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Old 07-08-2009, 02:56 PM
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Default Blues' Johnson and Pietrangelo are ready

Interesting read about Petro's thoughts during this week's Blue's Pro Orientation camp.

Blues' Johnson and Pietrangelo are ready
UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 11: Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New York Islanders on October 11, 2008 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Pietrangelo saw little action with the Blues last season, but will be in the mix this upcoming season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)



Erik Johnson, 21, and Alex Pietrangelo, 19, have heard from outsiders that they are the future of the Blues' defense. But until recently, the two had never been on the ice together.

"Now I know why (Johnson) went first overall" in the 2006 NHL draft, Pietrangelo said. "He skates, he shoots ... he sees the ice so well. I can only imagine what he's going to be like in the future."

That praise isn't coming from the 225th pick in the draft. It's coming from Pietrangelo, who was the fourth overall pick in 2008.

Johnson returned the compliment. "He's highly skilled, he's poised under pressure and he does a good job of slowing down the play," Johnson said. "And he's still young; people have to remember that."

Johnson and Pietrangelo could have been teamed up for the Blues last season. But Johnson was involved in a preseason golf-cart accident, tearing a knee ligament and forcing him to miss the entire season; Pietrangelo was shipped back to junior hockey after playing eight games with the Blues.

Now after spending the past month training together in St. Louis, Johnson and Pietrangelo are on the same squad and could be paired together at this week's Pro Orientation camp. Although it's only a camp, Johnson says both defensemen will have a chip on their shoulder as they prepare for the 2009-10 NHL season.

"I sat out the whole year," Johnson said. "You kind of get forgotten when you don't play. I definitely don't want to be forgotten. I'm here for a long time. I want to be a dominant player in this league and a dominant player for this team.

"And 'Petro' ... if anything, he has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he shouldn't have been sent down."

In a phone call that went a long way in developing their friendship, Johnson called Pietrangelo last season after he was sent back to Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League and offered his encouragement.

"He said, 'Don't worry about it ... they know what they're doing,'" Pietrangelo said. "Obviously he went back to (the University of Minnesota after being drafted) and it worked out for him. Hopefully that's the same case for me, and I can have a first year like he did."

Johnson has played only 69 games in the NHL, but after leading the Blues' defensemen with 33 points in 2007-08, he understands that young players can play productive roles.

"I know (Blues coach Andy Murray) holds the veterans accountable, but you can't rely on the veterans all the time," Johnson said. "The young guys make up the bulk of this team and we're going to have to produce, or else we won't be successful."

Regarding his pairing with Pietrangelo, Johnson said: "We want to be like (Al) MacInnis and (Chris) Pronger when they were here ... to have that tandem that everyone fears to play against."

MacInnis, who is now the Blues' vice president of hockey operations, marvels at the enthusiasm Johnson exudes when discussing the upcoming season.

"He's ready to play," MacInnis said. "I can't imagine being 20 years old and sitting out a whole year like he did. He just wants to be a part of it. He's certainly put the work in."

Johnson (6-feet-4) is 235 pounds, which is a few more pounds than his projected playing weight. Pietrangelo (6-3) is 205 pounds, roughly the same weight he played at last season.

"(But) to me, (Pietrangelo) looks completely different than he did last year," MacInnis said. "What he went through last summer (recovering from mononucleosis), I think it was unfair for us to put those expectations on him. To come in here and play eight games with us, it was a credit to him."

Pietrangelo, however, said that he isn't taking anything for granted when it comes to making the Blues' roster.

"I had that taste last year and it was tough losing it," he said. "I don't want to say I'm going to play here for sure because you never know. But I know what I have to do to be here and compete for a spot."

For now, Johnson and Pietrangelo are learning what it's like to compete against each other in practice.

Asked who wins those battles, Pietrangelo said: "It depends. If it's in the corner, it's usually him, because he's a little bigger than I am. I'm getting there, though."

Off the ice, they're competitive as well.

When told that Pietrangelo was boasting about the World Jr. Championship ring he won with Team Canada this year, Johnson quipped: "Let's not worry about World Jr. rings ... Let's win the Cup."

Pietrangelo laughed.

"We've kind of developed a pretty good relationship over the past month," he said. "Hopefully it's like everybody thinks ... that it's going to be for the next 10 years. I think we're both looking forward to that."
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