After career season, team's No. 2 center
determined to be even better next year
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After suffering through a 'Sophomore Slump' that saw the Blues quietly wonder if he was worth the No. 1 pick they spent on him, Patrik Berglund decided it was time for a change.
A change in eating habits: check.
A change in sleeping habits: check.
Taking better care of his body: check.
And most importantly, the workout regimen: check.
It all started last summer, when Berglund decided to spend most of it here in St. Louis instead of heading back to his native Sweden.
After posting career highs in goals (22), assists (30) and points (52) this past season, it's no wonder the Vasteras, Sweden native and 2006 first-round pick (25th overall) won't alter his routine entirely heading into this summer.
Since his arrival, Berglund, 22, has shown glimpses of that tall, big-bodied, hard-to-handle, control-the-puck by utilizing his size center iceman that placed him among that crop of first round picks in '06.
But after a promising rookie season that produced 21 goals and 47 points, it slipped drastically to 13 goals and 26 points a season ago.
There were whispers that Berglund, at 6-foot-4, 218-pounds, could be trade bait. Maybe the Blues were ready to cut the cord. There were signs of a lack of confidence and more noticeably, a lack of dedication.
It prompted Berglund to make the necessary changes.
And after three seasons, but it appears Berglund finally gets it.
"It's been a really fun year for me. I think I took a big step," Berglund said. "I know I had a good year my rookie year and a sophomore slump last year, but this year, it was more play, more maturity, (being) bigger, stronger, trying to play and show everyone that I'm here to stay. I want to be a part of this team for a long time. Obviously I want to work to become a leader on this team in the future. I think I'm on the right track.
"I'm going to go home, I'm going to take it easy, I'm going to reload my batteries and come back even stronger."
Berglund is headed home for a bit not just to "take it easy" but to play some more hockey. His season isn't done quite yet. He will represent his native Sweden at the IIHF World Championships, which commences April 29 and concludes May 15 in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia.
"It's pretty much going to be the same," Berglund said of his summer routine. "I'm going to be in Sweden more, to play in the World Championships. It's a little different, but it will for sure be kind of the same. I'm going to try and work out the same and do a lot of what I did last summer for sure."
Blues coach Davis Payne noticed a much more mature and dedicated player who entered training camp last September. And despite some ups and downs early in the season, Berglund stuck with his game plan and finally turned into the more consistent and reliable No. 2 center the Blues have been searching for.
"I think when you're talking about the progression of a player and the development of a player, the proof is in being around him every single day and you see here's a guy who's first at the rink for every situation," Payne said. "He's first in the gym. He's first for every meeting. It's a situation where he wasn't looking for immediate success. He wasn't looking for one quick solution to his game. He wasn't looking for one quick answer to be that dominant center or a dominant top-six player in the league. He stayed with it. He didn't have immediate feedback on how his success was going to look. He stayed disciplined, he stayed committed to it, and he's seeing the benefits of that."
Before the Blues cleaned out their lockers and went their own separate ways, Berglund talked about being determined not to be content and will come into 2011-12 a hungrier and a more determined player to ascend to the next level. He's focused on raising the bar and elevating not only his play but his numbers as well. It was a primary focus a year ago.
"It's completely up to you what you want to do. I wanted to take a big step," Berglund said. "I wanted to move forward ... and I did.
"I can look back and (realize) it was a good thing for me to stick around to work on stuff that I wouldn't do at home. I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep going. I'm happy with the way I performed. I just want to keep moving (forward). I'm excited about the summer."
Payne conducts exit conversations with all his players and was obviously impressed just how motivated Berglund is.
"I think when you have the conversations with him, when he's able to understand just where he is now, I think he's more motivated now than he was at the end of last year based on what he sees is possible," Payne said. "That to me is extremely exciting to look forward to, a big-bodied center who now understands how he can play in this league, how he can defend in this league, you no longer have to play him out of situations.
"A year ago, there would be teams targeting his line trying to attack them offensively ... you don't see that anymore. That's a credit to him on both sides. Not just the production, but the attention to the detail, the attention to his own zone. He wants to be that player. He's motivated to be that player. When you're around him every day, you feel good about that going forward."
The Blues are not expected to make any major transactions this summer. They're going to need Berglund to assert himself even more as that second-line center and be a fixture among the top six forwards on this team.
Berglund becomes a restricted free agent on July 1 unless he signs a contract before that but will undoubtedly earn one with the Blues even if he doesn't get one by then.
"I'm happy with what I did, but you've got to move on and get better," Berglund said. "I want to keep moving forward. I don't want to stop there. That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to be serious, I'm going to take it day by day and work hard."