Growing up in Manhattan Beach, California, Jack St. Ivany loved the Los Angeles Kings.

The defenseman has skated with some of their players at the team’s practice facility since he was 16, “and being at that age, it’s cool being able to play with guys that you idolize, and you'd go to their games,” St. Ivany said. “And it’s been nice to train with some of the best players in the world. Just to see their skill level and what you need to improve on to reach that level.”

Last year, Drew Doughty – the player St. Ivany most looked up to – took him aside after one of their sessions. At that point, St. Ivany was entering the second and final season of his entry-level contract with the Penguins, and had yet to earn a call-up with Pittsburgh.

The two-time Stanley Cup Champion and Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top blueliner “just kind of talked about having confidence and how much that goes a long way,” St. Ivany said. “Having a guy like that to take the time to talk to you, it really means a lot, and just kind of gave me that little extra edge to come into camp and be ready to go.”

St. Ivany put together an impressive body of work that culminated in him making his NHL debut on March 22 in Dallas and appearing in 14 total games down the stretch. He quickly earned the coaching staff’s trust as a reliable third-pair defenseman, which helped earn him a three-year contract extension earlier this week.

“I was excited. It's definitely something that after the season I was thinking about, so it's nice to get it all wrapped up and just be able to focus now on training and preparing for next season,” St. Ivany said.

St. Ivany initially joined the Penguins organization as a college free agent following four NCAA seasons split between Yale and Boston College. He had heard good things, and reality has lived up to expectations for the 24-year-old.

“It's been really enjoyable. Obviously, you hear that it's a first-class organization,” St. Ivany said. “But really, until I truly experienced it, I didn't really know how everything was – and yeah, it's really just an unbelievable organization. You get every tool, every asset you need to help you be successful. Beyond that, it's just great staff, great teammates, so it was just kind of the perfect fit.”

After appearing in 63 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League in his first professional season, St. Ivany returned for the 2023-24 season armed with that extra poise, and played a much more consistent game.

St. Ivany’s performance, paired with being a right-handed shot, helped him get the opportunity he’d been working towards. His style of play helped St. Ivany seize it, as his game lends itself well to the NHL level, and he worked to keep things simple. “He’s a mobile guy, he defends real well,” Head Coach Mike Sullivan said of St. Ivany, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds. “He’s got a good stick, he’s been helpful on the penalty kill, he thinks the game pretty well. We think he’s defended the rush in particular pretty well.”

Once Pittsburgh’s season ended, St. Ivany returned to WBS for their playoff run. Penguins management's message was that continuing his strong play would put him in a better spot come training camp.

Unfortunately, WBS got eliminated in the first round by Lehigh Valley, with St. Ivany calling it a “frustrating” finish. “We felt that we put a pretty good body of work together for most of the season, and we felt we were one of the best teams in the league. So, just to kind of go out like that, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “It just gives you more motivation to work hard in the summertime so that doesn't happen.”

After returning home, St. Ivany took some time away from the ice to let his body heal and mind recover from the grind of a season spent in both the AHL and NHL, saying it felt like there was a game almost every day. He’s since been able to reflect on the past year, sorting through the whirlwind of emotions, with pride coming to the forefront.

“It's something that I always dreamed of, is making it to that level,” St. Ivany said. “You can be so close for a while, but it seems so far at the same time. So, being able to accomplish that and prove to myself that I'm able to play at that level was something that I'm really proud of, and it was really fun for my family and friends to experience with me. So, yeah, looking back, it's just nothing but great emotions.”

Right now, St. Ivany is spending five days a week in the gym with his trainer, strength and conditioning coach Chad Moreau, as the defenseman feels he needs to work on his overall physical strength. That will turn into four days paired with two days on a turf field to work on his quickness. Come July and August, they’ll incorporate more skating at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo with veterans like Doughty, Adrian Kempe and Trevor Moore and kids that St. Ivany grew up with in California, Chicago's Cole Guttman and Vegas' Brendan Brisson.

St. Ivany is looking forward to September, knowing that he has a strong chance of making the team out of training camp if he goes out and performs – “so it’s just really doing anything I can to get myself to that position. I know that there'll be other guys there that I'm going to be competing against. So, you know, it's full steam ahead and do whatever I can to make the team.

“Then it's just do whatever you can to win games. We weren't too happy with how the season ended, and I know that we have way too many good players in that locker room to be watching hockey right now. So yeah, first and foremost, go in with the mindset that no one's going to take the spot away from me and that's my spot to have. Then beyond that, it's just full steam all the way till the end of it.”