TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Is it really fair to still consider defenseman Alex Pietrangelo
a St. Louis Blues' prospect?
Pietrangelo, after all, has been a part of two training camps and is no longer eligible for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year when he does settle in as a full-time player in St. Louis. Why? He played in eight games for the Blues in 2008-09 and nine last season before being sent back to junior … again.
But, really, Calder talk is of no concern to Pietrangelo.
"You know what, at this point, I'm just trying to make the team and remain there all year," Pietrangelo told NHL.com. "You just have to shake that off, go out there and play hockey."
The thing is, since being selected fourth overall by the Blues in 2008, that's all he's ever done. And never once has he complained or questioned anyone -- despite playing for four different teams (Niagara IceDogs, Peoria Rivermen, Barrie Colts and St. Louis Blues) over two seasons.
He's also the best prospect skating of the eight teams participating in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this week. Pietrangelo, in fact, is making his third appearance at the annual five-day tournament, which, for some, is a great primer for the main camp.
"My goal is to make this hockey team (St. Louis)," Pietrangelo said. "I know what to expect at main camp since I've been there twice already and I'm familiar with all the guys. Making the team is one thing, but playing every night and playing good minutes is another, so that's another goal I kind of look forward to once I do get a spot in the starting lineup."
Pietrangelo has played 17 NHL games, scoring one goal, three points and eight penalty minutes. After being named one of Team Canada's top three players at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon and then scoring nine goals and 29 points in 25 games for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10, don't be surprised if the third time is the charm for Pietrangelo.
"He had a great (Traverse City) tournament last year and that was one of the reasons we kept him for as long as we did in St. Louis (nine games)," Blues Vice-President of Hockey Operations and Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis told NHL.com. "His play, starting with this tournament, will determine where he goes. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the player will dictate to us whether or not he's ready to stay."
With defensemen Barret Jackman
, Erik Johnson, Eric Brewer and Roman Polak
all assured roles along the blue line, Pietrangelo is just hoping to fit into the team's top six at this juncture. Once he does, though, the sky's the limit.
"I know spots are open," Pietrangelo said. "They're not sitting me down and saying, 'This is your spot.' I have to go there and earn it; everyone does at training camp."
For one thing, Pietrangelo wasn't demoted to the OHL each of the past two seasons for a lack of effort.
"It has nothing to do with living up to any potential or lack thereof," MacInnis said. "I can still remember sitting with our scouts at our final draft meeting and going over the defensemen (in 2008), and it was likely (Pietrangelo) would be available at No. 4. We knew at the time, (Zach) Bogosian, Luke Schenn and Drew Doughty were more physically developed than (Pietrangelo). It was just a matter of process of elimination. As far as physical maturity, we knew that it might take him a little longer."
Doughty went No. 2 to the Los Angeles Kings and Bogosian third to the Atlanta Thrashers before St. Louis picked Pietrangelo. Schenn went fifth to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We sent him back to get that experience and get that level of competition," MacInnis said. "He's worked extremely hard this summer and he's matured into a man … he's physically stronger (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and there's no question he's going to have a long NHL career once he does stick."
Pietrangelo has collected 37 goals, 126 assists and 198 penalty minutes in 180 OHL games.
"At last year's Traverse Tournament, he was always two seconds ahead of everybody else," MacInnis said. "And the one other thing -- he's as good defensively as he is offensively. He's got a great stick, his angles in the defensive zone are excellent. He eliminates guys by the way he's able to angle guys off and guide them into the dead zones."
Pietrangelo knows nothing will come easy, but he expects a pretty competitive training camp since a few spots will still be up for grabs. He knows he'll either be with the Blues or in the American Hockey League with Peoria in 2010-11.
"I'm playing with men now … it's a different game than playing with 16-or-19-year-olds in junior," Pietrangelo said. "I've been working with (Blues strength and conditioning coach) Nelson (Ayotte) in St. Louis and working out with the guys on the team. I've noticed a huge difference in my strength and that comes with age. I'm 20 now, and I started when I was 17, so that's a big gap and I certainly can feel it. I think I've done a better job recently of using my size and I'll continue to do that."