(HockeySTL)-- It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Blues. The team was already without forward Ryan Reaves and defenseman Jordan Leopold when a mass of injuries hit the club.
The team lost Vladimir Sobotka, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, Roman Polak and Alexander Steen in a matter of a couple of weeks. Sobotka, Schwartz and Backes were all sidelined at the same time for a stretch. Recently, the Blues lost Backes again (upper-body injury), Polak (lower-body injury) and Steen (concussion). Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse for the team, forward Chris Stewart took a puck to the face in Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve game and was unavailable for return. However, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the injury-riddled Blues.
Leopold, Reaves and Backes were all skating at Scottrade Center for Wednesday’s optional skate. All are close to returning. Chris Stewart was also at the practice, though there was little in the way of update on his status for Thursday.
Backes and Stewart’s readiness will be determined after Thursday’s morning skate. Stewart was sporting a nasty wound on his upper lip while roaming the halls at Scottrade Center. At this point, it’s not known if he will be ready to go on Thursday.
“We will just take him through (Thursday) and see how he feels,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “He doesn’t look great, but he’s a hockey player.”
Backes was an active participant in Wednesday's practice. He has been involved in several intense practices in the past few days, but Wednesday’s was a real positive for the forward. All signs point to him being ready for action on Thursday, but Hitchcock wouldn’t confirm following practice.
“We will let you know tomorrow,” said Hitchcock. “Everything was structured (on the trip). So today was his first unstructured day where it was just compete and see how he feels. If he feels fine, then he will be good to go.”
While Backes and Stewart nurse their wounds, Reaves and Leopold are simply awaiting clearance from the doctors to mount their returns.
Reaves sustained a broken hand during a fight on Nov. 23. He underwent surgery on his right hand, and has been skating for the past few weeks as he furthered his recovery. Leopold, who has also been sidelined with a hand injury, has been skating with Reaves. Both are a roster move away from returning to action. That decision will be made after tomorrow’s morning skate.
Leopold won’t be played following his removal from IR, whenever that may be. Hitchcock said he likes the way Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole have been playing as a pair and the team will have many options with seven defensemen on their roster once Leopold is activated.
“Once (he) is cleared, it means he is available for selection,” said Hitchcock.
Reaves, on the other hand, would likely make an immediate return to the Blues’ lineup and back to his original fourth-line role.
“We are not going to play him unless he is 100%,” said Hitchcock. “If the doctors say he is 100% then he has to play his game. We are not going to put him on the ice with any restrictions.”
Hitchcock is going to discuss the team’s plans moving forward with general manager Doug Armstrong. The Blues can activate both Reaves and Leopold without making another roster move, if they choose to do so. In preparation for the roster moves, which are pending a doctor’s clearance, the team sent Dmitrij Jaskin back to the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday morning.
Jaskin played in four games with the Blues, scoring his first NHL goal against the Chicago Blackhawks. The team had no room for him with the return of their injured players and didn’t want to hinder his development by playing him on the team’s fourth line.
“He did really well. We were happy with him, but if Reaves and Leopold are going to come off the IR we don’t have room for him to play,” said Hitchcock. “We are not prepared to play him as a fourth-line player.”
“What surprised me was how strong he was as a 20-year old player. He was able to hold his own, which is a really good sign. He doesn’t look like a big guy, but he plays like a big guy. He’s got a heck of a future ahead of him.”
If all goes as preferred, the Blues could go from injury-decimated to healthy in 24 hours.