be with his wife, Ksenia, for the birth of their first child, but he is expected to rejoin the team in Edmonton. Barbashev is expected to play in the first exhibition game as well as perhaps a couple round robins before having to return to the Lou. He will likely miss the last of the qualifying round as well as possibly some of the first round. Also on this list are several players who had short stints with the Blues this year but spent most of their time in San Antonio with the Rampage.
One of those players that stuck out to fans was former 31st overall pick Kostin, who had 13 goals and 17 assists in 48 games with the Rampage. Kostin and players like Kyrou will have a tough time finding the lineup because of how some young Blues have been playing in camp. Two of those players are Sanford and Blais, who both played pivotal roles in the Stanley Cup win last season. Now a year and some change in the future, they are looking to produce even more in the playoffs. Sanford remains on a line with Perron and O’Reilly where he has found quite a home with the two vets.
While Blais had some time with ROR and Perron, he has found a spot alongside another young gun, Robert Thomas, who has fought his way into his natural position of center. Thomas was the right wing for Bozak in the playoffs, which led to Pat Maroon’s Game-7 heroics but this year the tables are turned. Thomas has exploded as an elite player as his ability to control the flow of the game as well as his confidence have grown exponentially since he came to the Blues as a young buck. This was a spot Thomas was expected to reach with the Blues, but for the change to come right before the playoffs is very telling of what head coach Craig Berube and Co. think he will bring to the team in the near future.
The Blues appear locked in to do some more damage. While there have been problems in other leagues bubbles, Tarasenko and Scandella’s comments about only needing a “bed and food” shows how focused this team is on the task at hand. While any momentum a team had in March has now faded, it is a clean slate for anyone to grab in the bubble. The team that can come together best and realize the task at hand will be the ones rewarded with Lord Stanley’s cup in early October.