Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Parayko's obscure route to NHL didn't deter his determination

Defenseman was hidden gem before Blues found a special player 
who struck it big with five-year, $27.5 million contract this summer

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When he put pen to paper and officially completed something that gives him security on the job and certainly financially, Blues defenseman Colton Parayko could finally exhale.

And smile.

He did it.

From the banks of the Sturgeon River, a city that touches the outskirts of Edmonton called St. Albert, Alberta, playing in bantam AAA, then minor midget AAA and midget AA before heading to Fort McMurray to play for the Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League before playing college hockey at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko's ascension to the NHL was quick, brisk and impressive despite some of the more obscure venues taken.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko is part of the team's
long-term future after signing a five-year, $27.5 million
contract on July 20.

And when the 24-year-old St. Albert native signed his brand new five-year, $27.5 million ($5.5 million average annual value) contract, it was a chance to reflect on what it took to get to where he is and how he was able to accomplish it.

"No, it's pretty exciting. It's actually really special," Parayko said Wednesday after an informal skate at the Ice Zone with fellow Blues teammates and various NHL players from around the league. "You kind of say that and I almost get goosebumps just thinking about it just because it was definitely not the most efficient path to get here, but at the end of the day, it's one of those things where it's just that much more rewarding that it all happened. It's not even just for myself, it's for my family and my friends and you can just kind of see and hear the vibe when you talk to them and how excited they are."

Of course when Parayko signed that contract on July 20, parents Tom and Karen Parayko along with brother Bryce and sisters Kennedy and Kendra were elated with joy. But Parayko's first phone call was to none other than his grandfather who has not missed a game either personally or through a television set, Tom Parayko.  

"My grandpa came to every single game while I was growing up," Colton said. "He was there every single game wearing his fur hat and I still remember it. He was the first guy I called and it was pretty special. I think my grandma (Carol) was there and I think she started crying. He was just so thrilled, too. Things just like that are opportunities you can't really pass up. It was such a cool experience to have something like that."

Parayko was a restricted free agent after completing a two-year, $1.85 million entry-level contract last season and went into the summer with his first bout of contract negotiations. Of course, agent Gerry Johannson would work on things from Parayko's behalf, but in many cases where things don't get done and the case goes to arbitration, which Parayko's was set to do on the morning of July 20, there's the notion that when cases do hit arbitration, it can get downright ugly at times. But not in this case.

"There was no secret: I wanted to be here, I love playing here," Parayko said. "Since Day 1 I've been drafted, they've been nothing but great and such a great organization, as soon as you step in here, you realize how great it is. 

"The whole process, it was something that, for a first-time guy, you've got to step back and kind of look at all aspects. It's very exciting obviously. It's an exciting time, not only for myself, but for family and friends and things like that. You've got to look at the big picture and try to take it for what it is. Obviously, it was one of those things where we didn't want to rush into anything. We just wanted to make sure that we both got what we wanted and make sure that we thought we had the right fit. Other than that, the process was extremely good. Obviously you kind of hear what arbitration is and it was just a way for me that I made it to camp almost and things like that. The process itself, I thought it worked out really well and the way that it was handled and everything, it was good. ... It was something I personally didn't take negatively at all."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong echoed those sentiments.

"Arbitration wasn't a big issue if we had gone just because he's three years away from unrestricted free agency," Armstrong said. "It wasn't something that we were walking him right through the door or taking another opportunity to get a long-term deal. The process of going wasn't an issue for us or for Colton. 

"When we talked (at that time), Colton and I and (Blues assistant GM) Marty Brodeur had a good opportunity to do that and sort of try and describe what we're building and what we're planning."

The case obviously never made it to court, and Parayko was busy with another day Wednesday, ahead of the start of training camp opening on Sept. 15, getting himself prepared for what matters most.

"To make us a better team," Parayko said.

Parayko is coming off a season with four goals and 31 assists (a career-high 35 points) in 81 games; he represented Team North American at the World Cup of Hockey and then Canada at the World Championship. And with Parayko, who has 68 points (13 goals, 55 assists) in 160 games and goes from a player with an annual average value of $858,750 to $5.5 million this season, it means there will be more responsibilities and ones he's looking forward to meeting head-on moving forward.

"I obviously want to come and be a better player and be a big part of it obviously," Parayko said. "But at the same time, I don't want to get outside of my game and try to do things that aren't part of me. You've just got to find a medium that's going to make the team better and also make you efficient. 

"The main goal is to obviously have the best team and hopefully I can help solidify that and just kind of do my job and make it easy for others. I obviously don't want to get out of my element and get out of things I do my best. I've got to focus on doing those and try to do that every single night obviously more consistent and make sure I continue to play good."

Parayko was a bit of an under-the-radar gem that former scout Marshall Davidson, brother of former Blues president John Davidson, founded and steered the franchise in the right path in drafting the tall, lanky 6-foot-6, 266-pound right-handed shot.

And after a stint with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League at the end of the 2014-15 season where he had four goals and three assists in 17 games, Parayko impressed the franchise so much that he would never look back away from the NHL and will begin his third season this year and will likely be paired with Joel Edmundson again.

"He's a player that I think we complement each other well in different ways," Parayko said of Edmundson. "He's easy to play with and you kind of know what he's about and he's easy to read off of. I think we really started to find our stride there. I'm excited for us." 

Parayko who averaged 21:12 ice time last season, is an example of what the Blues are trying to accomplish: winning with a team build with a younger core and homegrown players.

"Having (Jaden) Schwartz signed with some term and (Vladimir) Tarasenko and Jake Allen and to have (Parayko) under some term, he'll be a part of a core group of guys that we can continue to grow with," Armstrong said.

It's something is hungry for and whatever role the Blues need him to excel at, he's ready, willing and able.

"It's exciting to be a part of that because you look at last year how we had an extremely good team, I think we're only going to get better this year with a little bit more experience," Parayko said. "A lot of us younger guys are getting a lot more experience. The only way to get experience is by being out there and being put in those different situations. As we continue to grow and get older, it's only going to be better. I'm excited to be a part of this and move forward.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) defends against Blackhawks center
Artem Anisimov during the 2017 NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

"I think it's one of those things where you've got to take it and almost run with it. I think that the more minutes you get, the more situations you play in, the more comfortable you become. You just start to become more dominant as an overall player. I think that kind of almost goes for anyone. The more you feel confident, the more coaches and teammates feel confident in you. That shows a lot and means a lot. If you get that opportunity, you've just got to make sure you make the most of it and do your best to succeed in that situation.

"People talk about my goal, whatever, points. I don't look at that. I feel way more comfortable out there. I think defensively, I've started to grow a lot with just different things around the ice, whether it be d-zone, defending the rush, just the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet that are really important. I think I've been good."

Now about getting grandma and grandpa to a game at Scottrade Center ... 

They're trying to; it's tough for them," Parayko said. "But they watch every single game. They love it. My grandpa, I don't even know when he would have missed a game was."

Parayko can afford to buy the grandparents another year's worth of NHL Center Ice as a backup plan.

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