Even after a 7-1 loss to Stars, there were some bright spots

Jim Thomas @jthom1 on Twitter



St. Louis Post Dispatch


The Blues’ squad had a feator-famine existence at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. With the emphasis on famine. A 7-1 loss Thursday to the Columbus Blues Jackets was followed by an 8-3 win Friday over the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a day off Saturday, the prospects were routed 7-1 Sunday by the Dallas Stars. They thus finished the tournament with a 1-2 record — and 17 goals allowed. After killing eight penalties against Toronto, the Blues allowed three power-play goals against the Stars. Dallas got a hat trick from Czech prospect Matej Blumel, and also got a goal from Christian Kyrou — younger brother of Blues All-Star Jordan Kyrou. Zachary Bolduc scored for the Blues on a second-period power play, his second of the tournament. By design, Colten Ellis and Will Cranley split the goaltending chores Sunday, with Ellis giving up three goals and Cranley allowing four. The Blues outshot Dallas 12-3 in the opening period but found themselves trailing 2-0 with both > Exhibition opener: 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Arizona in Wichita, Kan. Stars goal coming on the power play — the second of which was on a five-on-three advantage. “We started the game really well the first period,” said coach Drew Bannister. “We carried the play. Took a couple penalties there, and they get the one on the fiveon-three and kind of get a lucky bounce on another one.” It was a 3-1 game after Bolduc’s goal created some brief hope, but things deteriorated from there, with Dallas scoring the game’s final four goals. Nineteen of the 25 Blues prospects in Traverse City will report to Blues training camp Thursday at Centene Community Ice Center. Of that group, a couple will compete for jobs on the Blues’ regular-season roster. Several will end up in Springfield, Massachusetts, playing for the Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. Some will return to junior hockey. A couple might be looking for jobs in week or so. “This is a good tournament for them to be able to establish themselves as a player,” Bannister said, speaking of the Traverse City experience. “Whether it’s in the (Blues) organization — or ... other teams. There’s a lot of people always watching, and their eyes are on them. “The kids have the ability to come here and they want to play to their potential, right? Some kids do and continue to move on, and some kids don’t take advantage of that opportunity.” With the exception of Cranley’s work against Toronto, the Blues’ goaltending wasn’t very good in Traverse City. But there were too many defensive lapses in general, too many penalties, and an inability to finish whatever offensive chances there were in the 7-1 losses. But there were bright spots, starting with the play of the two first-round draft picks on the prospects roster — Bolduc and Jake Neighbours. After a lackluster outing against Columbus, Bolduc showed he can be dangerous with the puck on his stick in the final two tournament games. With a little more accurate shooting, he could have scored several more times. Neighbours displayed more of an all-around game, including some strong work on the penalty-killing unit. “Last year, Jake had an outstanding tournament with us and obviously made camp and was able to get games in (with the Blues),” said Bannister, who’s full-time job is coaching the Springfield team. “I thought he was really good again this tournament. “A very detailed hockey player. High work ethic. Understands the game and processes the game very well. When players like that have those kind of details, the transition for them to pro hockey and the NHL becomes much easier. But from last year to this year, I see a lot of improvement in his skating, too. He seems to have a little bit more separation speed, especially through the neutral zone, than he did last year. He reads the play well. He understands the game, and he picks up on things quickly.” There also were a couple of surprises performers in Landon Sim and Andrei Bakanov. Sim, who scored a modest 12 goals as a 17-year-old last season for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, scored three goals in Traverse City — sharing the team lead with Bakanov. “For not knowing a lot about him, I was impressed,” Bannister said of Sim, a sixth-round pick in July. “I thought his game got better as the tournament went on.” Overall, the line of Bolduc, Sim and Hugh McGing was the Blues’ best in Traverse City. Bakanov’s three goals were scored against Toronto on Friday, with one of them coming on a penalty shot. After spending most of the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, Bakanov is with the Blues as a free-agent invitee. In other words, on a tryout basis. He might have played well enough in Traverse City to get himself a job in Springfield. “He has good size, and he seems to be a player that feeds off confidence,” Bannister said. “You could kind of see his confidence grow a little bit after he scored his first goal. He works. He’s willing to work and go to the hard areas. “He wants to learn. I think it’s going to be a process with him just establishing himself here, whether it’s in Springfield or wherever it ends up being. He’s a big body, skates well, and he does have some skill. So we’ll just continue to work with him wherever he is.”