Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Involved in all the trade chatter now come and gone, Parayko focused as ever entering fourth NHL season

He trained to specific needs in off-season after being hot topic over
summer; Blues maintained promising defenseman wasn't available

ST. LOUIS -- Being from a relatively smaller town on the outskirts of Edmonton apparently was enough for Blues defenseman Colton Parayko to be blocked out of all the off-season hockey talk that included his name at every turn.

It also helps that the 25-year-old Parayko doesn't partake in the majority of social media options, including Twitter and Facebook.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Colton Parayko, the subject of trade talk throughout the summer, tees up a
shot last season in Chicago against the Blackhawks. 

St. Albert, Alberta is a mere 20-minute ride to the northwest of Edmonton, so Parayko wasn't far-removed from the hot stove of hockey talk of Oil Country, where it's catastrophic if there's not some shape or form of hockey talk going on North of the border. And it could be read, or heard, that Parayko's name was mentioned in just about every trade rumor from St. Louis to the North Pole and back.

A hot commodity for sure, Parayko is a physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds with all the potential to be a top-end, right-handed shooting defenseman that can pulverize a puck through a brick wall, glide with it out of his zone as if he were skating through a phone booth with contract-friendly terms (four years remaining of five years at $27.5 million that carries a $5.5 million cap hit). Opposing general manager's would be crazy not to inquire if he were available for the right price.

But as the start of training camp looms in two weeks, Parayko is still a Blue, as if there was ever a doubt, and a very important one moving forward in a season filled with promise. As Parayko tells it, he's been putting in the kind of work that makes this, his fourth season, a very important one for him.

"Yeah, summer's been good so far," Parayko said. "I had the opportunity to go overseas again for the World Championships (in May) and play some good hockey over there and obviously play with some guys from around the league. Came back to St. Louis for a couple weeks, did some training here and got my training organized for the summer. Then I went home for about a month and a half to do training. And now I've been here for a month and just trying to skate, work out and get ready and put the final touches on my training for the summer and make sure that I'm ready to go. I feel really good. This is probably the season I'm most looking forward to coming into it."

The season ended quicker than usual for the Blues last spring, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, and Parayko was given the opportunity to play for Canada at the World Championship. It wasn't long after when the rumor mill began to churn out his name. It picked up at a rapid pace, and naturally, at the draft in Dallas in late June. Parayko was linked to seemingly everyone, notably Edmonton and Toronto.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, not by admission, likely fielded several calls regarding his gentle giant d-man. But when asked before the draft of his plans, Armstrong let out a subtle hint that it wasn't happening.

"There's not a lot of necessity to focus in on that area," Armstrong said.

In other words, the defensive unit was staying put, and as camp is on the horizon, it is.

As for Parayko, with all the times his name was typed in a blog, in a story, a podcast, a hockey show on radio or television. Parayko had to have heard it at some point, right?

"I don't have social media like Twitter and all that, so I didn't really know," Parayko said. "The only time I really did know was when one of my agents let me know there was talk or whatever, but other than that, I just tried not to make much of it. I've just got to focus on progressing and being a better player that can come into camp and be better and be useful and be a positive asset to the team this year. I think that that's what is going to be exciting for this year, is everyone comes in and we all get to start from Game 1 and have a good season."

Even though he's staying put, there has to be something to be said that Parayko was such a wanted commodity, and it had to be somewhat flattering.

"It's different," Parayko said. "It's the first year I've ever been through something like that, I guess. But it's one of those things where you've got to understand that it's definitely part of the game. Different teams are needing different things. I've seen a few of my teammates just over the three years that have been unbelievable players have got traded or have left the team for free agency and stuff like that. When you look at it like that, you realize that it's a business and all the teams are trying to get the best hand that they can get, put the best team on the ice every single night and every year. They obviously want to have a successful campaign. 

"Don't get me wrong, I definitely love playing here in St. Louis. I've liked playing here. I've enjoyed the team, the town, the fans are incredible."

Perhaps happiest as much as Parayko that he isn't changing addresses is coach Mike Yeo, who doesn't hesitate putting Parayko in most key situations of games.

"People are going to talk about him because people always want a player like that, which is understandable," Yeo said. "We're lucky we have him. 

"... He's a big part of our identity. He's a part of our core. He's a young defenseman, but you look at the quality he has. First off, he's a phenomenal human being. If we're talking about our culture, these are the kind of guys you want them to be. You see him right now, you guys know, the conditioning, the shape, the work that he's put in this summer, he's a young defenseman who has plenty of growth left in his game and he's already a very, very strong player. On the offensive side of things, we're going to continue to work on things and he's going to continue to grow there, and defensively, he's just as hard to play against as anybody in the league. When you take that kind of size and that type of range and skating ability, that's a real tough player to play against. I believe he's a big part of our core and a big part of our identity as a team."

Parayko, who has 103 points (19 goals, 84 assists) in 242 regular-season games including 35 points (six goals, 29 assists) and a career-best 22 minutes, 37 seconds ice time per game in 82 games last season, went about his business and hit those target points that would enhance his training and make him a better, more well-rounded player.

"We're starting to pinpoint exactly different areas in our body where we need to just focus on strength and where we can make sure that we increase different things, we do different tests and exercises that will allow to see where we can see improvement and build improvement," Parayko said. "It's definitely been a cool experience to kind of see and kind of grasp the different parts that you can work on and need to improve.

Have the changes been beneficial?

"Yeah for sure," Parayko said. "When you do the tests, you can definitely see that the numbers have changed and the numbers are progressing towards where you want them to be hopefully. That's an exciting feeling."

Some of the target points for Parayko have included making his overall body stronger to be a more physical presence, something that's been called upon by fans who like his game but would like to see a meaner streak in him, as well as being more effective with his slot selection and more precise in getting targets to or around the net.

Parayko has increased his shot total (165, 188 and 212) each season but a career 3.4 percent shot efficiency certainly needs to be better and that tendency to not hesitate and be a bit more selfish needs to be more habitual. But the shot attempts Parayko has taken that went on goal have increased in percentage from 47.1 to 49.5 to 53.8 percent. 

"I'm definitely not happy," Parayko said. "I don't think I should ever be happy where my game is just in the sense that I always want to continue to get better. I always want to improve as a player no matter what areas. As you go through a season, you kind of learn different things and you see where you want to improve and things like that. Obviously I want to continue to move the puck well and make sure I'm doing the right things. Put pucks towards the net would be a big one for me and make sure I'm staying physical and being real hard to play against and winning all the little battles would obviously be key. Just being the player that can be relied on by the players and coaching staff in all situations and making sure that I'm doing them to the best of my abilities so that I can help the team win.

"Even though the (overall) shots have increased a little bit, I still think I have an opportunity to fire a few more pucks. You learn that when you start to throw pucks at the net, it's going to start to generate different opportunities. If you get the puck around then the net, it gives the forwards a good chance to bang away at second and third opportunities. I think that that's something that I want to focus on, to continue to even put more on net or towards that way and definitely be accurate with it to make sure I'm putting it on net or in the vicinity of where forwards are able to get to it and do something with it."

That outdoor rink near his childhood home in St. Albert, which was a common stomping ground in his earlier years, certainly came in handy again this summer for target practice.

"Oh yeah, it's an outdoor rink. It's right by house and it's a good place because it has like the big boards on it already," Parayko said. "All you have to do is make sure you have your net and your shooting board and you're good to go. It's easy to get there, just walk." 

Of course it's natural for a player to search for ways to progress one's game, but with the additions of Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon and Chad Johnson to the Blues' group, it was extra motivation for Parayko to prepare for what could be a special year.
(Hockey Canada photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) congratulates Canada
teammate Curtis McElhinney in May during the Worlds.

"I'm extremely excited," Parayko said. "This off-season was a good one for us. Obviously we've made some big additions to our hockey team and if you look, the additions have been really good forwards that are going to play for us at both ends of the ice, they're going to go to dirty areas, do the hard work. They're character guys which is just going to add to the character of our team that we've already got. When you've got that, it's awesome and I think it becomes dangerous. I think if you look at it as a whole, I'm really excited to get things rolling here in camp and kind of start playing preseason games and seeing how the team's going to shape out because this is the year that I'm really excited about."

And that's why Parayko said he's as ready as any training camp he's participated in and show teams why the Blues chose to keep him.

"Yes, 100 percent," he said. "I feel really good with the workouts and I've been skating five days a week. Everything seems to be going real well. I am looking forward to getting back and just being through it for three years now, you kind of get a sense of what you need to do and where you need to be. This is the one I feel best going into for sure. It should be good."

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