Evgeny Grachev, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Reaves, Philip McRae, Scott Nichol, and Chris Porter would love to take two of the remaining forward slots that're open until David Perron returns for injury. Who is making the biggest case to stay in the top 12, who'll be the Blues 13th forward, and who's returning to Peoria?
There's just one more pre-season game left for the Blues on Thursday night - scheduled at the same time as a potential wild-card tiebraker between the Cardinals and the Braves. Pre-season hockey tends to take a back-seat in St. Louis sports as long as the baseball season continues, and is practically thrown in the trunk when there's a playoff position at stake. There are six people - possibly the only six in St. Louis - whose attention is more focused on how the Blues do during pre-season and training camp than if the Cardinals complete their rebound to the wild card slot.
The Blues have twelve spots for forwards, with another for the pressbox. The team's hinted at possibly carrying fourteen forwards if necessary. One of those spots, it's presumed, will go to David Perron when he returns to regular play with the team. The other position is wide open.
It's hard to not expect Scott Nichol to be the 13th forward. Small and scrappy, the veteran of 552 NHL games is a tough opponent to play against. He also hasn't been afforded a long look this pre-season due to his being out due to surgery on a torn labrum. Sure, the Blues added age with Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, but what's one more leader in the locker room and playing on the 4th line when needed?
Ryan Reaves and Adam Cracknell both bring aspects of B.J. Crombeen to their game. That's great, because Crombeen's one of the Blues' hardest workers. Unfortunately for Cracknell and Reaves, Crombeen's healthy and good to go. He's ready to bring hard, gritty work to every shift, and he's ready to drop the gloves when needed. Cracknell and Reaves would make fantastic call-ups if needed, but time in the AHL would be a good thing.
Philip McRae was a leader at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament this season, and will more than likely make the cut for the Blues... next season. McRae got some seasoning in the NHL last year, but his -10 in 15 games shows that he has a lot of learn about the defensive side of the game. He also only has one assist in the pre-season so far. It says a lot about his skill-set that he's stayed up with the Blues for so long, but more development would benefit him in the long run moreso than time in the NHL.
Chris Porter is, well, Chris Porter. He played over half the season with the Blues last year, scored 7 points, and was a serviceable fill in. He's someone that the Blues need to have at the ready, because God knows the Blues get injured enough in an average season. But he's not someone who needs to start the year with them.
Now Evgeny Grachev, on the other hand... he's a prime example of what happens when that whole "maybe he just needs a change of scenery" thing plays out right. Traded from the New York Rangers for a 3rd round pick at this year's draft, Grachev has five points in four games - three goals and two assists. He's been producing chances, and he's benefited from playing with David Backes and Jamie Langenbrunner on the top line for a few games. Obviously, during the regular season he might not get the opportunity to play with top line talent, but people assumed that about Matt D'Agostini last year and look at how he produced. Grachev also became defensively responsible last year in the AHL, with a +28 rating. He's massive and provides some more strength on an already physical club.
If the Blues want to add to their physical game and have someone who contributes scoring, Grachev's the choice. When Perron returns, there's a possibility that it'll be Nichol warming the seat at the press box buffet of pretzels and bridge mix.