Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Berglund quietly making his mark

Center is second on team in points, shaking off sophomore slump

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the summer months kicked in this past season, Patrik Berglund took it upon himself to do what was right for his career.

When Berglund was looking ahead to the 2010-11 season, he was looking to make drastic changes to his lifestyle both on and off the ice to better himself as a hockey player.

Berglund spent the summer here in St. Louis. He trained hard, he worked out vigorously, he ate properly, he rested accordingly, among other vital habits.

If there has been a knack on Berglund's National Hockey League career, it's been defined by one word: inconsistent.

But one thing those following the Vasteras, Sweden native must keep in perspective is that he's only 22 years old.

However, it goes to show those critical of the 2006 first-round pick that he has taken on a maturation process.

"He comes to the rink each day knowing that he's going to play a huge part," Blues coach Davis Payne said of his second-line center. "His level and his correction to any sort of play has been immediate. The next morning, the conversation knowing that he wasn't good enough and that he'll be better, he's usually got his game directed very quickly. That's the sign of not only a kid who's maturing but a guy who's increasing in that mental toughness area."

Berglund, coming off a disappointing sophomore season of 13 goals and 26 points, has had some inconsistent games so far through 19 games for the Blues this season, but he is second on the team to Andy McDonald in points with 13 (five goals, eight assists). So he's already half way to his entire output of a season ago.

At this pace, Berglund will set career highs in goals (22), assists (34) and points (56) based on the quarter projection that the Blues will hit when they face the Nashville Predators tonight in Nashville.

To say Berglund has quietly put up the second-best point output on the team would be stating the obvious. He's quiet and soft-spoken by nature.

"I have gotten some points and I think being stronger on the puck and playing on the inside has allowed me to do that," Berglund said. "I know I have some skill, and when the puck's close, you know you can use that skill."

The key is having the puck around him at all times, which Berglund was not doing a season ago.

Berglund would get himself caught playing the game along the boards instead of using that 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame. But working extensively at times with assistant coach Scott Mellanby has given Berglund a different perspective of the game. And it's paying off in positive fashion.

"You have to be strong in there, but you get more into the games when you're around all the plays," Berglund said, who is also making a point of improving his play in the defensive end of the ice as well. "Before, when you're spending too much on the outside, you're not part of the plays and you don't really know what you're going to do when you get the pucks. I get the puck more on the inside and that's what I'm going to keep doing."

Berglund began the season flanked by McDonald and Brad Boyes as his wingers but now plays with the flashy Matt D'Agostini and big-bodied Brad Winchester. Regardless of who's playing with Berglund, the goals remain the same. The game doesn't change.

Needless to say, the start to this season has gone a whole lot better than at this time a season ago when, at times, Berglund was aghast on the ice and struggling with his confidence.

"It's gone a whole lot differently than last year obviously," said Berglund, who after 19 games a season ago had five points (three goals, two assists). "I think I'm just more part of the game, I'm more stronger on the puck out there. That's the reason I'm playing better."

Added D'Agostini, "Bergy's the kind of guy who can be an elite player in this league. He's got the size, the speed and the skill to take over games ... to be a dynamic player in this league. He's showed good glimpses of it when he carries that puck in. He uses his body and his strength to guard off people.

"He creates space and he's got a lot of speed so he's always up in the play," D'Agostini said. "He's good defensively. We've been kind of struggling the last couple games (as a line), but at the same time, we're getting some goals. We know we've got another level we can kick in so hopefully we get there."

Berglund, who saw a five-game point streak snapped Saturday against New Jersey (one goal, seven assists), knows the bar has been raised. And he's approaching each challenge as if he has something to prove.

"His bar has come up, so we've seen some levels of above," Payne said. "We've still seen some inconsistencies, but that has been at a much higher performance level. A degree of variance, if you want to call it that, has been a higher level of play. We feel he's doing the right things on his line. There are certainly some things we feel he can do better on some nights, but for the better part of 19 games so far, he's been responsible in his own end, he's been diligent on the forecheck, he's been shooting pucks and getting to the right areas and he looks real comfortable with the situation on the power plays. He's executing like we know he's capable of doing. It's up to us to make sure we're continuing to push and get better every day."

Streaky play is what Berglund is trying to avoid. And when games don't go accordingly, he's allowing the mental toughness to help him get past it and look ahead.

"Those bad games, I have been maturing," Berglund said. "When you have those bad games, yeah it's not a lot of fun, but you let it go and you move onto the next one.

"Maybe before you were thinking about it too much. I think we have good balance on the team too, so you don't have too much on your head after a game like that. Obviously, you take a look at a couple things you can improve on and after that, you can move on. I think one day, it's enough thinking about a (bad) game and then you move onto the next one and you're ready to roll. You know what you have to do and you take out a couple points in your head that you want to be good at in the (next) game and go from there."

Berglund, who has 86 career points in 166 games, feels that there's never a time when a player will peak. As long as he plays, he says he'll strive to improve.

"He's very conscious of his play," Payne said of Berglund. "He's very aware of what the good performance is and what the poor performance is. Sometimes with an athlete, that's half the battle. It's very easy to point out things that he can get better at. He's very willing to work on those to emphasize those so he is better the next time out."

Added Berglund, who is a plus-4 this season, "I can develop every game for my entire career. You will never be perfect. There's always stuff you can work on. I'm enjoying that part and it allows me to be a better player."

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