Center ready to build off career numbers, feels he can be among game's best
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Patrik Berglund first pulled a Blues jersey at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, there was a teenager with a boyish, rock-star image. A young Swedish talent with shoulder-length blond locks who, like a number of others before him, felt like he could cross the Atlantic into North America and conquer the greatest league in the world without the understanding of the challenges lie ahead.
No sweat. Just do what comes naturally and the rewards will come. No work and all play.
Berglund, a first-round pick (26th overall) in 2006, posted impressive rookie numbers with 21 goals and 47 points in 76 games which also included a plus-19. But in hindsight, it may have been the worst possible scenario to occur for the Vasteras, Sweden native.
(Getty Images)Patrik Berglund (left) celebrates a goal against Chicago last season.
"You come in and think you have everything all figured out," Berglund said Thursday. "I don't think that was a good way to come in here.
"I did have good numbers, but mentally and physically, I was not where I needed to be."
Fans felt like this would immediately become a special talent. The rookie numbers were in black and white.
They weren't wrong.
Berglund was a talented player. The talent is still there. But somehow, he got lost in the shuffle and could only regain his balance and focus through hard work and determination.
At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, the tools were there physically for sure. But when Berglund went into the proverbial 'Sophomore Slump' and lost his confidence under then head coach Andy Murray and his system, the walls began to cave in.
The 2009-10 season only produced 13 goals and 26 points, drastic drop-offs in both offensive categories from the rookie campaign. Berglund's ice time dwindled, and his role on the team also faded.
"I really feel like it was good for me to go through some of those bumps and bruises in the road," Berglund said. "... You'll always bump into things that you have to deal with. From the beginning, I was pretty shaky. I did have a pretty good rookie year, but I was far away from home and all those things played into it. I had a lot of growing up to do."
It all started last summer. Berglund changed his habits in general. Workouts were different. No more extended trips back home to Sweden to allow the time to pass away and put in the occasional workout. He ate properly, slept properly, went about normal daily habits in a different light.
"I saw a lot of results right away," Berglund said. "I felt great at the time and you just want more of it. ... I've been doing the same this summer, and I feel great."
Starting last season under coach Davis Payne, Berglund didn't exactly light it up offensively at the outset but that was okay. Because something suddenly clicked.
Here was an 18-, 19-year-old that just tore through a couple 20-plus goal and 50-point seasons playing for his hometown Vik Vasteras HK, then catching lightning in a bottle in his rookie season in the NHL.
(Getty Images)Patrik Berglund (21) set career highs in goals, assists and points last year.
But when things didn't go according to plan, changes needed to be made. Payne and the Blues' coaching staff outlined a plan for their tall and talented center. Becoming more responsible at both ends of the ice was what was going to get Berglund more ice time and in essence, more opportunity.
In other words, take care of the ice around you, and the rewards will come.
It produced career-highs in goals (22), assists (30) and points (52) in 81 games before Berglund went to Slovakia to represent his native Sweden in the IIHF World Championships, where he was named to the tournament All-Star team and helped Sweden to a silver medal.
"It was a great experience and it's something I'll never forget," Berglund said of the World Championships, finishing with eight goals and 10 points. "I came in and I really felt like I was a leader on the team and I went out there and tried to lead the way. The puck went in, too, so that made it even better.
"I've always wanted to be a player the team can trust all over the ice and once I embraced a role on both ends of the ice, I feel like I've contributed well and the coaches trust me with the ice time in critical situations. I want to play as much as I can. I've picked up some good things from coaches and players along the way and it's helped me feel focused and always ready to play."
With expectations as high as they are for the Blues as the 2011-12 season approaches, Berglund is expected to pick up where he left off last season ... and maybe even take it a grade or two higher.
He was rewarded with a new two-year, $4.5 million contract and is as focused as ever.
"If he stays on that projection, I think we're in a good spot with Bergy," Payne said. "I think Bergy believes what he's capable of doing.
"You saw in the second half (last year) his willingness to have an impact or his intention to have an impact on the play. You saw him take his year and become reliable in his own end. You saw him work on face-offs. His preparation is why we saw such a steady progression and he understands that. He's taken it to a new level this summer. He had a great World Championship (and) it boosted his confidence. His opinion of himself and what he can do and what he believes he can do ... we feel real good about where Bergy is."
Added general manager Doug Armstrong, "(Anaheim's) Ryan Getzlaf, it's not how good his good games are that separates him or (San Jose's) Joe Thornton, it's how good his bad games are. That's how we look at Berglund. We know what the top end is going to be, but now, the floor is higher than it's ever been. That's how I look at it going in. You have to know what you're going to get on a nightly basis. ... We're looking for the floor to be raised on that age of the player to where they're consistent now, to where they're going to have their great games but their bad games are still NHL-caliber games."
Berglund, 23, feels good about where he is as well as the Blues, but he also understands there's more where that came from. There's more to achieve and with the effort he's putting into his progress, boundless opportunities exist.
"I'm not satisfied. I want to keep developing," Berglund said. "That's the only thing I'm thinking about when I'm working now.
"I had a great year, but I don't want to stop. I want to be ... this year, in five years, I want to be a player that is one of the best in the league. That's my goal. I know I can get there if I work hard and things go my way. That's my belief. I think it's important to have those expectations on yourself and not just be happy you had a good year. ... If I play well all over the ice, the results will show. We'll see where it takes me."
Look for Berglund to anchor the second line with close friend T.J. Oshie and power forward Chris Stewart. The potential could be limitless.
"It really took a while, but I feel really comfortable now," Berglund said. "I love St. Louis."