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Berglund Finding His Groove

by Dan O'Neill / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - The Blues were ugly at the time, gutted with the departure of top players, reeling from a 21-win season in 2005-06.

In the summer of 2006, Dave Checketts and his investors purchased the team and inserted John Davidson as President of Hockey Operations. Davidson didn't hide the blemishes. He acknowledged them and promised a revival. He urged St. Louisans to support the rebuild, to “come grow with us.”

The campaign was built around a group of young first-round draft picks - T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Erik Johnson, Lars Eller, Ian Cole and David Perron.

With his eye-catching ability and Olympic fame, Oshie became one of the organization's most popular players. Perron immediately was embraced for his slick puck-handling skills. Defenseman Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, was projected as a franchise player.

The Blues made the 6-foot-3 Berglund their second first-round pick in 2006, the 25th player taken. The lengthy center had played exclusively in Sweden and would have to learn the North American-style. He was raw but showed great promise.

Ten years later, the franchise has blossomed. The Blues are in the midst of the Western Conference Final, their first venture to that stage since 2001. But little remains of the group that started the renaissance.

Davidson departed with the Checketts regime in the summer of 2012. Currently, he is working to mirror a Blues-esque resurgence with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Eller was traded for goaltender Jaroslav Halak in 2010. Perron was traded to Edmonton for Magnus Paajarvi in July 2013 and has been traded twice more since. Johnson was sent to Colorado in February 2011 in a blockbuster deal that brought forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis. Stewart has moved on, but Shattenkirk remains a prime piece of the Blues' defense.

Cole was traded to Pittsburgh in March 2015 with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo coming in return. And last summer, Oshie was traded to Washington for veteran forward Troy Brouwer. The “Come Grow With Us” crowd is down to just one - one many might have predicted to be the first to go.

Berglund has been identified as an essential ingredient to building a playoff winner, and his inclusion has paid off. In 15 postseason games, he has four goals, four assists and a plus-9 rating.

“This is the best he's played since I've coached him,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “What we have is speed and tenacity. He has acceleration in his game, he has separation skating in his game. He has determination in his game that's at another level than what he's played at.”

It has been a process for Berglund. He charged out of the gate with 21 goals and 47 points as a 20-year old rookie in 2008-09. His size and skill screamed that the Blues may have a future dominating center on their hands.

The trend continued north when the “Big Swede” had 22 goals and 52 points in his third season. But the production leveled off. In 2013-14, he had 14 goals and 32 points.

Concern and criticism increased when the team signed Berglund to a three-year extension in the summer of 2014 and amplified when he logged 12 goals and 27 points the following season.

Last August, it was discovered Berglund needed shoulder surgery and would miss four months. As the season progressed, he became an afterthought.

But something happened over those four months - a change took place. Berglund returned in January and made his presence felt immediately despite missing the previous 40 games. By season's end, he had 10 goals in 42 games, a pace that pushes 20 over an entire season.

During the postseason, he has been among the team's most reliable performers, hard on pucks, responsible at both ends, timely with his scoring. Berglund's third-period goal in Game 3 of the Blues-Blackhawks series tied things 2-2 and sent the Blues toward a 3-2 win. His first-period goal in Game 2 of the Blues-Stars series tied it 1-1 and sparked a three-goal outburst. Berglund scored in the third period of Game 6, narrowing a deficit to 3-2 before the Stars prevailed. Berglund then added the game-winning touch in Game 7 of the Blues-Stars affair, wristing a shot past goaltender Kari Lehtonen four seconds before the end of the first period, giving the Blues a 2-1 lead that tuned into a 6-1 victory.

He appeared to get his fifth goal of the postseason in Game 1 of the Blues-Sharks showdown on Sunday, but officials disallowed the goal because of incidental contact. Notwithstanding, the 27-year old Berglund has been different player.

“I don't know, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said. “Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's maturity. But he's a very determined player right now, which is a good sign for us.”

Some might say Berglund used his four months of rehabilitation to get stronger. Some would suggest he is more fresh after missing half a regular season. Berglund would prefer to play rather than analyze.

“I don't know,” he said. “I'm just very excited to play; it's the playoffs. I'm just working hard … (trying to) find ways. I still feel like I have to get better every day and that's what I'm trying to do.

“For sure, that I missed the first 40 or whatever games, played half a season … obviously I should be feeling a little fresher than some other bodies. But I don't know, maybe it's just this time of year.”

In the past, there were nights you wouldn't notice No. 21. These nights, you can't miss him - winning battles, leading rushes, playing hockey he promised to play way when he was part of the Blues' youth movement. The others have moved on.

Berglund, along with the rest of us, has grown.

Maybe it's just his time.

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