Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Perron's latest bout with concussion has him thinking big picture

Forward is having banner season in third stint with Blues; recent head 
injury can't be overlooked with family to think about despite love of hockey

ST. LOUIS -- David Perron couldn't contain himself.

Not even a seasoned veteran of 770 NHL games. 

But there are certain things that are precious to people in life. For the 30-year-old Perron, it's his family, including two kids first and foremost, but it's also his love and passion for hockey, and it makes those thoughts of life after hard to imagine in the prime of one's career.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) has been locked in and playing arguably
one of his best seasons in the NHL, but another concussion has him thinking
big picture. He's hoping the latest was the last. 

But when concussion issues become a problem, it tends to help those rethink priorities, and for Perron, the rope is getting smaller to pull on. As much as he loves the game, as much as the craft of playing consumes his livelihood, there comes a time when the bigger pictures of life come into play.

And as he stepped onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Saturday after missing 24 games following the latest bout with a concussion, Perron said there were tears of joy. It's understandable when one feels the emotions take over, especially for something one loves.

"Because it's harder and harder every time," Perron said. "It's so hard on the mental side of it to go through. Basically you have some situations that heal up quicker, and some that linger and there's no reason why, and that's why it gets harder on you, it gets harder on your family, you start to wonder about other things and you get in your head a lot. It's just good to be back. I think when you play, you think less and everything kind of settles. It's awesome to be back with the guys."

Concussions are hard to predict and how they'll affect someone, as Perron can attest, and this latest one came at quite an inopportune time with Perron, who is on a personal career-high 16-game point streak (nine goals, 12 assists) and arguably playing the best hockey of his NHL career in his third stint with the team that drafted him in the first round (26th overall pick) of the 2007 NHL Draft.

The first one came in the 2009-10 season when Perron was rocked by an open ice hit from San Jose's Joe Thornton as the Sharks center came out of the penalty box and caught Perron's blind side that sidelined him for the remainder of that season and 97 games in all.

There have been relatively milder ones (there's never a small or large type of concussion) where the symptoms aren't as often or frequent, such as one he had last season that forced him to miss just 10 days, but this latest one has Perron rethinking the bigger and more important things in life.

"I don't think you ever get to that situation where you're like that mostly when they linger," Perron said. "Last year I had one and I was out 10 days. It's pretty good, because you start feeling pretty good right away. Other situations like this year ... at the end of the day, a lot of things have changed over the years where you can skate, you can activate and it's good for your mental side of things to keep doing what you're doing and you're not going to distance yourself from everything and obviously you don't feel a part of the team. There's so many things that are hard mentally. You feel different as a person almost. It's not good. It's never fun to go through and I really, really hope -- knock on wood -- that it never happens again just because I don't know how many more times I can go through this."

The Blues resigned Perron last offseason to a four-year, $16 million contract to return to the Blues for a third stint after setting career-highs in points (66) and assists (50) with Vegas last season and making a trip to his first Stanley Cup Final before losing to Washington in six games.

Perron reached the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career and first since a career-high 28 goals with Edmonton in 2013-14 on Tuesday in a 7-2 win against the Oilers. His 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games would equate to a career-high 34 goals and 68 points.

It is arguably Perron's best season that got derailed when he departed the lineup on Jan. 17.

"No, his work ethic is top notch," said Blues captain and teammate Alex Pietrangelo when asked if he's surprised by Perron's production. "He's going to make sure he comes back when he's ready. He hasn't missed a beat, he's been pretty impressive. As much skill as he has too, you're not going to miss a beat.

"... He's gotten better obviously throughout his career. Last year was a career year for him. He's gotten better every single year. He continues to work on his game and when you put him with linemates, he was with O'Ry [Ryan O'Reilly] before, and now he's with 'Schwartzy' [Jaden Schwartz] and 'Sunny' [Oskar Sundqvist], when you put him with linemates like that, you see what he did last year, when you have high-end skill like he does and work ethic, you're going to get rewarded and that's what's happened."

A coaching change from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube hasn't influenced Perron's game all that much, although there was a time when Berube, known for his tough love and straight-to-the-point style, had one of those tough love conversations with Perron after making him a healthy scratch on Dec. 9 against Vancouver.

At the time, Berube wanted Perron to play more disciplined and reduce the penalties taken and make more of an impact all around. It never sits well with a veteran player, but Perron took it -- albeit upset -- and used it as motivation and has improved ever since. The responsibilities have grown ever since.

"If that's what made it happen, I don't know," Berube said. "But at that point in time, I think there were some things that we just needed to talk about. And it's worked out and here we are."

"It started with the scratch, quite honestly," Perron admitted. "We had a good conversation, I brought it up before, and he's been awesome. I feel like he's been my biggest supporter, through the injury, through a lot of things."

And being supportive through the concussion issue was vital for Perron and Berube's relationship. When Berube made a comment that came across as calling him out when he said when Perron is ready to play, the Blues have a spot for him in the lineup, there was no misnomer taken by the veteran forward.

"I know there was a quote out there, it didn't sound good at the time and I told (the media) I'd address it at the right time, and just had a conversation the next day with Chief and what's going on with this," Perron said. "Obviously, the way he talks, he's pretty honest, I don't think he meant it, the way he supported me, and that's kind of where I'll leave it."

But Perron, who has 484 points (195 goals, 289 assists) in 770 regular-season games, wasn't sure when or if he would get back, just because of the uncertainties he's faced in the past and with this latest bout with concussion symptoms whether he would be able to play again this season, even though all signs appeared to be positive with him skating for several weeks. Symptoms can come and go.

He was skating with the team at home, and when on the road, former Blues defenseman and Synergy Hockey owner Jamie Rivers was putting Perron through the gamut of drills and helping him keep a positive mind and focus on playing again, remaining physically and mentally sharp.

"Physically, yeah. I think so," Perron said. "The first game, the first period, I felt pretty good right away and my lungs were a little tired. And then it kind of settled. The rest of the game, I felt like ... I mean my game's never going to be about speed. So if you guys are looking for that out there, you're probably mistaken (laughs). So it's about poise, about patience, making little plays, being strong on the puck. I felt like I was doing that. The next game was a little bit tougher, first back-to-back. I think I made some plays. I had a good amount of shots against Buffalo. But you'd like to have a couple of those back and maybe put one more in the net when you lose a game. But I felt like, even practicing the  power play [Tuesday] morning, that's huge for me. I haven't played power play in 24 games and now I'm right into the mix against top PK-er's on the other side. I made some good plays. I also made two or three that I was like _ 'Wow, I can't be doing that right now.' Hopefully it's over with, and  just by practicing this morning. But I'm guessing it's gonna take another three, four games or maybe a week. Hopefully, that just seems like it'd be normal. But like this morning, I felt a lot sharper. I made sure that on the power play this morning I was crisp and making plays."

Perron played with Schwartz and Sundqvist and offered up a dynamic line that had nine points (five goals, four assists) in its debut. Nobody can predict what's going to happen down the stretch and into the playoffs, but if Perron and Schwartz particularly can offer up the dangerous threats the Blues can supply offensively and take some of the pressure off the top line of Brayden Schenn, O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues will be a hard out come playoff time.

"I gained a lot of confidence playing that (offensive) spot last year in Vegas," Perron said. "I didn't score too many goals on the power play but I had a lot of assists, created a lot of chances for the other guys and it's interesting because you don't think of that spot for me right away. This is the situation we were in last year gave me that opportunity and I'm glad that I can do this again this year. I'm trying to be sharp every [puck touch, I need to keep doing that whether it's practice or in a game as we keep going and obviously in playoffs power plays are huge."

Things have come full circle for Perron three times in St. Louis, where he hopes it's his last, the Sherbrooke, Quebec native's second home. As long as he can stay healthy.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward David Perron (57) had two goals and an assist against the
Oilers on Tuesday, giving him three goals and two assists in three games
since returning from a concussion.

"... I think the biggest turnaround for me and my career, who knows where it's going to go from here, when I played in Pittsburgh and didn't really go well for me, I had to dig really deep because it was hard," Perron said. "You almost think you're going to be out of the league and then I get a chance to play with [Ryan] Getzlaf in Anaheim, I brought that up before. I honestly felt like two years ago for the role I had here and the ice time was pretty good and I took it up another level last year with Vegas and I'm trying to bring it up again, same thing. I want to prove to people I can do this. Again, having roles like those spots on the power play will give you a lot of puck touches that whoever I'm passing to is a high-level player so they can score, you generate points, you generate confidence that way. It's all about the roles.

"... I'm trying to make plays. People can look at different years for me and say, he had a good year last year or not. Whatever. To me, I've always played the same way. I've always tried to play the same way. Sometimes you have different roles on teams, and that can impact some of the production you can have. I do feel (more) comfortable this year. Since 'Chief' took over, I've had more consistent linemates, consistent roles, and I think that's affected me positively for sure."

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