Given opportunity early in career, 22-year-old
BU product has made most of unique opportunity
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The path for a defenseman trying to make it in the National Hockey League can be the most challenging journey. It's certainly not the easiest position to learn.
Many have faced a number of obstacles with a plethora of ups and downs. However, some are fortunate enough to cut the path down a road and make a smooth transition.
For Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, not only has it been a smooth transition but a quick path to the NHL has reaped many rewards as well.
Kevin Shattenkirk's NHL career has started off well. The Blues are reaping the
early rewards and hope for a long and prosperous career in St. Louis.
Shattenkirk, 22, doesn't have an extensive minor league resume. In fact, the 14th overall pick in 2007 has played in more NHL games in his career (72) than he has in the American Hockey League (13). It took teammate Alex Pietrangelo, the No. 4 overall pick in 2008, 180 games in the Ontario Hockey League before the Blues felt he was NHL-ready.
"I think I've just had a great opportunity to play (in the NHL)," Shattenkirk said. "Everyone always talks about making the most of your opportunity when it comes. ... I was fortunate there was an injury and you hate for that to be the case, but when I went up, it was a leave-it-all-up-there-and-play-my-hardest-type of mentality.
Shattenkirk is best described as a fluid, puck-moving defenseman that the Blues learned last season was far more polished than a common rookie. His best attributes include moving the puck from the defensive to offensive zone and joining the rush, giving the Blues three of those players (Pietrangelo and Carlo Colaiacovo), a quality unfounded in other organizations.
"With every level that you step up, there's obviously an adjustment period," Shattenkirk said. "The first thing that I noticed playing up was the speed and obviously the talent of all the players. Originally I was being matched up against third- and fourth-line players for most teams. These players are all so great that they can all hurt you. I found that the most glaring thing is as soon as you make a mistake, somebody's capitalizing on it. That was the one real big part of the game that stuck out to me."
Shattenkirk was in Colorado when Avs defenseman Kyle Cumiskey suffered a concussion and was sidelined indefinitely early last season. The Boston University product has made the most of that opportunity and hasn't left the league since despite feeling like he could have definitely used an extended dose of AHL seasoning.
"I think he's got a high level of IQ," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Shattenkirk. "He's creative and sees the game within his skills. He's able to make plays, not only with the puck but with his feet. That gets you a certain point. I think as he grows stronger and more experienced in his situations, I think he's going to get nothing but better.
"Some guys, it may take them 1,000 times in a single situation to get a feel for it. Some guys 500. Whether that's a rush or whether that's a certain rep or play. He can get a pretty good feel for it. I don't think anybody's all the way there but we're making good progress."
Shattenkirk's progress is quite evident. He thrived after his call-up by Avalanche, tallying 19 assists and 26 points in 46 games while getting prime minutes and playing in all key situations. It says a lot for a first-year player.
"I really haven't been able to comprehend it all," Shattenkirk said modestly. "I'm definitely still learning a lot. I still have a lot of areas to improve on. I think with all my coaches along the way, they told me to just keep it really simple and play my game. That allows you to adjust as time passes by. It makes it a little easier to follow the play.
"As soon as I got to Colorado, they put me on the power play. I really had a chance to shine and it's the same thing here."
Shattenkirk credits Lake Erie coach Dave Quinn and John Riley, the regional scout for the Philadelphia Flyers with much of his youth and development.
"John Riley was huge for me," Shattenkirk said. "Something he taught me along the way that I still use today is to play outside my comfort level and during practice, do things that I may not normally try and do during a game just to become more comfortable with it. When the time comes, you're ready for it. That was just a key asset growing up, playing with older players and things like that.
"Once I got to college and even Lake Erie, Dave Quinn did huge things for my game. Defensively, just got on me to skate. I seemed to have these lapses where I don't move my feet and I'm planting my feet in the ice and I can't seem to get out of that funk. When I was sent down last year, he really made it a point in practice to stay on me and make sure I was moving my feet as much as possible."
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (left) in action against his former team
As well as things seemed to go for Shattenkirk in Colorado, he was a minus-11 on the ice for a team floundering. It wasn't long after when Shattenkirk was slapped with a cold dose of reality.
It's called the business side of the NHL.
When the trade went down between the Blues and Avalanche in February, Shattenkirk was part of the blockbuster that shipped he and Chris Stewart here and former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson going the other way.
Some would view that as a sign that someone was giving up on you. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Shattenkirk was given another chance to shine in the NHL. The Blues haven't been disappointed.
"Without a doubt it was one of the best things that happened to me last year," Shattenkirk said of getting traded. "I think that was my first real taste of the business aspect of hockey. Coming from college, you don't really experience that much. It really was, at first, very shocking to me. I had no idea that it was even going to happen. Looking back now, I couldn't be happier with it. What I learned from it, it's going to be extremely beneficial down the line and it really slapped me in the face and said, 'Hey, you're a professional now. This is what can happen.'"
Shattenkirk finished last season with nine goals and 43 points, the most points and assists (34) by a rookie defenseman.
When Shattenkirk came to the Blues, he scored twice and added 15 assists in 26 games and really embraced a role that has seen veterans Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo take him on in a mentor role.
"I've learned a ton. ... It was two guys that really stepped up and made me feel comfortable and right away, I just started telling myself to play my game and to help out," Shattenkirk said. "That goes straight to the coaching staff as well. The best thing coach (Brad) Shaw has done for me is calming me down in the game if things aren't going my way. He's a great voice of reason."
Shattenkirk would like to take that voice of reason and along with Pietrangelo, be one of the faces of this franchise for years to come.
"I want to be someone who the coaches feel comfortable putting out in every situation," Shattenkirk said, who would relish more minutes per game after averaging 19:50 last season. "I definitely have some growing room in the penalty kill area and the defensive zone. I think this year, one of my goals is to really earn that trust from the coaches and to really show that I can be out there in crucial situations and they don't have to worry about it.
"Coming into the team, I just wanted to bring my strengths. Things were very successful last year. You look at a guy like Petro, he's going to be an all-star for years to come. I hope to just kind of keep up with him as much as I can."