Defenseman which finished fourth in Norris voting is
in St. Louis this week preparing for start of new season
in St. Louis this week preparing for start of new season
A Norris Trophy could be on the horizon for the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27). But personal
accolades don't drive him. It's all about winning championships.
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A select number of players were on hand in Las Vegas last month for the NHL Awards ceremony. Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was not among them.
But judging by his performance in the recently completed season, Pietrangelo could be a regular in Las Vegas. Possibly as early as next year.
Pietrangelo finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting behind winner Erik Karlsson; Shea Weber was the runner-up followed by Zdeno Chara. But instead of reveling in his personal accomplishments of last season that included career highs in goals (12), assists (39), points (51) and games played (81), Pietrangelo was focused more on what might have been for a Blues team that finished with the second-best mark in franchise history.
Karlsson can lift the Norris Trophy, as far as Pietrangelo is concerned. But if Pietrangelo gets an opportunity to raise Lord Stanley, then there will be a sense of personal satisfaction.
"The worst thing was watching the Kings win the Cup knowing that could have been us," Pietrangelo said.
The Blues finished 49-22-11, good for 109 points. It was good enough to win the Central Division for the first time since 2000 and the team won a playoff series for the first time since 2002.
At times it's hard to imagine that Pietrangelo is only 22, but he shows more maturity beyond his years. The King City, Ontario native is appreciative of the accolades that have started to flow his way and the countless awards he could be up for in the future. However, it's obvious winning is what matters most.
"You've got to stay positive with that," Pietrangelo said of being recognized for the Norris. "You've got to take that as a compliment and use that as motivation to maybe get into that top three next year or have a chance to win it.
"It definitely feels good to know that you've accomplished that, but I've got to get better. I want to help this team win. That's my ultimate goal ... meaning I've got to play better or take more of a load on my shoulders. That's what I'm going to do, keep working to get better, keep working to get stronger and try to influence games even more."
Pietrangelo, along with teammate David Perron, have been on hand this week to work alongside fellow Blues prospects, who are in town for their initial orientation meetings and workouts with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte.
It's only the middle of July, and barring any setbacks, NHL training camps won't get underway for another two months. But being swept out of the playoffs in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions doesn't leave a good taste in players' mouths, particularly Pietrangelo, the team's cornerstone blueliner.
"The further into the summer you get, the more focused you're getting towards starting to skate and working on things on the ice," said Pietrangelo, who said he's healthy from the MCL knee sprain he suffered in Game 1 against the Kings. "I haven't gone on the ice yet, but in a week or two, it's going to get to that point.
"The more training you get into Nelson's programs, the more advanced it's going to be like any other program. It's different from last year and mine's different from Perry's."
Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick of 2008, will enter his third full season (fifth overall) in October. He saw the large contract Karlsson, the 15th overall pick in that same 2008 draft, recently signed (seven years, $45.5 million) as well as some of the deals defensemen got as unrestricted free agents. With one year remaining on his entry level deal that has a cap hit of $3.167 million, Pietrangelo, who will become a restricted free agent next summer, is in line for a big payday himself. That's the challenge for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
"Yeah, not only me, but you've got other guys on this team that are going into the prime of their careers," said Pietrangelo, who led the Blues in average ice time at 24:43 (tied for 16th in the NHL) and was plus-16. "Shatty is another young defenseman getting into that same situation.
"It's exciting, but the biggest thing for me is where this team's headed. Obviously with the resigning of Perry and Scotty (Nichol) and whoever else we get a chance to sign, it's going to be another good year for us moving forward. What else Army does, I don't know, but what we have right now is going to be a fun part of it. Hopefully there's bigger and better things for all of us."
While other teams have handed out some lengthy, large-dollar contracts, the Blues have stayed relatively quiet. Other than resigning some of their own free agents (most notably Perron and Chris Stewart to go with T.J. Oshie on the horizon) as well as adding some depth players, the Blues have remained on the outside looking in.
As far as Pietrangelo is concerned, that's perfectly fine.
"I don't think we need to change much," he said. "You (media) guys are around us. You see how well we all get along. I've never played on a team where guys are such difference in age and everybody gets along so well. To have that relationship is tough to find. We really don't want to mess that up too much.
"Obviously there's ways to improve the team and what-not, but we get along in this room and we're happy with what we have. We accomplished quite a bit last year. It's fun to be a part of it."
High on the priority list for Armstrong has been to find a suitable partner for Pietrangelo on the top pairing. Carlo Colaiacovo, an unrestricted free agent and Pietrangelo's close friend, was a mainstay in that role the last couple seasons. But it's likely the Blues are moving in another direction.
The team showed interest in free agent Matt Carle, who signed in Tampa Bay. Ryan Suter, who got a mega contract in Minnesota, was out of the Blues' term and price range. They've been linked to trade rumors, with Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and Phoenix's Keith Yandle the top headliners, but it could be someone from within that takes the role of Pietrangelo's partner. Ian Cole and Kevin Shattenkirk come to mind. If it is Shattenkirk, a move to the left side for Pietrangelo could come into play.
Alex Pietrangelo (left) battles against the Kings' Dwight King during the
Western Conference semifinal series.
"I've been playing on the left with Shatty a lot on the power play last year," Pietrangelo said. "I did in junior, too. You become comfortable playing with it. Obviously there's an adjustment that needs to be made, but if you know that going into the season, a lot of players will be able to adjust well. Not only a guy like me but Shatty will be able to adjust to that, too. I don't think it would be that big of an issue as some people may think.
"You're just receiving the puck on your backhand or on the back side of your body. It's going to be harder to keep pucks in because your stick's going to be in the middle of the ice. Defensively, your sticks are going to be in different positions, but that's something you get used to being on that side. You adjust. For me, I don't think it would be an issue."
Pietrangelo has remained relatively quiet about the prospect of playing with someone else. However, he is interested and will stay within earshot of the proceedings.
"You leave that up to Army and what they think needs to be done," Pietrangelo said. "But the guys that we have ... if you consider us a young team still, you've got to take that as a good thing with the experiences that we had considering this was the first playoff experience for some of us. I thought we did pretty well and that's going to carry us hopefully moving forward into next year.
"You're always interested. I'm interested if they're going to sign any forwards or what else ... I don't know what Army's doing. You always want to know what's going on with the team. That's not up to me. That's up to them. I'm going to go about my business and play and train the same way no matter who they bring in."