ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko arrived in town a bit earlier than most NHL skaters.
The 23-year-old is coming off a strong rookie season. He had nine goals and 24 assists with 102 hits, 122 blocked shots and a Blues-leading plus-28 rating in 79 regular-season games. He had two goals and five assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help St. Louis reach the Western Conference Final.
For Parayko (6-foot-6, 226 pounds), getting a head start on his second NHL season is the primary objective. But preparing for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which begins Sept. 17 in Toronto, is the initial goal for the St. Albert, Alberta native. Parayko will compete for Team North America, which begins its tournament schedule against Team Finland at Air Canada Centre on Sept. 18 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2).
"So far so good," Parayko said during the official announcement of the 2017 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic on Aug. 9. "I just got back into town last week and ready to start focusing towards that a little bit. Obviously I want to get ready for [this] season and I think that's going to be a good stepping stone to help me get prepared. Coming in here, I'm trying to skate every second day, train pretty much every day. I think it's going to be beneficial for me. I'm looking forward to the World Cup for sure. Hopefully I can come out with a strong start."
Team North America features players age 23 and younger as of Oct. 1 from Canada and the United States. Not only was Parayko one of the Blues' best young skaters last season, he raised eyebrows around the League, which is why being the Blues' lone representative on Team North America means a lot to him.
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"It's something that's pretty big. Obviously there's going to be lots of good players there and it's going to be a big stage," Parayko said. "I'm looking forward to playing with some new players, some younger guys kind of around my age and just getting the opportunity to meet some new players around the League because I don't really know many, obviously aside from the St. Louis Blues. I think that will be just a good opportunity to grow a little bit, meet some new players and enjoy it. It's going to be a big stage and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Team North America will be in Group B with Team Russia, Team Sweden and Team Finland. For Parayko, whose teammates include Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers), the thought process is to persevere and utilize younger legs as the tournament progresses.
"I guess I expect to win," Parayko said. "It's obviously going to be a tough tournament, some great players, some great teams, but at the end of the day, if we're calm and we work together as a team, that's one of the biggest factors. I think we can do it and I'm really looking forward to working with a good group of guys.
"Hopefully as the tournament goes along, we play back-to-back I think actually our first two games, little things like (fresher legs) hopefully plays to our advantage. Maybe the older guys aren't really too into the tournament or something like that, who knows? Hopefully we can take advantage of them somewhere, but I think either way, we're going to have a good team, a fast team, a very skilled team. When you've got that combo, it's pretty good. I'm looking forward to it. Obviously lots of good players that we're going to play against. I think overall it's just going to be good and a lot of fun."
Official PrimeSport World Cup of Hockey Packages