By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues drafted Timothy Oshie Jr. in the first round of the 2005 entry draft, the University of North Dakota product came out with all the credentials as a center iceman.
But if you only count a handful of games since turning professional, T.J. Oshie has spent most of his pro hockey career flanked on right wing.
But because of an injury to David Backes, Oshie will take a turn at his natural position when the Blues (22-21-7) entertain the Anaheim Ducks (23-21-7) today at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Oshie will center the Blues' top unit tonight, flanked by Paul Kariya and Brad Boyes on the wings and is obviously looking forward to it.
"It's been a while," Oshie said. "I haven't played there on a regular basis since the first couple games of my rookie season and obviously in college. But I played all the way up, so I'm comfortable with it."
Oshie was the center with the Fighting Sioux for most of his college career, aside from the season he played right wing on Jonathan Toews' line, and his freshman season when he was on right wing of Travis Zajac's line.
But having Oshie's versatility makes it easy for Blues coach Davis Payne to insert him there.
"Osh's ability to play all three forward positions is certainly something we want to take advantage of," Payne said. "We hope that the spark and the jump that they showed in the third period (Thursday) starts back here tonight."
The trio played together four shifts in Thursday's 3-2 loss to Ottawa and played well together. So they will get the opportunity again.
"Obviously a lot of offense from what they've done in the past," Oshie said when asked about his linemates. "I'm looking forward to being more of the grinder on that line ... and create turnovers."
Oshie said it will be an adjustment, since the responsibilities as a center are different than a winger.
"I'm on the puck a lot more in the defensive zone," Oshie said. "I definitely like that. I like my responsibilities, so just go with it.
"There is a lot more responsibility in the defensive zone. You get a lot more tired in that area when you're battling at both ends of the rink instead of for the most part just in the offensive zone. Watching my shift length obviously is very important, especially early."
The forward lines at the today's morning skate featured:
Paul Kariya-T.J. Oshie-Brad Boyes
Andy McDonald-Keith Tkachuk-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Patrik Berglund-Cam Janssen
Payne said Backes (upper-body) and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (lower-body) are listed as day-to-day and will be unavailable tonight.
Backes was injured in Monday's loss at Columbus but there is some wear and tear there as well. Colaiacovo injured himself Thursday at Ottawa.
The defensive pairings will pit together:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Darryl Sydor-Mike Weaver
Sydor, who will make his third straight appearance after sitting out 11 of the previous 13 games, has been a makeshift assistant coach both on the ice and in the press box when not playing. It's something Payne has certainly appreciated.
"I think you look at his approach to everything he does day-to-day is truly professional," Payne said. "He understands where he is and what he brings to this hockey team. If it's in the lineup, he's ready. If it's not, he's ready too and ready to offer support, ready to offer words to the guys that are playing and certainly to us (coaches) if he's seeing anything from a preparation standpoint."
Chris Mason, who has dropped his last two starts after a stretch where he went 4-1-1, will be in goal once again.
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The Ducks, who come in two points ahead of the Blues in the Western Conference race, have really shot up the standings despite a recent rash of injuries to veteran players.
"Both teams are fighting to get back into that conference spot as far as the top eight," Payne said. "It's a very important hockey game."
Since they were a season-worst four games under .500 at 7-11-3, Anaheim has since gone 16-10-4 in their last 30 games, including 7-2-0 in their last nine despite missing Teemu Selanne (broken jaw) and Saku Koivu (sprained knee).
Dan Wood, radio color commentator for the Ducks, told me this morning the team has played with a physical edge in recent weeks and that they've been getting solid production from some younger players that may have caught them by surprise.
Among them, Wood mentioned the play of winger Dan Sexton, who has eight goals and eight assists in 24 games after spending last season at Bowling Green University and only playing in a handful of games in the minors.
With Selanne and Koivu both out tonight, the forward lines should shake out like this:
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan-Petteri Nokelainen-Dan Sexton
Todd Marchant-Kyle Chipchura-Troy Bodie
Evgeny Artyukhin-Ryan Carter-Mike Brown/George Parros
The defensive pairings should feature:
Scott Niedermayer-James Wisniewski
Ryan Whitney-Steve Eminger
Sheldon Brookbank-Nick Boynton/Brett Festerling
Jonas Hiller will start in goal.