ST. LOUIS — The past 12 months have been pretty sweet for St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
The 24-year-old signed a four-year contract extension worth $17 million in the off-season, he’s on pace for his best season and he was recently selected to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
"It was quite an experience not knowing going into it," Shattenkirk said of his selection to the U.S. roster. "You never know. It can go any which way. You never know who they are going to pick because there’s such a great pool of players now. It was fun to see my name. I got a lot of support, a lot of text messages and phone calls from a lot of friends and family. So it was a very cool experience."
It’s something Shattenkirk has thought about for a long time, since he was a kid growing up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and idolizing former Rangers and U.S. Olympic defenseman Brian Leetch.
When Shattenkirk was invited to the U.S. Olympic Orientation Camp in Virginia in August — one of 18 defensemen invited — he started to think that his dream of representing his country in the Olympics had a chance to become a reality.
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From then until the roster announcement last week, the idea of putting on the USA sweater in Sochi was always in the back of his mind.
"I thought about it during the season," Shattenkirk said. "It’s not something that’s going to get out of your mind. But it was fun. It really was something that I didn’t worry about too much. Us playing so well this year I think so far has really helped me to get in that position."
USA Hockey general manager David Poile explained last week some of the decisions he and his colleagues made with their 25 selections. The larger ice surface in Russia was a factor and puts a premium on skating, which may have helped Shattenkirk’s case.
Shattenkirk is one of five defensemen picked under the age of 25 and one of six newcomers among the D-men. Only Ryan Suter and Brooks Orpik are back on defense from USA’s silver-winning team in 2010.
Shattenkirk’s selection was a nod to his outstanding season and also his growth in his fourth NHL season.
He was a first-round draft pick in 2007, and won a national championship and was a captain at Boston University before joining the Colorado Avalanche. He was acquired by the Blues in his rookie season, along with Chris Stewart, in the Erik Johnson trade in 2011.
Since then he has continued to get better and better and establish himself as one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL.
"He has a really good combination of high-end offensive skill and hockey smarts, and he’s a pretty good player in his own end and he’s getting better," Blues broadcaster John Kelly said. "It’s a combination of really good offensive abilities and instincts, and he’s a smart hockey player. In his time in St. Louis he’s becoming very dependable in all three zones and maturing as a defenseman. … His overall game has gotten better every year and he’s become a very good player."
Shattenkirk had six goals and 25 assists for 31 points and is plus-14 in 41 games this season. He’s the Blues’ leading point producer among the blueliners — Alex Pietrangelo has 25 assists and 30 points and Jay Bouwmeester had 24 assists and 26 points — and he is tied for fifth in the NHL in assists and points among defensemen.
He recently had a streak of six consecutive games with a point and had points in eight of nine games. Shattenkirk tallied the winning shootout goal against the Blackhawks at Scottrade Center and followed that up the next night with an overtime goal in Dallas.
That was Shattenkirk’s third game-winning goal in two months.
"He’s an extremely good passer, can quarterback your power play for you, has a good ability to get shots through from the point and not have them blocked," Kelly said. "He’s just a really smart, heady player, especially in the offensive zone."
Shattenkirk has been all that and then some for the Blues and will try to do the same for Team USA next month in Sochi with teammates David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
"We’ve got a great team," Shattenkirk said. "I think it’s going to be another team that can contend for a medal, a gold medal. It’s going to be exciting to play with all these great players because I know a lot of them had the opportunity to play together before and a lot of us know each other from previous experiences, so we should have a tight-knit group and a good team on the ice."
The kid from New Rochelle who grew up idolizing Olympians now is one.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.