5 things to watch at training camp

Blues Training Camp at Centene Community Ice Center is free and open to the public. Fans can attend practices at 10 am and noon on Thursday, Sept. 22 and Friday, Sept. 23.

Another hockey season is upon us.

The St. Louis Blues get back on the ice for training camp on Thursday and will drop the puck on their first preseason game Saturday when they visit the Arizona Coyotes for a neutral site matchup in Wichita, Kansas (7 pm, 101 ESPN).

Each season brings with it plenty of intrigue, and while there are a tremendous amount of storylines to watch, here are five we’re paying close attention to as we anxiously await the start of a new year.

1. It’s Jordan Binnington‘s net

With Ville Husso signing a long-term deal with the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason and 36-year-old Thomas Greiss coming to St. Louis on a one-year contract to provide some security in net, Jordan Binnington figures to once again – solidly – be the No. 1 goalie entering the season.

Binnington had some ups and downs last season but regained his form during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, going 4-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and a .949 save-percentage before he was injured in Game 3 of the second-round series with the Colorado Avalanche.

That injury didn’t require surgery, and he’s healthy and ready to go as camp gets set to begin.

“I was feeling good, for sure,” Binnington said of his playoff performance last season. “I think later [a] season like this one, it was definitely interesting and a year of experience for me, for sure. I really tried to put in the work and it kind of came to fruition towards the end. It’s unfortunate how it ended. I’ve got to just keep working.”

2. Alexey Toropchenko looks to be ahead of schedule

In July, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong announced that Alexey Toropchenko underwent shoulder surgery and was expected to be sidelined until December.

But in the weeks leading up to camp, Toropchenko was already on the ice for informal practices and was looking pretty impressive.

“I was a little surprised (to see him out there),” Armstrong said. “He was here all summer and he trained like a mad man. He’s ahead of schedule. We don’t want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish with a young player, but he is pushing and we hope to see him sooner rather But I don’t have an exact timeframe yet [for his return].”

Last season, Toropchenko started the year with the Springfield Thunderbirds but ended up playing 28 regular-season games with the Blues and all 12 of the club’s Stanley Cup Playoff games.

It looks like this time, we won’t have to wait until December to see him wear the ‘Note again.

3. Jake Neighbors wants to prove he belongs

Last season, Jake Neighbors got a nine-game trial with the Blues before returning to the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.

All he did in juniors upon his return was post 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 30 regular-season games and capture a WHL championship. Oh – and posted 17 points in the playoffs en route to that title.

Now, he’s looking to make his mark and stay with the big club this time.

“There’s making the club, and there’s contributing,” Armstrong said recently. “As a 20-year-old playing eight or nine minutes a night and playing every second or third game, I think (players) are better off playing a lot (in the minors). Coaches say ‘no, I can make them better’ with practice,’ but I don’t believe in that… I believe that playing a lot makes them a better player… If Neighbors is a contributing player on our team and he’s good enough, he’ll stay here. If he’s a non- contributing player or part of our 10-14 (forwards), it’s a likelihood he won’t be here. That’s the pressure he has to face, and that’s what pro athletes face all the time. There are guys above him, like (Logan Brown), saying ‘you know what, I gotta keep that job.’ That’s what’s great about training camp. You see who’s in for the challenge.”

4. Is Zack Bolduc ready to make the jump?

The Blues’ first-round pick in 2021 (No. 17 overall) scored a whopping 55 goals and 99 points in 65 games with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior League during the 2021-22 season.

So, is Zack Bolduc ready to make the jump?

“I would say it’s the same as it was before Robert Thomas a few years ago,” Armstrong said. “It’s a tough League… He has to come in and he has to steal a job. He’s going to get his opportunity. If he doesn’t do it, it’s not an indictment of a good or bad camp. At 18, it’s a man’s league. We want to be a good team, so he has to come in and do what Robert did that one year. Robby Fabbri did it, too. I’m not a proponent of 19-year-olds in the NHL unless they’ve earned it because it’s a prime development area where you want them to play and play with the puck, be important players… With that being said, that trick he does, he does pretty well and that’s putting pucks in the net. And you have to score goals in the League. He’s going to get every opportunity to play with good players to see where he’s at.”

5. Can Scott Perunovich secure a spot on the blueline?

Injuries have managed to keep Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich out of the lineup on a regular basis, but a recent hip surgery to Marco Scandella will certainly create an opportunity for the young defenseman to secure his spot on the blueline in 2022-23.

Perunovich returned to the lineup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, filling in on the power play for the injured Torey Krug with considerable success considering how much time he missed during the regular season.

“He has to prove he can stay healthy, that’s the main thing,” Armstrong said of Perunovich. “He puts all the work in and now he just has to have good luck – go from bad luck to good luck on his side health-wise… He’s going to come in and get real opportunity to play here. (Nick) Leddy, Krug , they’ve got to support him but they’ve got to outplay him. His job is to outplay those guys, and that’s what’s great about pro sport – there’s competition and there are always surprises.”

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