(HockeySTL) -- When training camp began on Sept. 18, the biggest story to follow was the team depth and the competition it was sure to create. Of the 60 players attending camp, eyes were piercing just a couple as they fought for just a few open forward and defensive positions.
Chris Butler, Peter Mueller, Joakim Lindstrom and Nate Prosser were four of the more prevalent names discussed leading up to camp, as they had the best odds of making the roster. But by the beginning of October, three of those players had been tossed from the discussion, while two rookies took center stage.
Forward Robby Fabbri, 18, and defenseman Petteri Lindbohm, 21, emerged from the shadows cast upon them by the heavily outnumbering veterans and nearly stole two spots on the opening night roster.
“There were some tough choices,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said after the team announced the final four roster cuts on Tuesday, which included Fabbri and Lindbohm. “There was some really good play by young players and they pushed right to the end.”
Fabbri and Lindbohm were good enough to remain on the Blues’ roster longer than Mueller, highly touted prospect Ty Rattie, Prosser and the experienced Colin Fraser. But the Blues, who are loaded with depth at forward and on defense, finally made the tough decision to cut both players.
Fabbri was returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, the team he has played for during the last two seasons, and Lindbohm was sent to the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate Chicago Wolves.
The Blues could have kept Fabbri in the NHL on a nine-game tryout before making the decision to return him to the OHL and the club had a seventh defensive spot unfilled which Lindbohm could have been occupied. However, general manager Doug Armstrong and Hitchcock collaborated to make the decision they thought was best for the two players in the long run.
“The organization’s philosophy is: if they’re not going to play immediately then they want them playing in the minors, which we, as a coaching staff, full support,” said Hitchcock.”
Lindbohm, who spent last season playing in Finland, was expected to travel overseas to continue his development once he was cut from the Blues’ roster. The organization preferred that Lindbohm remain in Chicago, but had little control or influence over the defenseman’s decision. Or so they thought.
When Armstrong approached Lindbohm to announce the team’s decision to include the young defenseman in the final roster deductions, he indicated to the player that he was very close to being NHL-ready. It was at that point that Armstrong was told of Lindbohm’s changed mind.
“He had the opportunity to go back to Finland to play,” Armstrong said. “But after watching his progress, we think he is very close to being an NHL player and he has decided to go to Chicago rather than back to Europe. Without hesitation, he said I’m a North American player.
“I think it is a great decision. It really shows where his mindset is at. It also shows how close we think he is to being an NHL player.”
The Blues’ coaching staff and Armstrong have a general idea of how they are going to handle their young skaters heading into camp. Barring surprises, they stick to that course. Lindbohm, who was the team’s sixth round draft choice in 2012, made a big enough splash in camp to surprise not only the right people, but literally everyone who watched him.
“I actually thought he was going to go to Finland right after the Traverse City Tournament,” said Armstrong. “He was supposed to stay here for the first four days of camp, play one game and then go back. We played him one game and then told him we’d like him to stay for one more week. That’s when I told Ken to put him in some difficult positions.
“He just got better and better as camp went on.”
Now, Lindbohm will be stationed in Chicago, just hours away from the parent club, and could be one of the first players the team reaches out to for help if it’s needed during the regular season.
“(He’s) right on the edge of playing on a regular basis,” Hitchcock said. “This gives him a chance to keep moving and play a lot of big minutes so he’s ready to help us whenever we need him.”
Unlike Lindbohm, Fabbri won’t be available to help the Blues this year, despite having as successful a camp as deemed possible.
“From a career standpoint, that is best for him, though he really did push for a spot,” Hitchcock admitted.
The veteran coach raved about Fabbri throughout the two weeks of training camp, which is not an empty gesture. The forward was placed in prominent roles throughout the preseason to test his resolve and never faltered.
“He was outstanding in training camp, really from Traverse City on,” Armstrong said of Fabbri. “He’s a player, in my experience, playing like it’s the Stanley Cup. It’s his first time in here and as the camp progressed, I thought he would go down a notch or two and he didn’t. He was able to maintain his position with better players.”
Hitchcock had similar thoughts.
“It’s the moxie on the ice,” said Hitchcock. “He does stuff that a 35-year-old does, not an 18-year-old.”
Drafted by the Blues in the first round of this year’s draft, Fabbri was projected to be a three to four-year project. The organization wanted him to spend a few more years in the OHL before he made the jump to the AHL. Now, it’s a real possibility that Fabbri will be on the Blues’ roster just one season after hearing his name called at the draft.
“What I told him is: when we drafted you, I expected you to be two years in the juniors and then we get a look at you,” said Armstrong. “He has impressed us enough now that if he goes down to the OHL and has a good season, we have to look at him as a potential player on our roster next season.
“He might push next year to where we have no choice but to put him on the team.”