Local coaches have high praise, higher hopes as Paul Stastny debuts with the Blues
Paul Stastny will do more than help the St. Louis Blues after signing a free-agent contract. For thousands of youngsters playing here, he will serve as a symbol that you can reach the NHL from St. Louis.
Born in Quebec City, Quebec, Stastny came to St. Louis with his parents, Peter and Darina, when his Hall of Fame father joined the St. Louis Blues in 1993. The family stayed and Stastny developed his hockey skills playing for the St. Louis Junior Blues and Chaminade High.
“I think it’s really neat to have a local kid playing at the highest level,” said Scott Sanderson, who coached Stastny with the AAA St. Louis Blues. “Now it’s a tangible goal for kids here. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s something the kids can see and aspire to achieving. He’s at the top of the top. He’s an elite player in the NHL and in the Winter Olympics.”
Chasing Lord Stanley’s cup
St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Doug Armstrong wasted little time when the free agency period started – signing Stastny to a four-year contract worth $28 million.
Stastny, 28, is happy to come back to St. Louis to play.
“I wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable with and somewhere I know the lay of the land a little bit,” Stastny said.
Armstrong believes Stastny came here because he thinks the Blues are about to break through in the postseason.
“When you’re a competitor like Paul and a free agent, you’re looking for a chance to go where your team has a chance at success also,” Armstrong said. “We’ve been through some tough times and we’re looking to add pieces to help us get over the hump. We’re not asking anyone to come in here with a cape on and be Superman. We’re just looking for another strong piece to a puzzle that can keep us competitive as we chase Colorado down for the division. They’re the champs and they’re the first team we have to take a look at catching. And then, if we’re fortunate enough to do that and get into a playoffs, we want to have a guy that can compete at that time of year.”
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was Stastny’s teammate at the Winter Olympics as well as in Colorado. He’s happy to have him join the Blues.
“My level of excitement is pretty high,” Shattenkirk said. “I think it’s a great move for the St. Louis Blues, for our team. For me, it’s getting a friend back and somebody who I know can contribute to our team. I have a little bit better feel for him than most, but he’s someone who’s just going to make our team better and that’s all there is to it.
“Paul was definitely one of the most coveted free agents this year. I definitely think his ties to St. Louis helped him make that decision, but the more players you can get on your team like that, I think it allows other free agents in the future to realize what we’re building here.
We have a great team put in place and there’s been a lot of work to do that from drafts and acquiring through trades … whatever that may be. We’ve had to piece it together over the last little bit. Now that it’s all starting to come together, St. Louis is kind of emerging as one of those places where people are going to start to want to play.”
Stastny dressed in 71 games for Colorado last season, ranking fifth in the club with 60 points (25 goals and 35 assists), while he tied for the team lead with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in seven postseason games.
Overall, the 6-foot, 205-pound center has spent his entire eight-year NHL career with the Avalanche, accumulating 458 points (160 goals, 298 assists) and 264 penalty minutes in 538 career regular season games, while adding 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 22 postseason games.
His best professional season came in 2009-10, when he logged a career-best 79 points, including 59 assists, which ranked sixth in the league.
In 2006-07, he posted 78 points (28 goals, 50 assists), the fourth-best rookie season in Colorado history, en route to earning 2007 NHL All-Rookie Team honors and finishing second in the Calder Trophy voting.
In 2011, Stastny appeared at his first NHL All-Star Game, producing 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) in 74 games during the 2010-11 regular season. Additionally, he has represented the United States on five occasions, including the 2010 Winter Olympics, when he helped the U.S. capture the silver medal. Most recently, he appeared in six games, scoring two goals, at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia along with new teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Shattenkirk.
The early years
When he started playing, his coaches knew they had something.
Sanderson began coaching Stastny when he was in the seventh grade.
“When you saw Paul as a kid, he was a kid who made the other kids better,” Sanderson said. “He’s a great teammate.”
Chaminade hockey president Mark Finke, who was Stastny’s coach when he was a freshman with Red Devils, agreed.
“As a 14-year-old freshman at Chaminade, Paul was one of the top forwards in the program, and there was never any question he would play on the varsity team,” Finke said. “While Paul certainly had an excellent skill set at that age, he was neither the biggest or the fastest player on the team. However, his knowledge of the game and his ability to see plays develop were skills probably more consistent at the time with a college player.”
Finke said the best way to illustrate what Stastny brought to the table was to describe a specific play against De Smet Jesuit.
“Paul picked up the puck in our zone and skated toward center ice. The rest of our players came to the bench on a line change,” Finke said. “Paul proceeded to go through all five De Smet players on his own, made a move on the goalie that caused the goalie to slide out of the front of net, and simply allowed the puck to glide into an open net without even shooting it.
“The entire bench and coaching staff just looked at each other for what seemed like an entire minute and then busted out laughing at what we had just witnessed. Paul came to the bench with a grin from ear to ear and didn’t say a word. If we weren’t convinced before, it was at that moment we knew great things were in store for Paul.”
CBC coach John Jost said that when his Cadets were going against Stastny he had to “have the absolute right people against Paul every time … or he would shred you apart. There was no question watching him back then that he would one day play in the NHL. He was just that good. Incredible skill level with a hockey IQ off the charts.”
Matt Hrubes, a former Chaminade head coach who was the assistant coach when Stastny played, said: “He was the most skilled player in St. Louis I have ever seen in my 30-plus years of hockey.”
All in the family
All of Stastny’s former coaches agreed that his family played a large role in his development. He and his dad are the fifth father-son combo to don the Blue Note in franchise history. His brother, Yan, is a former center for the Blues.
“His mom and dad were always involved,” Sanderson said. “His dad had the expertise, and his mom was a sharp hockey person as well. I just thought they had a really good family. One of the things you see in kids that have success on and of the ice is that they come from families that hold them accountable.”
Now, Stastny will be accountable to local hockey fans.
“I think Paul joining the Blues is fantastic for several reasons,” Finke said. “First, the Blues are way past signing St. Louis natives to help attendance. The Blues have a very real chance to capture their first Stanley Cup. They signed Paul because he can help make that happen, not to just fill seats. That says a lot about the player Paul has become as a professional.
“And secondly, and selfishly, I am happy for myself and St. Louis hockey fans that they can see Paul’s skills on display more often than just a few times a year or every four years on the Olympic Team. He is a fun player to watch. As a season ticket holder, I wish the season started tomorrow.”