(HockeySTL)-- Steve Ott is often the forgotten piece of the blockbuster Ryan Miller trade last season. The recognition Ott gets across the league is sparse; even in St. Louis he is sometimes overlooked. The people who don’t overlook Ott are his teammates and management, who see the positives Ott brings to the club.
Ott, 32, wasn’t just a throw-in in last year’s trade with Buffalo. The Blues’ main target was Miller, but they wanted Ott to be a part of the deal, as well. After the Blues made some offseason additions at center, Ott, who was an unrestricted free agent, wasn’t considered to be in the team’s plans.
However, that changed when Vladimir Sobotka departed for the Kontinental Hockey League late in the summer. On the same day, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong re-signed Ott to a two-year, $5.2 million contract.
“We had dialogue right after the season until when I signed,” said Ott. “’Army’ was first-class in the sense that he continued to talk to me, let me know what situations were arising and also respect the whole unrestricted free agency idea.”
The forward loved his brief time in St. Louis last year, and though he garnered some other interest from around the league, his first choice was always to return to the Blues.
“I knew this was the best chance I had to win the Stanley Cup with a great group of guys,” Ott said. “When that figures in, that’s all you want as a hockey player is to have that chance at the end of it all with a fun group of guys. It made my decision extremely easy.”
Ott has become an everyday player with the Blues, though in a lesser role than he played on his two previous teams, Buffalo and Dallas. The veteran of 703 NHL games has appeared in 30 contests with the Blues but has yet to score, causing many to presume he is just a fourth-line “checker”. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock believes much differently.
“I think he does bring offense,” said Hitchcock. “I just don’t think he’s done it yet. He’s a proven 30-40-point guy. He brings that element.”
Ott did indeed have some scoring success in Dallas, tallying 30-plus points in four consecutive seasons with the Stars. But when he joined Buffalo, his point total fell off and has yet to regain the heights it once was. The Blues don’t expect the forward to be their leading scorer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other expectations.
One of Ott’s biggest assets is his versatility, which has already been utilized by Hitchcock early and often this season. The gritty veteran has seen time on all four lines, at center and on the wing, in his tenure with the Blues. This year, with an injury to Paul Stastny and a bacterial ailment traveling through the team, Ott has seen time with nearly every forward.
“You always want to stick around and have a job in this league in any situation possible,” Ott said. “If you can give your coach different looks or different ideas if someone goes down, if someone isn’t playing to par and you are able to slide into center or right wing, it helps. For myself, wearing different hats and having different attributes as a hockey player will keep me in the league a little longer.”
Ott’s maneuverability is a strong attribute, especially during the more grueling parts of the season when injuries are more likely to occur. Blues captain David Backes sees Ott as a player with a team-first attitude, who is willing to change roles as often as necessary.
“He’s got the mentality to really figure out any role he is put into,” said Backes. “He’s able to, with his work ethic, to be effective in any spot. He knows if he’s playing for 20 minutes how he has to play to sustain for that long and be a factor. With his energy, he keeps other guys honest and makes sure we are producing.
“If he’s on the fourth line, he is willing to take other guys off their games and really muck it up doing all the little things it takes to win games. Awesome team guy. He will step into any role asked of him.”
Even with different roles, Ott tries to keep his level of intensity and his attributes the same.
“I think you have to standardize your game and know what is asked of you from the coach,” Ott explained. “The biggest thing is keeping your consistency level at an extreme high and your ability to play the game the same way.”
However, it is certainly different to play with T.J. Oshie and David Backes on the first line than it is to play with Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line. Ott’s game is not centered on offense. He is second on the team in hits (15), behind only Reaves and prides himself on being a high-energy player. When he’s playing against opponents’ top players, though, he has to adjust.
“You are going to get different looks playing with Oshie and Backes,” said Ott. “They’re going to have more productivity to their game, more puck-possession time. But you’re also playing against better players on the ice in better matchup situations so you have to be ready for that different task and be more mentally prepared playing with those types of guys.”
For Ott, part of finding that consistent form of success is being comfortable. Right now, his life is picture-perfect with a baby boy on the way and a strong family foundation. He hopes that constant makes for success on the ice.
“You want to be as comfortable as possible, have the best situation you can and, in my regards, I do,” Ott said. “I’ve made St. Louis my home and where I want to be. Hopefully it translates into success in your career and that’s what I try to do, give myself the best chance to do that."