(HockeyStL) -- The St. Louis Blues, since they were established in 1967, have had their share of talented defensemen pass through. The Blues, a franchise that has seen the likes of Barclay Plager, Jeff Brown, Al MacInnis, and Chris Pronger pass through town, have a keen eye for talent, and they know that they have landed a rare phenomenon in Alex Pietrangelo.
Pietrangelo, 22, was drafted by the Blues in 2008, and made his NHL debut in the 2008-09 season. Pietrangelo did not finish that season with the Blues, and was assigned to the Niagara Ice Dogs, his junior team, where he played in 36 games, registering 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists). He then made his way to Peoria just in time for the postseason where he notched three assists. It was clear at this time that Pietrangelo was extremely close to being NHL ready, but the Blues still felt that he could use some seasoning.
The following season Pietrangelo participated in nine NHL games, registering two points (one goal and one assist), before returning to the OHL in what would be the last stint of his minor hockey league career.
Pietrangelo was given his first “real” NHL opportunity in 2010-11, when he was awarded a spot on the Blues’ roster. Pietrangelo played in 79 games, and led all Blues defenseman in almost every category conceivable, including: games played (79), points (43), goals (11), plus/minus (+18), shots on goal (161), blocked shots (121), and time on ice per game (22:00). Pietrangelo also led the entire club in assists (32). If there was any doubt at all that Pietrangelo was the next star defenseman to pass through the St. Louis Arch, the 2010-11 season debunked it.
Pietrangelo’s outstanding 2010-11 season led to him surpassing Erik Johnson as the number one defenseman on the Blues roster. The Blues opted to trade away Johnson and bank on Pietrangelo for their defensive future. The most concerning question would soon be answered. Could Pietrangelo rise to the challenge and lead the Blues defenseman at this young of an age?
Blues head coach Davis Payne took his team into the offseason knowing that he had a player with a legitimate shot of being the next star, but having no experience with a player of this caliber, Payne had a big task on his hands in finding out how to use Pietrangelo in the best possible manner. Partners, ice time, situations, and scenarios would all have to be addressed in the offseason months, and Payne would be looking for someone with chemistry to be paired with Pietrangelo. Leading up to the regular season Payne tried different combinations, but the one he liked most was Pietrangelo and Carlo Colaiacovo. Colaiacovo, an offensive-minded defenseman, complemented Pietrangelo well offensively, but had a few flaws, flaws that the Blues were hopeful Pietrangelo could make up for.
The Blues got off to a slow start with a 6-7 record, and fired Davis Payne, replacing him with Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock brought a defense first mentality, but also brought knowledge of grooming young talent as well. However, the question was raised as to whether or not he would hinder Pietrangelo’s growth by turning him into a defensive competitor. In turn, he provided more stability to the Blues’ defense, stability that complemented Pietrangelo’s transition play, and offensive talent. Pietrangelo went on to lead the Blues in assists (39) once again, was third on the team in points (51), led the defense in goals (12), and was a +16 on the season.
Pietrangelo’s name was talked about heavily for the Norris Trophy nomination, but he fell just short in receiving the finalist nomination, much to the disbelief of many, but Pietrangelo once again stamped his mark on the league and is considered to be one of the league’s top threats on any given game night.
The past two seasons have been no fluke, Blues fans are seeing the rise of an NHL star, and it won’t be long before Pietrangelo is put into the same conversation as players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, and Al MacInnis, all who have made their impact on the NHL.