When more Blues players begin trickling into the club’s practice facility this week they will run into a teammate they’re not used to seeing in mid-August.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak who in three previous seasons with the Blues spent the summer at home in Slovakia has been in town since the end of the 2012-13 season in May.

“Everyone was asking at the end of the season ‘Where are you headed?’” Halak said. “I said ‘I’m staying here.’ Everybody said ‘Enjoy the hot weather.’ The weather has been great so I’ve enjoyed it.”

Unseasonably cool temperatures have complemented a productive offseason of training for Halak who made the decision to stay in town so that he could work one-on-one with Blues strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte.

After two stints on the shelf with a groin injury last season Halak visited a specialist in Philadelphia after the Blues bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. The verdict was that surgery was not needed but the goalie was told that he would lessen the risk of re-injuring his groin if he significantly improved his lower-body strength.

The last three months have been a regimented schedule of weight training and cardio activity aimed at bolstering his legs and quads. In the meantime Halak dropped his body-fat percentage and appears to be in the best shape since arriving in St. Louis in 2010.

Friday was Halak’s fifth day on the ice taking shots and afterward he said “Everything feels good. I needed some time to heal it properly. Right now I have no issues and hopefully it’s going to be this way.”

Players report to training camp Sept. 11 — in 24 days — and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock expects that it will be “all systems go” with Halak.

“I’ve run into him four or five times during the summer” Hitchcock said. “He’s excited he’s feeling healthy. Part of it was conditioning but another part was strengthening that area.

“He’s a really young guy and you don’t want to have an injury-plagued career. So he wanted take the question marks out of it by having a really high fitness level. He’s done a really good job of finding that fitness level.”

The reward could be more assignments for Halak who for the past two seasons has been part of the Blues’ tandem with Brian Elliott.

In 2011-12 Halak played 46 games and Elliott played 38 as the pair claimed the Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against in the NHL. In the lockout-shortened year last season Elliott played 24 games and injuries limited Halak to just 16.