By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been known as a guy who's had a sentiment towards veteran players.
When the Blues open their 48th National Hockey League season today at 7 p.m. against the Edmonton Oilers (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), they'll have three rookies in the lineup.
Defensemen Petteri Lindbohm and Robert Bortuzzo were penciled in since the beginning of summer as the third defensive pair heading into the 2015-16 season, but the play of rookies Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko couldn't be overlooked, and they will make up the third pair when the Blues start the season.
"None of us anticipated this, including Lindbohm," Hitchcock said. "Lindy went down to the minors and didn't deserve to, but the philosophy organizational-wise is if you're not playing on a regular basis in Game 1 here, you're going to play in the minors. We had three kids earn the job to play in the National Hockey League. We'll play two and at the end of October, we'll make a decision on how they're doing knowing full well we've got a boatload of guys playing in Chicago. We've got two guys we anticipated playing who played all of last year in the National Hockey League. These two kids just played better and we want to go with it."
What does the veteran coach want to see?
"Same as we saw in exhibition," Hitchcock said.
Robby Fabbri, the Blues' first-round pick (21st overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft, will make his NHL debut Thursday, is a close friend of Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid, the top pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Fabbri's message: Don't forget about us.
"We're just going to come in and try and help the team as much as we can in whatever role we're put in," Fabbri said. "We just want to establish ourselves early. Opening night's the way to do it."
Forward Jaden Schwartz was in Fabbri's shoes less than three years ago when he made his NHL debut in 2012 at Chicago.
"I know he's going to be excited," Schwartz said of Fabbri. "I know when I started, I had that same feeling. I think I just ran around and skated as hard as I could. I wasn't quite confident to make plays and I think he's got that better than I did. He's confident where he can make plays, through people and around people. It took me a while to get used to that part. I'll just tell him to play his game, don't be afraid to make plays. We've got enough guys to back him up if an error is made. We know he's going to make more good plays than anything."
Edmundson, the Blues' second-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, was the last to find out he would be in the starting lineup Thursday. He got the word from associate coach Brad Shaw after practice Wednesday and is eager, anxious and excited all in one.
"Nerves have been here all camp," Edmundson said, "but I think it's changed to excitement now. All during camp, it was hard to sleep and whatnot. That was just all nerves, so now it's all excitement and I can't wait to get it going."
Parayko, the Blues' 2012 third-round pick in the NHL Draft, said the fact the Blues playing two rookies together won't be an issue. They spent time playing together in Chicago of the American Hockey League last season.
"I think we're both pretty excited to play tonight," Parayko said. "... I think we're both going to be ready to play. Nerves are going to be high, but we're going to have to learn off each other. We have to make sure we're working as a unit.
"... This is very exciting. It's something you look forward to as a kid. It's something you dream of. Tough to put into words almost."
Captain David Backes said the veterans will help in any way they can but it's up to the rookies to simply go out and play.
"You can do so much; we'll take care of everything that we can do, but make them feel comfortable, make them feel like they're part of the team and then just make sure they're going out there and playing ice hockey," Backes said. "That's what they do so well and that's why they're here. We've got to make sure that's all they're concentrating on; none of the peripheral or any of that other stuff that goes on. Those guys will be put in positions to have tons of success."
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McDavid was getting plenty of attention, and rightfully so.
His first dibs in the NHL will come against the Blues, but the Blues are downplaying what McDavid will bring. They're curious to see how their system changes will apply to what they've been preaching since camp began.
"We're curious about how we're playing hockey and how we play blue-collar, in-your-face, hard-nosed style," Backes said. "He's an opponent; he's going to experience that and see how he responds to it. We're going to play our game, concentrate on what we're doing and prepare and see how they can play against our best team, and that's our goal."
Schwartz added, "I don't know (McDavid) personally, but I think he's handled the (hype) pretty well. It's a lot of pressure on a young kid coming in. I haven't really seen him play that much. He's going to be one of the young kids that's excited to play tonight.
"... I'm focused on our game tonight."
Hitchcock is the first coach to prepare for the 18-year-old McDavid, but you'll be surprised who he's focused on most.
"I don't mean this to be negative; he's a great player," Hitchcock said, "but very little (focus). The reason is we spend most of our time scouting the coach (Todd McLellan). We know this coach, we know how good he is, we know how good his staff is, we know how well his team played in San Jose, we know background, his philosophy. A lot of it is very similar to what's going on here. I would say 90 percent of it is the coach and how he's going to get the team to play. You can see in the last two (preseason) games watching Edmonton play, you can see all the stuff that's going to be in place. We can see bits and pieces of it already and we can see where he's trying to take it to. It's going to be a tough team to play against in a very short order."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Jaden Schwartz
Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Troy Brouwer
Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. Jake Allen is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Scott Gomez, Scottie Upshall and Robert Bortuzzo. Patrik Berglund (shoulder) is on long-term injured reserve.
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The Oilers' probable lineup:
Taylor Hall-Connor McDavid-Anton Slepyshev
Benoit Pouliot-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Teddy Purcell
Lauri Korpikoski-Anton Lander-Nail Yakupov
Matt Hendricks-Mark Letestu-Luke Gazdic
Griffin Reinhart-Eric Gryba
Oscar Klefbom-Justin Schultz
Andrej Sekera-Mark Fayne
Cam Talbot will start in goal. Anders Nilsson will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Rob Klinkhammer, Brandon Davidson and Andrew Ference. Jordan Eberle (shoulder) is out 4-6 weeks.