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12 ST. LOUIS Blues
Mark Bechtel
October 14, 2002
It doesn't appear that this will be the season that the team steps up in class
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October 14, 2002

12 St. Louis Blues

It doesn't appear that this will be the season that the team steps up in class

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Lack of size down the middle will hurt



Jackman, Salvador, Van Ryn to get regular time



Heat's on Johnson to prove he's a bona fide No. 1



PP will be solid with Weight, Maclnnis as QBs



Adding superscout Kekalainen will pay dividends

For more than two decades the Blues have been good enough to make the playoffs (23 straight seasons) but not good enough to win the grand prize (0 Stanley Cups). Last year's quick second-round exit at the hands of the eventual Cup-champion Red Wings was further confirmation that St. Louis is not among the West's elite. Adding injury to insult, the Blues lost their best player, defenseman Chris Pronger, who tore his right ACL in the series' penultimate game.

In addition to needing a replacement for Pronger, who isn't expected back until January, coach Joel Quenneville wants to trim the ice time of Pronger's back line mate, 39-year-old Al MacInnis, who logged 26:56 per game in 2001-02. That means top prospect Barret Jackman, 21, gets a shot at a full-time NHL job and youngsters Bryce Salvador, 26, and Mike Van Ryn, 23, have a chance to play more.

The most intriguing member of that trio is the 6-foot, 197-pound Jackman. A talented and hard-nosed player, he racked up 266 penalty minutes last season for the Blues' minor league affiliate in Worcester, Mass. In his brief time with St. Louis—one regular-season game and the final playoff match—he impressed the coaches with his all-around play. After the latter game, in which Jackman took Pronger's place, Quenneville said, " Jackman was our best player."

Up front the big news was the signing of left wing Keith Tkachuk to a four-year, $40 million contract extension (though it left the club with little money to spend elsewhere) and the addition of play-making center Petr Cajanek, a 2001 draftee who was second in scoring in the Czech Extraleague.

The key to the offense, however, is getting center Doug Weight back on track He was plagued by abdominal and pelvic injuries during his first season in St. Louis and missed 21 of the last 22 games. Following surgery in May, Weight spent the summer working with a personal trainer. "You can't have a protein shake and put in four hours a day anymore," says Weight, who added 15 pounds and lowered his body fat. "I'm an impact player, and I'm going to return to that level."

The Blues are counting on that.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]