Wednesday, July 29, 2015

St. Louis named finalist to host 2018 WJC

Blues owner Tim Stillman among 
committee looking to bring event to Scottrade Center

ST. LOUIS -- Scottrade Center has been host to the NCAA Frozen Four. Now Blues owner Tim Stillman wants to add it to the list as a host of the World Junior Championship.

St. Louis on Tuesday was named by USA Hockey as one of five cities as a finalist to host the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The other finalists are Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Tampa.

"We had interest of varying levels from more than a dozen entities," said Mike Bertsch, assistant executive director of marketing, communications and events for USA Hockey. "In the end, we're extremely pleased with the group of finalists. The time and effort each put into the materials that were submitted is impressive and we look forward to continued conversations with each of the finalists."

The WJC is a tournament for the top junior players under 20 and played annually in December-January. 

Bertsch said USA Hockey will have the host selected by the end of the year. 

"We'll likely further narrow the field in the next 60 days and then conduct in-person visits before making a final decision."

Led by the Blues, St. Louis has emerged as a hub for youth, amateur and pro hockey. Ten St. Louis natives have or currently are playing in the NHL, including Blues players Paul Stastny and Chris Butler, as well as Pat Maroon (Anaheim). St. Louisans Steve Cash and Billy Hanning represent the U.S. Paralympic Team and Jincy Dunne scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal game for the U.S. at the 2015 IIHF U-18 Women's World Championships.

Scottrade Center has hosted the Frozen Four in 2007, a regional in 2011 and will host the women's Frozen Four in 2017.

Along with Stillman, Blues president and CEO Chris Zimmerman, former Blues Brett Hull and Keith Tkachuk and Total Hockey founder Michael Benoit are part of the committee assembled to bring the event to St. Louis.

Current Blues Alex Pietrangelo (Canada) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia) are the most recent players to take part in the WJC.

This year's tournament will be held in Helsinki, Finland and the 2017 tournament will take place in Toronto and Montreal.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blues' 2015 top pick appreciative they wanted him "first"

Defenseman Vince Dunn taking high road over not being selected in first 
round of 2015 NHL Draft; a player high on confidence with willingness to learn

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Coming into the 2015 NHL Draft, defenseman Vince Dunn heard all the right talk. 

So like any other 18-year-old that hears nothing but positive things about himself, Dunn set his sights high.

Dunn wasn't completely banking on being selected in the first round, but the Lindsay, Ontario native was hopeful he would don a new NHL jersey on the Friday night when first round selections were made on the surface where the Florida Panthers play in Sunrise, Fla.

But as the evening went on, Dunn sat there, and sat there, and sat there ... name after name was called and none were his.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
2015 second round pick Vince Dunn is all smiles after the Blues chose
him at the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla.

Dunn could have interpreted that in many ways, mostly negative, but he chose not to.

So when Saturday came around, more names came and went in the second round and Dunn's wasn't yet bellowed over the microphone. But at pick No. 56, finally, "With the 56th pick, the St. Louis Blues have selected Vince Dunn ..."

The rest is history. 

Dunn was the Blues' first selection of the draft. They didn't have a pick this year after surrendering it to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for goalie Ryan Miller. And according to Dunn, there wasn't any disappointment from a first-round that came and went without hearing his name. Initially, he wondered though.

Dunn has chosen a path that serves as motivation for 29 other teams that passed on him, but the one that wanted him first, well the gratitude is overwhelming.

"Being chosen in the first round is what every kid dreams of, but I think being the first pick of St. Louis, it's almost like being a first rounder," Dunn said recently at Blues Prospect Camp. "No matter if I'm picked in the first round or the seventh, you're walking on in camp and you have to earn your spot out there just as much as everyone else. I feel like if I work hard and I stick to my own game plan and I do the extra things to get me to the next level, I think I have a great chance of making this team.

The Blues made Dunn, who has spent the past two seasons with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, their priority. Dunn, who had 18 goals and 56 points in 68 regular season games last year, got the best impression from the Blues.

"They told me they were hoping to get me all day," Dunn said of the Blues. "I talked to a lot of teams and they were considering taking me earlier, but I know St. Louis really wanted me and they said after the draft. It's a great feeling I was chosen by them.

"You're a little itchy and after the first round is over, you're a little bit disappointed that you didn't hear your name called, but you're just anxious and it's just kind of a waiting game. Finally when your name's called, it's such a relief. There are really no words to describe it. It's just a great feeling."

Dunn, a left-handed defenseman who is listed at 6-foot, 187 pounds, gives the Blues a player that has an offensive mentality and adds to a solid variety of blue liners. And Dunn doesn't shy away from going up against the best on the ice and talking about it afterwards.

"Definitely an offensive-defenseman," Dunn said. "I bring a lot of offense from the blue line. I like to quarterback the power play as much as I can. I think that my skating is really elite. That makes it easier for me to play guys 1-on-1. I feel like if I can excel at that, I can keep moving forward there. That'll keep me at an elite level. 

"My defense is there, too. I'm the only guy to shut down Connor McDavid. He's such an elite player, a good friend of mine and someone I respect a lot. I have proven that I can play defense. I was killing penalties this year and I wasn't the year before. I think I've definitely made improvements there and coaches can really trust me when they put me on the ice."

Young defenseman that aspire to come into the league often name off somebody that's left quite the imprint on the game, a player that is a likely Hall of Famer or is in the Hall of Fame. Dunn models his game after someone not much older than him but has the foot in the door already, someone who's just as eager to prove himself.

"I think I play maybe like Morgan Reilly," Dunn said of the 21-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs blue liner. "He definitely has that offensive instinct I have and we have very comparable stats in junior, but obviously being here, I follow guys like 'Petro' (Alex Pietrangelo) and 'Shatty' (Kevin Shattenkirk). They're really elite players. I'm definitely looking forward to watching them play at main camp. I'll try to watch the defensive guys. I'm an offensive guy so I think I've got it there. Obviously there's room for improvement there, but I think if I watch the defensive guys and learned the little things there, that can really help me in the future."

Dunn was part of a group of 25 that took part in his first prospect camp, trying to get a taste of what NHL life is all about. He called it a definite eye-opener.

"For sure," Dunn said. "Just talking to the people around here and try to figure things out and how they are at the next level, it's kind of a learning experience every day. Talking to a few guys that have been around here for a few years, it's kind of nice to have them talk to me and tell me what it's like at this level. It's a good learning experience and I'm just trying to compete as much as I can."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Vince Dunn (pictured) winds up with a slap shot recently at
the Blues Prospect Camp at the Ice Zone.

Dunn will return to St. Louis and take part in training camp in September but his realistic expectation is to play with the IceDogs for a third season. But gaining the necessary experience to what life in the NHL is all about as an 18-year-old gives Dunn not only the motivation to improve but the incentive to prove to the Blues they made the right choice in picking him "first."

"Obviously I'll be back in Niagara, but I'm definitely trying to push myself to be at the next level, hopefully play pro the next year and I think I have a really good chance at that," Dunn said. "My future is bright there. Just trying to push myself every day and doing the extra little things to make me more efficient. 

"I know what I'm capable of; I'm not intimidated by anyone I'm competing with. If I just stick to my game plan and try to play my game as much as possible and be as responsible on the ice, that'll get me to the next level."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Barbashev setting sights high

2014 second round pick likely destined for AHL Chicago 
despite junior eligibility; coming off 95-point season with Moncton

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Ivan Barbashev took part at Blues training camp last year, he did so with the intention of soaking up as much as he could from coaches and experienced players who have been there, done that.

As a bright-eyed 18-year-old who came in with a bit of deer-in-headlights mindset, Barbashev, the Blues' second round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, wasn't babied during his time in St. Louis. Coach Ken Hitchcock threw him right into the fire, playing him with David Backes and T.J. Oshie so he can get the taste of NHL life immediately knowing full well the Moscow, Russia native would get quite the reality check.

There were times when Barbashev, a pick the Blues acquired along with Magnus Paajarvi in a trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton, was overwhelmed playing with grown men. After all, coming from the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League proved to be a monumental difference.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues have high hopes for Ivan Barbashev (pictured), and Barbashev
has high hopes for himself after attending his second prospect camp.

But the difficult learning curves certainly helped Barbashev after he returned to the Wildcats.

"For sure it helped me. Being around professional players who have played for many, many years, it was great to have a chance to play with Oshie and Backes," said Barbashev, who had 45 goals and 95 points in 57 games for Moncton last season before following it up with 13 goals and 24 points in 16 playoff games. "Those guys just helped me a lot. Every time I was making a mistake or something, they were telling me or helping me every time. They helped me on what to do, what not to do."

Barbashev, a center/left wing, took what he learned and parlayed it into a tremendous season. He's still innocent-looking at 19 years old after attending his second Blues Prospect Camp recently, but it is evident he's progressed to the next level.

"I'm just feeling more comfortable than last year, that's for sure," Barbashev said. "I wasn't ready for camp last year because I got here and in Russia, there was just no chance to skate anywhere, so it was pretty hard. This year, I'm spending at least a month, month and a half here. I'm going to keep doing this and improve myself."

Barbashev, a left-handed shot who called his season in Moncton a "good year," completed his third season of playing in the QMJHL with a combined 88 goals and 225 regular season points in 173 games. The Russian Hockey Federation selected him to participate in the World Junior Championships last season, his second stint at the WJC. 

"It was just unreal," said Barbashev, who hads three goals and six points in seven games. "That's a time that I will never forget. Those memories will actually be forever. ... It was a good tournament but some games were not really good. But most of the time, I played good."

Barbashev came in smallish in figure last season but has added 10 pounds of muscle and is listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds after checking in at 180 last season.

"I've been here (in St. Louis) for maybe like a month now training in the gym every day," Barbashev said. "Everyone's saying I got a little bit bigger. Even I can see I got bigger, but I know I have to get more bigger and bigger."

Barbashev has been placed in a pedestal with 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri. The two are getting the notoriety that both rightfully deserve. Barbashev is making sure he pulls his weight and gives the organization the insight that it has solid prospects at the forward level.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev (front) takes part in a drill earlier this month at the Ice 
Zone during prospect camp. Barbashev is coming off a 95-point
season in the QMJHL.

Barbashev, who is eligible to return to the QMJHL for one more season, has set his sights high but more than likely, will get the taste of pro hockey with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

"I'm coming back August 1st," Barbashev said. "I'm going to train here again. I'll be working, working, working and going to give myself any chance to make this team.

"I'm just working on things that will get me ready for the next level. I should at least go to Chicago to learn how to play professionally."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vannelli joins list of promising defensemen in system

2013 second round pick played for Medicine 
Hat past two seasons, destined for AHL Chicago

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Being a Minnetonka, Minn. native, it's every Minnesota kid's dream to play collegiate hockey for the Gophers.

Defenseman Tommy Vannelli had that chance in 2013 when he had a full scholarship to play for one of the most storied and consistent programs in the country year in and year out.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tommy Vannelli joins a groups of promising  defensemen in the Blues' 
system looking to work his way up the ladder.

But when Vannelli, the Blues' second round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft (a pick they acquired when they traded goalie Ben Bishop to Ottawa), gave up his scholarship before even playing a game for the Gophers so he can further his development with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, it was a decision that tugged not only at his heart but his mind.

But the 20-year-old, who ascended up the draft board at the time, knew if he was going to give professional hockey his undivided attention, going this route was the best way for him. And going to Medicine Hat was the best course of action.

And Vannelli, a 6-foot-2, 179-pounder who loves to get involved offensively, has rewarded the Blues with two solid seasons with the Tigers.

After a 14-goal, 47-point 2013-14 season in 60 games, Vannelli followed that up with 12 goals and 35 points in only 44 games after sustaining a broken finger.

"It was really good. I learned a lot there," Vannelli said of his time with Medicine Hat. "The scheduling is a lot like pro. That's why I went there and I think it helped me a lot."

Vannelli, who recently attended Blues Prospect Camp, is geared to make a move to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League this season. It's all part of his plan after bypassing college for a quicker transition to the NHL.

"I think last year I was trying to learn quite a bit (at camp)," Vannelli said. "I'll always be learning when I come to these and main camp, too. I think the comfort level is different knowing the people you're working with here are different. They help you more and more every day so you know it helps."

Tommy Vannelli
Vannelli, who has put on (according to him) 20-25 pounds since his first camp two years ago, feels his game at Medicine Hat geared him towards this run at turning pro.

"I think defensively is probably my biggest difference from the last two years," Vannelli said. "I also think confidence has been built in the last two years.

"Obviously my strong suit is when I have the puck on my stick. I like to get it up to my forwards. Offensively, I think it comes a little more natural, and on defense, you have to keep working at it."

Vannelli, who returned to Minnesota to train for the next couple weeks, said his tentative plan is to return to St. Louis in August in preparation for training camp in mid-September. He joins a glutton of good, young defensemen trying to make their way through the system. He'll join Colton Parayko (third round, 2012) and Jordan Schmaltz (first round, 2012) in the Wolves system. 

"You want to work hard and every chance you get, you want to make a good impression," Vannelli said. "Even though it's July, you still want to come in here and make a good impression.

"Just get prepared for a good camp. ... I'd like to play pro this year. I think that's definitely a possibility for me, so that's my goal."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Opilka ready to begin journey towards St. Louis

Goalie drafted by favorite childhood team is a home 
grown talent who moved from nearby Effingham, Ill. as a kid

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the idea came from his uncle, Luke Opilka thought to himself, 'Why not?'

Coming from the city of Effingham, Ill., which has a population of 12,000-13,000 and is roughly 100 miles east of St. Louis, hockey isn't exactly a hotbed for kids in the area.

Effingham is known more for farm land, not showcasing ice surfaces with a penchant for blades of steel.

Opilka's uncle from his mother Lisa's side played ice hockey at the University of Illinois. He had his nephews gravitate towards the game.
(US Hockey photo)
Goalie Luke Opilka grew up playing hockey in St. Louis and not gets the  
opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing for the Blues one day. 

"My uncle played hockey growing up and he's the one that got us into the sport," Opilka said recently at the Blues prospect camp. "... We just picked St. Louis as a place where we wanted to play hockey and we thought we'd be better off here. That's how I wound up in St. Louis." 

So Opilka, now 18, gave hockey a try along with his older brother and the two commuted back and forth with parents John and Lisa Opilka to St. Louis so the boys can fulfill a childhood goal.

And between practices and buying expensive goalie equipment, long rides and a plethora of games, Opilka and his family witnessed what comes along once in a lifetime: hearing Opilka's name called at the NHL Draft and and by Opilka's childhood team growing up, the St. Louis Blues. It was on the recommendation of former Blue Keith Tkachuk.

"From the start of the draft and going in, I was really hoping for the Blues to pick me up," Opilka said. "When it happened, it was really a dream-come-true.

"... All the credit goes to my parents, driving us to and from practice, taking the time out of their day. It wasn't easy on them to commute four times a week for practices and then the weekends for the games."

Upon finishing sixth grade, Opilka's parents decided the commutes were getting to be too much, especially since a younger brother got into the game as well. The family moved to St. Louis on a permanent basis.

"It was just me and my older brother doing the commutes and then once my little brother got into hockey, then we had to move," Opilka said.

For Luke Opilka, a switch to goalie became a reality when he was eight years old playing as a mite. Being a regular skater didn't exactly work out, so he began playing goal, which started at a friend's party.

Upon arriving in St. Louis on a regular basis, Opilka frequented many of the rinks, including the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall, the Blues' practice facility. Opilka began to get recognition playing in midget minors for the AAA Blues in 2012-13, where he was 18-2-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

From there, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Opilka worked his way into the United States National Team Development Program playing for the Under-17 and Under-18 teams. He's developed into the No. 1 goalie with the U-18 team after going 25-7 in 36 games with a 2.77 goals-against average, .883 save percentage and three shutouts last season.

Opilka was 14-9-2 with a 3.64 GAA and .864 save percentage in 30 games with the U-17 team in 2013-14. He was also a member of the 2015 U-18 World Championship gold medal team.

Opilka was originally committed to attend and play for the University of Wisconsin, the alma mater of Blues goalie Brian Elliott. But instead of playing a relegated collegiate schedule and having a stock that's rising by the moment, the Blues signed Opilka to a three-year, entry-level contract days after selecting him in the fifth round this past summer at the NHL Draft.

Instead of playing for the Badgers, Opilka will instead man the pipes as the expected No. 1 goalie of the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

"Instead of possibly playing 20 games or 25 games at the most at the college level, this year he's going to a minimum 50 games (at Kitchener)," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor said of Opilka. "Not saying one is better than the other, but we kind of had our hands on him a little earlier, two teams away from junior eligibility being done. We get a little more control, we get to see him more, we get to help him more. In college sometimes, they want you to back away a little more and wait that three or four years until they're done. In juniors sometimes, it's a little more beneficial to accellerate to be a pro."

And the Blues, who are stockpiling on goalie prospects, want Opilka to be a pro. They want him to work this summer with goalie coach Jim Corsi and a plethora of other coaches, including goalie development coach Ty Conklin, who worked with Opilka at prospect camp.

"Both places, Wisconsin and Kitchener were the only two options I had and they were great places to play, but the prospect of playing more games and to be able to work with a goalie coach full time and Kitchener's a first-class organization," Opilka said. "I don't think I could have gone wrong either way, but I do think Kitchener's the better option."
(US Hockey photo)
Effingham, Ill. native Luke Opilka, who moved to St. Louis as a teenager, 
has played effectively for the US national developmental U-17 and U-18 

Opilka got the chance to shake the hand of Blues' assistant general manager Martin Brodeur upon being selected at the draft, someone all young goalies can look up to and strive to be like. He can only hope that one day to don an NHL jersey -- preferably the Blues -- and compete at the highest level.

"I grew up playing here," Opilka said. "The Mills was like a practice place but I was in a triple-A jersey and to finally put on the real Blues one, it's pretty special.

"... I'm just looking to work hard and hopefully make it become a reality. It's definitely a cool idea. The whole experience has been really cool. It's been a lot of fun."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

For Schmaltz, time is right to go pro

Blues' No. 1 pick in 2012 spent past three seasons at North Dakota, 
including last one with younger brother Nick; signed three-year entry-level contract

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jordan Schmaltz was entering his third season at the University of North Dakota with the same expectations as the previous two: continue to improve, keep UND among the favorites to win a collegiate championship and most importantly, continue climbing the depth chart among defensive prospects in the Blues organization.

But this wasn't just any season in college for Schmaltz. No way. The 2014-15 season was an opportunity for the Blues' first round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft to play with his little brother, 19-year-old Nick Schmaltz, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round in 2014. Nick was playing in his first season at UND.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Schmaltz stick-handles the the puck at the Blues' recent prospect
camp at the team's practice facility, the Ice Zone.

"It was pretty cool," said the elder Schmaltz, who is 21. "We hadn't really played together besides kind of a brief stint in Green Bay for like 10 games. But it was awesome. It was everything that I thought it would be. It was kind of cool having him there."

The Schmaltz brothers got one final opportunity to play together after spending the 2011-12 season with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. They would be reunited under coach Dave Hakstol, who has since taken the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Flyers. 

But Jordan, who had 28 points (24 assists) in 42 games with UND, knew it would be a short-lived experience with his brother. Jordan Schmaltz signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Blues once his collegiate season ended. It was time to turn pro.

Schmaltz, who is 6-foot-2 and 189 pounds, ranked third on the club with his 28 points and his 24 assists led the team in helping UND to a second consecutive Frozen Four appearance. Other than being an NCAA champion, Jordan Schmaltz helped UND keep it's tradition-rich hockey program alive and well.

"Being at the college level, I definitely grew from my freshman year to my junior year," Schmaltz said. "Working with the staff there, they definitely helped me improve on the defensive side and in the weight room, too.  I've put on almost 20 pounds now. I'm ready for the next step and couldn't be more excited."

As Schmaltz said, he is taking the next step and it's time for him to do just that. He was in attendance at Blues prospects camp recently for the fourth straight year. Some would question why a first round pick, or anyone for that matter, would need to attend a prospects camp so many times.

For Schmaltz, the first two didn't include on-ice activities; just weight training and off-ice things.

But for Schmaltz, there was the chance to return for a fourth and final season at North Dakota, but the Blues feel that it's time for one of their first round picks to make the advancement and move on up the ladder.

"His next step is to understand what a pro's all about," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of amateur scouting, talking about Schmaltz. "He's coming out of college and he spent three years there, three good years. He's played some big games for North Dakota, but this will be a step up and now this is a man's game. Battles are won and lost all over the ice and ice time is lost and gained over won and lost battles. That's one thing he's going to have to understand and understand that the pro game is a lot different and hopefully with his maturity and his age now, he can understand that. Playing in some key games over those last three years at North Dakota should help him."

Schmaltz didn't leave because of the coaching change at UND. 

"No, not at all," he said. "Dave and Brad Berry now being as coach, they're both unbelievable coaches and unbelievable guys. ... It's tough leaving, but it was time to make the next step in my career and turn pro."

Schmaltz, who had 13 goals and 64 points in 125 games at UND, has to take that next leap forward in order to prolong his advancement.

"I think just getting introduced and acclimated with the pro game," Schmaltz said of the biggest differences he may encounter. "There's a lot more games; there's 80 instead of 40 now. I think I just have to come to camp and compete and see where that takes me."

Schmaltz will arrive again in September and participate in Blues training camp. His next likely destination is with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. And although it's understandable if there are some challenging learning curves at the pro level, Schmaltz will let his brother continue the family name at UND while he continues the process of making the Schmaltz name a household name at the professional level.
(Getty Images)
Jordan Schmaltz (24) helped North Dakota to back-to-back NCAA Frozen
Four appearances. 

And in the Blues' case, it all means continue that excellence of growing blueliners that thrive at the NHL level.

"This is the real deal now. I'm looking forward to it," Schmaltz said. "... I don't really have any pressure on me. I've just got to play my game and see where I fall.

"Some guys are ready within a year and some guys are ready within four years. It all depends on a guy's learning curve."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Parayko continues to climb Blues' prospect depth chart

Defenseman adds strong camp to an already impressive resume

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- At 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, it would be most difficult to not notice Colton Parayko.

To say the least, it would be safe to assume Parayko would be one of the more imposing figures walking into any locker room.

However, as difficult as it may seem for Parayko, the Blues' third round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, he's gone unnoticed for most of his hockey life.

Playing for the St. Albert Flyers in 2008-09 and for the St. Albert Crusaders in 2009-10, little fanfare comes from those options. Then when Parayko made the move to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2010 and 2011, it was another step in the process for the St. Albert, Alberta native.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Colton Parayko (pictured) left another strong mark
at Blues prospect camp last week. 

"I was just the sixth or seventh d-man, kind of in and out of the lineup my first year," Parayko said recently at the Blues prospect camp.

Parayko, 22, is used to working his way up a lineup. It was a way of life playing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for three seasons beginning in 2012. Nobody knew much about the Nanooks.

"When I got there, I kept working hard and kept moving forward as every year progressed," Parayko said. "It's kind of isolated and a smaller school for sure. It was pretty neat to go there and just be there as a player."

But the Blues had scouted a large, imposing figure and were well aware of Parayko's rising stock.

They took a chance on a raw figure that had great potential. Parayko had six goals and 23 points in 34 games at Fairbanks last season, but the Blues thought so much of him, they signed him to a three-year entry-level contract immediately last season and ushered Parayko to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League immediately, and thus, use a year of eligibility on him.

Parayko had arrived and made an immediate impact with the Wolves.

"I felt like I played a pretty strong game in Chicago," said Parayko, who had four goals and seven points in 17 games. "I had the opportunity to play some special teams as well as regular ice time. They really trusted me, which is great. They treated me really well. That obviously helped my situation out. When I was brought in, the guys were great, the coaching staff. Everyone associated with the team was great. That made everything so much easier. 

"Obviously I was a little nervous heading in there. I wasn't sure what to expect, what exactly pro hockey was going to be like. Maybe the intensity was a little bit higher, but I don't think anything really overwhelmed me. I think I was expecting to come in and work really hard."

And when Parayko arrived for Blues prospect camp, it was tough to take ones eyes off his ability to move at a crisp pace for a guy his size as well as puck-handle his way through fellow prospects during scrimmages.

"Colton Parayko is different from a lot of players his size," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development. "His mobility is his biggest asset. He can stop and start again, he closes gaps pretty quickly. Offensively, he's got a great shot, he sees the ice, he's strong on the puck. 

"The one thing that's above everyone else is his work ethic. No one comes in after a draft and two years later, add 25-26 pounds added on to their frame and lose two or three percent body fat. His work ethic is second to no one I've seen so far as a young prospect. That alone gives him a huge advantage over a lot of players."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
At 6-5, 218 pounds, Colton Parayko continues to shoot his way up the Blues'
rankings among defensive prospects.

A two-way defenseman who is comfortable playing in both zones, Parayko won't change his ways. He's always felt that his best attribute is his work ethic. It's enabled him to progress step by step at each challenge faced. And although Parayko is destined for a full season with the Wolves, he will arrive at the Blues' training camp looking to leave a mark.

Just as Parayko's done at each destination. 

"It's all part of the process," Parayko said. "You can't go in with the mindset that you're going to make anything or you should be somewhere. You have to come with an open mindset and just embrace anything you can and be anywhere that you'll be. That's just the way you have to look at it and keep your mind open and your eyes open to everything. Just work hard, bury your head and embrace the role that you're put into wherever you are or whatever it may be."