ST. LOUIS — I remember a conversation with former St. Louis Blues great Keith Tkachuk just after the 2006-07 season ended. We were sitting at the Hardee’s Iceplex in Chesterfield, and Tkachuk had just finished the season with the Atlanta Thrashers following a trade deadline deal.
Before the conversation ended — and out of nowhere, it seemed — Tkachuk said, “The Blues will win the Stanley Cup in seven years.”
Say what? Seven seemed like a remarkably precise, yet odd number. Did he just pull seven out of a hat? Was it because that was the number he wore famously his entire career? Or better yet, was he on to something?
And here we are, almost two months into the season that can establish Tkachuk a prophet. The way things are going, he very well might.
At the time Tkachuk and I were talking, the Blues were in the process of building a contending roster through the draft. Former general manager Larry Pleau became a specialist at collecting first-round picks in exchange for veteran players at the trade deadline. In the Tkachuk trade alone, the Blues acquired a first-, second- and third-round pick from the Thrashers. That same year Pleau moved Bill Guerin to San Jose for another first-rounder, a year after having done the same with Doug Weight in 2006. In the case of Tkachuk and Weight, both players would eventually re-sign with the Blues after having been traded away.
As the years progressed the Blues would draft Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. All of these guys play major impact roles on the current roster with the exception of Allen, who is knocking at the door. It’s not his fault Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are playing so well.
Throw in a trade here and there and such players as Halak, Alexander Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo, Vladimir Sobotka, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Jay Bouwmeester and Magnus Paajarvi were added to the mix. They joined an organization that, seven years ago, already had Barret Jackman, David Backes, Roman Polak, Ryan Reaves, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund.
The Blues’ current roster has 10 original draft picks, seven of whom were selected in the first round. Nine players (including Colaiacovo) were obtained via trade. Only four were signed as free agents (not including Adam Cracknell, who played his way onto the NHL roster after being signed primarily as an AHL player in 2009).
Very few NHL teams are afforded the luxury of having their core group grow up together. Moreover, the management and coaching staff have remained consistent over the years. Coach Ken Hitchcock arrived in 2011, but assistants Brad Shaw and Ray Bennett go back several seasons, as do GM Doug Armstrong and executive Al MacInnis.
The familiarity factor within the Blues’ organization is significant. Growing up with the same players sitting next to you in the dressing room your entire career leads to a comfort level that can be a factor in winning.
Most important, top to bottom, the Blues have a lot of talent.
“This team is so improved from just two seasons ago,” says Colaiacovo, who arrived in St. Louis in 2008 but left after the 2011-12 season before returning and playing his first game back with the Blues on Monday night. “Just watching guys like Steen, Sobotka, Oshie and Backes, their all-around game has just taken off.”
For the most part the Blues have passed every test they’ve taken this season. They’ve defeated all three NHL division leaders they’ve played. Over the past two weeks the Blues have handled NHL powers Pittsburgh, Colorado and Boston along with quality opponents in Dallas and Minnesota. St. Louis is 2-0 against Chicago, the reigning Stanley Cup champion.
The Blues check teams to death and have enough skill up front to spend most of the game in the offensive end, where they are producing far more scoring than they did a year ago. Their effort from game to game has been remarkably consistent.
“Our guys don’t want to let go of the rope,” Hitchcock says. “That’s the mentality of our team.”
So here we are almost seven years later, remembering a sunny spring day at a cold ice rink in Chesterfield. Maybe Tkachuk knew something we didn’t.
You can follow Andy Strickland on Twitter at @andystrickland or email him at email@example.com. He also writes about the Blues and the NHL at truehockey.com.