With matching eight-year, $65 million contract extensions in hand, forwards Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas are ready to lead a balanced St. Louis Blues attack into the 2022-23 season.
They will open their campaign Saturday by hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are playing their third game but looking for their first win, following a 4-1 loss at Carolina on Wednesday and a 5-2 defeat on home ice to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
Kyrou, 24, earned a trip to the NHL’s All-Star weekend last season while producing 27 goals and 48 assists in 74 games. Thomas, 23, enjoyed his breakout season too, scoring 20 goals and 57 assists.
“These are cornerstone players for us,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You don’t commit — you don’t have an ownership willing to commit that type of money — if there’s not a belief that these guys can grab the flag and lead the charge.”
The speedy Kyrou will enter the season skating on a line with center Ryan O’Reilly and winger Brandon Saad. That line built offensive chemistry during the preseason.
“I’ve felt each game, you can tell we’re getting more comfortable with each other, and knowing where each other are — and just little plays, tendencies that we have,” O’Reilly said last week. “So it’s nice, and I think it’s only going to get better from there.”
Thomas will be back at center between Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich, putting his elusiveness and playmaking skills to work.
“He can move, and he can protect the puck,” Buchnevich said of Thomas. “He’s super easy to play with. He can get the puck in the corner (against) somebody one-on-one and find someone on the point for the shot. I’m happy to give it to him, and I don’t have to do anything.”
The Blue Jackets hoped to have their new top line of Boone Jenner centering Patrik Laine and free-agent acquisition Johnny Gaudreau to drive their offense this season. Laine scored 26 goals in 56 games last season, while Gaudreau scored 115 points while playing in all 82 games for the Calgary Flames in 2021-22.
But Laine sustained a sprained elbow against the Hurricanes and could be sidelined for three to four weeks.
“I think they were building something there,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “They had a couple good looks, they finish on one and then . . . that’s hockey. You can’t sit and feel sorry for yourself now. We’ll move forward, see where it goes.”
Laine’s injury opened the door for fifth overall 2021 draft pick Kent Johnson to jump into the lineup Friday. The top prospect opened on the third line with Cole Sillinger and Gustav Nyquist, earning an assist.
Justin Danforth picked up an assist Friday while taking Laine’s place with Jenner and Gaudreau. But the Blue Jackets were caught chasing the game all night against the Lightning.
“I don’t think we had our focus tonight, myself included,” Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski told Bally Sports. “Throughout our whole lineup we just kind of lost focus . . . It just seemed like it was one breakdown after another.”
Goaltender Daniil Tarasov started his second straight game for Columbus on Friday. So Elvis Merzlikins, who missed the opener due to illness, will likely get the start against the Blues after backing up Tarasov on Friday.
Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who is still recovering from hip surgery, remains on injured reserve.
–Field Level Media