Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shattenkirk young, successful on many levels

Blues defenseman, No. 1 pick motivated by trade at young age

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Doug Armstrong swung the trade that many suggested had the most impact of this 2010-11 NHL season, he targeted Colorado power forward Chris Stewart.

That's no secret. The Blues felt like they had a pressing need.

But make no mistake, the trade that sent Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a No. 1 pick to Colorado doesn't happen unless the Avalanche included defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

In losing Johnson, it created a big gap on the Blues' blue line.

The Blues knew what they were getting in Stewart, and the Avalanche coveted Johnson. Each player filled a need for their respective new clubs and were the centerpieces of the deal that was announced in the early hours of Feb. 19.

But Shattenkirk, a 22-year-old first-round pick in 2007 (14th overall) out of Boston University, is considered by many to be the wildcard of the trade. The Blues are banking on having a pair difference-makers heading into the future.

So instead of mulling at the fact of why Colorado did not want him anymore, the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Shattenkirk has chosen to take the high road and is motivated in playing for his new team ... one that coveted him to begin with.

"You have to look at it as the Blues wanted me," said Shattenkirk, who has six assists and is a plus-4 in 13 games with the Blues. "Just in talking to Mr. Armstrong, he made it clear that he wanted me to be a part of the trade, and he wouldn't have done it otherwise. That just gives me a lot of confidence coming in.

"I don't think you can look at it as a team not wanting you. That's just the way the business works these days. You can't really hold grudges."

The Blues knew what they were getting in Shattenkirk and certainly did their homework.

The Greenwich, Connecticut native committed to the Terriers after spending two seasons with the United States Developmental Program's U-17 and U-18 squads, where he won a silver medal with the U-17's in the World Hockey Challenge and the World U-18 Championships.

Shattenkirk went on to represent the U.S. at the World Junior Championships in 2009 and was considered one of the best defenseman in the tournament, where he led all D-men in points with nine. He was an alternate captain of the squad.

After three seasons with Boston University where he totaled 18 goals and 60 points, won a Frozen Four championship in 2008-09 and named captain his junior season in 2009-10, Shattenkirk was signed to an amateur try-out contract with the Lake Erie Monsters -- the Avalanche's AHL affiliate -- to conclude the '09-10 season, recording two assists in three games.

Shattenkirk would begin the following season with the Monsters, but after Avs defenseman Kyle Cumiskey suffered a concussion earlier this season, Shattenkirk was recalled in early November.

He hasn't left the NHL ever since.

Shattenkirk racked up seven goals and 26 points in 46 games with the Avalanche and was among the top rookies in points.

"I don't think I could have been more fortunate with the situations that I've come into," Shattenkirk admitted. "A young team in Colorado and an injury there allowed me to get called up. Getting traded here, it's kind of the same situation with a lot of young D and spots to fight for.

"It's not like I'm going to the Red Wings or the Blackhawks where they have their defense locked up. It's definitely a great opportunity for me to succeed."

After his acquisition from Colorado, the Blues have given Shattenkirk, known more for his offensive capabilities, an opportunity to succeed as well.

So far, so good.

"We're very high on his abilities to make plays and to add to the power play," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Shattenkirk. "Second to that is to make sure he becomes a better defender so that his minutes are even that much more valuable.

"We've seen some real quality play as far as his defensive anticipation goes, his stick reads, his denying opportunities. As he continues to push forward, his skills and assets are always going to be there. It's making sure that we add to his game."

Despite early success in the NHL, why would the Avalanche give up on a highly-touted player, a No. 1 pick no less than four years ago from draft day? It's easy for someone that age with limited experience to wonder what he did wrong.

"At first, I was really disappointed and a little hard on myself," Shattenkirk said. "But just looking at it now, I think maybe down the line, it would have happened. To get it out of the way now at a young age and really learn from it is going to be important for me."

Shattenkirk, who's been paired most recently with Ian Cole, a teammate on the U.S. U-17 and U-18 squads, understands that he has basically changed spots with Johnson, the top overall pick of 2006. Shattenkirk's not here to be Johnson and that can't deter Shattenkirk from being the player he is and doing what he does best.

"He's an extremely high-skilled defenseman," Cole said of Shattenkirk. "When he got traded here ... EJ was a great guy. I've gotten along with him, got to know him ... almost longer than I've known Shatty, but at the same time, I played with Shatty on the (U.S.) World Junior team. He's a great player, highly skilled, offensive and can wheel.

"As far as a defensive partner goes, (Eric Brewer) was there for me earlier this year, but it's nice to have someone there you're very familiar with."

Shattenkirk has already displayed an uncanny ability to join in the Blues' rush and attack offensively, an element Johnson was criticized and questioned at times for here in St. Louis.

"A huge part of my game is joining the rush, trying to be an offensive element," Shattenkirk said. "At the same time, trying to take care of my responsibilities defensively, that's something that can always improve. No matter how long you've been playing, the game changes and guys get faster. That's something you have to adjust to every year. That's probably been the biggest adjustment for me this year and the biggest area of focus.

"It's high-risk, high-reward," Shattenkirk added about being offensive. "You just have to pick your spots and not be reckless out there."

Shattenkirk is in the first year of a three-year, entry-level contract before he can become a restricted free agent following the 2013-14 season. In the meantime, the Blues feel like they have a blossoming gem on their hands. Maybe in that same mold of Alex Pietrangelo, who was the fourth overall pick of 2008.

"When we look at him from the beginning of the year til the trade and from the trade til now, he's a guy that has always taken more opportunity and run with it," Payne said of Shattenkirk. "He continues to do that here and that's exciting for us."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled defenseman Nathan Oystrick from Peoria under emergency conditions because of the uncertainty of Nikita Nikitin (hand/finger) and Tyson Strachan (concussion).

Oystrick was suspended six games in the AHL for leaving the bench and getting into a fight Friday in Chicago. His suspension is on hold while with the Blues and will begin serving it once he returns.

Both Nikitin and Strachan were on the ice Tuesday and both made the trip out west, where the Blues begin a four-game swing in Anaheim today at 9 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM). Strachan cleared his baseline concussion test on Monday.

Also, center Philip McRae (knee) practiced with the squad and Payne indicated that McRae is, "Close. At some point during the trip, he'll be ready to play."

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