Defenseman is one of six to be among
top 25 in his position in scoring last three seasons
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- From the moment the Blues traded for a defenseman, who wasn't even the focal piece coming back to St. Louis that cost No. 1 pick Erik Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk immediately felt this is where his hockey growth would blossom.
All it took was one conversation with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to hammer that point home after Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart were acquired from Colorado that sent Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, to the Avalanche in 2011.
And the Blues justifiably rewarded the 24-year-old Shattenkirk with a new four-year contract worth $17 million ($4.25 million per season) that will enable him to play out some of his best years in the only uniform he's ever really known despite being drafted by the Avalanche 14th overall in 2007.
(St. Louis Blues file photo)
Kevin Shattenkirk (pictured) said one conversation with Blues general
manager Doug Armstrong was all he needed to hear he belonged here.
"With the Blues, I've always felt comfortable," Shattenkirk said Thursday. "I've always felt comfortable in this locker room, with the guys on the team, with management. I think from the very first meeting with Army, when he sat me down, he told me that we weren't going to make this trade unless you were involved. I think from that moment on, I knew how much he valued me and what he thought of me as a player. I've always had that appreciation for him from that point on. It's just made it easier to play in St. Louis when you know that the coaches and the management have that confidence in you to be an elite player. You feel like you're just wanted and the team wants you there.
"I wouldn't say I felt obligated to do it, but I felt like I really wanted to be here. This is the place I can definitely grow as a player and become the player I think I can be."
Shattenkirk, who would have become a restricted free agent July 5, is coming off a five-goal, 23-point season in 48 games. He has 23 goals and 109 points in 201 career games.
Both sides called the negotiations swift and simple.
"We started this maybe about three weeks ago," Armstrong said. (Shattenkirk's agent) Jordan Neumann and I talked about Kevin. The first part of the equation was letting Kevin know that he was part of our core group now and part of our core group moving forward. We wanted to see if we could do something to make sure that he was here for not just one or two years but past that. When both sides were in agreement that we wanted him here and he wanted to be here, it just became an economic issue.
"... What Kevin has done, which has made this easier to do for us is he's probably been the most consistent player we've had in our organization, meaning his first three years of pro, he's been a very good system offensive producer. I was looking at his career today. His first three years of pro, he's been in the top 25 in scoring among defensemen in each year (along with teammate Alex Pietrangelo as well as Chicago's Duncan Keith, Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville's Shea Weber and Phoenix's Keith Yandle), which is a testament of how he came into the league and his consistency. Now that he's had three years in the league, we think he's just scratching the surface of how good of a player he could be. He can affect our team in different areas moving forward. Offense is a very difficult thing to teach. He has the natural abilities. We're real excited to have him as a part of our core group of players moving forward."
And Shattenkirk is feeling the after-effects of what have been some of the best days as a pro.
"Obviously I'm on cloud nine right now," Shattenkirk said. "This is a great opportunity for me. To have the type of commitment that the Blues made and the faith that they have in me to perform and showing it, I guess, in this way is pretty special.
"It really didn't take too long at the time. We both wanted to get something done. I think there was a deal to be had all the way through. ... I obviously thank Army for it. He was very good to me. I'm just grateful all the way through. It's nice to have this weight off of my back and be able to focus on things going forward the rest of the summer."
That focus entails becoming a better player in general but particularly in the defensive end.
"That's always the area that I think ... it's always been labeled as a question mark for me," Shattenkirk said of the defensive part of his game. "I know my offensive abilities come a little more naturally and I think defensively, that's an area especially as a small defenseman that I need to keep getting more experience. You look at a lot of guys who have played in this league who have been considered undersized defensemen, when you watch them in their later years and their career, they seem to have such a great understanding for how to defend and how to have the right body position. I try to really work on that every year and it comes from a lot of experience, which luckily I'm able to get night in and night out. It comes with just challenging yourself every night.
"I think I set pretty high goals for myself to be the best defenseman on the team. We have a lot of good defensemen on this team, but I think the only way you can get better defensively is to strive to be the best on your team and that's what I aim to do every year."
With Shattenkirk locked up, the Blues also have Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak locked into contracts. Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Russell (who can become restricted free agents) are expected to be resigned at some point and it hasn't been ruled out that veteran Jordan Leopold (who's set to be an unrestricted free agent July 5) will come back. Ian Cole was signed for two years recently as well.
"We have a tremendous blue line. I really believe that we have probably one of the best defensive corps in the league," Shattenkirk said. "We just have a great collection of players who can do it all. Everyone labels Jacks and Roman as this defensive pairing and shutdown pairing, but I think they've embraced the fact as a d-corps, that we're a team that joins the rush. We have to offer that extra wave of offense.
"Obviously with Petro, we all know he's a special player and he's someone who I love having around because he's someone that I can bounce ideas off of and we can talk about plays and we can relate to each other with the style of plays that we have. To add Jay to the defensive group at the end of the year was very important for us. It really locked down that veteran and sort of assured defensive position that we needed. Going forward, we have as solid a blue line as anyone. And to think that we had guys like Kris Russell and Jordan Leopold as well. Russell was playing some of best hockey at the time, it's pretty nice to have that luxury. I think going forward, the more experience that we get and the more time we have to play with each other, we know we're going to get better."
(St. Louis Blues file photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right) defends Colorado's Chuck
Kobasew in a game last season.
"Now we have three very speedy players in Petro, Bouw and Shatty," Armstrong said. "That's very, very important to the team and then having very good, defined NHL players in Roman and Jackman in our five and then with Russell, Cole and potentially Leopold, I think our defense is going to be stable, it's going to be stable for many years moving forward now. It's going to be one of the strenghs of our team."
Getting a bigger contract into the mix like Shattenkirk's very likely helps the Blues get a clearer focus moving forward what they feel they can/cannot do, particularly when looking at players they would entertain bringing in from the outside.
"Of our 22-man roster, plans are to carry 23 players again next year, we've got more and more pieces in place," Armstrong said. "Each contract does define what we're going to be next year and the economics that we have to spend in different areas. ... Having Shatty wrapped up not only this year but knowing he's going to be part of that group moving forward for the next four years is very important for us."
Shattenkirk is particularly eager to grow after the Blues were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings for the second consecutive postseason.
"This year we lose in the first round. It's easier to say we did better the year before because we lost in the second round, but when we played the Kings two years ago, we really were dominated," Shattenkirk said. "That was our first true playoff test. I think we had a pretty easy series with the Sharks. We really were caught off-guard by how good the Kings were playing (two seasons ago) and I think we saw what it takes to play a Stanley Cup team. This year, we went into that series ... we played great hockey. Personally, I think we really won that series, we dominated that series and we really weren't able to put some chances in the net. Hats off to the Kings because I think they showed their experience and how winning a Stanley Cup can give you that confidence that it's never over. They were able to play through a lot of adversity. It was another growing step for us.
"I think we were a better team this year in the playoffs than we were two years ago. For us, that's what we have to hold onto because I think this team, with how young we are and the lack of experience that we had going into this playoff year, now we're there. It's on this core group of young guys to really push forward and emerge as, really, playoff players and clutch players."