ST. LOUIS — While there’s been plenty of talk and anticipation abuot the NHL debut of Connor McDavid for the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, the St. Louis Blues will have three rookies making their debuts.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked following the team’s morning skate on Thursday if he had any apprehension about using the two rookies together on a defensive pair.
“Not this morning,” Hitchcock said, to laughter. “I feel real good this morning.”
Hitchcock said the Blues didn’t anticipate Parayko and Edmundson, both 22 years old, to win jobs out of training camp but that’s what happened.
“None of us anticipated this, including (Petteri) Lindbohm,” Hitchcock said. “Lindy went down to the minors and didn’t deserve to, but the philosophy organization-wise is if you’re not playing on a regular basis here you go play in the minors.
“So we had three kids (Parayko, Edmundson and Lindbohm) that earned the job to play in the National Hockey League and we’ll play two and at the end of October we’ll make a decision on how they are doing knowing full well we’ve got a boatload of guys sitting in Chicago.”
Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong talked at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season about wanting to play more reckless, an edge guys like Lindbohm and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo brought to the lineup.
But instead of those two players bringing that energy to the lineup on opening night against the Oilers, it will be the 22 year olds.
Parayko is a 6-foot-5, 226-pounder who shoots right-handed. Edmundson is a 6-4, 207-pounder with a left-handed shot. Those two are the youngest of the Blues’ seven defensemen and also two of the biggest, bringing an added physical presence to the back end.
“They’re 21, 22-year-old guys that have played at higher levels and I think they are going to come in and be steady forces for us, provide some spark, provide some bangs from some big bodies,” Blues captain David Backes said. “There’s a reason that they are still here, because they played some darn good hockey in the preseason and we expect that to continue.”
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz said Parayko and Edmundson play like they’ve already been with the Blues for a little bit.
“They’ve got poise with the puck,” Schwartz said. “Even though they are big bodies, they can move well. Good first pass. The have patience. One thing I’ve noticed is when there is a guy on them or a stick on them, they have that patience to wait a second or two until something opens up and then make a play. They have good offensive instincts as well. They kind of have the whole package and they are young, so they are only going to get better at. They are kind of good in all three zones.”
Fabbri was the Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 and impressed in training camp a year ago before suffering an injury.
He showed then that he may force his way into the organization’s plans sooner rather than later. Now, one year later, he’s in the opening day lineup and expected to be paired with Schwartz and Jori Lehtera.
“When you come in as a young guy you’re pretty nervous and don’t really know what to expect,” Schwartz said. “So he’s been through it last year, he’s been through training camp, and he kind of knew what to expect coming in. He makes plays. He sees the ice well. He can make plays through people. He’s adjusted well from what I’ve seen.”
How quickly those players adjust this season could determine how well the Blues play over the first few weeks. Hitchcock has veteran players he can turn to if he needs to, but he’s more than willing to give these youngsters a chance to show what they can do first.