Thomas set to remain in lineup for 10th game, looks like is staying in NHL;
Schenn questionable; Maroon to be healthy scratch; Soshnikov to debut
ST. LOUIS -- No official word from the Blues has come down, and maybe there won't be one, but the time has come for the team to make a decision on what to do about 2017 first round pick Robert Thomas.
Will he stay or will he go?
Go, as in back to junior hockey.
Blues coach Mike Yeo made it as simple as can be.
"I think the fact that he's in the lineup [Friday] probably answers some questions for you guys," Yeo said. "I'm just treating him as a player. My concern is not the nine-game mark or anything else. My concern is his development and our team."
And with that, unless GM Doug Armstrong tells Yeo to keep Thomas out of the lineup, Thomas will remain with the Blues the rest of the season and beyond.
"I'm expecting him to play the game tomorrow," Yeo said. "I don't know what that means. Like I told you guys yesterday, I'm not bringing it up. I'm just treating him as a player. I'm anxious to see his game tomorrow."
Thomas has four assists in nine games with a plus-2 rating thus far. Needless to say, for a 19-year-old, they're anxious moments.
"Nothing yet," Thomas said after practice Thursday inside Enterprise Center. "I just kind of keep going day by day, hopefully get into the lineup tomorrow and that might be the answer. I've got just as good of an idea as you guys. I'm just trying to sit here and make my mark every day.
"... You've kind of got to read between the lines. I haven't heard anything. Maybe that's a good sign, maybe it's not. Who knows? I'm just kind of playing it day by day. Hopefully I get into that 10th game and that'll be the answer."
Thomas played five games before being scratched the next four and has played four since. It's a trying time with the ups and downs, but he feels he's handled them well.
"I think it's been pretty good so far," Thomas said. "I think I've kept even-keeled. It's been a lot of ups and downs. Playing, learning the first couple games and then getting sat for four straight and coming back in, just using all the stuff I've learned and started to build my confidence and played a lot better. Those ups and downs have been definitely around the first month and a bit, but I feel like I've handled them pretty well."
Armstrong said over the summer and again at the start of training camp that sending Thomas back suited no purpose, as Thomas had nothing left to prove at the Ontario Hockey League level. So the Blues will continue to develop him here and play him through the good and whittle out the trying games.
"We've seen a lot of progress in him from the start of the year," Yeo said of Thomas. "Even look at last game there's a couple moments, watching shifts with him, he does a lot of good things out there. He's getting better in a lot of really important areas of the game. It's up to us to make sure we keep providing him direction and he keeps buying into it, because that's what he's been doing very well. He's been very coachable and he's really been taking what we say and working at it. You can see a big improvement in his game."
* Schenn questionable, Maroon to sit a game, Soshnikov to make debut -- It's looking more and more likely that center Brayden Schenn will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury.
Schenn, who was injured in a 5-1 loss against Minnesota last Saturday, did some light work in practice Thursday but was nowhere close to being a full-time participant.
"A little bit (of work), but obviously he wasn't involved in everything, so again, question mark for tomorrow," Yeo said.
Maroon will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season, a move Yeo calls a time to "hit the reset button."
Maroon, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract to come home, has seven assists in 13 games but hasn't scored yet and it's showed at times that it's been frustrating not to get that first one out of the way.
"I think it's been very frustrating for him, which is understandable," Yeo said. "... First off, you know how important it is for him to put that jersey on, what that means to him and how he wants to contribute. Secondly, he's betting on himself this year. We know how important that is. It's tough. We've seen a lot of good things despite him not scoring, his forechecking, his puck presence in the offensive zone, his physicality, his power-play (contributions), all these things. I think some things can start to get in your head and obviously confidence starts to play a part in that. I think maybe a little reset here can help him out."
Soshnikov will make his season debut, replacing Maroon in the lineup Friday against the San Jose Sharks.
Soshnikov sustained a concussion in summer training and didn't start getting in full work until late in training camp before being send to San Antonio of the American Hockey League for a conditioning assignment of five games.
He will skate on a line with Tyler Bozak, a teammate in Toronto, and Alexander Steen.
"It's been long time for me since I played NHL game, so I'm pretty excited," Soshnikov said. "We'll see what tomorrow brings.
"They both can play 200 feet. They can play offense, they can play defense. We just have to work hard in order to get offense, and the same with defense, play strong defensively too."
Yeo said Soshnikov's speed can play a difference in improving the Blues' game.
"We've been obviously going with some other guys up to this point," Yeo said. "When I talked to him, that's basically a little bit more because the other guys put in more work at camp and not his fault. He was hurt, but the other guys were going and I just told him he's got to stay patient, he's got to wait for his opportunity. He's been working hard and this will be a good chance for him. He's playing with a guy in Bozie that he's familiar with, two guys that are responsible. I don't expect perfection without the puck for Sosh; that's not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is his speed to be a difference maker. He's got two smart players who can read off of him. For me, the way I should see it is his speed should impact the game all over the ice. Hopefully we can see that tomorrow."
* Practice emphasis on checking -- The Blues, despite splitting the past two games, have been on the severe downside to shot attempts against both Minnesota and Carolina, and they want to change that beginning Friday.
The Wild not only outshot the Blues 45-16 but had 72 attempts to the Blues' 38, and despite winning 4-1 against the Hurricanes, Carolina had 71 shot attempts to the Blues' 36. The Hurricanes outshot the Blues 39-20.
So Yeo and the coaching staff spent a good portion of the practice working on tighter checking and quicker puck exits with tighter support from the d-zone.
"We've just got to get our checking game tighter," Yeo said. "It's not just about being in position, it's about being tight in position, hard in position. It's a little too easy to get through us right now and a little too easy to get into our zone. When you spend too much time in your own zone, eventually you're going to have a turnover, eventually you're going to have a breakdown and so certainly, execution's going to be important. The other team's going to have a game plan. They're going to want to get to our zone and we're going to have to break that. You do that with your execution, but typically in the past, we've always been a team that we're not only in a good position but we're tight, we're smothering, in-your-face and that's what we're going to have to keep working towards because when we do that, we have the puck a lot. When you look at last year, we didn't make the playoffs, but third in shots against, the year before that, fifth or sixth. We were always a team that's really tough and frustrating to play against. It's the work ethic away from the puck, it's the work to me tight in your game."
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said it comes down to timing and communication.
"Coverage in the d-zone and transition. When we get to the o-zone, we can be effective," Pietrangelo said. "I think the hardest part for us right now is we're giving up too many shots because we're spending too much time in our end. Whether they're quality shots or not, they're still a lot of shots. Goalies are getting extra work. Usually that's what we're doing to other teams. We've got to find a way to be quicker in the d-zone to get that puck going.
"The quicker that we can get back and execute those plays, the quicker we'll get going. It's timing, communication. It sounds simple, but in the NHL, as quick as everyone is, those small things go a long way and executing the way you want."
* Parayko misses practice, Yeo mum on goalie -- Defenseman Colton Parayko was absent from practice Thursday for personal reasons, but Yeo said he expects hm to be available to play Friday.
And after a 38-save performance in earning his first win as a Blue, Chad Johnson is in line for a second straight start against the Sharks, but Yeo would not make that official.
"I'll tell you tomorrow," Yeo said.