While the rest of the hockey world focused on the debut of Edmonton’s latest “can’t miss” rookie star Connor McDavid on Thursday at Scottrade Center, the St. Louis Blues quietly opened the season with three rookies in the starting lineup.
Rookie Robby Fabbri skated at left wing on a line with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz and broke a 1-1 tie with his first NHL goal that helped the Blues to a 3-1 win. Blues rookie defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson made their NHL debut alongside each other in the third defense pairing.
“It’s something you look forward to as a kid and something you dream of,” said Parayko, 22. “It’s tough to put into words. It’s happened very fast.”
The most-hyped rookie coming into the game was McDavid, Edmonton’s 2015 first overall pick. The 18-year-old McDavid reminisced about playing against the 19-year-old Fabbri when both were younger.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” McDavid said. “I think I’ve known Robby since I was eight or nine years old, so us playing our first NHL games together is pretty special. But at the end of the day he’s on the other side tonight.”
The 22-year-old Edmundson, who recovered from a back injury last season and had a strong training camp, got the good news about his debut from Blues assistant Brad Shaw on Wednesday after practice.
“I kind of knew, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure,” Edmundson said after the morning skate. “The nerves have been here all camp, but I think it’s changed to excitement now. During camp it was hard to sleep and whatnot, but that was all nerves. Now it’s all excitement and I can’t wait to get it going.”
Edmundson’s parents, Bob and Lois Edmundson, made the trip to St. Louis from their home in Canada for the game and were interviewed during the Fox Sports Midwest telecast.
To make room for the two rookie defensemen, the Blues dispatched veteran Chris Butler and impressive youngster Petteri Lindbohm to the minor leagues.
“This is the most depth I’ve seen us have in years,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “To have the young guys coming into the lineup and see who got sent down, it just goes to show what this organization is made of. It’s never an easy decision for management I’m sure, but I’m sure it’s a good problem to have.”
Thurday marked the first time since 2008 the Blues had at least three rookies in the opening-night lineup. Four Blues made their NHL debuts that night: Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Chris Porter.
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t seem surprised to see the trio announced as part of the opening night festivities.
“(Fabbri) proved himself last year in training camp, so I think coming into it this year I think he knew what it took to be a standout,” Shattenkirk said. “With Colton, he’s someone who is just coming into it fresh but he turned a lot of heads this year. Whether he’s here all year or now, he’s someone who we know is going to be in the future of this team.
“It’s not as surprising to us because I think we saw these guys right away and we knew they had a chance.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock certainly didn’t anticipate playing Edmundson and Parayko in the opening night defense pairings at the start of camp.
“None of us anticipated this, including Lindbohm,” Hitchcock said. “Lindy went down to the minors and didn’t deserve to, but the philosophy organization-wise is if you’re not playing on a regular basis in Game 1 here, you can go play in the minors.
“At the end of October we’ll make a decision on how they’re doing knowing full well we’ve got a boatload of guys sitting in Chicago. We’ve got two guys that we anticipated playing, who played (most of ) last year in the NHL and these two kids just played better.
Also making their Blues debuts were forwards Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak.
“I’m too old for nerves now,” said Brouwer, 30, obtained from Washington in the Oshie trade. “(It’s) a new team, I want to impress, be a good, solid player and get off to the right start. Coming in as a new player I know that I’m going to have to earn the coaches’ trust and the players’ trust.”
During pregame ceremonies, the Blues showed a pregame video narrated by former defenseman Bob Plager covering the history of the franchise as they kicked off their new “Heartland of Hockey” campaign.
Numerous Blues alumni players flanked both sides of the entrance to the ice during pregame warmups. Each Blues player skated out with a member of a St. Louis area youth hockey program, with two players from the metro-east based Southern Illinois IceHawks taking part in the festivities.
Capping off the opening night pregame show was a surprise appearance by St. Louis Cardinals all-star catcher Yadier Molina. Wearing a Blues jersey and hat, Molina received a thunderous standing ovation as he walked to center ice with his 7-year-old son for the ceremonial opening faceoff.
Molina and the Cardinals begin their National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday at Busch Stadium.