By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The last time Wade Redden suited up in a National Hockey League uniform, it was difficult to imagine it would take roughly three years to put on a jersey again.
The 35-year-old, who signed a pro-rated one-year, $800,000 contract with the Blues last week, will make his return to the NHL when the Blues host the Nashville Predators tonight (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Redden, whose last game was in a New York Rangers uniform on April 11, 2010, is likely to be paired with Alex Pietrangelo on the Blues' top d-pairing tonight.
The wait is finally over, and Redden is glad to put the whole ordeal with the Rangers behind him.
"It's been a while, but I've obviously been playing still," said Redden, whose last NHL points ironically came against the Blues when he scored a goal and added an assist on March 18, 2010. "The AHL is not the same level, but it's still a pretty good league. It's obviously a lot different atmosphere and I'm looking forward to being a part of it tonight again."
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Redden is a 13-year NHL veteran. He was the 2nd overall pick by the New York Islanders in 1995 that's played in 994 NHL games, posting 106 goals and 450 points.
Redden spent 11 years with the Ottawa Senators, but in 2008, he signed a six-year, $39 million free-agent contract with the Rangers but failed to live up to the deal, posting just two goals and 14 points in 75 games in 2009-10. He's been out of the league since.
Redden's been buried in the Rangers' minor league system with the American Hockey League's Connecticut Whale, where he made $6.5 million in each of the last two seasons, compiling 12 goals and 50 assists in 119 games.
"He's a veteran guy who knows how to manage his game and he's smart," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think he'll do just fine.
"I'm proud of him that he stayed with it, proud of him that he's getting a second opportunity like this. He was a very good player, a very dependable player. He played with arguably one of the best defensemen ever in the game in (Zdeno) Chara (in Ottawa). They were a great pair, they were great on the power play, they were dynamic for a number of years. Both guys kind of went in different directions."
Chara went on to win a Stanley Cup in Boston and is the Bruins' captain. Redden is looking to make a climb back to respectability.
"It feels great," Redden said. "I've been around the team here for a few days. It feels good to be around and get going.
"It's a chance to come back and show I can play and just be a part of the team. We've got a good team here. I'll try and help the team win and have some success."
Pietrangelo, who's played with Ian Cole the previous three games, said Redden brings elements that never get old.
"Experience, the veteran presence, a calming effect in the dressing room," Pietrangelo said. "He's a guy who's been through everything in this league. It's going to be good to have him in here. You can never have too many veteran guys that have a presence on the ice as well.
"We spoke this morning, and I know how he plays, too. Just from watching him over the years and watching him in practice. It's always going to be an adjustment period when you play with a new guy for the first time. But at the same time, if we do get paired together, we should be fine."
Predators center Mike Fisher, a teammate of Redden's in Ottawa, said the Blues have themselves a keeper.
"I'm obviously happy for him that he's back and he's going to get a chance," Fisher said. "It's been a frustrating couple years for him. But he deserves a shot. He's one of the best defensemen I've really played with. He's so smart, patient, makes great plays. He'll definitely help this team.
"It's been tough for sure, but if anyone can treat that situation with a good attitude, it would be him. He's such a great guy and better person than he is a player. I know he dealt with it in a great way. ... A great acquisition obviously by St. Louis."
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Monday's 4-3 Blues shootout victory at Nashville is nothing new. Another ho-hum one-goal affair, right?
Well, games between the Blues and Predators typically comes down to a one- or two-goal game. The Blues' 3-0 on March 27 of last season was one of those rare instances.
"It seems like every game, it's close," Fisher said. "They're a solid defensive team and we sort of play that way, too. It's kind of becoming a little rivalry for sure. It's been fun. Both teams are kind of similar and hard-working teams that don't give you a lot. It's been fun to play them. We know when we've got to play them, we've got to play strong, play tough."
The Blues' T.J. Oshie calls the two teams mirror images.
"We're pretty similar teams," Oshie said. "Both teams have got great goaltending, both teams play good team defense and both teams play hard for a full game. When you get that, it's just a matter of who wants it more. ... It's a fun game to play in if you're ready to work."
So expect another tight-knit affair tonight, right?
"I think it's going to be another man's game," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "I think the way St. Louis plays, you have to man up. You have to win those little battles, it's about fighting for territory and winning those small area battles. If you don't do that, then you're going to be in your end all night.
"We know each other fairly well. It'll be an interesting game. Both teams took a lot out of each other the other night. ... We've got to get off to a good start here. They're good in their building, love to get out and jump on you quick. We expect a revved up team and we've got to be revved up. We've got to put the war paint on tonight because it always is a battle."
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For those concerned about the offensive production -- or lack thereof -- from the top line of David Perron, David Backes and Oshie, don't be.
The trio has a combined two goals and four assists through three games (Oshie accounting for two goals and two assists) but in asking Oshie, they just need the time together on the ice.
"I think our first couple games, we weren't playing with each other as much as we needed to," Oshie said. "We weren't making the right reads, we weren't holding onto the puck long enough. I think the last game, especially in the third period, we really made a good step as a line. That needs to carry on to the rest of the season.
"We've been playing against the other teams' top lines offensively so I don't think it matters playing against other shut-down lines. It's just a matter of us coming together and playing as one."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Wade Redden-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots Monday in Nashville, gets the nod tonight; Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Scratches include Jamie Langenbrunner, Matt D'Agostini and Ian Cole, who was recalled from Peoria after defenseman Jeff Woywitka cleared waivers.
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The Predators' probable lineup:
Martin Erat-Mike Fisher-Sergei Kostitsyn
Colin Wilson-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
Brandon Yip-Nick Spaling-Gabriel Bourque
Matt Halischuk-Craig Smith-Brian McGrattan/Rich Clune
Roman Josi-Shea Weber
Scott Hannan-Kevin Klein
Hal Gill-Ryan Ellis
Pekka Rinne starts in goal; Former Blue Chris Mason is the backup.
The Predators' scratches include either Clune or McGrattan and defenseman Jonathon Blum. Center Paul Gaustad (upper-body) will not play tonight but Trotz said he's probable Saturday against Anaheim.