ST. LOUIS -- When the horn went off signaling the end of another disappointing finish in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the St. Louis Blues last season, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk took it as hard as any of his teammates.
For a third straight postseason, the Blues were denied their ultimate goal of competing for a Stanley Cup. In the aftermath, it became evidently clear that change was in order.
General manager Doug Armstrong voiced his disappointment, coach Ken Hitchcock voiced his disappointment and players made the consensus unanimous.
And when push came to shove, Shattenkirk made sure he could do what was necessary to make personal changes for the 2014-15 season.
So far, the results are very much what the Blues felt was possible all along.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk committed himself to training and getting in better shape over the summer, and he's on pace to shatter his career highs in assists and points this season. (Photo: Brian Babineau/NHLI)
Despite being held off the scoresheet in a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Shattenkirk is tied for fourth in scoring among NHL defensemen with 16 points and second in assists (15) to Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano (17).
Shattenkirk, 25, sat down with Blues brass and coaches in the team's end-of-season meetings and came away feeling like there was more for him to give moving forward despite career highs last season in goals (10), assists (35) and points (45).
Shattenkirk changed his conditioning program, improved his diet and switched to a new trainer in Ben Prentiss, founder of Prentiss Hockey Performance who currently works with other NHL players including Martin St. Louis, James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty, Matt Moulson, Cam Atkinson, Brad Richards, Jonathan Quick, Chris Kreider, Torey Krug and Jordan Staal.
"Honestly, it was more a push from [Armstrong] and [Hitchcock] that I needed to pull more weight," said Shattenkirk, who's dropped eight pounds. "They felt that I looked kind of tired in the playoff series [against the Chicago Blackhawks] last year. I think part of that had to do with playing in the [2014 Sochi] Olympics and not really getting much of a break there in the season.
"It was a matter of switching things up. I was doing enough to get by and obviously was able to have a great season last year, but everyone was believing that there was another level that I could reach and pushing me to do it. Finally, it was time for me to realize that as well and push for it."
Shattenkirk wasn't being singled out, and he hasn't taken it that way. He's on pace for what would be career highs in assists (64) and points (68).
"I think having that support this summer from [Armstrong] … he wasn't as hard as he [could have been] on me," Shattenkirk said. "He was encouraging me to do it because he believed I could do it, and that's what you have to take out of it.
"You can take it two different ways. I think he just believed that there was another level for me and I can improve as a player. I think that's important when your GM has that much faith in you."
Changes are never easy, especially when changing physical attributes to one's body. So for Shattenkirk, cutting down some of the delicacies players tend to enjoy and implementing a healthier diet were challenging.
"[Prentiss] implements a pretty strict diet, and I think that was probably the biggest area that I improved on this summer, starting to put the right stuff in my body and you just feel better," Shattenkirk said. "Energy-wise, you just feel much, much better. … Obviously my body fat went down about eight or nine percent from beginning of summer until now. That right there, you're just carrying extra weight that you don't need. It's been a good transformation.
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"… It's almost like you're afraid to do it and once you start it, you realize you can do it. In hindsight, while I was going through it, it just felt normal, but now, I think just putting the right things in your body and taking care of your body … you have energy, more constant energy (and) feel stronger on the ice. When you're doing your workouts and all that kind of stuff, if you're putting the right stuff in your body, it seems to be firing the right way; everything's working the right way. As cheesy as it is, it's like a factory. You've got to put the right ingredients in and everything will come out a good product."
The on-ice results seem to be speaking loud and clear, and not just with offensive contributions. Shattenkirk is averaging a career-high 22:32 per game playing alongside Carl Gunnarsson. He's getting more responsibilities in all aspects, including special teams.
"In games, I just feel stronger and quicker, more explosive," Shattenkirk said. "And then I think as far as recovery goes, you feel a lot better when you're doing the right things, taking care of your body and resting, which is important.
"When the situation's coming down the line, in the third period, you may have to go out back-to-back shifts or after a shift and you get a power play in the third period, you need to get going. You feel more energized without a doubt. You just have more confidence in your physical abilities out there, and that kind of allows you to play smarter and not worry about the fatigue. You see when guys get fatigued, they start to kind of shut down mentally, and it still happens to me. I still have moments where I do that kind of stuff, but I'm trying to make that less and less now."
It wouldn't be a stretch to say in his fifth season, Shattenkirk is playing his best hockey.
"I would say yes," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who works with the team's defensemen. "It's fun to watch a guy at the confidence level that he's at. He's seeing the ice so well. His puck decisions are razor-sharp right now. … He's been such a big part of our offense that he's an easy guy to keep putting back out there on the ice.
"It's fun to watch a guy who sees the ice as well as he does and with the instincts he has offensively, and then to play with the confidence level he has right now, he's a big part of why we've had this successful streak here."
Blues and Olympic teammate David Backes agreed.
"He's beaming with confidence," Backes said. "I think he had an awesome summer, best summer of his career.
"He's always had the talent and IQ and the ability to make the plays. I think now he knows he's in shape -- he's in tip-top shape -- and even if he tries something and it doesn't work, he's able to recover, he's able to play more minutes to extend plays. … He's taking the puck up the ice and making something happen with it."
With the opposition locked in on the Blues top defensive pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, that task is becoming increasingly difficult with the ascension of Shattenkirk.
"It's been a good start," Shattenkirk said. "It's been something that -- I don't want to say I haven't focused on, but I just made sure I've stayed on the right side of things. I've been playing a little more aggressively, but in the right way. Not playing stupid hockey and trying to force it. It's been great. The way we've all been playing is what kind of frees that all up and makes everything work well."