Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cracknell nets first one-way contract with patience, persistence, perseverence

Instead of giving up on NHL aspirations, former
ninth round selection stuck through challenging times

ST. LOUIS -- Getting drafted in the ninth round of the NHL Draft is hardly cause to be optimistic for a player looking to get a foot in the door.

Chances are players picked so late have a remote chance at best of making it all the way to the top.

Of course, there are those players that defy the odds. Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round, 210th overall) and Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round, 171st overall) come to mind as rare instances of players picked so late that become not only impact players but in these cases, superstars.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Adam Cracknell (right) battles Chicago's Viktor Stalberg in a game last
season. Cracknell signed his first one-way contract earlier this year.
Adam Cracknell admits that he isn't a superstar, but he is "just one of those guys that's going to contribute in and out with my work ethic."

Cracknell waited a long time in 2004 to hear his named called. He was the 279th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames.

But there was never an opportunity of playing for the Flames. The sides eventually parted ways.

But as Cracknell, 27, stands today, he at long last has that NHL contract. There have been others -- five one-year deals to be exact -- but for the first time, he's equipped with a one-way deal.

After bouncing around in the Western Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League and then getting a chance in the American Hockey League, Cracknell signed his first of his five straight one-year deals with the Blues in 2009. But those were two-way deals, which meant he would spend his seasons playing for the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria. But the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native was OK with the arrangement. He believed the big break would come at some point.

"This has been the path I've been given," said Cracknell, in St. Louis this week working out ahead of the start of training camp in September. "I played junior-B, got cut from a couple junior-A teams and then made a junior-B team."

From Kootenay to Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben to Las Vegas to Quad City and Peoria, Cracknell would continue to push and push until he was finally able to knock that NHL door in with the Blues in 2010, when he played in 24 games.

"There's some doubt in your mind at times," Cracknell said. "It's human nature, but at the end of the day, you can control your work ethic, someone sees you and you're in the right place at the right time, sometimes it happens for you and sometimes it doesn't. There's a lot of guys out there that can play but someone sees you and they like you. I think that's what happened.

"(Former Blues and Peoria Rivermen coach) Davis Payne, we played against him in Quad Cities and he helped out getting me into Peoria. He gave me a chance, he developed me into a role player. ... Calgary drafted me and we went different ways, but at the end of the day, I owe Calgary a lot. They drafted me and I was just as happy as if I was a first-rounder. Just to get my foot in the door, be seen, to have that on your resume is huge. You've got to make your way and I think I've paved it pretty good."

After making a name with linemates Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as the 'CPR Line,' Cracknell was awarded by the Blues when he signed a one-way contract for $600,000 that will keep him with the big club. No more shuttles between St. Louis and an AHL destination. 

"It's huge to know that it's the next step in saying you made it and they believe you're an NHL player," Cracknell said. "It takes some guys longer. It took me eight years. It's the fifth year with St. Louis, fifth one-year deal. You'd like that seven-year deal, but everyone's got their own ways.

"... I obviously want to be a part of the scoresheet, but at the end of the day, we win as team. To know St. Louis still has faith in me to bring me back, they developed me into the player I know I could be. They gave me a chance and I owe them everything. I want to prove that they made the right decision. They have trust in me and I have trust in them. They see something in me and I want to show them what I think is inside of me."

Cracknell has 46 games of NHL experience over three seasons, including 20 games this past season and his first five playoff games. He has 14 points (six goals) in those 46 games but feels like there's something to prove despite the security of being on the 23-man roster in St. Louis.

"Every day," Cracknell said. "Every day as an NHL player or just as a player, you're always trying to prove yourself. The percentage of a guy playing in the NHL is pretty small and the window that we have, it is very small. I've been very fortunate to not have any serious injuries to put any doubt in anyone's mind. At the same time, we only have a 10-year window to play in the NHL, and some guys have more. I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity now and every day to work hard and prove myself."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has raved about Cracknell from the moment he saw him.

"Cracknell manages his ice well," Hitchcock said earlier this past season. "He's a smart player ... a smart, competitive player. That's a really good sign for us because he's a guy you can trust to build minutes from.

"When I saw him play in Peoria (last season), he wasn't playing very well because he had a groin injury. He was sore, he was in and out of the lineup, he wasn't skating very well. He was struggling, and then they moved him to the wing and it seemed to really help him. But he plays 20 minutes a night in Peoria. He's really played well. ... It's a good sign."

When Cracknell joins the rest of the team for training camp, there will be a different look with the departures of Andy McDonald and Scott Nichol (retirement), Jamie Langenbrunner (unsigned) and David Perron and Kris Russell (traded). But he has payed attention to what general manager Doug Armstrong has been doing with the additions of Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre and most recently, Magnus Paajarvi.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Adam Cracknell (middle) helped form the 'CPR Line' with fellow linemates
Chris Porter (32) and Ryan Reaves (75).

"It's exciting," Cracknell said. "It's unfortunate when you see guys like Andy McDonald and Scotty Nichol, guys retiring and Russ (and Perron) getting traded, it's all part of the business. Guys come and go, but Andy McDonald and Scotty Nichol helped me out so much helping me get comfortable where I am and be part of St. Louis. Those guys make it a lot easier with the advice they give you and the experiences they had. They all played in the minors. Andy McDonald won a Cup and Scotty Nichol, I feel like we've had the same careers. He played in the minors and finally made it. You try and stick around as long as you can with your work ethic. I think that's why I'm going to model my game after is Scotty Nichol."

And he'll get the chance when camp opens to do so with the linemates he was making a mark with as the season ended.

"The experience and the way the season ended personally, it was such a high going into the playoffs, our line just kind of made a name for itself," Cracknell said. "I was the only guy whose contract was up. Chris got a two-year extension and Ryan's on his last year and I can see him coming back of course. I think we all played very well together to get that success. That's what you need. You need your team.

"I owe those guys a lot, but definitely this summer, we want to pick up where we left off. As a team, we didn't accomplish what we wanted. Every team wants to win the Cup and only one team does. This summer is a lot of motivation. How we went out wasn't the way we wanted to. We use that as a drive as a player. This summer, getting the contract, coming back here knowing that they want me to be a part of what they want to accomplish, I take a lot of pride in that. Every day, we come here to do work. We do it for what we want to do, and that's to win the Stanley Cup. I'm just going to try and do my part and try to be a piece of the puzzle."

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