That dude in the front row should pay more attention to Alex Pietrangelo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
This is the next in a series of stories ranking the 24 most important players on the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.
If someone were to wander into a Blues home game off the street and they knew a little about hockey but nothing about the team, this person would not be able to guess the age of Alex Pietrangelo. He's been legal to buy a beer in St. Louis since January. He has 96 NHL games on his resume after two short cups of coffee before returning to juniors. But he plays well beyond his years.
The man who led all Blues players in assists with 32 is named Pietrangelo. Sure injuries probably kept Andy McDonald from leading the team in that statistic, but it's still impressive. His play was so strong through the first four months of the season, Erik Johnson was deemed expendable. The Blues in their entire history have drafted one player first overall in the NHL Draft. And a just turned 21-year-old made him trade bait.
It's funny that before this season, his expectations among fans had been tempered somewhat. Those eight and nine-game tryouts the two seasons before made it seem like Pietrangelo would probably be in over his head. People were hopeful he would pan out, but this time last year he was just another defensive prospect on a team with a fair number of defensive prospects without a lot of forward prospects on the horizon. Maybe that was for the best.
The same thing could be said for Pietrangelo at the World Championships playing for Team Canada. In seven games he scored two goals and three assists. If anyone in the league was sleeping on Pietrangelo, that had to help wake them up.
Here's the No. 1 thing you need to know about this budding star. His average of 22 minutes of ice time per game was most on the team and more than one minute more than the second highest average. Over 79 games played, that just illustrates the trust the coaches have in his game and the value he brings to every shift. He's sound in his own end and he knows how to pass the puck.
Think about the influence of Al MacInnis. When Erik Johnson was a rookie, he lived with the MacInnis family. All the pundits said the young defenseman would be able to take advantage of learning at the knee of a Hall of Famer. And Johnson didn't listen. His game was stagnant the last year if not regressing. His decisions weren't improving. He wasn't playing the puck well. Now he lives in Denver. Pietrangelo now has that position to learn from the best. If he can take advantage of that and maybe develop a heavy and accurate shot from the point and someday we will be talking about Pietrangelo deserving Norris Trophy consideration.
Pietrangelo needs to keep getting better. He gets comfortable and doesn't keep growing as a player and I will be super pissed. Because Alex Pietrangelo has the potential to be one of the best defensemen to ever wear the Bluenote. And that's saying something.