It’s not hard to notice Colton Parayko during the St. Louis Blues' training camp practice sessions. Ever since a growth spurt a few years ago, the 6-foot-5, 218-pound rookie defenseman has stood out among his peers.
But Parayko has drawn plenty of praise so far for his play, which was on full display when he logged two assists in the Blues’ 5-2 split-squad victory on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
“He’s got great composure,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters, also noting the 22-year-old’s stick positioning and his reach. “… He’s able to kill plays offensively. He’s hard to play against. He doesn’t panic with the puck. He can make passes through people. I mean, it’s pretty impressive.”
“I just think he has great hockey sense,” Hitchcock continued. “He sees the ice. He’s got great hockey sense. He’s calm with the puck. He’s got lots of good things going for him. He’s a heck of a package there.”
Robby Fabbri, the Blues’ first-round draft pick in 2014, was the talk of training camp and the preseason a year ago for his mature-beyond-his-years play. Now Parayko is proving worthy of the spotlight.
A third-round pick in 2012, No. 86 overall, the Canadian defenseman played three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks before joining the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League late last season.
Parayko put up seven points (four goals, three assists) and a plus-four in 17 regular season games with the Blues’ AHL affiliate, but was held without a point in five playoff games.
The big rookie showed on Tuesday night that he’s able to contribute offensively on the scoresheet, assisting on Vladimir Tarasenko's second-period power-play goal and then on Alexander Steen's tally a few minutes later.
“Big boy,” Steen said when asked about Parayko. “Heavy shot. Both wrister and one-timer. I think he should shoot it more. We gave him some other chances. I think he’s looking for us a little bit too much. He’s got a heck of a shot. We’re going to be on him about shooting more. He’s a good player.”
Parayko also drew praise from Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
“He’s a good player,” Pietrangelo said. “He sees the ice real well. Smart. Big. Everything you want in a defenseman. At his age he’s only going to get better. That’s all you can really say. He had another great game tonight. They were raving about him in Traverse City. To get an opportunity to watch him in a game, it was fitting. The more experience he gets in these games, too, it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”
The rookie admitted to being a little nervous before his Blues debut, which is understandable of course. But he also mentioned how much fun it was to be out there.
As for his self-evaluation of his preseason debut, Parayko told reporters he thought he played pretty well in his 21:56 minutes of work.
“Obviously there’s some things that I am still learning system-wise and obviously there’s always lots of things to learn, but I think that was a good start to the preseason,” he said.
It helped, the rookie acknowledged, to be paired with veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Parayko said. “He’s taught me tons of things this part week and makes it incredibly easy on me to play. I can’t say enough good things about him. It’s an honor to play with him.”
The rookie defenseman will continue to get more chances to learn, as well as impress his coaching staff and teammates, as training camp continues. The Blues practice again on Wednesday before hosting the Dallas Stars for a preseason game on Thursday night at Scottrade.
He’ll continue working to try to make the most out of his first training camp with the Blues and continue trying to leave the coaching staff with a favorable impression of how he can help them in the future — if not sooner.
“I definitely wasn’t sure what to expect,” Parayko said. “This is my first one. I just came in ready to work and prepared for anything that could happen.”