The St. Louis Blues coach met with reporters for an hour Friday morning during his team's youth hockey camp at the Blues' training facility in Hazelwood. There, he touched on a variety of topics that have been relevant this offseason.
Trades. New players. Goalkeepers.Hitch addressed them all.
Perron for Paajarvi
Hitchcock spoke at length about his team trading wing
David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers for
Magnus Paajarvi. Perron's time in St. Louis showed both promise and disappointment, but will likely always be tied to his battle with concussions.
"He and I had a good relationship, because I really respected the fact that he was coming back from a significant injury," Hitchcock said. "I understood the difficulty he was going through personally from coming back from that injury. I really felt like he was a guy that, when you had him on the ice, you were one step from scoring a goal all the time.
"The gamble that you take is that, for us, Paajarvi is three years younger and we think he is an improving player. He's going to get better. With our team, and the way we play, we think he is a great fit."
While more will be sorted out during the first couple weeks of training camp, Hitchcock said he has some ideas of players he wants to see on the ice together in pairs. "We are comfortable with some twosomes we really like," he said. "We really want to see (Chris) Stewart play with (Derek) Roy. We really want to continue on the (Alexander) Steen and (David) Backes train. We want to keep that going. We want to see (Patrik) Berglund play with Paajarvi. We want that to keep going. We've got combinations we want to see. Where does (T.J.) Oshie fit? Where does (Vladimir) Tarasenko fit? Where does (Jaden) Schwartz fit best? But we have some twosomes that are alive and kicking that we really are going to focus on, and see what goes from there.
"The one thing I will say is that, with Steen and Backes, there is going to be an interchange. It doesn't matter to me who starts as the center. But I think you're going to see more interchange with those two guys playing together than ever before."
Hitchcock said he just recently finished watching film of Max Lapierre, the 28-year-old forward the Blues signed to a two-year deal in early July. Lapierre, who most recently played for the Vancouver Canucks, is known as an aggravator. But he can be more restrained if need be. Both will be asked of him as a Blue.
"He was a guy you circled and said, 'He's a reckless player,'" Hitchcock said. "I don't know why, but I thought in the playoffs, he played — and I just finished watching all of his shifts yesterday — a very smart and positionally sound game. But conservative. He looked like he was going to get caught with something. I don't know how to describe something. He looked like a guy that was one step away from getting suspended, if you know what I mean. He played conservative. He played cautious, positional hockey, because they had him playing with a lot of new players, players that hadn't been there before ...
"The way we are, with the forwards he is going to play with, it's a good fit, because somebody is going to have to back up the reckless play that's going to be there. That line plays its best when its reckless, and somebody is going to have to back up that reckless play. I think he is a good fit for us ... But we are also going to turn him loose to where he was two years ago. So, he's also going to play with a physical edge."
Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak has shown a renewed energy in off-ice work this offseason after injuries last year limited him to 16 games. His coach has noticed.
"I've been very impressed with Yaro, the change that he's made in addressing a strengthening issue and fitness issue so that he may remain healthy," Hitchcock said.
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