ST. PAUL, Minn. - Ranger right wing Martin St. Louis will return against the Minnesota Wild Thursday night after missing eight games with a sprained right knee, but not in his usual spot on one of the top two lines.

Rookie center Kevin Hayes and left wing Carl Hagelin will be St. Louis' linemates on a third line that coach Alain Vigneault thinks could click.

With six games left in the regular season, Vigneault isn't ready to alter the first-time pairing of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller. "I thought overall that line was pretty effective at both ends of the rink" in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Winnipeg, said Vigneault.

Last season, Vigneault said, St. Louis "played with Hags and I think the way Hayes is playing right now, a lefthanded center that likes to go to his right, it might have some potential."

St. Louis, with 20 goals and 27 assists, will rejoin the power play, and Vigneault expects a defensive boost for the third line.

"As much as Marty is known as an offensive player, he's always in the right place [defensively]," Vigneault said after practice Wednesday. "He's not mistake-free, but he knows where to go, which man to pick up, which lane to block. Kevin might benefit from that."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

St. Louis, who is pumped to get back into action, remembers skating with Hagelin after he arrived from Tampa Bay in the Ryan Callahan trade last March. "I played with him more than 50 percent of the time when I slid in where Cally was," said St. Louis. "I know what Hayes' game is; I've seen it up close and up in the press box, I understand what's his strength. I'm going to try to push people back and create space."

St. Louis expects to play with a little extra jump against the Wild, who have won five games in a row and have 95 points which puts them in a wild-card spot in the West. "I always expect a lot out of myself," he said, "and the only way to get the best out of yourself is to not like . . . try to ease your way in."

Blue notes

Miller's neck remained stiff and sore from Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglein's crosscheck on Tuesday. Byfuglein, not penalized on the play, has a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety Thursday and is likely to be suspended for several games. . . . Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal . . . Jesper Fast will drop to the fourth line and James Sheppard will be a healthy scratch . . . Brady Skjei, 21, the team's top defensive prospect and a first-round draft pick in 2012, signed an entry-level contract that begins next season. He just completed his junior year at the University of Minnesota and will report to Hartford on an AHL amateur tryout contract.