It was a rainy summer day this past July when my dad and I decided to head down to the St. Louis Mills Mall to check out the St. Louis Blues’ open prospects camp. As it was a prospect camp, I knew few of the guys going in; Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev were really the only names that I knew by heart going in.
But as soon as I got there and took my seat in the bleachers, my eyes were immediately attracted to a monstrous looking defenseman, wearing #55, gliding through drills like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was tall, strong, had a bomb of a slapshot and was gliding around on skates. Who in the hell was this graceful beast and why did I not know him?
The crowd was given access to a few of the rookies after the game, and this #55 was one of them. His crowd was sparse, but I was drawn to him. I walked up to his autograph table with nothing to autograph and simply asked for his name.
”Colton Parayko” he firmly and comfortably answered, before briefly telling me about his long and winding journey to get to where he is today.
I left that day with the name ‘Colton Parayko’ firmly planted in my subconscious, and he had gained a new fan that day in me. Besides being an incredible talent on the ice, Parayko’s easygoing, down-to-earth, genuinely friendly demeanor off of it gained my respect and admiration. There was no way this kid wasn’t going to be special someday.
Well guess who made the Blues opening night roster and started on the third defense pairing against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday October 13th. That’s right, Colton Parayko was going to get his shot.
I expect that Parayko’s story will be released in far greater detail in the coming weeks as he gains more popularity and garners a greater following and respect among the hockey community, but for now here’s Ryan’s cliff notes version.
Parayko’s journey to St. Louis began with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. That’s not quite Siberia, but when I looked up Fort McMurray on Google Maps it was so far north in Canada I had to scroll almost all the way up to the North Pole to find it. Suffice to say, it’s not on a lot of hockey scouts’ typical Canadian travel list.
But a Blues scout stumbled upon Parayko slicing up the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and quickly notified the rest of the Blues scouting department. As Bill Armstrong, Blues director of amateur scouting said, “We sneaked in to see him at odd times because we didn’t want to give away who we were watching.”
Parayko became the Blues biggest scouting secret, and the Blues eventually drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2012 NHL Draft, and their secret became relatively official.
He continued playing for his college team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and continuing a trend of playing high level hockey in really obscure places.
In his junior season for the Nanooks, Parayko put up 6 goals and 17 assists in 23 games before reporting to the Blues AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, to finish up the year.
Coming into training camp, Parayko was viewed by many Blues pundits as a camp defenseman who would gain good experience and be ready to push for a job prior to the 2016-17 season. But nobody told that to him, and he came in with all intentions of winning a job.
And win a job he did, which circles us back to our starting point on Opening Night 2015, with Colton Parayko suited up for the St. Louis Blues.
9 games into the season, the 6’5” 226 lb. – did I yet mention how big this dude is? Because if I didn’t, my bad – defenseman is already delivering upon his promise. He’s produced 6 points, 3 goals and 3 assists, to go with a +6 rating in an average of 19:44 minutes on ice every night. He’s producing at a very high level while playing top tier minutes for a defenseman. And he’s only been around for 9 games.
From Barclay Plager and Al MacInnis to Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo and another tall, imposing fellow named Chris Pronger; the Blues have had some exceptional defensemen in their franchise history. Get ready to add Colton Parayko’s name to that list in short order.
As advanced statistics are still in their primal stage in hockey, I’m not really able to throw a bunch of numbers at you to show just how great Parayko has been in his first taste of the league. But I can tell you that if you want to appreciate his greatness, just watch him, (kind of funny how that works, huh?).
The same smooth skating defenseman that I saw in the Mills that rainy day in July is the same guy that anchors the blue line for the Blues every night.
He plays big minutes on both the power play and penalty kill, showing that he’s already earned the trust of Coach Ken Hitchcock. But don’t get me wrong, he deserves those minutes. Parayko runs a smooth power play from the point and has an absolute bomb of a shot that he already has a tremendous feel for and shoots at impeccable times – see: the shot that lead to Scott Gomez’s goal yesterday against Tampa Bay.
On the penalty kill, he’s a strong net front presence that can cut off space with his tremendous size and plays a really smart game. And as much as his size and physicality can jump out at you, don’t you dare go around thinking Parayko’s just a big brute back there with little to no offensive skill.
Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, in the middle of the second period, Parayko took a pass from Jori Lehtera at his own blue line and sensed the Lightning taking a change. He put his head down and turned on the jets. Victor Hedman started out skating in front of him and Parayko – all 6’5” 226 lbs. of him might I add – went flying by down the right wing to generate a terrific 1 on 1 scoring chance against Ben Bishop.
Veteran NBC announcer Mike Emrick was absolutely in awe of the speed demonstrated by Parayko, stating that “normally we see guys like Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel skating like that, but Colton Parayko just did it.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I say declare that Colton Parayko will become the Blues next great franchise defenseman.
He has absolutely everything you could want in a defenseman. Size, physicality, durability, tenacity, shot blocking ability, offensive skill, tremendous skating ability and athleticism, a high hockey IQ, and the ability to play big time minutes every night. If you were creating a defenseman from scratch, his body type and skillset would be a really good start.
But, seeing as how it’s only been 9 games, Parayko definitely needs to keep up his exceptional play level for him to truly deliver on the promise of becoming what I just prophesied him of becoming.
Earlier today I implored you to enjoy the Blues while you can, well the same goes for Parayko. Great defensemen like him are rare gems, and the Blues have mined one out of the middle of nowhere.
My dad always tells me that Chris Pronger is the greatest hockey player he’s ever seen, and that there won’t be another player quite like him for a long time. Well dad, I think we may have found the next Chris Pronger-level defenseman.
And we barely even had to wait 10 years.
Thanks for reading…