HAZELWOOD, MO. - Samuel Blais was assured of only one guarantee upon arrival to St. Louis on Thursday: he'd be one of 51 skaters attending Blues training camp for the 2017-18 season.
What Blais, a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, didn't expect was the first sight of the locker room inside the Ice Zone.
He expected to see his name on the board somewhere, but certainly not next to ... Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko.
"It was a sheet in the room and I saw that when I came in yesterday morning," Blais said Saturday at day two of training camp. "I was very happy about that. I was like, 'Is it me?' I was very happy and it's a good opportunity for me."
Yes, it is a good opportunity for the 21-year-old Blais.
A very good opportunity.
One which will be, by far, his best chance at cracking an NHL roster.
Even if Blais doesn't crack the Blues' roster to begin the season, he's climbed up the proverbial chain of prospects on the parent club's radar. One in which coaches and management have noticed.
But placing Blais with two of the Blues' mainstays — including their leading scorer — shows what the Blues think of the Montmagny, Quebec, Canada native.
This is no fluke, no chance of putting a younger player with veterans to fail.
"They told me I'm not there for no reason," Blais said. "I had a good year. Just got to do my best and try to earn a spot on the team."
Blais, who spent three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Victoriaville and Charlottetown, made the nice transition to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League last season with 26 goals and 17 assists in 75 regular-season games; he had 71 goals and 107 assists in three seasons in the QMJHL.
Blues coach Mike Yeo got a chance to watch Blais play in the Calder Cup Playoffs last season and came away impressed.
"I was real impressed when I went and watched him in the playoffs last year," Yeo said. "He's a guy that can really control the puck, possess the puck well, plays with his head up, can use linemates but can shoot the puck as well. I'm looking to see if he can obviously complement some very skilled players.
"I want him to show us that he can play with good players and not defer. He's a guy that can shoot the puck, he's a guy that can distribute the puck. I want him out there with the mentality that you're going to make the play that you believe is best to be made, not what you think somebody else might want from you. What makes top players great is that they're demanding, but for somebody to be able to go up and play at that level, you have to be able to deal with that. He's had a good first two days. "
Blais has looked good — albeit for two days — with Stastny and Tarasenko. There's speed, there's pinpoint passing, there's precision shooting as the three attack in drills.
"I've just got to enjoy it," Blais said. "They're really good players in the league, Vladi and Stas. They're really good players, so I've just got to take my chance and don't be too much nervous and embrace the moment."
What the two veterans are doing is making Blais' time on the ice as comfortable as possible, and communication is key.
"I think we just talk to him," Stastny said. "Like anyone that plays with Vladi, you try to find him all the time and sometimes you try and do too much. I know those first couple of days is just making him be comfortable. I think he's a good player, smart player, good hands. Any time you know you play with good players, the more you talk to a guy, the more time you have, the easier it is for him."
"Yeah, he's a good guy," Tarasenko said of Blais, who he calls Sammy. "It's nice when it's a guy that wasn't on team and come for camp and talk nice with you. We have all of them and it's really like good atmosphere in locker room. I just enjoy my time in rink."
Blais could be one of those diamond-in-the-rough selections for the Blues. Imagine developing an impact player drafted in the later rounds.
"I think that everybody has their own rate of developing," Yeo said. "Some guys do it at a very young age, some guys are a little bit later and late bloomers. To me, he's a guy that's continued to find a way to improve. I was extremely impressed from where he was in training camp last year to where he was at the end of the year last year. Whether he's ready, we don't know. Obviously, we'll give him a chance in training camp. But as long as he continues to improve and work at his game the way that he has, then he's given himself a great chance."
Blais took off after Christmas last season, scoring 22 goals after the holidays. Having his Wolves coaches (Craig Berube, Daniel Tkazcuk and Darryl Sydor) here in main camp is an added bonus.
"I think I always had my goal-scoring touch, but in junior I was more like a playmaker, but last year, my first half was like a little bit harder of my first-year pro," Blais said. "But after Christmas, I think I had like 22 goals after Christmas. I just played hard and played a different game than I was playing in junior. I was finishing my checks and playing good defensively. That's what make my success last year.
"They wanted me playing harder, finishing my checks. I'm like 6-foot-3 so I had to finish my check and they weren't very good for me in my defensive zone. They worked with me a lot, so I thank them a lot for that."
Blais can serve up the ultimate thank you by winning the staff over during the next two weeks and be a surprise member of the Blues when they open Oct. 4.
"I want to make a good impression here," Blais said. "If I'm going back to the AHL, I just want to have a good start and get a call-up after. If I play good this year, maybe earn a spot or battle for a spot."
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