Rookie will start season on blue line
(Chris Lee /P-D)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Alex Pietrangelo faced long odds of making the Blues' opening-day roster, but on Monday the 18-year-old defenseman received word that he'll be on the team and perhaps on the ice Friday against Nashville.
"It's tough to explain," Pietrangelo said moments after he got the news Monday night from Blues President John Davidson. "There's a smile across my face, but I think it's more of relief than anything. I thought I earned it through the preseason. ... I thought I played pretty well. ... Hopefully I'll be here longer than a little bit."
Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick last June, will be with the Blues on opening night, but that doesn't mean he'll be on the roster for the entire season. The Blues can use Pietrangelo in up to nine NHL games before his season counts a full year toward the team owning his rights. If the team doesn't think he can contribute for the entire season, it will return him to his junior club.
"He's earned a spot," Davidson said. "Now it's the next step. Now it goes up another notch."
Pietrangelo, who was born on Jan. 18, 1990, will become the third-youngest player in the Blues' 41-year history when he suits up. Herb Raglan (1985) remains the youngest player at 18 years, 82 days, and Brian Benning (1984) is the second youngest at 18 years, 126 days.
In contrast to those days, however, the trend now appears that more draft picks are ready to play immediately. Following in the footsteps of David Perron, Pietrangelo becomes the second straight Blues draft pick to play the same year. The team might have had three consecutive picks play in the NHL right away, but in 2006 Erik Johnson elected to attend the University of Minnesota for one season.
"You expect it when you're drafting as high as we've been drafting," said Jarmo Kekalainen, the Blues' assistant GM and director of amateur scouting. "Making it to the opening-day roster is just one step in the big process. I think it's still a work in progress. You don't want to rush things with a young defenseman, but things have been pretty good."
Including Pietrangelo, eight of the top 10 picks in last summer's draft will at least start the season with their respective NHL teams. That list also includes Steve Stamkos (Tampa Bay), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), Zach Bogosian (Atlanta), Luke Schenn (Toronto), Nikita Filatov (Columbus), Mikkel Boedker (Phoenix) and Josh Bailey (New York Islanders).
The Blues simply felt that Pietrangelo was ready to help the club this season.
"We've all seen the poise he has. ... I like his poise," Davidson said. "There's always good things that happen on the ice, and things you learn from. I don't like saying 'bad.' Some things don't go well, but you learn from them. He's a quick learner, very mature."
An offensive-minded defenseman, Pietrangelo had five assists in five games in the preseason.
"I think he's a guy that has impressed us with his hockey sense," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "His ability to do creative things with the puck. ... That's why he's here."
Some would assume Pietrangelo's chances of making the team increased when Johnson (knee) was lost for the season and fellow defenseman Jeff Woywitka (foot) went down for a month. But Davidson emphasized that's not the case.
"It's got nothing to do with anything else," Davidson said. "We've got good players here. If we didn't think he could handle it, he'd be walking out with a smile on his face."
One teammate happy for Pietrangelo was Perron, who perhaps knew best the emotions Pietrangelo was feeling Monday.
"Being told that you made the team is pretty nice," Perron said. "Alex had a pretty good training camp. He deserves everything he got. He looks like a pretty good passer and a pretty smart guy."
Perron said he had some advice for Pietrangelo.
"It is tougher than you think ... mostly mentally, for me," Perron said. "You play a lot of ice time in junior hockey and you expect to play good every night. When you come into the NHL, you don't have the ice time you'd like to have and it's tough to play consistent every night. You have to adjust your mind."
Perron also said he would tell Pietrangelo not to think about it as a nine-game trial.
"Just go out there every game and expect it to be the last one," Perron said. "They can send you back after two games, three games. Make an impression."
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