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Blues' Shattenkirk healthy, gaining elite status

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was so excited to implement his offseason training regimen again after the work he put in during the summer of 2014 produced noticeable results.

Following a program that included a change in diet and working with Ben Prentiss of Prentiss Hockey Performance, Shattenkirk came flying out of the gates last season.

Shattenkirk started with 16 points in 17 games and ingratiated himself into conversations about the top defensemen in the NHL. Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, who are part of Norris Trophy talk on an annual basis, had company.

However, a seemingly innocent collision with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin early in the first period on Feb. 1 derailed a season full of promise that was destined to produce career-high stats for the 26-year-old.

An abdominal tear was the result. Shattenkirk missed 25 games and never was 100 percent despite returning in time for the stretch run.

Shattenkirk enters his sixth NHL season completely healthy and fresh off a second training program with Prentiss, geared to pick up where he left off before the injury.

"Yeah, it was very unfortunate," Shattenkirk said. "… I think I could have easily kind of gone into a shell and said, 'The world's against me,' type of thing. I think the one light at the end of the tunnel when I did get hurt was that I was told early I would be able to play again at the end of the year. I think for any player, that's always promising. It allows you to keep your head in it.

"But I think now I realize that it started with what I did last summer preparing myself. I made sure to stay on top of that again this summer. You can't plan for injuries, unfortunately. I just have to do my best to kind of replicate that again and take care of my body so that it doesn't happen again."

Shattenkirk finished with 44 points, including an NHL career-high 36 assists, in 56 games last season and played in his first NHL All-Star Game. He had 40 points in 49 games when he was injured, second among defensemen to Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano. Shattenkirk was leading NHL defensemen with 32 assists and was second in the League with 24 power-play points. After returning, he had eight assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff games but never really felt like himself.

"When I came back, I think it was more convincing yourself you're 100 percent," Shattenkirk said. "They said it's a 10-week full recovery and I think I came back after about eight and a half or nine. That's 10 weeks of getting back into just a normal routine and not jumping back into a playoff race, so it was tough. I wasn't myself, but luckily I wasn't too far off. I do think mentally more than anything I wasn't myself. I was a little tentative.

"Not until about mid-July, late-July when we started skating again was I able to mentally overcome the hesitancy, and when I did it was just a great feeling. You don't feel it anymore on the ice. You're able to just play your game again. Now I feel great. Even the doctors said it's probably a year before everything gets built back up again."

After the NHL free agency period cooled off, trade talk began to pick up and out of nowhere Shattenkirk's name surfaced. It was a surprise considering Shattenkirk has two years remaining on a four-year, $17 million contract he signed in 2013 with an affordable NHL salary-cap figure of $4.25 million.

"It was interesting," Shattenkirk said. "There wasn't much going on, and then all of the sudden I was getting ready to play golf and I look at my phone and I had 13 text messages and a missed call from my agent [Jordan Neumann]. When I saw that, I thought I was traded, to be honest. But [Neumann] immediately called [Blues general manager Doug Armstrong] just to check and see what was going on and [Armstrong] squashed it. He said that it wasn't coming from him. More than anything, that's all I need to hear and it gives me peace of mind."

Armstrong called Shattenkirk to clear the air.

"To be honest, I told him nowadays with the salary cap, there's maybe four or five players that aren't going to get traded," Shattenkirk said. "When you see Phil Kessel go, anyone in this League can go. You have to be ready for it, and I think the experience my rookie year (getting traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Blues) prepared me for that."

With the departures of Barret Jackman and T.J. Oshie, the Blues will name two alternate captains, and Shattenkirk is a candidate to grab a leadership role.

"If that were to happen, I would be extremely honored," Shattenkirk said. "Not many people can say that they've been named an [alternate] captain or even a captain in this League. That would be very special."

Shattenkirk is turning into exactly the type of player the Blues envisioned when they traded for him, and they can only see the growth gaining traction with experience.

"A combination of mobility, smarts," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We expected him to be that type of player for us. He was until he got hurt. He had a tough time coming back, didn't play near 100 percent from that injury, but I think overall, if that's the best he's got, that's a significant level.

"… He's always going to be this gifted offensive player, but to make himself a significant player for 200 feet is the goal, and I think he showed that until he got hurt."

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