Alex Pietrangelo evolving into a top pairing defenseman

Tonight’s game between the St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes may not mean much for the Blues. Most fans in St. Louis kissed the playoffs goodbye a week or two ago as they currently sit in 13th place with 73 points. In the short-term, these games may not mean much—but in the long-term, these are the games where the franchise will build its new foundation. The well-publicized trade between the Avalanche and Blues signified a change in direction for the organization when they sent former #1 overall pick Erik Johnson to the Rockies. In a few years though, the biggest part of the trade may not be the players who were involved, but a player who was given the opportunity to blossom into a cornerstone defensemen in his own right: Alex Pietrangelo.

One of the main reasons the Blues were able to part with a player of Johnson’s potential and stature is because of the way they felt about Pietrangelo. Since drafting him with the fourth overall pick in 2008, he’s been groomed slowly in the OHL to make sure he was able to fully reach his potential once he became an everyday player in the NHL. He tore up the OHL with both Niagara and Barrie, he dominated the World Junior Championships last year, and finally was given the chance to permanently stick with St. Louis this season. Needless to say, he’s made the most of his opportunity.

This season he’s already collected 10 goals and 29 assists for 39 points in 69 games. To add to those boxcar numbers, he’s chipped in four goals on the power play and he’s notched an impressive +15 rating. He was playing well enough that as the deadline neared, the Blues felt comfortable enough to send both Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson packing—in essence handing the keys over to Pietrangelo.

Since the two trades in February, he’s been on the top defensive pairing with Carlo Colaiacovo. Only Eric Brewer (22:14) and Erik Johnson (22:07) were averaging more time than him before the moves. He was averaging 21:46 over the season, but his average ice-time has been bumped up to 24:15 since the trade. Over the course of the season, he’s been playing almost three minutes per game on the power play and two minutes on the penalty kill. Now, he’s seeing even more time on both the power play and the penalty kill; he’s posted 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 15 games since the February 19th trade with a +1 rating against the oppositions’ best lines. He’d certainly be on the shortlist for the Calder Trophy if it weren’t for the obscure rules governing the rookie of the year.

He’s giving the Blues exactly what GM Doug Armstrong hoped he would:

“He’s played well enough now to be one of our primary, top-four (defensemen). He’s going to be a leader for us the rest of this year, and then it’s going to be a very important summer for him. It’s going to be very important for him to stay focused, but he seems to have the mindset and professionalism to not take a step back — and also take a step forward.”

 

The fact that Pietrangelo is thriving now that he’s been given a chance to shine shouldn’t surprise many hockey fans. In St. Louis, he’s been compared to Erik Johnson all season (and since the day he was drafted). But before he heard his name called by the Blues, he’s been compared to guys like Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, and Zach Bogosian that were also selected in the 1st round in 2008. Not bad company to keep.

In addition to the Pietrangelo, the Blues have had one of the best prospect systems over the last five years. But for all the strength they have in their pipeline, their greatest asset has been the volume and quality of prospects they have on the backend. Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Pietrangelo, and now the newly acquired Kevin Shattenkirk have the potential to be a great defensive core for years to come. They were able to parlay that organizational strength into a package that was able to fill a need today—and will fill the need for years to comewith Chris Stewart.

Blues’ president John Davidson’s comments were telling:

“When you get into that position, you go, ‘Is there somebody out there we can get and really enhance a different need on our club, knowing that we can get something without killing us back there? You look at needs, and we need a power forward and scoring. We’ll see where it goes. There are no guarantees.”

It’s interesting that he’d say they could trade a former #1 overall pick and it wouldn’t kill them back there. He was quick to point out that the trade was not an indictment on anyone, which leads us to believe they’re excited about the young players they have coming up on the blueline.

After the trade deadline, headlines will always explain how new players are playing a huge role for their new teams. But just as often, someone will need to step up and fill a void when a big name player is shipped out of town. It was the trust in Pietrangelo that allowed the Blues to make this kind of splash. Assuming he’s able to continue to develop into the player the organization projects him to be, Pietrangelo will reward St. Louis with the cornerstone defenseman they’ve wanted for the next decade.

Panthers officially add Chris Pronger to front office

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Earlier this month, it was reported that the Florida Panthers were talking to Chris Pronger about joining their front office.

Exactly three weeks later, the Panthers confirmed the move during a conference call with GM Dale Tallon.

Dan Murphy of Sportsnet is reporting that Pronger’s official title will be “senior adviser to the president of hockey operations”. So basically, he’ll be working closely with Tallon.

Pronger has been with the NHL’s Department of Players Safety since the start of the 2014 season.

“Chris has spent the last three years working for the League’s Department of Player Safety and is ready to move into a more competitive, executive role,” Tallon said in a release. “One of the most dominant defensemen of his era, Chris’ winning resume and wealth of hockey knowledge will be a great asset to our hockey club. We’re thrilled that he has chosen to join the Panthers organization.”

The 42-year-old is now free to join a team because his last player contract has (finally) expired, and he’s no longer on anyone’s payroll.

This move is hardly surprising considering Pronger has already mentioned on numerous occasions that he’d like to be a general manager one day.

Plenty of trade chatter now that freeze is over

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The NHL trade freeze officially ended at 8:00 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, but we haven’t officially seen any moves. Still, expect some transactions to go down in the very near future.

According to TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, there are a few specific names that might find themselves in new cities sooner than later.

Per McKenzie, the Carolina Hurricanes are very interested in new Golden Knights defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who they acquired from Chicago during the expansion draft.

The former Blackhawk is 25 years old, and he had 16 points and 29 penalty minutes in 58 games during the 2016-17 season.

McKenzie also mentioned the strong possibility of the Oilers dealing Jordan Eberle at some point, but he also added that a deal isn’t necessarily close. A trade could occur on Friday.

Eberle had 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games, but he was nowhere to be seen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he had two assists and a minus-6 rating in 13 games.

The fact that Eberle comes with a cap hit of $6 million doesn’t help his odds of sticking around in Edmonton. After all, they’ll need all the cap space they can get for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl‘s extensions.

For over a week now, the Minnesota Wild have been at the front of the line when it comes to trade rumors. The Wild have bodies they can move on the blue line, as they were able to keep Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin away from Vegas.

Now, it sounds like Scandella may be the player most likely to move in the next little while.

Going back to McKenzie’s Twitter timeline, he suggests that Brodin is the player they least want to part ways with, while Scandella is the one most likely to be dealt.

The Arizona Coyotes have already made some noise this week. They traded for Nick Cousins, moved Mike Smith to Calgary and parted ways with Shane Doan. But TSN’s Darren Dreger believes there will be more movement in the desert.

Now all we need is for two teams (or more) to pull the trigger!

PHT Morning Skate: Expansion draft winners and losers

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–As you’ve probably heard, the Vegas Golden Knights put their roster together last night. The Score looks at three takeaways from their initial roster. Landing Nikita Gusev from Tampa Bay was a nice acquisition for GM George McPhee. (The Score)

–Sportsnet’s Luke Fox put together his observations of last night’s NHL Awards ceremony. Mike Babcock just can’t buy a Jack Adams Award, Connor McDavid left with a lot of hardware and actor Jacob Tremblay took a little shot at the Canucks. (Sportsnet)

–Sean McIndoe looks at the five best goalies that have ever been exposed in an expansion draft (prior to last night). People forget, but the Sabres left Dominik Hasek unprotected in the early 90s, but the Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers opted not to select him. (The Hockey News)

–Former hockey player Denna Laing suffered a devastating injury on the ice that left her paralyzed. Yesterday, she had the honor of presenting an award and getting a standing ovation. (NBC Sports)

–Some teams took a major hit in the Vegas expansion draft, while other teams made out just fine. The Washington Post breaks down the winners and losers of last night’s expansion draft. It was a pretty tough night for the Panthers and Islanders. (Washington Post)

–Sportsnet did a great feature on top draft prospect Nolan Patrick. Here’s a look at how Patrick became the player he is today:

Vegas has 15 d-men, but won’t keep them all

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The Vegas Golden Knights suddenly have 15 defensemen.

Just don’t expect all 15 to remain Knights for long.

“We’re going to have to move some defensemen,” general manager George McPhee said Tuesday, “because we’re going to claim a bunch.”

So, who might get flipped?

Well, a highly touted youngster like Shea Theodore, acquired in a trade with Anaheim, is unlikely to go. Theodore, 21, could be a core member of the Knights for years to come.

Deryk Engelland probably won’t be going anywhere either. He just signed a one-year contract with the Knights, and he already has ties to Sin City.

But a 32-year-old like Marc Methot? He could be dealt. The Dallas Stars are reportedly quite interested.

A few others could be on the move, too, but we’ll have to wait to find out which ones.

Here’s the full list of d-men that officially became Vegas property today:

Jake Bischoff
Deryk Engelland
Alexei Emelin
Jason Garrison
Brayden McNabb
Jon Merrill
Marc Methot
Colin Miller
Luca Sbisa
David Schlemko
Griffin Reinhart
Nate Schmidt
Clayton Stoner
Shea Theodore
Trevor van Riemsdyk