With the roller coaster ride that is the NHL bargaining negotiations, fans have been dreaming about the NHL bringing back its entire 2012-2013 season. Fans are anxiously waiting for the announcement that their favorite players will be hitting the ice once again.
Blues fans are especially eager to see the team hit the ice for what could be their first legitimate chance to win a cup since their last trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, which was in 1969-1970. While David Backes will be leading the team, a new leader is stepping into the spotlight.
And his name is Alex Pietrangelo.
Pietrangelo was drafted fourth overall by the Blues in the 2008 draft. The Blues saw potential in the defenseman, who scored 53 points in 60 games for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL in 2007-2008. Pietrangelo would spend time in Niagara, Peoria, and St. Louis for the 2008-2009 season, recording 30 points in 45 games between the three clubs.
He would also go on to play in the 2009 Under-20 World Championships. He would score three points in six games in the tournament, and would earn a gold medal with the team.
Pietrangelo would play in the next World Championships, and vastly improved his game. He scored 12 points in six games, and would go on to score 29 points in 25 games in the OHL. He would play nine games in St. Louis, but only recorded two points.
While Pietrangelo did put up some good numbers in international play and in the minor leagues for the Blues, his sheer stats do not make him the future of the Blues' blue line. What makes him a great leader is what he learned from his time in the minors.
The Blues may have been the smartest with Pietrangelo. Rather than rush him into the NHL and let him fend for himself, he was able to grow his talent in the minors. He was able to gain confidence in playing his position, and to learn from the mistakes he and his teammates and opponents made. It turned him into one of the best young defensemen in the league.
Pietrangelo stormed into the NHL for his "debut" season in 2010-2011, putting up 43 points in 79 games to lead all defensemen for the Blues. He was also first in plus/minus (+18), shots (161), and average ice time (22:00). He was on the first defensive line, and spent time on both th penalty kill and power play.
Again, his stats can speak for themselves, but Pietrangelo has other intangibles that cannot be seen in numbers. Peitrangelo has an innate sense of hockey IQ. It is something that cannot be seen in a stat sheet, but is vital for players, especially defensemen.
Peitrangelo has been compared to Niklas Lidstrom and Al MacInnis because of his ability to see how a play is developing, where the puck needs to go, what his opponents are about to do. It is something that was grown out of his time in the minors, and was showcased in the minors.
Pietrangelo ignored a sophomore slump by experiencing better numbers than he had the previous year. He put up 51 points in 81 games, good enough for first among defensemen and third on the team. He was second behind Kevin Shattenkirk for plus/minus rating for defensemen, first in shots, and had the most game-winning goals for the entire team.
Pietrangelo is already being considered one of the best defensemen in the league, all at the age of 22. He has the hockey sense of a seasoned veteran, while possessing the skill set of a player entering a prime, all doing so with only a few years of NHL experience. Pietrangelo is already in discussion for the Norris trophy.
The Blues have a very special player in Alex Pietrangelo. If not already, he will soon be the unquestioned leader of the blue line for the St. Louis Blues. It's just a matter of time before he gets his hardware.