NEW YORK -- St. Louis Blues captain David Backes should expect to find himself on the right wing when center Paul Stastny returns to the lineup, perhaps as early as Thursday.
Stastny went through a rigorous physical testing Monday to evaluate his readiness to return from a shoulder injury he sustained Oct. 18 against the Arizona Coyotes. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it's unlikely he will play Tuesday at the New Jersey Devils, but later in the week is possible.
St. Louis starts a five-game homestand Thursday against New Jersey. It plays the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
"If the evaluation is proper, and this was a full session of contact, then we would evaluate him to play here within the next three or four games," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "We wanted to really work him up [Monday]. It was the first 100 percent green light on physical activity from a hitting standpoint. So we were going to hit him hard and see how he felt."
Hitchcock wants to reunite Stastny with Alexander Steen, who will start the game Monday against the New York Rangers playing with Backes and right wing Joakim Lindstrom. He would prefer not to meddle with the productive line of Jori Lehtera, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
That leaves Backes to move to the right wing, especially because there is uncertainty about when T.J. Oshie will return from his concussion. Oshie is not with the Blues in New York so he will miss at least the games Monday against the Rangers and Tuesday against the Devils.
Backes was the center on a line with Oshie and Patrik Berglund before Stastny was injured. Lindstrom was the right wing with Stastny and Steen.
"We know Schwartz with Lehtera and Tarasenko is a great line, and we also know Stastny with Steen has really worked well since Day One," Hitchcock said. "The debate is what to do with Backes, whether we play Backes as we did last year, part wing and part center, and push him up there. There's still a debate. Deep down we'd like to try David up there and see how it works. It would be a pretty dynamic line with Steen and Stastny. Backes takes the faceoffs on the right. But we'll see. We'll see how long [Oshie] is going to be [out]."
Hitchcock compared the potential of a line featuring Steen, Stastny and Backes to the Steen-Backes-Oshie line the Blues used last season.
"Steen played as much at center as Backes did," Hitchcock said. "Backes played as much right wing when the faceoff was on the left as he did center. He can adapt and we think it has potential to be a really good line.
"Unfortunately we lost Stastny after three games so we don't really know what we've got, but we held Stastny and Steen together throughout training camp. Every exhibition game they played as a tandem. They're very good together and we want to go back to that combination."