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Blues see a familiar face in Pietrangelo

by Larry Wigge

The St. Louis Blues selected Alex Pietrangelo with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft with the hope that the young defenseman will be a major building block for their young and talented roster. talks with Alex Pietrangelo
A couple of weeks ago, Alex Pietrangelo shook hands with Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis in St. Louis and then the two kind of disappeared. They met once again Friday night when the Blues picked fourth in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.

"Al gave me a pretty good taste of what it means to be a member of the St. Louis Blues," Pietrangelo said. "I saw a lot of St. Louis and I could tell how passionate he was in talking about the city. It was special. When I got up to the podium tonight, Al winked and said, 'I didn't take you around the city for no reason.' "

For most of MacInnis' career in St. Louis, he starred on a defense that included another twin tower, Chris Pronger. The Blues would like to think that in the very near future, Pietrangelo, all 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, will be on a St. Louis defense that includes 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson.

"Alex has a lot of the same size and reach and skills of Chris Pronger," said Rick Meagher, St. Louis' Ontario Hockey League scout. "He's the best passer in the OHL. What stands out most is he's never out of position defensively already and he may have as much upside because of his size and age of any player in the draft.

"There's no panic to his game."

It's that passing ability and those offensive instincts, plus great power-play vision, that made Pietrangelo, of King City, Ontario, a no-brainer pick for the Blues, even if an offensive player might make more sense for a team that scored only 205 goals – third worst in the NHL – last season.

"We were looking for that puck-moving dimension," John Davidson, the Blues president said. "Alex skates well. He's involved. He's a tremendous transition player and that will help us get the puck out of our own zone and get it up to our forwards.

"We're not going to push him to play in St. Louis right away, but he's a very mature young man and we'll let him show us if he's ready to play in the NHL right away."

Transition is more than just a buzzword for the Blues, especially when you consider Johnson's five goals on defense were one-third of the anemic total that St. Louis' defense had all of last season.

Pietrangelo had 13 goals and 40 assists for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League, including 20 points in his final 11 games. Pietrangelo also had five goals in six playoff games before he was sidelined with mono-related complications.

One scout told me, "A lot of years, Alex would be the guy everybody talks about as the best defensemen in the draft; the guy clubs are willing to trade up to get. This year, with so many top-tier defensemen available, he's been kind of overshadowed a bit by Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian or a Luke Schenn.

"He might not be as NHL-ready as some of the others, but his upside is immense. In a couple of years, he could be the best player in this draft considering how hard it is to find a great, young defenseman.

"One day, he'll play 25 minutes a night and if he learns to use his body more effectively, he'll be scary to play against."

Forget upside. Pietrangelo thinks he's ready to play in the NHL right now.

"I know it's awfully difficult for an 18-year-old to make it in the NHL, but I'm going to do whatever I can," Pietrangelo said. "That's my goal."

During the Stanley Cup Final, Pietrangelo told me, "I was watching the game the other night (Game 1) and it was amazing to see how much quicker it is. But you learn to adapt to it."

Asked if the Pronger comparisons are fair, Pietrangelo laughed and said, "I don't have his mean streak. My game is more like Nicklas Lidstrom. He sees the ice well and controls the game at his pace. It's similar to what I do to control the game. He uses body position really well and puts opposing players in positions he wants them to be.

"I try to bring poise and patience out there on the ice."

High standards? You bet. But in addition to the 53 points Pietrangelo had in 60 games this season, he was also a plus-29. He's a plus-69 in 119 games through two seasons with the IceDogs.

An elated Davidson said, "For a few moments you like to dream about what things might look like, say, the next 10-15 years when we put Alex and Erik Johnson on defense together."

Maybe, just maybe, it will be like the next MacInnis-Pronger combination in St. Louis.

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