ST. LOUIS -- Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko burst onto the scene and made a lasting impression in the NHL.
Parayko, a third round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, finished with nine goals and 24 assists in 79 regular season games and followed it up with two goals and five assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games, helping lead the Blues to the Western Conference Final.
Parayko, 23, reflects on his first NHL season, and the consensus is that the sky's the limit for the big 6-foot-6, 226-pound St. Albert, Alberta native:
|Blues defenseman Colton Parayko|
Reflection on first year in the NHL; how much did you enjoy it?
So much. It was such a great group of guys this year. Just coming in my rookie season and having this group around me was incredible. They helped me out so much day in, day out. I think this was a perfect place to have my rookie season just because of the character and the group that we had in here.
Can you elevate your game going into next year knowing you reached conference final your first year in NHL:
That was a great experience. Obviously my first year, you get the idea of what it's going to take to be successful and what it's going to take to get to the next level. Obviously we want to be successful and eventually get to the (Stanley Cup) Final and eventually win everything. That was a huge steppingstone just based on my rookie season personally. Obviously we'd like to go farther still. That's the plan in future years for sure. Obviously what we learned, it's really tough. We all had to come together as a team and buy in. Overall, it's was a great opportunity for myself and the other two rookies. It was a lot of fun to go to war with these guys.
How were you guys able to bond as a group the way you did?
I just think the guys in the room. They all have attitudes that are open, but no one's holding anything against each other. Everyone worked together well, no one was holding anything against each other. We all obviously make mistakes, but we kind of pick each other up if we have any mistakes or setbacks. I think just the mentality of the group and knowing that we had such a great team and how far we could go, things like that were huge. The buy-in was great. It was a lot of fun to kind of be a part of that and kind of just have a feel for what it's like to get that buy-in feel. It was a great feeling.
On playing for North America at World Cup of Hockey:
It's a huge honor. What a tournament that's going to be. Some really good players. I'm really excited. It's going to be a lot of fun and obviously lots of teammates are going to be on opposing teams. That'll be a little fun, too, a little friendly battle. But overall, it's going to be a great experience just kind of going in and playing with a different set of guys that's all kind of my age. Twenty-three and under is going to be fun. We have a good team and it's going to be fun going to that tournament with them.
On playing under Hitch. Do you embrace him coming back if he returns?
It was great. He knows the game. He's really knowledgeable of everything. He's obviously been around the game for a long time. When you have a guy that's been around it for so long, he knows so much about it that you're new you're trying to learn everything. You're trying to learn as much as possible every single day. Just taking little things from him is huge. He's obviously a great coach and established. It was great. From a defensive point, I didn't overly work with him that much, just based on lines and stuff like that, but just when he's looking at the overall picture at practice and stuff like that, it was great. You could tell he's really knowledgeable.
Did Hitch treat you as a veteran despite being a rookie?
Yeah, I think so. He's a guy that wants success just as much as we do and the other players do. I think he wants us to come in and play with an edge every night and be an impact in the game. Being the rookies and being the followers, we can kind of play and that was pretty cool to have because when he gives us the opportunity to play, we had an opportunity to play in all situations this year. Getting to do that our rookie season was huge obviously. It's a confidence-booster and it's a lot of help for us obviously in the future. We're looking forward to hopefully continuing that.
Can you imagine locker room without Backes?
No. He's got everything. I never forgot that he was the first guy that approached me and told me if I needed anything, he's always there. Being a rookie coming out of college, I went to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and I'm looking around this locker room, I'm like, 'All these NHLers, wow, this is unbelievable.' Having obviously the team captain and a player you've watched growing up a while, for him to just come up to you and tell you that helps us settle in a little bit and makes you feel more comfortable. That's just the character he has. On the ice, he's a great player obviously. Everyone is able to see that. On and off the ice, he's just an overall great guy. He's great to be around. That's the bottom line, it's a business.
On Backes' post-Game 6 speech:
A little bit. It's tough, so emotional because he's been here for so long putting everything into this team just from Day 1. Obviously getting so far and working so hard, putting everything in and he's battled through a lot. Not going to where we wanted to is kind of tough, but we have a lot of great team character and a lot of great team members. It was emotional obviously, but that's kind of who he is and exemplifies his character of who he is. He was a great leader for me and I'll never forget it, that's for sure.