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Versatile Stastny is Blues' X-factor for playoffs

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- Center Paul Stastny was the hottest free agent commodity at his position last summer because he was viewed as a player who could add instant offense.

After losing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to teams with more depth at center each of the past three seasons, the St. Louis Blues signed Stastny to a four-year, $28 million contract July 1 because they felt he would even the playing field. They needed a playmaking center, one who could help them match up against some of the Western Conference's best down the middle.

The 29-year-old, who finished with 16 goals and 46 points in 74 games this season, fit the bill.

The numbers may not indicate it, but the Blues have that experienced center they can use in all situations.

"I want to be out there. I'm not afraid to fail," said Stastny, whose father, Peter Stastny, finished his Hall of Fame career in St. Louis. "I think that's the most important thing. ... You want to be the guy that's a game-changer. Sometimes it won't go your way; it doesn't matter. As long as you go out there with that mentality where you know you're going to be a difference-maker, that's what you want."

Though he had 458 points in 538 NHL games entering the season, the Blues didn't bring in Stastny just to provide offense. He has been used as a two-way player; his seven power-play goals were fifth for St. Louis, and he kills penalties. He has provided leadership to younger players, especially Dmitrij Jaskin, who played on Stastny's line much of the season. Stastny's 57.9 percent faceoff win rate helped alleviate what was lost with the departure of catalyst Vladimir Sobotka.

"He's a guy that will do everything right, all the little details right, and come playoff time, that's what makes or breaks games," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was Stastny's teammate with the Colorado Avalanche. "... We're adding a great piece to the puzzle that we missed last year. He's going to be a huge, huge part of our team."

When the Blues have had injuries, it's players like Stastny who are flexible enough to move around and fill voids left by those out of the lineup.

It wasn't always easy playing in Ken Hitchcock's system in his first season, but with each passing game, the trust between Stastny and the coaching staff grew.

"When you integrate an offensive player into a new program, I don't think I've ever seen that player take off offensively for at least one calendar year," Hitchcock said. "He had to find other things to help us (with), and that's what he's done all year. ... We found other ways that he could be successful and help us win hockey games knowing that chemistry takes time.

"He's given us a lot of other elements in the game and helped us win, and that's why he was brought here. I told him that: 'You've got to look past the points. You were brought here because we think you fit the way we play and you can help us win hockey games.' I think that's proven true here in the last six weeks or so."

Stastny had five goals and five assists for the Avalanche in a seven-game Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild last season. He'll again have an opportunity to be someone who can contribute with a deep and talented group.

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