After hearing development coach Tim Taylor sing the praises of a late-blooming defenceman playing college hockey in Alaska, Doug Armstrong went to see for himself.
"We were excited, but it’s one thing to do it at the college level or junior level," he said. "It’s another one to do it with the men in the NHL."
Parayko has done it and then some. Just two seasons into his NHL tenure, the Blues have signed him to a $27.5 million, five-year contract that solidifies him as a key part of their blue line for the present and future. He will count $5.5 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 on a deal reached just before the sides were set to go to arbitration Thursday.
Only sharpshooting Russian winger Vladimir Tarasenko is signed longer as the Blues have captain Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Parayko locked up as their top three on defence.
"Colton coming on the scene the last couple of years gives us a real good right side now obviously with Alex and Colton for a number of years moving forward," Armstrong said. "Nice to have him in the fold for five years and our captain for at least three more. It’s a good feeling."
Armstrong and the 24-year-old restricted free agent and his representatives had arrived at the hearing in Toronto when they settled on the deal. Armstrong said if Parayko had gone to arbitration, the contract would have been for two years and the Blues could have worked something out in 2019 before he hit unrestricted free agency.
Parayko has 13 goals and 55 assists for 68 points in 160 games over his first two NHL seasons. Armstrong expects Parayko’s production to increase with more ice time, especially on the power play with Kevin Shattenkirk gone.
"He’s got an absolute cannon, but he has to be able to find ways to get the shot off a little bit quicker, with a little bit more deception," Armstrong said. "We think he can do that. … It’s a great weapon for us to have Tarasenko’s ability to score from distance and Colton’s also."
Parayko said he can’t wait to get back on the ice in St. Louis in September.
A third-round pick in 2012 after playing lower-level junior hockey in his native Canada, Parayko improved drastically over three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and after a stint in the American Hockey League was a standout at the Traverse City prospects tournament in 2015.
"I thought he and (Detroit Red Wings forward) Dylan Larkin were by far the two most dominant players at that tournament," Armstrong said. "And then he got into our training camp and never looked back. It didn’t take ourselves and the league long to realize that he has the opportunity to be a special player."
Parayko was eighth in Calder Trophy voting as rookie of the year in 2015-16 and stepped up after the Blues traded Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline last season. From a player Armstrong even conceded was "an unknown" to now, Parayko shined at the World Cup of Hockey and world championships. He has 12 points in 31 Stanley Cup playoff games.
"He’s taken in a lot in his first two years, not having played (a full season) in the minors and we’re very excited with his upside," Armstrong said. "Such a great skater and such a great wingspan that he can play that 200-foot game that I think everyone’s looking for."