The St. Louis Blues are at the top of the Western Conference for many different reasons. The net-minding duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott has been frustrating teams for most of the season and the team sports the second-best defense in all of hockey.
Being overlooked, however, is the play of Alex Pietrangelo.
Yes, Brian Elliott is the only Blue headed to Ottawa as an All-Star.
Yes, captain David Backes is an Olympian, 2011 All-Star and the team leader in points.
Alex Pietrangelo, however, is the best player on this team right now.
After starting the season slow offensively, "Petro" is beginning to shine at the opposing blue line. The 22-year-old defenseman is on a tear right now, posting a point in his last seven games.
Pietrangelo has been a disciplined, physical force defensively all season. His measly penalty minute total of eight is a team-low among the everyday players.
This is the player the Blues expected to see after drafting him fourth overall in 2008 behind stars Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian. While Petro hasn't developed as quickly as Doughty and Stamkos, he is finally nearing superstar status in his second full season and it is paying dividends for St. Louis.
After being drafted, the 6'4" Canadian had a rough time staying afloat in the NHL. A head injury and poor defensive play called for trips to the AHL's Peoria Rivermen and back to junior hockey in the OHL for two seasons.
Some Blues fans wondered if Pietrangelo was ever going to be a good fit in the organization. It is safe to say those doubts will never surface again.
In the 2010-2011 season, No. 27 finally cemented his place in St. Louis as a key to future success.
His 43 points and plus-18 rating were the best among team defensemen and would have been the best among all rookies if he qualified. He did not qualify due to his eight and nine-game seasons before.
Now, Pietrangelo is showing even more maturity as a hockey player and a team-leader. He currently serves as one of the alternate captains and is one of the most vocal guys on the bench. He leads all defensemen in goals (7) and his 21 points trails only Kevin Shattenkirk (23). The star also shares the team lead in game-winning goals with three.
One could argue Petro was snubbed out of this year's All-Star game.
Whether he was or wasn't snubbed is not for us to decide, but right now it looks as if it was a good thing. Something has sparked the youngster and boosted his game to another level as of late and it could be the rejection.
The Blues can only hope this lasts. With Alex Pietrangelo's game at its peak there is no telling what this St. Louis club can accomplish now and in the future.
Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined B/R in October 2011 and will be a B/R intern starting January 23rd. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.