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At the Rink: Blues at Canucks

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said he was hesitant to keep Bo Horvat in the lineup as a 19-year-old center early last season.

Friday against the St. Louis Blues, Desjardins will play two 19-year-olds, rookie forwards Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann, while Horvat, now 20, centers the second line. Along with the emergence of 22-year-old rookie defenseman Ben Hutton, it's part of a youth movement that has helped the still veteran-heavy Canucks to a 3-0-1 start.

"What reassures you is what they've done in the past a little bit," Desjardins said of playing two teenagers. "They've played well enough to be in the lineup and that's why they are in. You always want a bigger sample size but they've played well. I've been happy with their play."

Virtanen, who was selected sixth by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft, played his first regular-season game against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. McCann, who was picked 24th in 2014, sat out against the Kings; he had one goal in the first three games of the season.

Both will play against St. Louis, marking the first time since Canucks president Trevor Linden was a rookie in 1988-89 that Vancouver has had two 19-year-olds in the lineup in the same game. Before Horvat last season, the Canucks hadn't played a teenager in a decade.

As impressive as the young players have been, it isn't all good news as the Canucks attempt to rejuvenate an aging core. Sven Baertschi, who was acquired from the Calgary Flames for a 2015 second-round pick, will be a healthy scratch against the Blues.

Baertschi, 23, is being counted for a top-six offensive role. But after a promising preseason the sixth pick in the 2011 draft had one assist in four games.

"It's kind of like a warning for me," Baertschi said. "I look at it like, OK you are a healthy scratch and that's the last thing you want. It's motivation again, like a kick in the butt."

Desjardins said it's easier for Virtanen, who is on the fourth line and being counted on to help establish a fast, physical forecheck, to break into the League than it is for more offensive players like McCann, who is centering the third line, and Baertschi. He compared it to Horvat, who started as the fourth line center last season, taking care of the defensive end, before finding his offensive confidence in the second half of the season. Baertschi agreed.

"Certain guys can go out there first shift, get a big hit and they are in the game," Baertschi said. "For me it's that little black thing, that puck. I need it around me and then I get into the game."

The Blues did not have a morning skate after a 4-2 road win against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, so there were no roster updates. However, veteran forward Scott Gomez is expected to make his Blues debut, and Jake Allen is scheduled to play in goal after Brian Elliott played against the Oilers.

Here are the projected lineups:

BLUES

Alex Steen - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Scottie Upshall

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Troy Brouwer

Steve Ott - Scott Gomez - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Injured: Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Robby Fabbri (concussion)

Scratched: Chris Butler, Kyle Brodziak

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Brandon Sutter

Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Radim Vrbata

Alexandre Burrows - Jared McCann - Jannik Hansen

Brandon Prust - Adam Cracknell - Jake Virtanen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis - Matt Bartkowski

Ben Hutton - Luca Sbisa

Ryan Miller

Richard Bachman

Injured: Chris Higgins (foot), Jacob Markstrom (hamstring)

Scratched: Sven Baertschi, Yannick Weber

Status Report: Markstrom, who was injured in practice on the eve of the regular season, skated on his own Friday morning with goaltending coach Roland Melanson but didn't take any shots. He could be out another two weeks. … Gomez was a healthy scratch in the Blues' first four games.

Who's hot: Parayko leads rookie defensemen with two goals. … Hansen has at least a point in all four games this season.

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