Robert Thomas is scheduled to play in the all-important 10th game Friday against San Jose, about as strong an indication as possible that the rookie center will spend this season with the Blues and won't be sent back to junior hockey.
"I think the fact that he's in the lineup probably answers some questions for you guys tomorrow," coach Mike Yeo told reporters following Thursday's practice. "Like I said, I'm just treating him as a player. My concern is not the nine-game mark or anything else.
"My concern is his development and our team. We've seen a lot of progress in him from the start of the year. Even look at last game, there's a couple moments _ watching shifts with him _ he does a lot of good things out there, man.
"He's getting better in a lot of really important areas of the game and so it's up to us to make sure that we keep providing him the direction and he keeps buying into it. Because that's what he's been doing very well. He's been very coachable, and he's really been taking what we say and working at it. And you can see a big improvement in his game."
Once Thomas plays his 10th game, which would be Friday against the Sharks, his entry-level pro contract kicks in. If the Blues send Thomas back before the 10th game, it doesn't.
And because Thomas is only 19, he's ineligible to play in the minors _ the American Hockey League _ meaning the Blues' only options are to keep him on their roster or send him back to juniors.
General manager Doug Armstrong has final say on who goes and who stays on the roster. So if Armstrong wanted to send Thomas back to junior, presumably, he'd tell Yeo: "Don't play him Friday."
"One might think so, yeah," Yeo said smiling.
With Brayden Schenn still working his way back from what's believed to be an oblique muscle injury, Thomas is scheduled to center a line flanked by Robby Fabbri and David Perron. That was the case Tuesday against Carolina when Schenn missed his first game as a member of the Blues.
Schenn got some work in Thursday's practice, maybe 15 minutes, but watched the rest of the session.
"Little bit (of work), but obviously he wasn't involved in everything," Yeo said. "So again, question mark for tomorrow."
Normally among the most cooperative Blues when it comes to dealing with the media, Schenn told reporters Thursday: "I've got nothing for you guys today."
Which in itself was a pretty good sign that he's not healthy enough to play in a game.
Dropped to the fourth line during Saturday's 5-1 loss to Minnesota, St. Louisan Pat Maroon will be a healthy scratch against San Jose, Yeo said.
"He's not gonna play tomorrow," Yeo said. "It's been very frustrating for him, which is understandable. He's come in here, first off, we know how important it is for him to put that (Blues) jersey on. What that means to him and how he wants to contribute.
"Secondly, he's betting on himself this year obviously. We know how important that is."
Maroon signed a one-year, $1.75 million free-agent contract in July to play for his hometown team. Through 13 games, he has seven assists but no goals, beginning the year on the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko.
"We saw a lot of good things despite him not scoring," Yeo said. "His forechecking. His puck presence in the offensive zone. His physicality, his power play. All these things.
"I think that some things can start to get in your head and obviously confidence plays a part in that, so I think maybe a little reset here can help him out."
Yeo has been trying to get Nikita Soshnikov in the lineup since he came off injured reserve and was placed on the active roster Oct. 31, along with Robby Fabbri and Carl Gunnarsson. After three games as a healthy scratch, Soshnikov will finally make his season debut against San Jose, playing on a line with Tyler Bozak and Alexander Steen.
"I just told him that he's gotta stay patient, that he's gotta wait for his opportunity," Yeo said. "So he's been working hard."
Soshnikov missed all of camp and the preseason because of a concussion that occurred during summer training when hit in the ear by a puck.
"This will be a good chance for him," Yeo said. "He's playing with a guy in (Bozak) that he's familiar with, two guys that are very responsible. I don't expect perfection without the puck with Sosh. That's not what I'm looking for.
"What I'm looking for is for his speed to be a difference-maker. He's got two smart players that can read off of him. And for me, the way I see it, his speed should impact the game all over the ice. And so hopefully we can see that tomorrow."
Defenseman Colton Parayko was not at practice Thursday. Jay Bouwmeester took his place on a pairing with Vince Dunn.
"Personal matter today (for Parayko) and I expect him to be in the lineup tomorrow," Yeo said.
WHAT ABOUT JOHNSON?
After stopping 38 of 39 shots in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Carolina, doesn't Chad Johnson deserve to be back in goal Friday against San Jose?
"I'll tell you tomorrow," Yeo said.