By LOU KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Defenseman Brad Hunt has no idea how long he'll be with the Blues or what role they will continue to use him in.
But one thing is for certain: make the most of the chance and give the Blues, who conclude a four-game trip against the Nashville Predators today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), a reason to keep him around.
Hunt, 28, who played 21 games with the Edmonton Oilers (one goal, two assists), has two assists in two games since being recalled and has played because Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) has not been available just yet.
"It's just coming here and taking it like another game, taking it day by day, try not to think about it too much, realize that I'm playing with great players and just making the simple play and not trying to do too much," Hunt said. "Just want try and implement what I was doing down there (in Chicago) and try and bring it up here to help the team as much as I can. I feel like I'm playing with great guys and they're really helping me with my confidence and boosting me up when I make a mistake or make a good play. Everyone is great on the team and the leadership is awesome. So it's been a real good experience."
Hunt, who will play tonight, is a small guy by nature (5-foot-9) and by league standards, but compared to some of the other smallish players (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock mentioned Nashville's Ryan Ellis and Minnesota's Ryan Spurgeon), Hunt is fitting in well with his ability to transition pucks from one zone to the other.
"He just moves the puck," Hitchcock said of Hunt. "He gets himself out of trouble, he gets the team out of trouble. He's a smart player. The league's littered with small guys that know how to play defense. Ellis is a great player in Nashville, he's a small guy, he moves the puck really well. You've got Spurgeon in Minny that's a good player; you've got lots of guys that are good players, but if they move the puck, they don't get hemmed in. He does that really well, so that allows him to be a good player."
Hunt, who led the American Hockey League in points with 29 in 23 games with the Chicago Wolves when he was called up, will continue to play with Kevin Shattenkirk, a pairing that's considered guys with offensive capabilities.
"For the two of us, we're kind of both kind of in our own individual way offensive defensemen, but collectively, we're doing that together and we're working well with each other," Shattenkirk said. "Having a guy like him who just knows how I'm going to play. When I go back for pucks, I think he thinks the game the same way I do, the way that he reads off me and vice versa has been so far, pretty smooth. We've been working through a lot of things and just talking on the bench and going through plays. He's a great guy to play with. He asks a ton of questions and I like that because the more you have out there in front of you and the more you talk about things, the better understanding you'll get for each other.
"He moves the puck when he needs to. It's not trying to do too much or make a big play and then move the puck. He moves it and joins the rush. It's something, especially on that first shift when he was able to move the puck to the right guy at the right time and sometimes that gets lost a little bit, you may not recognize that but it goes a long way."
Whatever happens, Hunt will continue to beef up his resume, whether it be here or another shot some day in the NHL elsewhere.
"I'm not too sure, maybe it's timing. I try not to think about that too much," Hunt said. "The past is the past. Edmonton gave me a great opportunity, so I'm really thankful to them for that. I just want to come here, kind of a new page, and try to restart things and be here as long as I can.”
"Yeah I mean that's something (being smaller) that's always been there through my professional playing career, but again, it's something that I can't control, I can't change, so I don't worry about it. I just go there and play as hard as I can and do what the coaches want me to do and that's all I can really control. I just try to focus on the things that I can control versus the things that I can't. Size, I can't control that, so I try not to worry about it."
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The Blues (16-9-4) went through an optional skate this morning, and Gunnarsson was part of it.
"We're going to stay with Hunt today, but 'Gunny's close, getting better," Hitchcock said. "In our evaluation, yesterday was really the first full practice he went through. Today, it was just an optional skate. We hope to get a full practice in with 'Gunny' on Wednesday and see if he's ready for Thursday, but having one practice to me isn't an evaluation and I don't think it's fair to him to put him in yet.
"We'll stay with Hunt. We want to try Hunt a little bit in the power play tonight, too. You might be able to see that also a little bit. We practiced that with him yesterday for the first time; he looked OK. I think we want to see how he does there also today."
Hunt is welcoming of the idea.
"Yeah, it'll be fun," Hunt said. "It's obviously a great experience to play with great players and I'm pretty excited about it."
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Blues right wing David Perron will play in his 600th NHL game tonight.
It's a milestone Perron, 28, cherishes, but it's one where he could be coming up on No. 700 had he not sustained the concussion Nov. 4, 2010 with the Blues against San Jose and Joe Thornton that forced him to miss 97 games.
"There was a year where I missed (almost) 100 in a row, so I'd be at 700 I guess," Perron said. "It's awesome, I think it's a nice milestone. Hopefully I play a lot more. When you start your career, you just want to play one and then you just want to get to, I don't know, maybe 100, 200 and then once you get there, you're maybe dreaming about 1,000. We'll see what's going to happen. I want to do everything to keep getting prepared, stay focused on doing all the little things off the ice to try and stay healthy and keep my performance up and go from there. ... I still want to keep getting better. I'm still only 28 years old and play a lot more games.
"... At the time, you don't know what's going to happen. You never know if you're going to be able to come back and even if you do or if you're going to do it. You see guys that missed that much time that came back and never were the same. You can never know what's going to happen. I'm just fortunate of everything and every little advice I got throughout the way. I can look that maybe I would have 700 if I didn't miss those 100 games, but I'm still fortunate I got 600 and I want to keep going."
Perron's first NHL game was Oct. 12, 2007 with the Blues against the Colorado Avalanche at home.
He remembered it.
"First game was against Colorado. I played with Danny Hinote and Ryan Johnson, I think it was," Perron said. "I got a fortunate assist, I think in the third period. I'll take it back then. My first goal, I still remember it crashing the net (Nov. 3, 2007 against Chicago). Dougie Weight hit me and I kind of fell into the goalie and stuff like that. That's a play that's never going to go away for me. Just looking at some of the rosters from my first couple years, seeing all the names I've played with, it's nice. I saw 'Jammer' (Jamal Mayers) the other day when we played Chicago. I just remember I played with him a couple years. It's always fun to see those guys."
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The Blues will make Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie healthy scratches, meaning Nail Yakupov will play for only the second time in nine games.
Goalie Jake Allen makes his fifth straight start, and all coming in the past eight days.
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko is celebrating his 25th birthday today.
Tarasenko has points in 14 of the past 18 games (10 goals, 13 assists), Jaden Schwartz has points in 12 of the past 17 (10 goals, six assists) and Robby Fabbri has at least a point in 10 of 14 games (seven goals, six assists) since being made a healthy scratch in this building on Nov. 10 for the first time in his career. They will play together on a line tonight for the first time.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jori Lehtera-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Brad Hunt-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie. Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-James Neal
Kevin Fiala-Mike Ribeiro-Craig Smith
Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-Viktor Arvidsson
Colton Sissons-Calle Jarnkrok-Austin Watson
Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber
Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Marek Mazanec will be the backup.
The healthy scratch will be Petter Granberg. Miikka Salomaki (lower body) and Anthony Bitteto (hand) are out.
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