HAZELWOOD, Mo. - It’s kind of a wonder that Colton Parayko wasn’t selected by any of the 30 NHL teams during his first year of draft eligibility.
These days, the 6-foot-5 defenseman is pretty hard to miss.
Parayko first caught the Blues’ attention when he was playing for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2012. Blues scouts would often watch him play in small, off-the-beaten-path towns to avoid drawing attention. They liked what they saw and eventually selected Parayko with a third-round pick (No. 86 overall) in 2012, his second year of eligibility.
Now, after three seasons of college hockey with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko is ready to take the next step. The 22-year-old will be wearing the captain’s ‘C’ on Friday when the puck drops on the annual NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City.
“I’m going to approach Traverse City the same way whether I was a captain or not,” Parayko said. “I just want to go in, be myself and make sure I’m representing the Blues organization with pride and the right way.”
In other words, he’s just going to continue what he’s been doing. It’s worked. He accumulated 66 points (17 goals, 49 assists) in 104 collegiate games. In 2013-14, he was named a WCHA First Team All-Star and the League’s Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, he was chosen as an NCAA Second Team All-American.
He turned pro in March and joined the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, playing the final 17 regular season games and five more in the postseason. Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock lists Parayko among the Wolves’ best players down the stretch, and all of that adds up to him getting a hard look at training camp next week.
“What I like is the fact that he really put in the work this summer,” Hitchcock said. “He trained with the NHL guys, and you cheer for guys who put in such diligent time in trying to get to the next level. You can’t help but be impressed with the amount of work, determination and sacrifice he made to try to further his career quickly.”
“He’s a guy that’s put on 30 pounds since we drafted him,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ Director of Player Development. “In saying that, he’s dropped three or four percent body fat. He’s got great hands and agility and he closes gaps on the boards very quickly. He’s a guy we’ll see in the Blues’ lineup probably by the end of the year.”
Parayko classifies himself as a two-way defenseman, a guy who gets “the job done defensively” and likes to jump in the rush if there’s an opportunity. “Having a big body, I’m tough to get around and tough to play against,” he says.
As a native of St. Albert, Alberta, he hopes to join the long list of prominent NHL players who once played their junior hockey there. The list includes Jarome Iginla, Mark Messier, Mike Comrie, Dion Phaneuf and Drew Stafford, to name a few. But he knows he won’t get there without a good performance in Traverse City, where he’ll join Robby Fabbri, Ivan Barbashev, Jordan Schmaltz, Thomas Vannelli and other Blues prospects in a four-day tournament against some of the NHL’s brightest future stars.
“We have to bond together as a team and do the little things right,” he said. “It’s the start of the season, so everyone is coming off their summer break. We need to get into the swing of things as early as we can and pay attention to the details. If we can connect with our systems early on, we can take advantage teams just by being a tight-knit group.”
For his age, Parayko shows a lot of maturity, and that might give him a leg up on some of the competition in camp.
“He’s got great patience in his game. Patience with the puck, patience in positioning. That’s hockey sense,” Hitchcock said. “We want to see what he can do. Traverse City is the first step to earning a right to play exhibition games and make the team, but he looks like a guy that’s more than willing to take that step.
“We’re all excited and curious to see it.”
Visit stlouisblues.com/traversecity for a tournament roster, schedule and game results.