By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
The NHL Draft, unlike similar events in the NFL and NBA, is designed first and foremost to build organizations for the medium- and long-term future, and not to fill immediate roster needs as the NFL and NBA Drafts do.
The St. Louis Blues have become one of the NHL's top organizations at using the draft to build for the future, and in this year's draft the Blues' braintrust once again stuck to the time-tested formula by using their first four selections on players who are bound for high-level university programs, and who are all in a range of two to four years out from making their pro debuts.
With their fourth pick in the 2012 Entry Draft at 86th overall, the Blues ventured into uncharted waters to select a player from a league they had not tapped at any time in more than a decade. Colton Parayko is a big, physical defenseman with scoring upside who skated for the Fort Macmurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2011-12, and will take his 6' 4, 195-pound frame to the CCHA next season to skate for the Nanooks of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
Parayko was not ranked for the 2012 Entry Draft by the NHL's Central Scouting Service in either of their Final or Midterm rankings, nor was he ranked by "The Hockey News" or International Scouting Services in their 2012 Entry Draft previews.
Parayko may not have attracted a great deal of attention from the hockey scouting community this year, but it wasn't because he wasn't involved in big games. In November of 2011, Parayko was part of the Canada West squad that captured the Gold medal at the annual World Junior A Challenge. The Canada West squad overcame losses to Sweden and Team USA in the preliminary round to post three straight wins over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, Sweden (by a 2-1 score in OT) in the semifinal, and their cross-country rivals, Canada East, by a 4-2 score in the Gold medal game.
Later, after a regular season in which he was tied for fourth among AJHL defensemen in scoring -- and posted the 12th-highest assist total (33) of any AJHL player -- Parayko and the Barons advanced all the way to the AJHL's Enerflex Cup Final before falling to the Brooks Bandits four games to two.
The big blueliner signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Alaska-Fairbanks back in mid-April. Nanooks' head coach Dallas Ferguson had this to say about his incoming freshman defenseman:
"The first thing you will notice about Colton will be his size. He uses his size effectively by breaking up plays and defending very well. His ability to move the puck efficiently will be a big asset to our D core and our transition game. We are looking for Colton to eat up the large amount of minutes left vacant with the departure of our three seniors."
Parayko's coach in Fort Macmurray, Gord Thibodeau, also gave the blueliner high marks:
"Colton's maturity and his continued improvement throughout the year was a direct result of his determination on and off the ice. He is a player that is consistently striving to better himself. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is not only getting a great player, but an even better person. We know that he will be an impact player at the NCAA level."
Here's a bonus video clip of Parayko in action during the 2012 AJHL playoffs vs. the Sherwood Park Crusaders. At 1:55 of the video, you see the Barons go on the attack during a power play; at 1:58, notice Parayko cruising into the high slot from the left of the screen. As the play goes into the far corner, Parayko takes a pass in the clear and unleashes a wrist shot that beats the Crusaders' goalie up high for the tying goal of the game.
On a later power play, Parayko earns the secondary assist on a goal by his defense partner, Mike Puddifant, to ice a 6-3 win for the MOB, as the (Fort) Macmurray Oil Barons are known locally.