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Blues again banking on youth

- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The advertising theme for the St. Louis Blues this season is "Don't Stop Believing."

The plea is appropriate. The front office and the loyal fan base are still awaiting results from a roster built around the high draft picks from a few years ago.

The Blues have missed the playoffs four of the last five years, finishing 11th in the Western Conference and 10 points out of the money last season.

"I think that's my biggest motivation, to get to the playoffs, to live up to the hype that's kind of around St. Louis," forward T.J. Oshie said.

David Backes, a second-round draft pick in 2003, enters his first season as captain after a 30-30-30 performance _ 31 goals, 31 assists and a plus-32 rating. At 27, he's hitting his stride.

Chris Stewart had 15 goals in 26 games after arriving from the Avalanche in a trade for former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson and is just 23. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in '08, had 43 points and averaged 22 minutes his first full season and is only 21.

The other youngsters may have some growing, and healing, to do.

Patrik Berglund, a first-rounder in 2006, is the star of the team's preseason TV ad campaign, pretending to play a piano at center ice to Journey's 1980s hit. Berglund picked it up in the second half of last season and finished with a career-best 52 points, earning a two-year contract extension entering his fourth season.

Oshie, a first-rounder in 2005, also is entering his fourth season but got only a one-year contract. In addition to missing time with a broken ankle, he served a two-game disciplinary suspension and had 34 points in 49 games.

"You don't want to compare team to team, but we have bona fide superstars in here," veteran forward Scott Nichol said. "I don't know if they know that yet. I think they have to believe in it themselves."

The eventual return of David Perron, a first-rounder in 2007 and entering his fourth full season, is a bonus. The 23-year-old Perron rejoined the team Monday more than nine months after sustaining a concussion, although it'll be a while before he is ready.

"I want to stress he's back to square one," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We're going to push him but only to the point that he's comfortable."

Perron, the team's most creative skater, had five goals and two assists the first 10 games last season before being felled by Joe Thornton's check in a game against San Jose.

"Great to have him around, great to see him back," coach Davis Payne said. "Still got a ways to go, obviously, but he's one of us."

There's a veteran presence, too. Alex Steen was third on the team with 51 points and Andy McDonald had 50 points in only 58 games. Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, who have both played for Stanley Cup winners, each signed one-year, $2.5 million deals.

"This is a team that I feel is on that doorstep and has the ability to take that next step into that upper group of teams," Langenbrunner said.

Along with Pietrangelo and 22-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk, there are veterans Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Carlo Colaiacovo on defense.

Staying power was the biggest ingredient lacking last season. A blazing 9-1-2 start was followed by a five-game losing streak, and the roster couldn't overcome significant injuries.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak had three shutouts in that opening sequence but had his cold stretches, too.

The early going promises to be challenging. The first two games are at home, Oct. 8 against Nashville and Oct. 10 against Chicago, and then eight of the next nine are on the road.

"I've just felt like it's been a really long summer," Stewart said. "I think if we come in and have a healthy year, there's no reason why we can't win our division."

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