(HockeySTL)-- A little more than three months ago Petteri Lindbohm stepped into Scottrade Center as one of 50-plus training camp invites. The defenseman came into camp knowing he likely wasn’t going to be one of the 23 finalists for a roster spot; he came in prepared to return to Europe a few weeks later.
To the coaching staff, Lindbohm was just another body. None of them thought that the 21-year old would last more than a few cuts into camp. In fact, head coach Ken Hitchcock was as uncharacteristically unfamiliar with Lindbohm.
“I never knew a thing about him until he came to training camp,” Hitchcock admitted.
The coach’s interest level peaked after the first few preseason games, during which Lindbohm flaunted his defensive awareness and his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. The Blues and Lindbohm were on the same page, though, both expecting a return to Europe to be on the horizon.
“After the first exhibition game we knew we had a guy that could potentially be a player,” Hitchcock said. “We made a decision after the first exhibition game to get him as much exposure as we could thinking he would go back (to Europe).”
As training camp came to a close, Lindbohm was one of the remaining candidates. Along with forwards Robby Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin as well as defenseman Chris Butler, Lindbohm was cut just a few days before the regular season. When Blues general manager Doug Armstrong approached Lindbohm to break the news, the defenseman made a decision the Blues were hoping he would make all along.
“He indicated to us that if he was this close to the National Hockey League then why am I going back (to Europe),” Hitchcock said.
So, the Blues opened up a spot for Lindbohm on their American Hockey League affiliate team, the Chicago Wolves. Confident that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who was recovering from offseason hip surgery, would soon be able to return from injury, they sent Lindbohm to the AHL.
Since that time, Lindbohm has been called to the NHL multiple times due to injury. He has propelled himself into the Blues go-to option and during both stints he has stolen time from regulars.
“He came really close to making the team (out of training camp),” Hitchcock said. “Looking at depth charts he was probably eight or nine. He went down to the American Hockey League and played great. He pushed his way right into that eight-hole. Then with the injury he pushed his way into the lineup.”
Lindbohm has played eight games with the Blues. He has one point while averaging 12:23 of ice time per game. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s enough for Hitchcock to pass judgment on the player.
“He knew he was close,” Hitchcock said. “He knew he could play games this year and he wanted that experience. There’s a real trust from the coaching staff. You like his gamesmanship, you like his moxy. He’s got really good hockey sense, great reach and mobility. He’s got a lot of tools.”
Lindbohm’s most recent games came against Los Angeles, a team full of players known for their dominating physical play. Part of the reason Hitchcock played the rookie defenseman in such an environment was because he liked Lindbohm’s push-back in high intensity situations.
“He pushed back, which is what we needed,” Hitchcock said. “They went after him and he pushed back. He’s the new kid on the block and they went and challenged him.”
It has become obvious. When Lindbohm is in the NHL, the coach intends to use him as more than just insurance.
“He helps us now, but he’s really going to help us in the future,” said Hitchcock. “So, the more time we get him, the more times he’s up with us, the more participation he can take part in, the quicker he’s going to become an impact player.”
No matter how successful Lindbohm is, barring a trade, he is unlikely to be a full-time NHL player this season. His recent call-up was the result of a concussion to Gunnarsson. Once Gunnarsson regains full health, Lindbohm will be stored in the AHL until he has reason to be with the parent club. That doesn’t mean Hitchcock wouldn’t love to have him on-roster for the rest of the year.
“As soon as ‘Gunny’ is ready to go, that leaves my desk,” Hitchcock said. “Right now, it’s up to me because he’s here, but when you get into numbers and you are only allowed 23 and ‘Gunny’ is here and healthy (it’s not my decision).
“He’s not going to play. To put him into the rotation here is OK, but the minute we start making him a regular healthy scratch he’s not going to be around here; he’s going to be gone. He has to play.”
The club did assign Lindbohm to Chicago prior to the roster freeze a few days ago. The freeze, which lasts until Dec. 29, would prevent the Blues from clearing the necessary space for Gunnarsson should he be able to play before the freeze lifts.
Originally thought to be nearing a return, Gunnarsson was sent back to St. Louis after experiencing further concussion symptoms. Barring a quick recovery, Lindbohm will likely be recalled after the freeze lifts. At the same time, it appears that Armtrong’s preseason reads were spot on.
“The push is going to come from underneath, not from outside,” Armstrong on the same day the final roster cuts were announced. “I think we have a little more depth now where if we need a player right now, we can address it from within.”