By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas had an idea. The Blues' 2017 first-round puck just didn't want to disclose anything until he was assured by the team.
Thomas will play in his 10th NHL game today against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), and this kick in the first year of his entry-level contract, which means it will not slide to the 2019-20 season.
The Blues (5-5-3) can still send Thomas to the Ontario Hockey League (the American Hockey League is not an option) if they so choose to do so, but with his entry-level contract kicking in full now, the chances of that happening are unlikely, which means he can unpack fully now and make a temporary permanent spot in Keith and Chantal Tkachuk's basement.
"It's pretty exciting for me," Thomas, who has four assists in nine games, said. "It's a great opportunity for me tonight to keep developing and keep developing my game. I think I've taken a lot of good steps and this will just be another one. ... I had a bit of an idea. I didn't want to say anything until it's for sure. I knew I had a chance to play today so that's an answer for me.
"I'm going to stay in the basement. It's a great setup there, a great mentor in Keith. ... I'd say the only thing (needed) is getting a U.S. phone because my phone's not working anymore. I'd say that would be the one thing."
Thomas will get his first full-time crack at the power play with Brayden Schenn, who will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury, out of the lineup.
"It's something I've always wanted to be a part of," Thomas said. "It's a process. It's a good step forward to get a chance here tonight and hopefully make a good impression and stay on there."
Blues coach Mike Yeo cautioned that Thomas could still get assigned to the OHL, but that the subject of any sort of trial never was brought up.
"For us, I don't think that eight games, nine games, 10 games, whatever, there hasn't really been a big difference," Yeo said. "If you ever want to ask 'Army' [Doug Armstrong], I'm sure he'd want to talk about the different scenarios. I don't think that there's necessarily a guarantee that he's going to stay here all year long still just because he's playing in this game. What we have to decide and what we have to continue to evaluate is A) is he getting better, and B) is he helping us win hockey games or do we see him having the potential to really help us later in the year. I'm just moving forward the same way that we have. When I've talked to him, I said, 'I don't care about the nine-game mark, the 10-game mark. Don't worry, nothing's changing here.' I've seen improvement. I've seen growth in his game and I've seen him helping contribute us winning hockey games, so that all that matters for us."
In the meantime, Thomas, who flew in his parents for the game tonight and Sunday afternoon against Minnesota, can now unwind and just play.
"The main thing is focusing on the team," Thomas said. "We're not where we want to be right now. I feel like we've come a long way lately, but we've still got a way to go."
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Speaking of Schenn, Yeo said he skated on his own this morning before the morning skate but after seeing him limit his work yesterday in practice, Yeo felt Schenn would not be available for today.
"He went out and skated earlier," Yeo said. "He didn't skate with our team but skated beforehand. In talking to Ray [Barile], he should be available to practice tomorrow, so we'll see. Obviously we want to be smart here.
"He tried it in practice yesterday, couldn't continue on with any of the contact drills, so obviously that ruled him out for today, but obviously he's pushing. He wants to get in the lineup. We want him in the lineup, we want him in the lineup when he's healthy, but we also want to be smart where we don't have something that lingers for too long or puts him out for longer than needed."
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Chad Johnson will get a second straight start in goal tonight after putting up a 38-save effort in a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
"He played a really strong game [Tuesday]," Yeo said of Johnson. "I just think he deserves another opportunity to get back in there."
Johnson is 3-1-1 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in five career games against the Sharks and is 1-2-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .919 save percentage this season in two starts (four appearances).
"I've always tried to prepare as if I'm playing every night," Johnson said. "It's a different mindset when you know and don't know. When you know, it's a lot better. I'm excited to get back in here tonight and I'm prepared for it."
Johnson was solid against the Hurricanes, who outshot the Blues 39-20 in the game, but Johnson felt like he was locked in and his rebound control was a telling difference.
"Sometimes it's based on opportunities," Johnson said. "Pucks hit you funny or they're just making different shots, pucks elevated a couple inches off your pad and it doesn't really go where you want it to. I feel like when things are on your side in some senses, pucks are going where you want them to. For the most part, I try to be consistent with that, it just doesn't always happen. It's such a quick game. When things are on, you can kind of tell this is going to be a good night. Pucks are going where you want them to. They're sticking to you. You're getting those fortunate bounces and hitting posts. It's nice to be able to have that."
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Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, out for the past two weeks with a lower-body injury, still hasn't skated.
The Blues originally said Bortuzzo would be reevaluated in two weeks but it's obviously going to be longer before he can play.
"He's not skating right now. It'd be hard to figure that he's going to factor in or get in the lineup here in the next couple games for sure," Yeo said. "I just need to see him get on the ice and obviously he's got to get to feeling better before he steps on the ice, but once he does, then we'll get a better gauge for when he's ready to return."
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Defenseman Colton Parayko will play after missing Thursday's practice for personal reasons.
Center Ryan O'Reilly will put his eight-game point streak (seven goals, eight assists) on the line tonight. With a point tonight, O'Reilly will set a personal NHL-best point streak of nine games.
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has a five-game point streak (four goals, three assists).
The Sharks, who did not skate Friday morning, are playing the second of back-to-back games after a 4-3 loss at Dallas Thursday. San Jose is expected to start Aaron Dell in goal.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Robert Thomas-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Nikita Soshnikov
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Jordan Schmaltz
Chad Johnson will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Jay Bouwmeester and Pat Maroon. Brayden Schenn (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Evander Kane-Joe Pavelski-Joonas Donskoi
Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc
Barclay Goodrow-Joe Thornton-Marcus Sorensen
Melker Karlsson-Antti Suomela-Rourke Chartier
Joakim Ryan-Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Aaron Dell is expected to get the start in goal; Martin Jones would be the backup.
Healthy scratches are expected to be Radim Simek and Tim Heed. Tomas Hertl (concussion) has missed the past three games.
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