NEWS
04/26/2016 15:09 EDT | Updated 04/27/2017 01:12 EDT

Blues are proof that high picks aren't always necessary for success at the draft

The St. Louis Blues went to great lengths to make sure nobody knew about Colton Parayko way back when.

Parayko, the 22-year-old rookie defenceman who scored a goal in the Blues' Game 7 victory over Chicago on Monday night, was a complete unknown ahead of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and the team did its best to keep it that way.

"He was unknown and raw," Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong said in an interview.

The club's real pursuit of him started, evidently, with a tip to St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong. He was informed by a colleague about Parayko, who was a growing defenceman who played for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

The Blues saw him play in a second-tier tournament in Russia and concluded, at the urging of team scout Dan Ginnell, that they couldn't let another team catch the scent. They decided not to scout Parayko anywhere near Calgary or Edmonton or those places he would play most.

"We purposely only scouted him in faraway places," Bill Armstrong said.

Their secrecy paid off: Parayko didn't even make the NHL Central Scouting's final draft rankings.

The Blues were intrigued by his potential and considered using their second-round pick on him. St. Louis finally opted to select him in the third round with the 86th overall selection.

St. Louis has become one of the top teams in the NHL with shrewd drafting of this kind, proof that clubs don't always need high picks to succeed at the draft. Parayko, who scored nine goals and had 33 points as a first-year defenceman, is just one example.

The Blues snagged Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal-scorer in the regular season, with the 16th overall pick in 2010, and Robby Fabbri, an 18-goal-scorer as a 20-year-old, with the 21st overall pick in 2014.

The roster, which produced the third-best record this past regular season, has many gems found deep in the draft, including captain David Backes (62nd overall in 2003), leading playoff scorer Jaden Schwartz (14th overall in 2010), and netminder Jake Allen (34th in 2008).

Steering the Blues' amateur scouting department since 2010, Armstrong said the club looks for impact players.

"They're difference-makers that can decide games," he said.

The Blues, he noted, weren't afraid to buck trends. In 2010, for example, many clubs were avoiding Russians at the draft, fearful of KHL lure and influence.

St. Louis didn't care. Scouts saw Tarasenko shred older opponents in Russia and recognized his explosive potential.

The Blues had the 14th overall pick and were torn between the Russian winger and Schwartz, a speedster from Saskatchewan. Doug Armstrong, then the newly named GM, went around the war room of scouts and asked, 'Who do you want?"

Ginnell replied: "I want 'em both."

The Blues took Schwartz first and then, after swapping little-used defenceman David Rundblad for Ottawa's first-round pick (16th overall), landed Tarasenko. 

"It was a turning point for our organization," Armstrong said. "We knew he was pretty special."

It's sharp drafting of this kind — which included the odd high pick (Alex Pietrangelo went fourth overall in 2008) — along with sound trades, signings, and impressive coaching from Ken Hitchcock that have helped build the Blues' foundation. Now, for the first time since 2012, St. Louis is a second-round participant and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Parayko, meanwhile, is an imposing force at six foot five and more than 200 pounds. The blue-liner's skating has improved, he has a big shot and is already playing important minutes with impressive results.

He registered the second-best puck possession mark on the Blues, one of the NHL's top puck possession teams.

"His upside keeps going up," Armstrong said.

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press