Last season, the St. Louis Blues decided to trade Erik Johnson, a defenseman they drafted No. 1 overall in 2006 ahead of stars such as:
- Jonathan Toews
- Nicklas Backstrom
- Phil Kessel
- Jordan Staal
- Claude Giroux (a fantastic steal at No. 22*)
The Blues received the 18th pick of that draft (Chris Stewart) as part of that trade, but they were able to justify sending away the should-be cornerstone of their defense because they received a 2007 first-rounder in Kevin Shattenkirk as part of the deal and because of the confidence they had in the fourth overall pick of the ’08 draft, Alex Pietrangelo.
Call it the Ken Hitchcock Effect or point to the natural progression of two talented athletes – or consider it some combination of those factors – but handing the torch to that dynamic young duo is looking awfully smart right now.
Pietrangelo within range of elite status
Pietrangelo has been particularly dazzling. As Lou Korac pointed out last night, the 22-year-old blueliner has generated 30 points in his last 30 contests. He’s been especially hot lately, with five assists in his last three games and seven in his last six, failing to produce a point in just a single outing.
Only David Backes and T.J. Oshie (47 points apiece) have generated more offense for the Blues than Pietrangelo in 2011-12.
Right underneath him is Shattenkirk, who has one less goal (10-9) and four fewer assists (31-27) for a still-impressive 36 points in 67 games. I’m a card-carrying member of the “rolls eyes at plus/minus” club, but for those who love the stat, Shattenkirk leads the plus-heavy team with a standout +26 mark.
Much like Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk is especially hot lately with a goal and four assists in three contests and nine points in his last six. Pietrangelo’s 41 points has him tied with Shea Weber, Dennis Wideman and Ryan Suter for fifth in scoring among defensemen while Shattenkirk’s 36 has him tied for 14th.
Interestingly enough, both Pietrangelo (two points) and Shattenkirk (four) are already on the verge of setting new career-high totals. Such success demands an enticing set of questions, then: what’s the ceiling for each blueliner? How far are they from becoming elite – or are they already there?
Either way, both guys certainly made it easier to say goodbye to Erik Johnson.
* – For all the bluster over what the Pittsburgh Penguins have done with their draft picks – and with all due respect to what Staal has achieved – it’s mind-blowing to think that Ray Shero could have added one of those four All-Star forwards instead.