Thompson to make debut in front of parents; Dunn debuts; Reaves
to face former teammates; Steen, Tarasenko named assistant captains
PITTSBURGH -- For Blues 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson, a dream is about to become a reality.
A Penguins fan growing up idolizing Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin, Thompson could have never envisioned his journey to the NHL would see him playing his first game against the Penguins when the Blues and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions open the 2017-18 regular season today at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
"It's a legit dream, first game for me playing against him and the Penguins after they just won the Stanley Cup," Thompson said. "It's going to be a good, fun test for me and I'm pretty excited about it."
Thompson, who beat out Samuel Blais for one of the remaining forward positions, will also have special visitors and his biggest fans in the stands watching the game, his parents Brent and Kim Thompson.
Brent Thompson, coach of the New York Islanders' American Hockey League affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers and former NHL player with the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes, was given the green light by the Islanders organization to step away from his coaching duties to see his eldest son play.
"I think he talked to the staff there with the Islanders and they were like, 'Hey, you've got to go watch your son play his first game,'" Tage Thompson said of his father. "I'm very fortunate for that and it's going to be a really cool feeling to have them here.
"I'm just looking forward to it obviously. I've grown up in the hockey lifestyle for quite some time. I've been thinking about this day for a long time. Now that it's here, try and enjoy it and try not to let the nerves get to me too much. I think having mom and dad here will kind of help settle some of that down. It's almost like just another game. I just have to try and approach it like that, just have fun and not think too much about it."
Brent and Tage Thompson will have a special conversation, one that entails talking about a first NHL game. But they do converse regularly.
"All the time. We're always texting," Tage Thompson said. "We'll talk before and after games and throughout the day. I think he's probably more excited than I am. He's seen the hard work I've put in, he's pretty happy that it's finally paying off. It'll be a pretty rewarding feeling for myself and my family."
Tage Thompson and defenseman Vince Dunn will make their NHL debuts for the Blues tonight, and coach Mike Yeo just wants them to go out and play.
"As a coach, you try to get them on the ice as early as possible," Yeo said. "Not necessarily in the starting lineup, but that said, we're not going to pass over them for five, six shifts and ease them into it. We've got to get them in the game and for them, my advice is always the same for young players: you only get one opportunity to play your first game in the National Hockey League. I think that they've had enough time where they're aware of our systems, they're aware of the way the way that we want them to play the game, but why not go out and have a great game? Go out to try to make a difference. Don't go out trying just to play a mistake-free game. We've got plenty of time as coaches to correct things, but go and leave your mark on the game, impact it the way that you can and show us the reason why we kept you."
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The Blues have elected not to be on the bench tonight when the Penguins celebrate their second Stanley Cup in as many seasons with the banner-raising ceremony.
"We talked about it ... that's something we want to do," Yeo said. "That's something we want to be a part of. The fact is it's going to be a long wait and this game is too important for us. We've discussed having it on on the dressing room but not being out there for it. Congratulations to them. We don't want to show any disrespect, but we just have to make sure that we're ready to play the game."
With the banner-raising ceremony and the hype that comes with the first game, the Blues will be well-advised to try and get off to a strong start and not allow the Penguins to build off the pregame momentum.
"I'm ready to go and and you guys are and I think our players are and I'm sure their players are, too," Yeo said. "It's always exciting, Game 1. So many possibilities and so much at stake, but it's the start of a journey and a nice, fun test here tonight to get started with.
"We're faced with a good test and even some adversity before the season even starts. For us to come into the game with the mindset that every shift, every period, every battle, every faceoff drop, whatever it is, everything is important to us right now. What it can really do for us is sharpen our game and if we're not sharp, then we'll be putting ourselves in a hole. We've got to be ready tonight. We know that this is a team that they've got high expectations for the season, and with good reason, but we've got to make sure we're coming in concentrating on ourselves."
"We know it's going to be tough," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "That's almost the fun part for myself looking at it. It's a good challenge to see where we are right off the hop. They've obviously got a lot of good players, they're going to be very good. We know what to expect. It's going to be a good test. If we bring our 'A' game, I think we're going to give them a good game. It's a fun way to start obviously with the festivities before and the banner raising. I think it's going to be a good challenge."
"Stanley Cup champs, everybody knows what they bring and what they're capable of and what kind of game we need to bring if we want to give ourselves a chance," Blues center Kyle Brodziak said. "It's going to be a good challenge for us early on in the year. I think guys are looking forward to that."
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The Blues have named their assistant captains for the season, and they are going with just two instead of the four they've recently implemented the past few seasons.
"(Alexander) Steen and (Vladimir) Tarasenko will be our assistant captains and obviously with 'Steener' out tonight, Jaden Schwartz will be wearing an 'A' as well," Yeo said. "We've got a leadership group. I'd rather not talk a whole lot about it right now. We've got obviously a number of quality veterans and quality character people and guys that we're going to count on in leadership roles. They might not be wearing a letter, but they'll be involved in various things, whether it's decisions or opinions. We need leadership from those guys. For me, first and foremost is what you do on the ice. We need leaders in that regard."
Surprisingly kept off the list was veteran center Paul Stastny, who wore an 'A' the past two seasons.
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Don't look now, but for the first time in eight seasons, the Blues don't have No. 75 on their side.
Former Blue Ryan Reaves will make his Penguins debut tonight against players he called teammates the past seven seasons.
"They're going to want to keep their heads up," Reaves said with a smile. "I talked to a few of them yesterday.
"... I already told them I'm not letting up on anybody. We're going to take 2.5 hours off the friendship and play some hockey and we'll go back to talking after that."
Reaves was traded to Pittsburgh on the first day of the 2017 NHL Draft for the Penguins' No. 1 pick (31st, which the Blues used to select Klim Kostin) and center Oskar Sundqvist.
It will be a different moment for Reaves when the banner goes up since he wasn't part of either one of those two teams.
"It's going to be one of those that's-what-I-want moments," Reaves said. "The building's going to be buzzing, fans are going to be loud. It's something all the new guys can look forward to."
But looking across the ice and seeing guys he went to battle with won't be as tough for Reaves as some might think since he faced them just 10 days ago in the Kraft Hockeyville USA preseason game.
"I don't think it's going to be as weird as everybody thinks," Reaves said. "That first exhibition game might have got a little bit of the emotion out of the way. Obviously it's going to be a little bit weird, but I don't think it's going to affect anything in the game."
Asked who he'd like to hit, Reaves was his usual smiling self.
"That's a long list," he said. "How long have you got? Anybody I can catch, I'll take a run at, don't worry.
"I've got to get after Tarasenko. That's the best player. That's what I do. I think they all know it's a job when the game's on."
Speaking of Tarasenko, he and Reaves have formed a special bond as friends, and the two of them always had a pregame ritual of skating onto the ice and shoulder-bumping for pregame warm-ups.
"The first day of stretching was weird because usually, he's right next to me, we're always talking during stretch, but after that, we're good," Reaves said. "I'm trying to get some of my new rituals over here, but guys aren't catching on too quick."
Reaves was asked if he'll be chirping his friends.
"Oh yeah. You've never seen me play," Reaves asked. "Of course I'll be talking. That's my favorite part of the game."
And the Blues will be aware when he's on the ice, especially for Parayko, who may have to go back and retrieve a puck when Reaves is on the ice.
"Probably just keep skating and try to beat him, beat him out of the corner with the puck, I don't know," Parayko said with a grin. "Maybe wheel around the net by him or else if I can suck him in and take the hit, I'll take the hit and hip it off to our forward and hope that the forward can just keep going with it. We know what kind of player he is. He's obviously going to bring a lot of energy for them. It's going to be different seeing him in a different jersey obviously. It was when we went there for the preseason game. I just try to make a play around him and let our forwards skate.
"He treated everyone so well. I only had two years with him, but he's had a lot of years with guys here. He's one of the guys everyone loves. He's a great teammate and great guy on the ice and off the ice as well. He's easy to like. He's going to be jacked up playing against his old team, Game 1, new colors, new team and everything. It should be fun and I wish him all the best this year."
"I think everybody's going to be aware when he's on the ice," Brodziak said of Reaves, a linemate the past two seasons. "He's going to do his job, he's going to do it well because that's what he does. As long as we're aware of it out there, guys are talking to each other, it's all you can really do."
Reaves misses the Blues' fanbase but understands it's time to build a new one.
"Seven years, you build a fanbase and you start to love the city and love the fans there, but this is part of the business," he said.
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Sundqvist, who will make his Blues debut tonight, is sort of the forgotten player in this transaction but will center the third line tonight.
Yeo likes Sundqvist's defensive game and ability to win faceoffs, which are a couple of reasons why he's ahead of Ivan Barbashev on the depth chart.
"It's going to be fun," Sundqvist said. "Obviously it's a good team with really good players. I know a lot of players there and I'm real close friends with a lot of them. It's going to be fun to go up against them.
"It's not going to be too hard once the puck drops. They have their banner raising and all that stuff. For us, it's just come in there and get two points and let the season start. We have to find a way to get the season going and it's going to be a fun night tomorrow.
"It's been easy to get in with this group of guys. They're really a great group of guys in here and everyone's been taking care of me really well. On the ice, I know I've been responsible defensively and all that stuff for a couple of years now. Just continue with that and hopefully do it a little more often, hold the puck a little bit longer to just find good opportunity for my teammates."
Sundqvist was never able to crack the Penguins lineup, but with good reason he understands.
"They had, I would say, one of the best four centermen in the league," Sundqvist said. "They had Sid (Crosby), Gino, (Nick) Bonino and (Matt) Cullen. It was a tough job to crack that lineup especially with the spot I was supposed to have with Cullen there. He was one of the best faceoff guys in the league. What is he, 41, 40 years old and he's still really good."
Now he gets to make an impact with the Blues, and Sundqvist hopes to take advantage of the opportunity.
"They play a style of game that I like," Sundqvist said. "A lot of speed and getting pucks up in the offensive zone, finishing hits and all that stuff. We're playing a physical game, but at the same time, we can also make plays."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Dmitrij Jaskin
Magnus Paajarvi-Oskar Sundqvist-Tage Thompson
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Nate Prosser, Ivan Barbashev and Wade Megan are the healthy scratches. Alexander Steen (hand), Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Robby Fabbri (knee), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Klim Kostin (lower-body) are out with injuries.
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The Penguins' projected lineup:
Conor Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Jake Guenztel
Bryan Rust-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Carl Hagelin-Greg McKegg-Tom Kuhnhackl
Scott Wilson-Carter Rowney-Ryan Reaves
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Matt Hunwick-Ian Cole
Matt Murray will start in goal; Antti Niemi will be the backup.
Chad Ruhwedel and Josh Archibald are the healthy scratches. Patric Hornqvist (hand) is out.