Before he reached the NHL, before he scored two goals against the defending Stanley Cup champs in his first playoff series, Colton Parayko was just another hockey-crazed kid in western Canada.
His home in St. Albert in the province of Alberta wasn’t far from the local ice rink, where he honed the laser slapshot that one day may be considered a lethal weapon.
“It’s a 4-minute walk from my house probably,” said the 22-year-old rookie defenseman, whose big goal helped ignite the Blues’ 3-2, Game 7 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. “I had lots of friends who played, it’s a small town so kind of everyone could get to the rink in 15 minutes or whatever and get a pickup game going or something like that.”
And living in western Canada has other advantage as well.
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“One day I skated home from the rink, I still remember,” he said. “That’s how close it is.”
The 6-foot-6, 226-pound Parayko had two goals and three points in the series and averaged just over 20 minutes of ice time. Not bad for a kid not far removed from his college days at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. In fact, he was still there a year ago.
Parayko’s nine goals and 33 points ranked him second in rookie defense scoring. His plus-minus rating of plus-28 led all rookies and ranked fifth overall in the NHL, while his three game-winning goals were the most by a Blues rookie since Erik Johnson.
The Blues do have one minor problem where Parayko is concerned.
We need that thing coming hard and fast, and quite frankly, I don’t really care where it goes as long as it makes a big noise — because it scares the hell out of people.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on Colton Parayko
They want him to unleash that big shot more often.
In seven playoff games he took 17 shots — and scored on two of them. Only Vladimir Tarasenko (26) and Alexander Steen (18) took more shots, but coach Ken Hitchcock keeps trying to convince Parayko that deferring to veterans is not what he wants.
“We would like him to shoot twice as much as he does,” Hitchcock said. “I think he’s getting better at loading it up and firing it, because sometimes he’s so unselfish that he wants to make a play to help other people, but we need him in this (second-round) series to be way more selfish.”
Hitchcock didn’t stop there.
“We need that thing coming hard and fast, and quite frankly, I don’t really care where it goes as long as it makes a big noise — because it scares the hell out of people,” Hitchcock said. “We just would like him to shoot more and get it away quicker.
“We’re working hard with him. He’s working hard with it, but adapting that attitude that he’s going to be selfish would help get that shot away.”
Growing up quickly
Parayko’s maturity level has impressed teammates.
“He’s played beyond his years,” defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “When you sit and talk to him, he’s a pretty mature kid. At the start of the year, right away it was like, ‘Wow. This guy’s going to be good.’ Sometimes guys who play college, it’s a longer schedule (in the NHL), but he’s had no real dips in his game.”
He’s had no dips, but does cause quite a bit of squirming by defenders willing to step in front of his booming slapshot and goaltenders trying to deal with a rubber missile headed their way at high speed.
You see a mindset and a work ethic that the kid has. The first guy that comes to mind is a young Shea Weber ... an absolute bomb, hard to play against, skates well for a big man.
Blues’ Steve Ott on Parayko
Former Blues Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis developed his 100 mph slapshot by banging shots off a piece of plywood into the side of a barn in his native Nova Scotia.
Parayko had no similar tales to wow the media, instead saying he found his way into a rink and kept hammering away at pucks as often as possible.
“Every summer I tried to find like goalie camps and stuff ,so I could go out and shoot on goalies all summer,” he said. “Just spent weeks and hours every day kind of, shooting on goalies. I tried to find old teammates that are goalies, my old teammate lives in the same town as me and he goes to hockey schools. I enjoy it.”
Parayko said he has no idea how fast his shot is, adding he has never had it recorded.
The laser from the blue line in Game 7 that left a vapor trail as it beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford certainly appeared to approach triple-digits.
Parayko has discussed the finer points of honing his shot with MacInnis, a senior adviser to Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong.
“He gives me some pointers,” Parayko said. “It’s pretty cool, too, obviously coming from a guy like that who’s such a recognized player, recognized for his shot obviously, and his play.”
The humble western Canadian speech pattern is there, but Parayko’s aggressive play and ability to make the Blues as a rookie in his first training camp speaks volumes about his ability. And his potential.
“He’s a scary back there when he shoots it because his wrist shot’s as strong as most people’s slap shot,” Hitchcock said. “There’s also a level of confidence to get it through; he’s starting to grow and he’s getting better and better at it. He’s going to be a dynamic guy for a number of years.”
Asked about another defenseman Parayko reminds him of, Blues forward Steve Ott didn’t take long to come up with an answer.
“You see a mindset and a work ethic that the kid has,” Ott said. “The first guy that comes to mind is a young Shea Weber ... an absolute bomb, hard to play against, skates well for a big man. If he has the potential to be a Shea Weber-esque type of player, that’s some pretty big skates to fill obviously. But honestly, it’s going to be exciting to see this kid’s potential.”
Parayko is too busy trying to get the Blues throughout another playoff round to consider his own amazing accomplishments this season.
“ Just getting into my first NHL game, that’s obviously a dream,” he said, “and sticking the whole season was huge, having a successful season. It’s been pretty crazy, a whirlwind.
“It was huge that I had the opportunity to stay. At the beginning of the year I definitely didn’t envision playing in Game 7 and scoring, so that’s a pretty cool moment and it’s exciting.”