Saturday, February 24, 2018

Soshnikov practices, expected to make Blues debut Sunday

Forward acquired for 2019 fourth-round pick, arrived after work visa issues 
completed; Schmaltz, Thompson recalled, Blais, Butler assigned to San Antonio

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It took eight days, but Nikita Soshnikov's next NHL chapter finally has begun.

Soshnikov, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 15 for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, was on the ice on Saturday for his first practice with the Blues (34-24-4) before the team boarded a flight to Nashville for a showdown with the Predators on Sunday at 11 a.m. (NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
New Blues forward Nikita Soshnikov practiced with his new team for the
first time Saturday and is expected to make debut on Sunday in Nashville.

Soshnikov, 24, arrived just before puck drop on Friday before the Blues' 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

"I've been in Toronto all this time waiting for my visa paperwork and all that stuff. I've been practicing," Soshnikov said. "Yeah, just skating on my own. Not fun."

Soshnikov was skating on a third line on right wing with Alexander Steen on the left and Patrik Berglund in the middle.

"I thought he looked really good," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "He's in good condition, skating is the first thing that jumps out at you. Hands, shot, he seemed to be jumping into the drills and fitting in as far as picking up our game fairly quickly. To me it looks like he's ready to get in the lineup tomorrow."

Soshnikov, an undrafted free agent who signed with Toronto on March 20, 2015, was weeded out in a numbers game with the Maple Leafs and became expendable, and in that regard, he was looking for a fresh start elsewhere.

"I was actually expecting a trade because of the situation there and what happened in Toronto," Soshnikov said. "When I got traded, I was real happy and couldn't wait to join the Blues."

He quickly received a couple calls and texts from his new teammates but doesn't know anyone. The Blues are hoping he can inject some new life into a team struggling for wins in a season-long five-game losing streak (0-4-1).

"There's no question," Yeo said. "You could see that there was a little bit of excitement and obviously when you add a guy like that, it gives you the ability to shuffle things around a little bit, it makes you a little bit deeper and a little bit stronger through your whole lineup.

"... He's been doing what he can and obviously there's nothing that's the same as being out with the group and getting in games but the only way for him to fully get up to speed is to start playing hockey so we might as well get him quickly."

Soshnikov hasn't played in a real game in nearly two weeks when he was on a conditioning assignment with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. He was activated off injured reserve on Saturday morning stemming from a lower-body injury that relegated his ice time in Toronto.

"I was with the Marlies last time. I had five games, helped me a lot too to get my legs back," Soshnikov said. "Since then, I was just practicing hard all week. We'll see tomorrow, but again, it's a different level. Just got to be ready, especially early against Nashville. I haven't played there, but I heard many good things about this building.

"I am totally (100 percent). I got cleared yesterday during the game. I was ready in Toronto so it was just the last issue."

Soshnikov was on a playoff team with the Maple Leafs and is in the middle of a playoff race now. He's eager to help the Blues in any fashion with his game.

"For sure, we've got to start winning right now because it's 20 games until the rest of the year. We've got to make the playoffs so hopefully we start winning tomorrow. 

"Play hard, physical, go for forecheck, go to net, create some offense, too, you know. Just play hard, PK too. We'll see how it's going to play out for me here."

The Blues hope it plays out well for the restricted free agent to be.

"We'll see. Games are gonna tell how I am going to fit in, but I'm just going to try and do my best, play hard and be a good teammate," Soshnikov said. "It was good [Saturday]. Yeah, I feel good. Tomorrow's (an) early game, I guess. Got to start early, got to be ready."

And when Soshnikov makes his Blues debut, he'll be the first player in franchise history to wear No. 90.

"I was actually pretty happy with this number because this was like my childhood number," he said. "I used to play with this number, so it's good to have it."

He couldn't have it in Toronto.

"No. If you're going to check, there's no high numbers in Toronto," Soshnikov said with a grin.

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled defenseman Jordan Schmaltz and forward Tage Thompson from San Antonio of the AHL on Saturday, and they'll join the team in Nashville after traveling from the Rampage's last game Friday in Tucson, Ariz. 

Schmaltz will join the lineup tomorrow and Thompson is expected to play.

"'Schmaltzy' will get in," Yeo said. "We feel we could use, No. 1, his right shot but also his puck-moving ability and 'Thommer's been playing well. We've said this before, that when he went down, it wasn't necessarily that he was going to be down for a long period of time but sometimes you have to bounce up and down a little bit. I know he's going to come in with a lot of energy and excitement. Obviously he's got the ability to shoot the puck in the net which we could use certainly a little bit of right now."

The Blues also assigned forward Sammy Blais and defenseman Chris Butler to the Rampage.

Blais has been cleared from concussion-related symptoms sustained Tuesday against San Jose. 

"It's a tough break, but unfortunately, that's part of it," Yeo said. "You have to stay healthy and you have to find a way to perform. He's doing a good job, he's on the right track, he's doing a good job when he's down there. He just can't seem to get any traction when he gets called up here. But that doesn't mean that he won't. He'll find his way. He has to just keep working at it."

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