Three years ago, Colton Parayko was playing defense for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
On Thursday, he will make his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues against a team from his home province in Canada, the Edmonton Oilers.
The 2012 third-round pick paid no attention to the Blues’ organizational depth chart that seemed to give him little opportunity to make the opening-night roster. Along with fellow rookies Robby Fabbri and Joel Edmundson, the trio has crashed the party and are about to embark on a new stage of their careers.
Parayko was a long shot to make the roster, but played well enough that the Blues assigned veteran defenseman Chris Butler to their American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago along with Petteri Lindbohm, another young defenseman that was expected to start the year in St. Louis.
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“That’s something I really didn’t want to think about because those things are out of my control,” Parayko said Wednesday when asked about how he viewed his chances. “I just wanted to make sure I did my part, tried to come to the rink and work hard on and off the ice.” I tried to learn as much as possible and tried to learn from coaches and players during games.”
Parayko got everyone excited by piling up six assists during the preseason. So did his 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame and unleashing bombs from the point in a style perhaps not seen by Blues fans since the days of Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, now a senior adviser with the Blues.
Obviously he’s got the bomb from the point that scares the hell out of everybody, including his own players.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on rookie defenseman Colton Parayko
“He was a great player and someone I watched growing up, so it’s pretty cool,” Parayko said. “Actually the day I got drafted he’s the guy that called me and told me I was part of the Blues. That was a pretty exciting day.”
It won’t be as exciting as Thursday, when the 22-year-old Parayko’s mother and two sisters make the trip to St. Louis for his NHL debut. His father would have come, too, but couldn’t get off work.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Parayko was on the team’s radar after his 22 games with AHL Chicago last spring, including the playoffs. The Wolves coaches sung his praises to anyone with the Blues that would listen.
Besides his size and skill and physical ability, Parayko also can man the point of the power play, where his shot could be a huge weapon.
“They felt like this is a guy that had no pulse, nothing bothered him,” Hitchcock said. “Obviously he’s got the bomb from the point that scares the hell out of everybody including his own players. They felt if there was ever a guy that looks like he’s ready to go, this was a guy that looks like he’s ready to go.
“He looked ready to go and has stayed in that mode since really Day 1 in training camp.”
Hitchcock said Parayko’s route to the NHL was far from the path followed by most top prospects.
“He came the route that most kids quit in, which is the thing that makes me the proudest,” Hitchcock said. “Most kids in western Canada quit hockey; you don’t play AAA, you didn’t get drafted, your career’s over. He just kept playing hockey and he came in the back door.
“He’s playing in the NHL as a first-year player.”
Fabbri, 19, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He nearly made the team out of training camp last year, one year removed from being a first-round pick. Flashing his package of speed, skill and tenacious aggression again this preseason showed the Blues he was ready for at least the standard nine-game tryout.
The Blues must decide after nine games whether to keep him in the NHL or return Fabbri to his junior team, but on Wednesday Hitchcock didn’t make it sound like that was part of the plan.
“We’re thinking that he’s going to be here for the long term,” Hitchcock said of Fabbri, who had 70 goals and 138 points in his last 88 games of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. “I get the fact with the nine games (tryout) and we all understand that, but boy, the way he’s played he hasn’t missed a beat.
“He augments whatever line he plays on, he can play left or right, he can play center. He’s a young guy that looks like he’s going to have a big season for us and a big career.”
Hitchcock’s said Fabbri continued to show signs of being a productive player even when placed against veteran NHL competition during preseason games.
“He’s a really competitive guy and he’s got quickness,” Hitchcock said. “He’s fearless. He’s got great hockey sense, fits the way we play.”