ST. LOUIS — After his team was swept out of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings last spring, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk had trouble moving beyond the experience.
"It's tougher because you're always wondering while watching them move on what you could have done differently," Shattenkirk said Monday. "In a way it was good to know the way they played and how hard they played. That's what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.
"If you had asked the question league-wide, it was pretty obvious they were playing at a different level. They really turned it on when it came to playoff time and that's the most important thing."
It also was an important lesson for the Blues, a young team trying to gain competitive traction in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Shattenkirk, 23, and budding superstar Alex Pietrangelo are two key players on a potentially dominant defense corps. Both are young puck-movers who create offense on the back end and also are valuable special teams performers.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Shattenkirk possesses a highly desirable trait among defensemen.
"He just looks like he's calm when other people are nervous with the puck," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk, coming off a breakout season that included nine goals and 43 points in 81 games last season. "He's a good player right now and he has a chance to be a great player."
Hitchcock said greatness on the back end comes with patience and playmaking ability. Shattenkirk has both, but is also still learning.
"I always use the term 'When most people are nervous, the great players are calm''' Hitchcock said, "and that's what he has a chance to be, because he's very calm under pressure."
Shattenkirk wasn't sure what to expect when Hitchcock took over as Blues coach early last season.
"Once he came on board, a lot of people said that he was so defensive-minded and that he was gong to have to change things around," Shattenkirk said. "It couldn't have been farther from the fact. He does a great job of getting the defensemen involved and making sure we're joining the rush offensively and being that second option."
On Monday, Shattenkirk played the point alongside Alex Steen on one of the Blues' three power-play units.
"It's something I love doing, it's a big part of my game and I enjoy it," Shattenkirk said of the power play. "That's definitely an area where chemistry goes a long way."
While Shattenkirk oozes offensive potential, Hitchcock expects all the defensemen to live up to the "defense" part of their job description as well.
"He has high expectations for everyone and that forces you to elevate your play," said Shattenkirk, who stayed sharp during the lockout by playing in 12 games for TPS Turku in Finland, contributing two goals and six points.
Blues veteran Barret Jackman said his first impression of his current defense partner turned out to be highly accurate. He was one of the first players to call Shattenkirk after the youngster joined the Blues in a 2011 trade with Colorado.
"He had an upbeat attitude and really wanted to prove himself," Jackman said. "He's a very unselfish player and person and that's a perfect fit for St. Louis. He's a great kid and comes from a great family; it definitely translates into being one of the more likable guys on the team."
Jackman also has been a strong and steadying influence on Shattenkirk.
" I think I've been very fortunate to play with very solid defensive partners, especially Barret," Shattenkirk said. "We are a young group. Everyone always thinks Jacks is this old guy, but he's only 30 or 31 years old and he's got some great years left in him."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.