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From Unnoticed to YoungStar

by Larry Wigge / St. Louis Blues
David Perron will join teammate Erik Johnson in the YoungStars Game on Saturday in Atlanta.
The kid wearing the white skates with the golden Midas touch stickhandling and shooting the puck was desperately determined to be noticed.

There is nothing average or normal about the story of David Perron.

He was eligible for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's midget draft, but was overlooked in 2004. Again in 2005. Finally, in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, his name was called.

Perron remembers being sprawled on the floor of his family’s Sherbrooke, Quebec, home watching the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in June, after he had 24 goals and 45 assists in 51 games as a midget for St. Jerome.

"I remember watching Erik Johnson walk up to the stage as the first pick in the draft and wondered what it would be like to hear your name spoken in front of the whole hockey world," Perron remembered wondering. "That was my draft year, too. But scouts told me my name probably wouldn’t be called.

"Still, my mom, dad and brother and I were there in front of the TV eating popcorn and drinking soda and wondering ... if my name would be called."

Some in the Sherbrooke minor hockey program said the kid with the white skates was a troublemaker. Others said he was too individualistic to conform to team goals. Maybe he was just a late bloomer who needed a break.

Last June, Perron finally found out how it felt to hear an NHL team announce his name in front of the hockey world, when he was chosen 26th overall in the first round by the same St. Louis Blues that picked Johnson first overall one year earlier.

Seven months later, Perron is no longer late in blooming. In fact, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound right winger made it to his first All-Star Game at the same time as Johnson, both as members of the Western Conference YoungStars team. Which proves that success is definitely no accident – and you can’t find a how-to list that is going to show the pathway to success.

"I knew my name was in that same draft with Erik’s, but I also knew that my chances of being chosen as a midget were slim and none because I didn’t exactly take the same path that he did," Perron said. "But I wasn’t about to let anyone tell me I couldn’t make it. I went back and worked harder."

Perron laughs now at the thought that some scouts told him he couldn’t make it.

"It was funny, but 26 of the 30 teams interviewed me before the 2007 draft. None in 2006," Perron observed. "I remember talking with Columbus’ chief scout and he asked me; 'Why the heck didn't we draft you last year?' I told him as a joke; 'I don't know, you tell me.' I was a good player last year, too.

"It’s sort of like I went from being an unknown one year to the NHL the next. That’s pretty good stuff, eh?"

Good stuff, indeed.

“Whatever it takes” is the St. Louis Blues’ theme for the 2007-08 season. And Perron could be the poster boy.

"Not everyone here at the All-Star Game took the same pathway to the NHL as Erik Johnson and Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin as the first player in the draft," Perron said with conviction. "Look at Pavel Datsyuk. He was overlooked in the draft ... and then didn’t get picked the next year until 170 or something like that. Are you going to tell me that he doesn’t belong here? Or that he can’t dominate the game?"

Perron is smart, determined and most of all, passionate. Give him a rink and a puck and he’ll skate and shoot and stickhandle till they run him out of the building.

David sort of slew his Goliath with 39 goals and 44 assists at Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. He played a pivotal role in the MAINEiacs’ championship season and was the team's second leading scorer at the Memorial Cup with 12 goals and 16 assists in just 17 games. Plus, he excelled for Canada in an eight-game "Super Series" against the Soviet Union in August.

"He was flat-out awesome, that's what I said to myself after seeing that," Blues President John Davidson said. "I knew we had a player. "He's got a great passion for the game. He's a rink rat. There's no question he's got the ability to score goals and pass the pucks, plus he has no fear of going into any area on the ice."

"He's a very skilled guy. He's very tenacious on the puck," star winger Paul Kariya said. "He's got great hands and he makes great plays out there. It amazes me sometimes to see what he does with the puck at his age."

"David’s the special story," said Erik Johnson. "Look at the obstacles he’s had to overcome."

Davidson added: "You don't see a guy in the first year make the club and do what he's done."

While most draftees go back to junior hockey, Perron, like Chicago’s Patrick Kane (first overall) and Edmonton’s Sam Gagner (sixth overall), made the quantum leap from first round of the 2007 draft to the NHL.

Perron told anyone who would listen that he planned to make the Blues when he arrived in St. Louis at a development camp for prospects in July. That confidence was rocked a bit, however, when he reported to training camp in September and ... he got to his locker and discovered that someone had painted black shoe polish over his white skates.

"At first, I’m like; ‘What happened?’" Perron explained. "I understood when Coach (Andy Murray) told me that no one on this team was going to be different than anybody else and that Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya wouldn’t be happy seeing a rookie coming here with white skates."

The Blues recognized the great individual skills and passion in Perron. Like an unbridled stallion. They also recognized a young kid who still has a lot to learn. And, boy, has it been a learning experience for David.

"I had to learn to be a pro," he said. "I had to learn the rules, the discipline, the consistency it takes to be in the NHL."

That meant a game here and game there over the first two months of this season while the Blues figured out whether they wanted to use up a year of professional experience that would make Perron an unrestricted free agent a year earlier than most players picked in the 2007 Draft. But the more they watched him grow, the Blues knew they had picked a special player.

Perron needed to add muscle and stamina that he couldn’t get at Lewiston, where there was no training facility like they have in St. Louis. Plus, David needed to learn responsibility. That came quickly, when the 19-year-old went to the wrong practice rink one day as well as when he missed a flight out of Montreal and returned late after the Christmas break.

"We’ve asked him to grow up quick," Murray said. "But there’s so much upside there. The skills. The passion. The love for hockey. You should see this trick he does with the puck. It’s so good that Keith Tkachuk is trying to learn how to do it. But I don’t know."

There are, it seems, tricks that a 19-year-old can teach a 30-something veteran.

Upside. Skill. Passion. Quantum leap.

And to think, some scouts told this kid he couldn’t make it.

For complete coverage of All-Star Weekend, click here.
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