TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - When it comes to prospects in St. Louis, the names that immediately leap to mind are Robby Fabbri, Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz - and rightly so; those are all great players. But there's another youngster to watch out for and his name is Colton Parayko.
At 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, the Blues third-rounder from 2012 is a towering specimen on the blueline. He plays a mature game and can contribute in all situations, particularly with his cannon point shot on the power play. At 22, he has already played some pro games with the AHL's Chicago Wolves and was named captain of St. Louis' rookie squad in Traverse City. So where did this kid come from? Way up in Alaska.
OK, so Parayko is actually from St. Albert, just outside of Edmonton. But his college days were spent at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he was twice named WCHA conference defensive player of the year. And while the Nanooks didn't have a lot of on-ice success during his tenure, Parayko made the most of the ice time he got there.
"One-hundred percent," he said. "They gave me every opportunity to succeed. I had a chance to play in all situations and it made me very comfortable in those situations. It's a great program up there, I can't say enough good things about it."
And playing college hockey in Alaska is different from other Division 1 schools. For example, the sun rises and sets when you expect it to if you're playing for Boston College or Michigan.
"I went up in the summer the first time and it was like, 24 hours of sun," Parayko said. "It was pretty cool. But I remember it was tough to fall asleep at midnight because the sun was still shining through your blinds."
On the flip side, winters are darker than a goth poetry major.
"Sometimes you'd go in for practice or a class," Parayko said, "and you'd miss the whole sunlight for the day."
There was also the rough travel schedule, which sometimes meant Tuesday red-eye flights and Sunday returns for road games. On the positive side of the ledger, teams get real tight with all that time together.
Now Parayko is trying to get his game known nationally. After his final campaign with the Nanooks finished, he hooked up with St. Louis' farm team in Chicago and played quite well, registering seven points in 17 games, then continued to impress in five playoff matches. St. Louis obviously has a pretty intimidating blueline when it comes to skill and Parayko would have to unseat another organizational fave, Petteri Lindbohm, for a spot this fall. But Parayko is keeping it interesting.
"He's going to make life very difficult on management," said Blues GM Doug Armstrong. "He played very well for us in the American League playoffs and put in a fabulous summer. Probably the best benchmark for all of our young players as far as commitment to off-ice workouts. I'm looking forward to seeing him at main camp against that level of competition."
Even if Parayko does end up with a full-time gig in AHL Chicago this year, it's easy to see him finding an NHL spot with the Blues in the near future. He can play the game any way you need him to and he already lapped up the professional experience in his initial Wolves stint last season.
"I definitely learned a lot at the pro level," Parayko said. "Coming to the rink every day, being prepared and making the most of every opportunity; taking a role and doing the best you can with it – advancing."