Friday, October 14, 2022

Toropchenko likely to play Saturday in season-opener

Forward was expected to be sidelined until mid-December following 
offseason shoulder surgery, rehab has done better than expected

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The remarkable run of Alexey Toropchenko appears to have parlayed into an opening night assignment.

And that's two months ahead schedule to boot.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Alexey Toropchenko (right) shoots a puck last year in the
first round of the playoffs against Matt Dumba and the Minnesota Wild.

He even made it known after practice Friday just how he feels.

"Incredible," the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Moscow, Russia native said.

Why? Because it appears that Toropchenko will make his season debut in the season-opener on Saturday when the Blues kick off the 2022-23 season against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Enterprise Center (7 p.m.; BSMW, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Toropchenko, 23, had offseason shoulder surgery on June 13, and when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced the injury/surgery on July 2, he projected Toropchenko to be on a 4-5 month timeline, sidelining the forward until mid-December.

But Toropchenko was on the ice, as has been the case for weeks, playing left wing on a line with center Noel Acciari and right wing Nathan Walker, doing all the battle drills and preparation as if he was going to be a player.

"Yep, 100 percent," Toropchenko proclaimed. "Excited, feels strong, healthy, ready to go."

The Blues have been diligent, yet deliberate with Toropchenko's rehabilitation, but through hard work with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Podell and the training staff and the advice from team doctors, the progression has gone better than expected.

"Yes, of course, hard work all summer," Toropchenko said. "You can see where I'm at right now. Way ahead of schedule and I'm ready to go. 

"I'm very excited that my body heals so fast, probably because I probably put a lot of work into it. I am very excited to play tomorrow night."

The coaching staff, including coach Craig Berube, hasn't made the final decision yet but the signs point to a season debut on Saturday.

"We'll make a decision tomorrow," Berube said. "Check out, see how he did today. He looks ready, he's skating extremely well and he's strong. We'll just see tomorrow."

Toropchenko has been skating regularly since the start of training camp, just three months removed from surgery on June 13. But it wasn't until a practice session 3-4 weeks ago with teammate Brayden Schenn that Toropchenko felt like this day could be possible.

"Probably more confidence gave me (was) Schenner when we did (a) drill 1-on-1 in the corner, he asked me, 'Can I push you?' I said, 'One-hundred percent, go right after me,'" Toropchenko said. "It pretty much gave me a lot of confidence about my shoulder. That was a point when I start thinking that I would be ready soon."

More recently, it was assistant coach Steve Ott that was providing the pushing and prodding, but don't think for a second Schenn went light on the second-year NHL pro.

"No, and he's not easy to move around either," Schenn said. "He's a big, strong kid. He's one of those guys, 6-5 or whatever he is, 220, and strong. It was just one of those battle drills where we weren't playing on a day. Nice to see that he worked extremely hard to get himself back earlier.

"It was just out of courtesy, he had the same color jersey on and I wanted to know if I could push him around and he got clearance or whatever and I've got to hand it to him, he put a lot of work in. He's a big, strong boy. He does extra in the gym, takes care of himself and I showed up to the rink this morning and asked if he's playing and he said yeah. I was shocked actually because I never had asked the status of it the whole time. He's a huge piece to our team. He's a north-south type of guy, big body, physical. We need players like that."

Toropchenko, who had two goals in 28 regular-season games last season and two assists in 12 playoff games, brings am element the Blues will find plenty useful on the fourth line.

"He's a great skater," Berube said. "He pressures the puck everywhere and is a good forechecker, big guy obviously. He can penalty-kill, check. He's got good details to his game, but when you see a guy like him out there, a team really feeds off his energy and his forechecking and his skating and his work ethic. It goes a long way.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Alexey Toropchenko (left) celebrates a goal with Jordan Kyrou during the
Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, is expected to play in Saturday's opener.

"It's hard work. He spent the whole summer here pretty much and worked. He's got a great work ethic. That's part of it. That's why he recovered so quickly I'm sure that he put the time in."

"You just know what you're going to get from him every single night," Schenn said. "The style that he plays, I'm sure that's why the coaching staff loves him. He's consistent with what his game is. It's north-south, chipping pucks in, he's hard in the forecheck creating energy like that. When he has the puck, he can take it wide, take it to the net too. He's come a long way probably in two years I'm assuming. He's a huge piece to our team."

And Toropchenko made one declaration that he wants the fans to understand, something he's already instilled in them through his style of play.

"I promise I will put (in) like 100 percent always," he said "... I just try and (put my) head down and just working. I didn't think too much actually (about the surgery). I just tried to do everything right and follow what doctors said and be smart with it."

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