By Tyler Kerdman (@)
If you have watched the St. Louis Blues play during the 2015-16 playoffs, there are certain aspects of their team that make them a more credible threat to win the Stanley Cup than in years past. First, Brian Elliott has been absolutely remarkable this postseason, sporting a .930 save percentage and has provided the team with consistent goaltending. Secondly, the forward corps has been a strength for the team in a multitude of ways. While Tarasenko/Lehtera/Schwartz act as the top line, the success of the ‘middle 6’ group of Fabbri, Berglund, Steen, Backes, Brouwer, and Stastny has allowed the Blues to realize a depth up front that is required for a championship team. Finally, the team’s blueline has the perfect combination of offensive potency and defensive responsibility, in a group where all players can be trusted to play tough minutes.
In my eyes, the biggest difference between the St. Louis Blues in 2016 and the iterations of the team in the past is one change on the blueline. While Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, and Bouwmeester have been staples of the franchise for years, a new addition to the team’s top 4 has provided value that teams expect of a franchise player, and it has come by way of a 3rd round draft pick from 2012 in Colton Parayko.
If you were to look at Colton Parayko’s standard stat line, it appears as if he had quite a strong rookie season. Scoring 9 goals and recording 33 points in 78 games, while playing a reliable two-way game, is very commendable. However, these stats do not do justice to the 22-year-old’s rookie campaign. Even though he won’t win the Norris (he did not even receive a nomination), Parayko’s year from start-to-finish was one of the strongest rookie seasons we have seen from a defenceman and there is reason to believe that he will be a cornerstone piece for the Blues for years to come. Parayko’s offensive and defensive talent provide evidence that he will be a #1 defenceman very soon.
It’s important to preface this article by saying that Parayko is not underrated in the sense that people believe he is a bad defenceman. Making headlines at the beginning of the year for scoring 10 points in his first 14 games and being as nimble as he is at 6’5, almost all fans acknowledge that he is a very talented young player. This piece, rather, is to contextualize just how fantastic Parayko’s season was and that he is underrated simply by not being named a Calder Trophy nominee.
Below is a table with different statistics, all courtesy of Corsica.hockey, of some of the league’s top defencemen in the 4th season following their draft year: (Other players such as Keith or Weber are not used as possession stats are not available from before the 2007-08 season):
Parayko v. Draft Year +4 seasons (Rank on team among d-men > 500 min 5v5 is in brackets)
|Name||Draft Year + 4 Season||CF60||CA60 (smallest is best)||XGF%||P/60||CF% Relative|
|Colton Parayko||2015-16||60.53 (1st)||49.24 (1st)||56.19% (1st)||1.17 (1st)||4.32% (1st)|
|P.K. Subban||2010-11||65.07 (3rd)||54.13 (2nd)||51.76% (2nd)||0.86 (1st)||4.93% (2nd)|
|Drew Doughty||2011-12||60.00 (4th)||48.32 (3rd)||54.67% (2nd)||0.86 (2nd)||0.49% (4th)|
|Alex Pietrangelo||2011-12||60.98 (1st)||49.77 (4th)||55.11% (4th)||0.92 (2nd)||3.29% (1st)|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||2012-13||56.94 (5th)||55.29 (2nd)||51.90% (2nd)||1.05 (2nd)||0.02% (3rd)|
|Ryan McDonagh||2010-11||57.54 (2nd)||55.77 (5th)||59.31% (1st)||0.56 (6th)||1.05% (5th)|
|Erik Karlsson||2011-12||66.55 (1st)||54.89 (2nd)||51.43% (1st)||1.78 (1st)||4.00% (1st)|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||2015-16||57.71 (5th)||57.59 (4th)||48.58% (5th)||1.21 (1st)||-1.18% (5th)|
I opted to compare Parayko’s season to those of different players at age 22/23 instead of to various rookie seasons. This is because I believe it is a fairer comparison, even if some of these player’s draft + 4 season wasn’t their rookie season, than looking at how a 22-year-old Parayko fared relative to 18 or 19-year-old players.
Looking at the chart, here are some things that really stand out and provide evidence for Parayko’s brilliance this season:
- First, looking at offensive ability, Parayko’s Corsi For per 60 Minutes (CF60), at 60.53, was the highest among all Blues defencemen at even strength this season. He also recorded 1.17 points per 60 minutes of play at 5v5, which was also 1ston his team. Of this group of defencemen, only Erik Karlsson ranked first on his team for both categories.
- Parayko’s 4.32% Corsi For Percentage Relative to his team, was 2ndto no defenceman on the blues and only to Subban on this list (who did not finish 1st on his team).
- Parayko also has the 2ndbest Corsi Against Per 60 minutes on this list at 49.24, with Drew Doughty allowing only 48.32 shot attempts against every 60 minutes of ice time. However, Doughty was 3rd on his team in this metric while Parayko, yet again, was 1st. You see that a trend is starting to develop.
- For Expected Goals For% (the percentage of all goals while that player is on ice that are expected to be for his team), Parayko’s 56.19% is first among defencemen on the Blues, again. It is 2ndto only McDonagh’s 59.31%.
- I think that Parayko had a better overall season than Shayne Gostisbehere, but I understand why the latter earned the Calder Nomination. Even if he didn’t drive possession, 46 points in 64 games with a plethora of memorable moments is worthy of recognition. That being said, Parayko’s shot generation and suppression were much greater than Gostisbehere’s, not a slight to Ghost Bear but rather another piece of context to just how special Parayko’s season was.
- Has nothing to do with Parayko, but Erik Karlsson’s 1.78 points/60 as a defenceman this year is insane. To put that in context, only one player blueliner recorded more than 1.5 P/60 this year, and that, too, was Karlsson (who ended the year at a point-per-game).
What is so interesting about these findings is not that any of Parayko’s stats this year are truly unique. He does not have the highest shot suppression numbers, offensive production, or shot generation figures in the NHL. What is more amazing is how Parayko sits near the top in stats that display offensive and defensive capabilities. Relative to the players in the table, Parayko never did not have the highest CF60, CA60, XGF%, P/60, or Corsi Relative. That being said, he had the 2nd highest figures in 3 of these categories, 3rd highest in one, and 4th highest in only CF60. Considering how highly-regarded these 8 players currently are in the NHL, being in the top half in every category is incredibly impressive.
It is also worth explicitly recognizing that Parayko finished first in every single measure on his team among defencemen. While he only played about 90 minutes on the penalty kill, even there he had the best Corsi against/60 in the entire league among defencemen. This means that he was regarded as the St. Louis Blues’ main source of offense and defense from the blueline. On a 49 win (107 point) team, that just secured its spot in the Conference Final, a rookie is arguably their most valuable defenceman. This is also a team that does not lack defensive talent. Pietrangelo has been named to two 2nd all-star teams since 2012, Shattenkirk has 133 points in his last 3 seasons, which is within the top 20 for defenceman over that time frame. This is not a situation where a player stands as statistically great on his team due to a competing lack of talent. The Blues are a strong team defensively, and Parayko has seemingly stood out as the strongest of this group.
Transforming the Blues – From Good to Great
Colton Parayko was drafted in the 3rd round out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. 4 years later, there is reason to believe that he may become the Blues’ best defenceman, if he is not already. To put this in context, since 2005, the only NHL regulars to be selected from this league are Mason Raymond, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne. Parayko is absolutely amazing and he will be a very integral piece to the Blues for years to come. The Blues, through ingenious drafting or sheer dumb luck, have been gifted with a potential star.
The future of the St. Louis Blues’ offense has never been questioned. Vladimir Tarasenko scored 40 goals this year and is a bona fide superstar. Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz had very strong years, and will certainly be key pieces to the team’s future. However, talent up front is not alone enough to win a championship. With Jay Bouwmeester turning 33 this year and Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract near expiration, Alex Pietrangelo cannot carry the team’s blueline alone. In Colton Parayko’s first season, he led his team in shot generation and suppression, along with offensive production. If he continues to trend upwards, he could be a vital piece in turning the Blues from a perennially good team into one that becomes great.