(HockeySTL)-- Despite indications last month that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson would be ready for the start of the season, it is no longer the case.
“He’s not ready,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock.”
Towards the end of September, it became abundantly clear that Gunnarsson’s progression had plateaued and that it was highly unlikely he would be ready by the Oct. 9 season opener.
Gunnarsson, 27, was acquired by the Blues in late June, one month after he underwent a surgical procedure to repair a hip flexor. The injury had been bothering the defenseman for the past two seasons despite attempts to alleviate the pain non-surgically.
Gunnarsson has been active in the Blues’ two-week-long training camp, but has yet to take the final step in his recovery.
“He has to get in a grey sweater and then get evaluated,” Hitchcock said. “He’s not ready to put the grey sweater on.”
Once Gunnarsson strips the red no-contact jersey and is cleared for contact, he should be ready for game-action relatively quickly.
“One of the good things about it is once he gets the grey sweater, then it won’t be very long because he has participated in everything we have done.”
Post-surgery, the belief was that Gunnarsson would be ready for the start of the season. When the Blues acquired the defenseman, that was their hope. But for Gunnarsson to have been ready for the beginning of the season, he would have had to be have been several weeks ahead of schedule. The rate of progression doesn’t come as a surprise to the Blues staff.
“I look at the injury and it’s a 4-5 month injury,” Hitchcock said. “I’m just glad he is participating right up until the contact starts. But we can’t consider a player ready until the red sweater comes off, so he’s not ready.”
The likely candidates to fill in for Gunnarsson until he is healthy are Ian Cole and Petteri Lindbohm. Both defensemen have played with Alex Pietrangelo in the preseason, which is where the Blues plan on slotting Gunnarsson once he is healthy.
“I like both pairs,” Hitchcock said. “I really like Bouwmeester with Shattenkirk; that has been a good pair, so we have to decide. I think it’s more deciding how we are going to play our player because that could dictate. We could use anybody there depending on how we are going to play the rest of our lineup.”
Lindbohm’s consideration may come as a surprise to some considering at the start of camp the young defenseman wasn’t even in consideration for a roster spot. But the 21-year-old has proven he can thrive in an important role.
The most recent impression was made by the blue-liner on Saturday in the Blues’ final preseason game. Lindbohm tallied two assists in the team’s game against Minnesota, topping off what has been a successful camp for the defenseman. It came one day after Hitchcock raved about Lindbohm’s performance.
“The feistier the game got, the better he played and the more composed he was which I think is a really good sign,” Hitchcock said after the Blues’ preseason win on Thursday. “He really enjoyed himself. We have given him a real opportunity here with Gunnarsson out and he has basically taken the role that ‘Gunny’ had and has run with it. He’s really taken advantage of the opportunity from basically nowhere and being in consideration to make the hockey club is pretty impressive.”