(HockeyStL) -- The start of training camp is only a few days away, and that means that once again head coach Ken Hitchcock will be leading the practice. Hitchcock has been forced to watch from the stands until the new CBA is officially ratified, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been actively watching, and planning.
Hitchcock had his forward lines all planned out before the 113 day lockout, but he has strayed from what he originally thought looked suitable.
“We are doing reviews, thinking we are ready, and as we are doing those reviews we are finding out we aren’t quite ready after all,” said Hitchcock. “What looked good on paper in September all of a sudden doesn’t look good.”
After watching players return to the ice at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone, Hitchcock decided to go with a familiar look for his top line, inserting David Perron in place of Matt D’Agostini to skate with David Backes.
However, Hitchcock has primarily been focused on his second line that has remained intact since September, with Alex Steen centering Vladimir Tarasenko and Andy McDonald.
“They like playing with each other. It’s a new look for us, and it’s new for them,” Hitchcock admitted. “He and Andy (McDonald) have really good chemistry; they find each other really well on the ice.”
While Steen has rarely played center with the Blues, he is not a foreigner to the position. Steen told KMOV’s Brian Feldman on Thursday that he played at the center position in each of his 20 games with Modo of the Swedish Elite League, and primarily skated at center as a youth.
“At first (in the Swedish league) I was a little off on faceoffs. I have taken faceoffs sporadically, but to have to take them every game (was different). We had a great coach who gave me a lot of defensive-zone draws. It was fun.”
“I like that Alex (Steen) played center in Europe, and if you can play in big ice you can play anywhere so it’s really good for us to take a look at that,” said Hitchcock. “Modo really liked him there. They really liked his play. He did a great job there on faceoffs, so hopefully that translates into being able to do it here.”
Steen has been a jack of all trades with the Blues appearing on the power play and the penalty kill, and his time in Sweden was no different.
“I had a lot of power play time and a lot of ice time. My last game I played 29 minutes.” He added jokingly that the coaches must have known it was his last game.
Steen’s projected linemate, Andy McDonald, has some experience at center as well, but spent the latter part of last season on the wing where he excelled in the playoffs. Both Steen and McDonald missed a significant amount of time at the same part of last season with post concussion syndrome. They spent a lot of time on the ice together both rehabbing and in game action so their communication flourishes when they are paired together.
“I really enjoy playing with Andy,” said Steen. “We talk a bunch, and communicate really well. We are really good friends off the ice which is usually good for chemistry on the ice. That seems to be what the plan is, but if it isn’t, we will find out when training camp starts.”
Tarasenko will be the other winger on the line, but Steen has hardly seen Tarasenko in action.
“I don’t know that much about Tarasenko to be honest. I practiced with him once when I was here in St. Louis. I just know the hype surrounding him so it’s going to be interesting to (play with him and see how good he really is).”
With Tarasenko expected to arrive in St. Louis Friday or Saturday, Steen and McDonald will soon have a chance to experience the talented rookie’s skill firsthand. Steen’s line clearly has the makings of something special, but only time will tell if it works out as Hitchcock has planned.