Defensmen selected in top four will face off for first time in playoff series
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The evolution of a player in terms of starting an NHL career and firmly establishing one's presence can certainly take plenty of time.
It can be measured in a number of years before a player's potential is in full bloom.
But looking at the draft class of 2008, particularly among the defensemen, they've made their mark on the NHL in such a short span.
And when the Nos. 2 and 4 picks [Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo] lock horns in the upcoming Western Conference Semifinal series, one gets the sense that both will look to be impact players for their respective squads.
"It's going to be a tough series and we're both going to be trying to make an impact," Pietrangelo said.
Doughty, Pietrangelo, the New York Rangers' Michael Del Zotto [20th pick] as well as Phoenix left winger Mikkel Boedker [eighth pick] are all represented in the NHL's second round of this year's postseason and all have been resourceful players for their respective teams.
"There's a lot of good, young players in the league right now, especially defensemen," Pietrangelo said. "You've got guys like Del Zotto and [Buffalo's Tyler] Myers [12th pick] and [Winnipeg's Zach] Bogosian [third pick] in that draft ... the list could probably go on and on of players that have made the jump and had impacts. It's all fun to be a part of it. You see those guys around the rink ... we went through all that draft process together. To see everyone having success, it's fun to see."
Pietrangelo and Doughty, who made the jump to the Kings a year earlier than Pietrangelo made it with the Blues, don't necessarily have a relationship with one another other than competition against each other, particularly in the OHL.
They'll get to know each other quite a bit in this series and certainly there's a respect factor there.
"I played against him a bit in the OHL and then obviously in the NHL," said Doughty, who played with the OHL's Guelph Storm. "I think he's become a pretty good player overall. He's really good offensively and at the same time he's a pretty sound defensive defenseman, too.
"It's great to see he's doing well. In this series, he's going to be a key guy for us to take out of the game."
Pietrangelo, who came from the OHL's Mississauga/Niagara IceDogs before going to the Barrie Colts, feels mutual admiration.
"We played against each other in the OHL," said Pietrangelo, who's close friends with Del Zotto. "We've had a few battles back in the day. He obviously made the jump a year earlier than I did.
"Just doing that draft stuff, we've kind of developed a relationship. Obviously not as close as me and Mike, but I've certainly got a strong respect for him."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who's coached many defensive greats, sees parallels in the two players.
"He's been good. We don't worry about Petro at all," Hitchcock said. "He's been our best defenseman all year and he was our best defenseman in the first round, so it's not going to change.
"He's exactly like Doughty. They're both good players. They know how to play at this time of year. ... I think [Pietrangelo] came into the league as a really responsible defending defenseman with good mobility. I think his offensive part of his game has developed to where he's a high-level player. I think he works in reverse of [teammate Kevin] Shattenkirk. Shatty came in as an offensive guy, similar to Karlsson in Ottawa and he's developed his defensive game along the way. Petro has gone the other way. I think he's more confident with the puck now. He's able to make good plays in the offensive blue line, he's got creativity when you need it. So they both kind of reached the same level, but it's come from different directions."