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Blues' Parayko not overwhelmed in playoffs

Rookie defenseman has been big part of St. Louis' success this season

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

DALLAS -- There was a message for Colton Parayko: Shoot. Shoot again. Shoot more than that.

It started early. Early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, early in the season. With the kind of shot the St. Louis Blues defenseman boasts -- hard, heavy, destined to beat goaltenders often -- the only issue appeared to be Parayko's confidence in himself. He needed to know that he could shoot and that he should shoot.

And when he did?

It was the rookie who put the Blues up by two goals in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, becoming the first St. Louis defenseman to score in a Game 7.

It was the same rookie defenseman who scored a game-tying power-play goal in Game 3, a game the Blues also went on to win.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm7: Parayko rings it in off the post

"Everyone is telling me to shoot, so I let it go," Parayko said after Game 7. "Good things happen when you shoot the puck, I guess."

He had been challenged by one of the Blues equipment managers to get eight shots. He didn't quite make it, getting six. But the point is, that it's not just the coaching staff, not just his teammates, not just the fans, wanting Parayko to keep getting the puck on net. It's everyone.

It was something Blues coach Ken Hitchcock reiterated Wednesday, two days before the Blues play Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars, saying they would like Parayko to shoot twice as much as he does.

"I think the thing that impresses me more than anything is he's not overwhelmed by the moment," Hitchcock said earlier in the playoffs. "I think the thing that has impressed us all year hasn't changed in the playoffs. He's not overwhelmed by the moment. He has good composure. For a big man, he uses his feet to get out of situations as good as some small players. He's been able to continue to play his game and not get swamped by everything that goes on in a playoff series. He's just been able to come and play hockey."

Video: Colton Parayko on being in the playoffs as a rookie

And that was even more impressive, given the difficult series and difficult opponent the Blues and Parayko faced in the first round. It was, as they say, a trial by fire. It won't get any easier starting Friday, when the high-flying Stars -- even without forward Tyler Seguin -- host the Blues at American Airline Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

"He's played beyond his years," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "When you sit and talk to him, he's a pretty mature kid. At the start of the year, right away it was like, 'Wow. This guy's going to be good.' Sometimes guys who play college, it's a longer schedule [in the NHL], but he's had no real dips in his game."

Coming out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko played 17 games in the American Hockey League in 2014-15 before making the Blues this season, despite being ticketed for the AHL. Selected in the third-round (No. 86) of the 2012 NHL Draft, he played 79 games this season, tied for third-most on the Blues, the most by any defenseman, with nine goals and 24 assists.

And he hasn't slowed down yet.

"I think that's what makes the League so special now, is because the younger players can play significant roles instantly," Hitchcock said.

They have gotten better coaching, better foundations, Hitchcock said, adding, "So we get a way higher level of finished product now, way higher than we've ever seen."

Video: STL@CHI, Gm3: Parayko scores on blistering slap shot

That set Parayko up for this season, for these playoffs.

Along with rookie forward Robby Fabbri, Parayko was a significant reason the Blues prevailed against the Blackhawks. Parayko was solid, unflappable, scoring those two goals and adding an assist in the first round. He did not break, even when Chicago threw what it could at him.

The 22-year-old -- 6-foot-6, 226 pounds -- is big, strong and solid. He was not nervous. He was not jittery. He was not afraid, though it would not be surprising if he inspired a little fear in those who ended up between his shot and the net.

"He's scary back there when he shoots it because his wrist shot's as strong as most people's slap shot," Hitchcock said. "It's like any other young player: There's also a level of confidence to get it through and he's starting to grow and he's gotten better and better at it. He's going to be a dynamic guy for a number of years."

All he needs to remember is this: When it's there, shoot.

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