By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- David Perron and some of his teammates have been hearing about the youth/kid label for some time. It's been all about the learning curve.
But there comes a time when a player has to grab the bull by the horns.
If the Blues are going to take that step to the next level, Perron, along with the likes of T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Erik Johnson, Alex Steen and others, are the ones that must lead the way. And that time is now.
With a new two-year, $4.3-million contract extension signed, sealed and delivered on Wednesday, it's up to the 22-year-old Perron to continue the ascension into a core player.
A restricted free agent, Perron went into the third week of NHL free agency but in the end, got a nice raise from the Blues ($1.8 million next season and $2.5 million for 2011-12) and understands the time is now for the Blues' "kids" to become the players fans have expected them to be.
"I'm really excited right now," Perron said. "... I love the way the team is going to look for the next few years. It's awesome that I'm going to be a part of that."
Since joining the Blues as an 18-year-old first-round draft pick (No. 26 overall) in 2007, Perron has netted 48 goals and 124 points in three seasons, including a career-best 20 goals in 2009-10 and 50 points in 2008-09.
"David coming from where he was drafted and making the NHL his first year, he's earned everything he's gotten as a Blue," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He wasn't expected to make it the first year. He had very good players play in front of him and had to earn the power play time, and the ice time given to him. I think he's progressed on and off the ice very well. Now he's gotten that experience and he's going to be more prepared to be a consistent factor offensively for us. One of the necessities on this team is a good two-way player. We think he's an excellent two-way player."
Perron, a Sherbrooke, Quebec native, will be asked to improve upon his 47-point season a year ago for the Blues to become contenders instead of bystanders when the playoffs roll around.
And with the Blues not having signed any offensive players through free agency, it's a sign of faith from management, which is expecting the current crop of players to step up and take the franchise to the next level. That's fine as far as Perron is concerned.
"If that's what they're going to do, that means they think we can do it," Perron said. "As hockey players, that's what we want. I think on my part, I'm really happy to see things work out that way. I'm sure all the other players are thinking the same. We have a really good group. With a couple guys coming off the books, we have to step in and not be in their shadows anymore. We have to be the front guys and really play like it, too."
Translation: no Keith Tkachuk and no Paul Kariya. That's 940 goals and 2,054 career points no longer on a Blues roster that will now move into a new era.
So for the Blues to move forward, it's time for Perron and others to become that core cast instead of the supporting cast.
"That's what they want is to do and that's what we want to do," Perron said. "We all have the talent to do it. We all have to put the work in moving forward. Working with (head coach) Davis Payne is going to be a lot of fun as well. I'm really excited to all of that."
Armstrong said the time is now. And there's not a better time than the present for the transition to begin.
"Yeah, I think the opportunity is there like it's never been before," he said. "I've said in the past, you have veteran players who earned the respect they were given. But now we're a team with more middle-aged younger players, and the respect is going to be earned now. They've earned the right to basically show us that they're good enough to be those elite players that played here before them."
Perron, who went from 13 goals and 14 assists as a rookie to 15 goals and 35 assists to 20 goals and 27 assists this past season, is anxious to get the new season started. He feels like the Blues can be the next Philadelphia or Montreal.
"The biggest goal for any hockey player is to win the Cup," Perron said. "I think it's something we have to look at right now. If you look at Philadelphia and Montreal, they went really deep in the playoffs and Philadelphia almost won the Cup. It means that the Blues are ready for that, too. Players have to play like that, too. I'm one of them. I like the direction the team is going."
And taking a two-year deal instead of long-term security as a 22-year-old was fine for Perron, who will use the next couple seasons to enhance his skills and become that elite player when it's time for another deal.
"I'm really comfortable with two years," Perron said. "As a hockey player, all you have to do is go out there and work and have some fun. Everything else will take care of itself. As hockey players, you want to see what the organization wants to do. You want to see if they want to go longer or shorter. Two years is perfect and I'm excited, and I think they're excited as well.
"I was never nervous that we weren't going to get anything done. I always felt we would (get a deal done). In negotiations, we worked really well with Doug and my agent (Allan Walsh). All I want to do right now is play hockey. I'm really excited to be back. I think it's going to be a fun couple years. I'm ready to take the next step and focus on that and not worry too much about the other things."
And the guy that wants to play hockey is something the Blues organization has noticed since the day Perron stepped into Scottrade Center ice.
"I told that to David and his agent ... I hope he never changes that," Armstrong said. "He loves to play, he loves to be at the rink. He is singularly focused on hockey. That's the strength of what he brings to hockey. It sets a high standard."
Armstrong said he has no qualm issuing a short-term deal.
"I just think our young players, when they're coming out of entry level, they've all progressed, but they haven't been defined," Armstrong said. "We want to pay our players fairly. We hope to have the highest-paid players in the game because that means they are the most talented and most recognizable and they've earned that right. By taking contracts at shorter term, you allow them to grow and make a fair-market value moving forward. We're just looking to be fair."
If things don't work out in the NHL, Perron can always join the media ranks. He's among the most popular NHL players on Twitter and even wanted to make the official announcement of his signing.
"As soon as I wrote it, I think it's fun for the fans to see it from me first," Perron said. "I think it was a pretty good idea. That's one thing, you want to be close to your fans. They make you feel good about yourself and, to a point, play better on the ice. When you score a goal, it's amazing how many people come up to you and say good job. It's fun to see everybody's opinion."