Frederickson: Identifying the Blues’ top story lines heading into camp

ST. LOUIS — The return of hockey is near.

There are new faces, along with bigger expectations.

Come Sept. 11, the St. Louis Blues will take their physicals, a ritual that marks the official start of training camp. Until then, let’s fend off hockey hunger with an appetizer.

Here are the players and story lines we will be monitoring as soon as the guys are back on the ice:

Will Pietrangelo be a Blue?

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has remained optimistic about securing Alex Pietrangelo for the upcoming season, but the time he has to do so is dwindling.

Pietrangelo and the Blues have not yet been able to agree on a contract that will keep the defenseman in St. Louis. He remains a restricted free agent.

If the hang-up on how much money Pietrangelo will be paid continues to stall the conclusion of a deal, there’s a chance Pietrangelo could hold out and not attend training camp.

It will be interesting to see how much the Blues fork over, especially since Pietrangelo didn’t exactly make a case for a huge payday last season — he had a plus-minus rating of zero after finishing +16 the previous year.

Will Roy help Stewart flourish?

The addition of veteran free agent Derek Roy could be a twofold bonus for the Blues. Not only do they gain a big-name center, they immediately add a skill set that should boost the play of winger Chris Stewart.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock loves Roy’s vision, which led to his 40 assists in four of his eight seasons in Buffalo. It should be valuable for Stewart, a straight-line player who is at his best when attacking instead of facilitating.

“We feel like Stewart is a guy that gets open in the scoring areas,” Hitchcock said recently. “And we feel like Derek Roy’s a guy that has patience to find people like that.”

If the duo works well together, Stewart should surpass the 18 goals he scored last season — his most as a member of the Blues.

Will Halak’s rebound story come full circle?

Every off-season headline about Jaroslav Halak has been positive.

The man tabbed to be the Blues’ starting goaltender seems to have responded in the best way possible to a season marred by injury and frustration.

Halak stayed in St. Louis over the summer and used the time to rehabilitate the groin injuries that limited him to just 16 games last year. He also put on muscle and cut body fat, which should decrease the risk of the injuries popping up again.

If Halak’s return to form helps him as much as he hopes, he should be able to reestablish his place as one of the NHL’s top goalkeepers in a contract year.

Can Paajarvi peak?

The Blues made a bet on potential when they traded David Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round pick.

Paajarvi, 22, has been labeled by Hitchcock as a winger brimming with promise. But for the trade to be labeled a success, said promise needs to come to fruition rather quickly.

Paajarvi’s rise has been a slow one. He was the Oilers’ 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. He scored 15 goals as a rookie before netting a total of 11 the following two seasons. Similarly, his rookie assist total (16) didn’t match what he did the following two years (13).

He has good speed for his size (6 feet 3, 208 pounds), and needs to be more physical with that frame. If not, Perron will be missed.

Hitchcock is convinced a change of scenery and the Blues’ system will do the young player well.

“I think he’s just starting to become serious about his craft,” Hitchcock told reporters earlier this off-season, before Paajarvi inked a two-year contract worth a reported $2.4 million.

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