Veteran Thorburn grateful for recall; Blues to play for division title in
finale; Parayko status unclear; message to Blues fans about prospect Kostin
ST. LOUIS -- Dealing with a media scrum and excited to be back in the NHL, Brayden Schenn walks into the Blues' locker room after an optional practice on Friday and gives it to a particular veteran, giving him the rock star treatment.
It can only mean one thing: Chris Thorburn is back.
The 35-year-old veteran was recalled by the Blues on Friday, not particularly to replace someone in the current lineup, but to be a veteran voice, and to add depth with one game left as the Blues, who have the chance to win their first Central Division title since 2014-15, finish the regular season Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks.
It's been quite an emotional season for the 14-year veteran, who started the season with the Blues, played one game -- or a grand total of 1 minute 52 seconds -- on Oct. 13 against Chicago before being placed on waivers and heading to play in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage while his wife and son, who had autism, stayed in St. Louis.
After 801 NHL games, there came a time where Thorburn, who has 134 points (53 goals, 81 assists) would ever reach the NHL again.
"At some points, it's like a roller coaster," Thorburn said Friday after practice. "You go up and down, you keep tabs and you wonder. You hope. A big part of it for me was just the hope part, and it worked out. I couldn't be more happy.
"It was tough, it was tough on myself, my wife and my family. Anyone that has a family with a kid would understand that. They stayed here while I went to San Antonio. It was tough at times, but we grinded and we made it through it and and we're at this point now so it feels like it was worth it."
Despite missing a chunk of the AHL season with a broken finger, Thorburn played in 40 games with the Rampage (two goals, five assists) but was allowed to travel back and forth when time allowed so he can check in on his family. But it's to the point in his career how where Thurburn, drafted by Buffalo in the second round in 2001 and played for the Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and now St. Louis, has contemplated life after hockey.
Thorburn's two-year, $1.8 million contract runs out with the Blues this summer, but in the meantime, it's focusing on the present and giving the Blues whatever they need here as the season winds down.
"That's crossed my mind quite a bit," Thorburn said. "Gave me some time to think. I think this year, as tough as it was, it created more conversation between me and my wife as far as the end being closer than we kind of anticipated. I think we're ahead of that curve as far as what we're going to do post-hockey. I'm not saying that I'm done. I'm going to play this out, this role, have fun with it, be who I've always been, a supportive guy, a good team guy and see what happens in the summer. It's definitely crossed my mind at times."
The Blues respect Thorburn's presence so much that there wasn't a doubt whether they wanted to bring him back.
"We just wanted to bring him back. We love Thorburn," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "It's nice to have him around and be a part of the team. He's well-liked here, great team guy."
* All the marbles -- Some teams will play out the string on Saturday and finish their respective seasons. But Game 82 means plenty for the Blues, Jets and Nashville Predators.
The three teams are separated by one single point, with the winner prevailing with the Central Division crown.
Nashville leads with 98 points and hosts the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 p.m. and control their own destiny. Winnipeg (second place), which plays at Arizona at 9 p.m. on Saturday, and the Blues (third) are tied with 97 points and need wins and help to move on top.
The Blues can win the division if they win, Nashville and Winnipeg lose in any fashion or the Blues lose in overtime/shootout to the Canucks and Nashville and Winnipeg lose in regulation.
For the Blues to get home ice in the first round as the second place team, the Blues would need to gain a point and have either Nashville lose in regulation if Winnipeg wins in any fashion or Winnipeg lose in regulation if Nashville gains a point.
So it all means plenty. But for the Blues, who had nowhere to look but up on Jan. 3 when they had the fewest points in the league with 34 to get to where they are now with the opportunity at hand speaks volumes.
"To clinch and get into the playoffs after the ups and downs we had throughout the year, now we have a chance to get first," said Blues forward Brayden Schenn, who took his older brother and Canucks defenseman Luke Schenn to the Cardinals home opener Friday. "Obviously we need some help along the way, but we'll worry about ourselves."
The Blues were 21-13-7 on the road this season, a very good mark all things considered, so whether they started at home or on the road shouldn't matter right?
"Playoffs are a whole other animal," Schenn said. "Crowds are into it. It's nice playing in front of your crowd being at home. I think important to place as high as you possibly can. If we get a chance to go for first, you've got to grab those two points and I guess we'll see what happens. It's quite the league, how close everything is from top to bottom. It takes the last game of the year for three teams to decide where they place in the division. That's what the NHL wanted, that's what they got and it's a fun league to be a part of."
"It does (matter). It gets ramped up," Berube said. "The fans and buildings are extremely loud in the playoffs. Teams feed off their home crowds in the playoffs."
* Parayko status unclear -- Blues defenseman Colton Parayko missed his first game of the season and just the fifth in his career on Thursday at home in a 7-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
There were 15 skaters on the ice Friday and Parayko, who Berube said is dinged up with a mid-body injury, or got a maintenance game off, but needs some rest more than anything after playing in 177 straight regular-season games.
As for Parayko's availability for Saturday, Berube said, "I'm not sure yet. It's just a rest thing for him."
Despite the magnitude of the game, the Blues could certainly do that with any of a number of players, including minutes muncher Alex Pietrangelo, or even a Carl Gunnarsson, who's played in six games since returning from a wrist injury, or veteran Jay Bouwmeester, who is 35 himself.
Forward Sammy Blais, who's missed 12 games with an ankle injury, was a full participant again Friday and was deemed ready to play if called upon by Berube.
* Thorburn's message on Kostin -- There's been so much said about Blues' 2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin, mostly about how he has the potential to do this, or the potential to do that, he's the second-coming of the next great line of Russian hockey players.
And after another season with the Rampage in which the numbers (10 goals, 13 assists and a minus-27 rating in 62 games) don't equate to eye-popping status, Thorburn got a firsthand look at the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Kostin, a recent healthy scratch, and has one message to Blues fans:
"Just be patient," Thorburn said. "This kid's 19 years old and you can tell he's got the talent. It's there, he's got the drive, he works, puts the work in. Even away from the rink, he puts the work in almost too much. But he lives hockey. The drive's there for him. It's just about figuring out the North American game. ... Just give the kid some time. He's going to be a special player. His individual skills are top notch."
Kostin had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 games last season with the Rampage, who shared their affiliation with the the Colorado Avalanche, has the makings of being a good power forward and just needs to continue to adapt to the lifestyle and game in the U.S.
I think so, I think he's got his father living with him right now, which is good," Thorburn said. "Just to help him out. I don't even know, he might have come over and speak even less English than he already does. I can't really put myself in his shoes as to how hard that would be, but he's doing a great job. He tries to be around the guys, put himself in situations where he can learn more the North American style of living and playing and he's a fun kid to be around. If you sit down and talk to him and get him going, when he opens up, he's a fun kid.
"He's got the drive, he's got the skill. Once he gets the structure of the North American game, once he gets that, he'll be a force. This kid plays physical, he plays skill, he can skate for a big boy. He's got the tools."