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Wednesday Night Hockey

Thomas in mix to replace Tarasenko on Blues' top line against Wild

Forward could get time with Schenn, Schwartz on 'Wednesday Night Hockey'

by Louie Korac / Independent Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas has an opportunity, and the St. Louis Blues forward said he's ready for it.

The No. 20 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft is expected to be among those getting minutes on the Blues' top line with center Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz after forward Vladimir Tarasenko had shoulder surgery Tuesday that is expected to keep him out at least five months.

Thomas and the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues (6-3-3) will showcase a new look when they host the Minnesota Wild (4-8-0) on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

"It's obviously some pretty tough news for the team hearing his injury and what he's got to do to come back," Thomas said of Tarasenko. "For the young guys, it's a good opportunity for us and something we've got to take advantage of.

"It's something in the coming years where I want to step into a role like that. It's a good test for me to see where I'm at and a good opportunity for me to show what I can do."

Thomas, who has one goal in seven games this season and 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 77 NHL games, auditioned for a longer-term role with Schenn and Schwartz in a 5-4 overtime win at the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. 

So far, Oskar Sundqvist and Thomas have started games on that line, and Sammy Blais was given a look with Schenn and Schwartz at practice Tuesday.

St. Louis coach Craig Berube said he likely will go with a group by committee and rely on matchups when making out his lineup.

Thomas, Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon combined to make up an efficient third line for the Blues last season on the way to their first Stanley Cup championship; Berube said he has several internal options to help formulate line combinations.

"It's going to take some time to see who has chemistry there and who works," Berube said, "but also it could be just moving guys around for a while. We'll see how it goes.

"I just keep going back to Thomas and Bozak, the chemistry they had last year. I thought they played a good game here the other night against [the Los Angeles Kings]. We'll see how it goes. There's going to be guys moving in and out and going to be some moving lines around here for a bit. 

"Anytime you lose a good player, you've got to have other people step in and do the job. It's a team thing. It's not just one individual. It's about everybody doing their job. Injuries happen. You've just got to keep playing our team game and trusting our team game and it'll pull us through."

Schenn, who leads the Blues in points (13) and goals (nine) through 12 games, said he expects he and Schwartz (10 points; one goal, nine assists), along with center Ryan O'Reilly (12 points; three goals, nine assists) and forward David Perron (12 points; six goals, six assists), will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting with Tarasenko out.

Schenn also said he and Schwartz will work to help their new linemate get acclimated as quickly as possible.

"Whoever we're playing with, I just think me, [Tarasenko] and [Schwartz] had good chemistry," Schenn said. "We know what each other are all about. Now it's going to take a little bit of time to, not find the next guy, but find the chemistry with the next guy. We've had [Sundqvist] a little bit, [Thomas] a little bit, [Blais], whoever it may be. We're happy to play with whoever and just trying to find the right chemistry."

The Blues have used the next-man-up mantra whenever someone is injured, but this will be one of their toughest challenges.

"It's obviously disappointing, frustrating," O'Reilly said of losing Tarasenko. "It's obviously one of our best players going down. It hurts obviously, but at the same time, it's an opportunity. We all have to step up and bring more. It's a hole we can't fill, but we all have to bring more and find a way to get through this time without him."

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