Blues' ready to ride their deep, deep defense

News-DemocratOctober 2, 2013 

— When its deep group of veteran defensemen said "show me the money," the St. Louis Blues responded by reaching deep into the franchise vault.

For a combined $89.5 million, they locked up defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (seven years), Jay Bouwmeester (five years) and Kevin Shattenkirk (four years) to long contract extensions.

All three are puck-moving, minutes-eating skaters capable of quarterbacking an offense or the point on the power play.

Now mix in the hard edge of veterans Barret Jackman and Roman Polak and the versatility of veteran Jordan Leopold and it's easy to see why some feel the Blues have the deepest and one of the most talented defense corps in the NHL.

"There's six (NHL) players that have averaged half a point a game over the last three years and we have two of them," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. "That's pretty impressive, and they're 23."

The future looks bright, but Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk --both high first-round draft picks -- already have valuable NHL experience under their skates.

This will be the fourth full season for both and they can only benefit even more from all that experience around them.

"We're a defense corps that prides ourselves first on taking care of our own end," Shattenkirk said. "We're a very close-knit group. We're the first ones to congratulate each other when we come off the ice for good defensive plays, because a lot of times those don't get noticed.

"That's something that we take a lot of pride in -- and that's the most important thing on the back end."

This kind of defensive depth came at a price and another former first-round pick, Ian Cole, is waiting for an opportunity to prove himself as well.

Don't overlook the backchecking provided by Blues forwards, eager to help the defensemen while pushing the team's transition game.

Pietrangelo's two-day contract holdout never was a distraction and he was as happy to be back as his teammates were to see him.

"He's got all facets of the game," Blues captain David Backes said. "He's a supreme talent, but he thinks the game well. He's able to contribute defensively by shutting down other team's top players, but also the offensive side of the game is where he really excel.

"To have a well rounded guy like that, that can play tons of minutes with the likes of the rest of our defense corps, that's one of our good strengths. We're going to lean on those guys a lot."

Having so many talented defensemen means not being forced to push one or two of them onto the ice for more than 30 minutes a night.

But still expect high minutes for players like Pietrangelo, who averaged 25 minutes, 7 seconds last season, Bouwmeester (averaged 23:24) and Shattenkirk (21:18). Jackman (19:19) also averaged nearly 20 minute a game.

The Blues added Bouwmeester and Leopold late last season hoping to add experience and depth on the back end. Both are back and hopeful of improving on their short stints of last spring.

"Those guys complement our team very well," Shattenkirk said. "Leopold was someone that came in with experience, he transitioned into this team very well because he was old enough and mature enough to do so.

"The same with Jay. Jay knew coming in here that it was a little bit different role for him, not being the top guy right away and having Petro here to play with. It's nice I think for him to have a little bit of that weight off his shoulders."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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