(HockeySTL) -- It has been four seasons since defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk started his career with the Blues. A piece of the 2011 trade that sent former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to the Avalanche, Shattenkirk became a key acquisition for St. Louis.
In his first full season with the club, Shattenkirk posted 43 points, surpassed by a new career-high set last season. Once again, it looks as though the defenseman will one-up himself.
With eight goals, 39 points in 46 games, the 25-year-old is on pace to post one of the highest-scoring seasons by a defenseman in franchise history.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” said teammate and fellow defenseman Barret Jackman. “I think he is more consistent than he has been the last couple of years. He’s been solid every night and there haven’t really been any dips in his game. He has the vision and he has the hockey sense. I haven’t seen somebody at his age be able to go over plays and read things on the power play and five-on-five like he does and then relay them to people.”
Shattenkirk is second only to Calgary’s Mark Giordano for the NHL point lead amongst defensemen, but has a game in-hand. Shattenkirk also holds one of the top plus/minus ratings in the league, signifying that he isn’t sacrificing defense for increased offensive output.
“It’s really hard (to play that way and have success),” said Jackman. “That’s why I don’t do it. He has a lot of responsibility. He has to be part of the play every shift. He has to play 25 minutes every game. To be in the rush and not give up plays defensively it takes a lot of hockey sense and a lot of hard work.”
The young defenseman was one of the Blues’ top point-getters last season, but the satisfaction level wasn’t there, especially when the Blues were bounced from the playoffs in the first round for the second-consecutive year.
Shattenkirk admitted that he wasn’t good enough, that he wasn’t strong enough defensively to shut down Chicago. The Blues issued him an offseason challenge and he wanted to make sure he responded with results.
“He’s not only holding up, he’s excelling,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “This is the poster child for what happens when you are a talented player but get in weak shape and stays in weak shape and turns the corner. He’s not holding up, he’s excelling. He’s getting better.
“His endurance is there, his play is there, the ability to carry a partner is there. This is a good lesson. If you are watching our team, this is a really good lesson for a younger guy between being in shape and getting in excellent shape.”
The head coach opted to keep the details of the conversation he and the other members of the coaching staff had with Shattenkirk following last season to himself. However, it’s believed that Shattenkirk was told to alter his fitness routine and to enter this season in better physical shape.
“The physical and the preparation is one thing, but he just came in with something to prove,” said Jackman. “He was challenged to be better this year and he took that to heart.”
And the rewards are starting to come for Shattenkirk, who received his first selection for the NHL’s annual All-Star Game, which takes place this weekend. More awards, such as the Norris Trophy for the NHL’s top defenseman, could be in store is the current pace is sustained. It’s been a different season for Shattenkirk, but in a good way.
“I think just being able to do things more efficiently and for a longer time,” Shattenkirk said when asked what has been different about this year. “Last year, it was hard to play that game every game, every period, every shift and not feel like you have the energy to do it. It looks like a different game. Everything I’ve wanted to do, now I have the ability to do it.”
Though he found success last season, it was a hard one to maintain readiness. Due to a month-long break for the Olympic competition, the season was condensed with many back-to-back games. To make the year even more grueling, Shattenkirk was one of the players who headed to Sochi, Russia for the Olympic Games, so he was without a break and without the conditioning to handle the rigors.
“I feel much better this year,” Shattenkirk admitted. “I think last year was a condensed season, too, so a lot of games, lots of back-to-backs. It really wore on me. And then coming back from the Olympic break we had a long road trip and you just feel like you are catching up all year. I feel much better this year and I’m looking forward to these next few days just resting and relaxing. It’ll be good.”
Shattenkirk isn’t the only player to notice the difference. Almost every Blues player has discussed Shattenkirk’s impressive play this season. To them, the greatest aspect is the way Shattenkirk ran with the challenge, instead of from.
“He’s a guy that could be the captain of this team in the future,” Jackman said. “He wants to succeed for the guys next to him and he’s doing that.”