The St. Louis Blues took a chance on Colton Parayko who they drafted him 86th overall back in the 2012 draft. He is a bit of a late bloomer after playing junior hockey in his native Canada, then playing three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Initially passed over in his first year of draft eligibility, the Blues nabbed him in 2012 and have acquired a diamond in the rough.
This was seen further by the Blues’ director of development, Tim Taylor, who saw Parayko after his stint in the American Hockey League where he was the standout performer and overwhelmed his opponents at the Traverse City prospects tournament in Michigan back in 2015. The Blues know they have a potentially special defenseman in Parayko but the problem is he has struggled to get all parts of his game together at the same time.
There is hope that Parayko will be able to embrace the added responsibility and production expected from him after he signed his long-term contract keeping him as a Blue till 2021/22. There is a lot to like about Colton Parayko, but as with any young defenseman, there are elements in his game that are concerning but in time and experience will be ironed out. The past season, Parayko was a decent offensive contributor where he scored six goals and also tied his personal best of 35 points.
The young blueliner has continued to chip in offensively and in time his term and price tag will seem like a complete steal if he can get back to the form of his rookie season in 2015/16. He was, to a degree, replacing a guy who scores 40 points and anchored the Blues’ power play. It was never going to be easy but Parayko is well on his way to posting Kevin Shattenkirk-like numbers but also has the defensive attributes that some may say Shattenkirk did not have. He obviously has the ability and potential to become elite and make fans of the Blue Note forget all about Shattenkirk.
Furthermore, Parayko has already shown that he can perform on the biggest stages as well in his short career. He has played in the World Cup of Hockey and World Cup Championships with Team Canada as well as the NHL playoffs with the Blues. It is very important for the Blues, who are a playoff contending franchise, that their cornerstone players get this kind of experience early on in their careers, and Parayko has had success while achieving this. He has 12 points in 31 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Blues. With his size, offensive skill, and booming shot, this already has drawn excitement but then there is the added bonus of him performing in clutch situations.
Interestingly, Parayko is the first Blues’ defenseman to tally 20 or more assists in each of his first three seasons in the NHL. He hasn’t had much publicity nationally but there aren’t many defensemen that come into the NHL and play as well as he has and as consistently. With good health, you really have to wonder how much Parayko can grow in the NHL; he is already a special player but there are some who believe he can elevate his game further.
Parayko’s shot total has increased through his first three seasons (165, 188, 212) which shows that the Blues are giving him the green light to shoot. Unfortunately, it is felt the Blues could probably do more to give him more opportunities to fire at the net. At the recent 2018 IIHF Hockey World Championship, he had the hardest shot of the tournament. This tournament seems to bring the best out of Parayko as he was one of Team Canada’s best performers where he had four goals and four assists in 10 games. He also had the most goals in the World Championships by a defenseman. It is hoped by the Blues that Parayko can bring this kind of play into next season. He is someone that every GM in hockey would want, he has size (6’6) and can play every inch of the ice. He plays on both special teams, plays 4-4, and plays in 3-3 overtime,
Parayko is someone who can be counted on in all situations and with his exceptional attitude and willingness to improve, he is someone that gives maximum effort every night he plays. Although an unfair comparison, and probably putting undue pressure on Parayko, there is thought that the player that they drafted 86th overall back in 2012 might be the new Al MacInnis. That booming shot has Blues fans reminiscing and if he can be half as effective as MacInnis, it will leave the everybody alike more than happy.
But for all the positives of his play there are things are need improving. The toughest thing for a defenseman is to develop consistency. He had a great rookie year where he posted nine goals and 24 assists in 79 games with a plus-28 rating, however, last season his offense was similar at six goals and 29 assists but with a minus-seven rating. He may not have been as good last season but with the offseason to regroup, he will bounce back.
The Blues need Parayko to develop into someone that can be a force from the blueline at both even strength and on the power play. In fact in the 82 games played last season, Parayko only had two goals on the power play, but with the team ranked at 30th in the NHL for the season and only had 38 overall power-play goals, it’s unfair to criticize him fully. The Blues averaged just 0.46 power-play goals per game in 2017/18, which is the worst average in the franchise’s history. Parayko’s cannon of a shot should be a feature of the Blues’ offense going forward, particularly on the power play.
Time is certainly on his side as, unlike forwards who tend to peak before they are 25, defenders get to their peak closer to 30. It takes around 300-plus regular season games to gauge how a player will develop but he will surpass that figure in the coming season. He needs time to figure it out so he can be that monster in his own zone as well as offensively. Due to the responsibility of replacing Kevin Shattenkirk, he has had to take on top line minutes pretty quickly into his career.
Upon signing his new contract, Parayko was set to make $5.5 million per season for five years until he turns 29, at which point he will become an unrestricted free agent. He will need to continue to perform at a higher level to justify the contract he received. He joins the likes of Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks), Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers), and Morgan Reilly (Toronto Maple Leafs), all of whom make similar amounts to Parayko. Parayko has been too comfortable at times sitting on the second or third line pairings and the Blues can’t have that. A lot of confidence has been invested in him over the last three seasons but he hasn’t taken his game to a new level. He, however, has been relatively consistent as his numbers have remained much the same.
The Blues will be hoping is not a curse that signing another player to a heavy contract does not live up to the deal. I think Blues fans know there are a few of them on the current roster. The breakout year of Joel Edmundson may have also had an impact on Parayko, Edmundson was not expected to get top line minutes but when he did he thrived in the role but that was mainly because he is a left-handed shooter.
It could be simply argued that Parayko’s stabilization, if not a regression, was part in due to the coaching change between Mike Yeo and Ken Hitchcock. Even a slight shift in the system can have a major impact on a young player thrust into a crucial role.
Parayko should be able to raise his scoring and develop into a number one defenseman for the Blues. He has the potential to be a top pair defender as captain and franchise player Alex Pietrangelo is not getting any younger. In the next few years or beyond, the top defensive pair could be Parayko and Edmundson.
He could replace the ice time and responsibilities of Pietrangelo in time but Mike Yeo has to find a way to get him to live up to his potential as he is too good and capable for them to settle for less. Parayko’s ceiling could be better than Montreal Canadiens’ Shea Weber, as he is far more mobile, faster, and less reliant on the power play for his production. He could, in fact, be a future captain of the Blues when Pietrangelo hangs up his skates.
There are some who believe Parayko could be used as bait in a trade this summer but that would have to be a forward with equal age and ability to consider moving him. The player would have to be elite as Parayko is not the kind of player you trade idly. An example of this is with the forwards who were returned for Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Adam Larsson of the Edmonton Oilers, namely Ryan Johansen and Taylor Hall, respectively. Parayko is arguably better than both those defensemen so letting him go would be a huge mistake for the Blues regardless of the return they would receive. A lot is expected from Parayko now and in the future, as they see him as an important and key piece as the Blues try to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.