ST. LOUIS — Wade Redden never stopped playing hockey the past two seasons, but the veteran defenseman wasn't skating in the NHL.
Banished to Connecticut in the American Hockey League, Redden bided his time and waited for another opportunity.
It came when NHL rules changes allowed the New York Rangers to buy out the final portion of his six-year, $39 million contract. The Blues also took part in the process by securing Redden with a one-year, pro-rated deal worth $800,000.
The 35-year-old Redden made his Blues debut Thursday against Nashville, his first NHL appearance since April 11, 2010. He was on the No. 1 defense pairing with Alex Pietrangelo to start the night.
"There was a little tension, waiting through the lockout and hoping to get an opportunity to get out of my situation," Redden said. "I was happy that it came and then to come to St. Louis, I was obviously excited about that. Now it's time to play."
Redden expected a lot of emotions Thursday for a variety of reasons. But the biggest one was because he was back where he felt he belonged.
"It's the best league in the world," Redden said. "It's not a right to be playing in it, you've got to appreciate it. It's a privilege to be here."
Sent to the AHL as a way to help the Rangers avoid a salary cap hit under the NHL's previous collective bargaining agreement, Redden swallowed hard and went to work.
"What do you do?" he said. "I tried to go about business the way I always did, come to the rink every day and try to do my best. Wherever you are, that's the idea you want to have.
"I wasn't ashamed, it was nothing to hang my head about. Obviously it wasn't a great situation."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt Redden was definitely worth a chance.
"He fell out of favor there in New York, maybe expectations were higher than his game was being played at, and then it kind of went south from there," Hitchcock said. "It's nice to see him get a chance to get it back."
Hitchcock isn't the only one rooting for Redden's comeback story. The second overall pick in the 1995 NHL draft and native of Saskatchewan is in his 14th NHL season.
"I think everybody in hockey, especially in Canada, knows the story (and) is really proud of him," Hitchcock said. "I'm proud of him; I'm proud that he stayed with it and I'm proud of him that he's getting a second opportunity like this."
The Blues weren't the only team interested in signing Redden. However, his previous experience playing under Blues coach Ken Hitchcock with Team Canada was a heavy factor in the decision.
"I'm happy to be here now," Redden said. "That's definitely a comfort factor I guess. I know what (Hitchcock) expects from me, he's laid it out. With the way that his teams play, it's a system I'm familiar with so I think it will work out good."
Redden was among the top defensemen in the Eastern Conference when paired with Zdeno Chara while both were with the Ottawa Senators.
Chara moved on to Boston and became an even bigger star, while Redden's star quickly faded after he signed with the Rangers.
"He was a very good player and a very dependable player," Hitchcock said of Redden. "He played with probably, arguably one of the best defensemen in the game in Chara. They were a great pair, they were great on the power play.
"They were dynamic for a number of years, then both guys kind of went different directions."
Redden isn't coming in to be a star-level talent. He wants to fit in and make a difference on defense.
"It's going to play itself out, I just want to get out there and get playing," he said. "With all the games coming and the schedule the way it is, we're going to need a lot of guys."
Around the rink
Blues captain David Backes said a rough first period like the one the team experienced in Chicago on Tuesday could be beneficial in the long run.
While the Blues fought back in the third period, they dug themselves a 3-0 hole before losing 3-2.
"I think the first period told us more than the third," Backes said when asked about the late comeback. "You can't take time off and if you do, good teams will burn you. We can't be digging ourselves holes and trying to dig out of them later.
"We need to play our game from the first period on and not take any shift off, just keep that momentum going like we did in the first game."
* Redden replaced Ian Cole in the Blues' lineup. Cole was recalled from the minors after defenseman Jeff Woywitka cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to Peoria.
Forwards Ryan Reaves and Scott Nichol also were back, replacing forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt D'Agostini.