Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeling healthy, Ott hopes to provide offensive punch

Off-season abdominal surgery has veteran feeling 
100 percent, determined after getting new contract with Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- By his own admission, it's been quite the challenging year for Steve Ott.

A trade to the Blues from the last-place Buffalo Sabres last season near the NHL trade deadline although may have invoked some emotional feelings after having spent nearly two seasons as Sabres captain, invigorated the competitive juices again for the forward. Going from playing out the season to Stanley Cup aspirations can do that.

But a nagging abdominal injury progressively got worse for the 32-year-old Ott, and heading into a summer of unrestricted free agency, it was not the right time to mix surgery while marketing for a new contract.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Steve Ott (middle) moves the puck away from Dallas' Vern Fiddler (36) and
Brenden Dillon (4) in a game last season.

But Ott, who had three assists in 23 regular season games with the Blues and two assists in six playoff games, was one of the team's most consistent forwards during a six-game playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs according to coach Ken Hitchcock. He fought and played through an injury that hampered any potential offensive success.

"When that kind of half-goes, that last push-off really hurts you," Ott said Thursday at an informal team skate. "My biggest thing was shooting the puck. When I (would) bear down on a shot, the torquing ... the strength of a hockey player obviously is in the core, and that torquing movement was not right. It bothered me, but there's no excuses. I battled through it before. It's no different. 

"You play 82 games on the sheet, you play 82 games. Everybody in here ... if you don't have a bump or bruise, there's something wrong with you or you're not playing the right way."

But Ott stood through the times of the challenge and now is reaping the rewards of patience and perseverance. The injury, which is something that has been bothersome in the past, was corrected with surgery. Initially not part of the Blues' plans moving forward in the off-season, Ott signed a two-year, $5.2 million contract in light of Vladimir Sobotka's surprising departure to the KHL and Ott most recently found out that his wife of more than a year, Erika, is expecting the couple's first child, a son. Ott also has a seven-year-old daughter that will join big sister at the end of February.

"I'm very blessed to have a seven-year-old daughter. She's my world and now to have a son on the way, it's a complete different element," Ott said. "You just continue to wish to be on the right path in life. Things are really good away from the rink and it makes you real comfortable to just come to the rink, put your sweater on and be a part of the boys."

It's precisely what Ott has done. He came to St. Louis three weeks before the opening of training camp to take part in informal skates with other players, including veterans Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Jordan Leopold and other prospects.

"I've put in a real good summer with the trainer and training partner," Ott said. "That's all you can ask for is to prepare as well as you possibly can coming into camp. To say that I'm 100 percent would be an understatement in physicality, strength and (I feel) healed up.

"For me, I don't think you can put a price tag on being comfortable in your surroundings and in your area. I guess you can say when I got here (following the trade from Buffalo), you never want to step on anybody's toes. You don't want to feel like you didn't earn it yet because the team put a lot into last year and then you come in and it's a tough situation. For myself to come in, be comfortable with the boys already, get settled in my house, my living arrangements with my wife, all those things ... you can't put a price tag on feeling comfortable and heading into a season wanting to have success."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Ott "one of our better forwards in the playoffs." 

"Nobody had any idea how banged up he was," Hitchcock said of Ott. "For him to play the way he did in the playoffs, banged up like he was, was pretty impressive. So to me, he's healthy, he's not in the get-to-know-you stage. He came in with extra time early to hang with the guys and just get updated. So many things have happened positive. He's got a place to live, he's secure in that atmosphere, he's integrated with the players on the team now, he's comfortable with it. All the newness part of it is off. Now you get to see the real personnel. He's going to have a real impact in making our team higher from an accountability standpoint. That's his great attribute. He's a good player, but because he's so consistent in his play, he brings everybody else into that level."

Now feeling 100 percent, Ott feels like he can contribute some offensive numbers for a Blues team that relies on balance throughout the lineup. Ott, who had 41 goals in back to back seasons with the Dallas Stars (19 in 2008-09 and 22 in 2009-10), will battle for a third- or fourth-line center role on a team suddenly deep down the middle. But Ott's versatility can also see him get minutes on the wing, if necessary, and see him pop up and down the lineup.

Of his 103 career goals, 75 came from 2007-2012.

"I would probably be the most disappointed not to come in here and help contribute the way I know I can and should and expect out of myself," said Ott, who has 267 points in 696 regular season games. "That was probably the hardest thing, not being able to contribute the way I have my whole career. I expect that out of myself and that's why I challenged myself this summer to put in a good work ethic and everything else to be prepared for this chance again. I have no doubts in my game and where I'm at, where I stand so I'm ready to go.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After off-season surgery to correct an abdominal injury, Steve
Ott feels 100 percent and in a good place with the Blues. 

"It's been a very productive summer. It was an easy decision for myself (to come back to St. Louis). Going through the process for myself was a little hard to handle at times, the whole unrestricted thing, but you know what, I couldn't be happier. That weekend, we flew down here to find residence. Everything's falling into place. Now, we have 20 days or so before camp even opens. Just get ready and feel comfortable and ready to go."

Getting Ott more involved offensively is a role Blues coaches won't hesitate with.

"He's sneaky offensively," Hitchcock said. "He surprises you with his ability to make plays and things like that. He complements other people. He does all the dirty work. Sometimes when you do all the dirty work, you get points one year and sometimes you don't, but as long as you're doing all the dirty work, if you're not getting the points, someone else is. He does all the dirty work so that it allows other people their space."

Ott said the goals for he and his Blues teammates remain the same. Changing and improving the results is the challenge that lies ahead.

"You have to put that work in," Ott said. "It's non-stop, continuing to grab confidence from the good points of last season, the strong points of last season. Those negatives have to turn to results. 

"It would be an understatement to say that we're not a Cup-contending team. That's where our mindset is. Anything else is failure to us. I think that's the mindset you open with when everybody shows up at Day 1 of camp to the end of the season. That's the one goal and only goal. When you have a team put together like the one we have and with the additions, that goal is reality."

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