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Thomas right at home with Tkachuks, finds playoff success with Blues

Rookie gets 'that little extra advice' living with former St. Louis forward, family

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

Robert Thomas rules the Tkachuk household these days.

The St. Louis Blues forward has spent his rookie season living at the St. Louis home of Keith Tkachuk, the former Blues forward and current scout. It's a packed house at the moment, with Keith's two sons in the NHL, forwards Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames and Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators, having returned after the season ended for each.

Normally there are certain house rules that Thomas must follow: Don't sit in Keith's chair, and never, ever touch the TV remote control when he's around.


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Things have changed, however, with Thomas and the Blues having so much success. They will play at the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"He can do whatever he wants right now," Keith said Friday before breaking into laughter. "He's the guy in charge."

That's because the Tkachuks are so impressed with how much the 19-year-old has matured on and off the ice in the past six months. Keith said a significant reason St. Louis was able to advance this far was the performance of Thomas in the Blues' 2-1 double-overtime win against the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the second round Tuesday, when he had two assists.

Video: Robert Thomas enjoying living in the Tkachuk house

During a face-off in the Stars end, Blues center Tyler Bozak won the draw to Thomas, whose shot hit the goal post, rolled off the back of Dallas goalie Ben Bishop's head and landed in the crease. Forward Pat Maroon then tapped in the puck at 5:50 of the second overtime to send St. Louis to the conference final.

"What [Robert] did there, it doesn't surprise me," Keith said. "He was by far the best skater for either team (in Game 7). Even the announcers were talking about it, the guys in studio were talking about it. Obviously what he did and the footwork he has and the brain he has … he's so smart.

"For someone that young, to clearly stand out in a Game 7 from start to finish, was one of the best performances you have ever seen in the National Hockey League, in my opinion."

That is high praise from such a respected voice. Keith, a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member, had 1,065 points (538 goals, 527 assists) in 1,201 games over 18 NHL seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, Blues and Atlanta Thrashers.

"He's like a father, a big brother, a coach all in one," Thomas said of the 47-year-old, whose NHL career ended in 2009-10. "It's amazing."

Thomas said his phone was blowing up after Game 7 with congratulatory texts from friends and family at a party hosted by his dad, Scott, in his native Aurora, Ontario. Once Thomas arrived back at the Tkachuk home, the atmosphere was equally as festive.

"I've got all the boys back at home right now, so they're all breaking down the games," said Thomas, who had 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 70 games during the regular season. "It's always great having that little bit of extra help. We watch hockey games at night. Everyone's kind of got their own little piece they say about different things."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm4: Thomas goes bar down for Blues

Thomas and Matthew Tkachuk were teammates with London of the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16, winning the Memorial Cup. When Matthew subsequently trained with Thomas as part of the offseason program run by former NHL player Gary Roberts in Aurora, he lived at the Thomas home that first year.

"We got to know the Thomas family really well," Keith said. "And then when we (the Blues) drafted him (at No. 20) in 2017, it really worked out."

When it appeared Thomas would make the Blues roster to start this season, St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong approached Keith Tkachuk with the idea of having the teenager move in.

"I think it was the familiarity with the family, along with Robert having played with Matthew to win a Memorial Cup, that gave me the idea," Armstrong said. "And Keith's history of bringing players in. He had (then-Blues teammate and current Boston Bruins forward) David Backes live with him too when David was young. He came up in that generation where players took care of players.

"Each year Keith is losing players -- his sons -- to the NHL, so there were a couple of extra rooms in his house. He and (wife) Chantal opened their house, and he's like a third son to them."

That's exactly how Keith views Thomas.

"He's a great kid, a quiet kid," Keith said. "I treat him like I treat my own kids, just not as hard.

"We're excited for Robert and the success he's having. It's tough, with him being only 19 years old. He's been great, he's probably been our best player. I know it doesn't show up in the stat sheet but he's, by far, very, very effective right now."

Thomas has five points (one goal, four assists) in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Whatever happens in Game 1 against the Sharks, he will expect to get a message from Keith shortly after the final horn, like usual. 

"To be able to pick his brain and always get that little extra advice, obviously that's been huge for me and definitely a big part of where I am today," Thomas said. "It's awesome."


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