While the Chicago Blackhawks may be fighting to stay out of the cellar in the NHL standings this season, the squad already features bright young talent such as Rene Bourque and Dustin Byfuglien up front, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the blue line. But the best news for the Blackhawks may be that they have even more up and coming players down on the farm.
One of those players is Martin St. Pierre.
The Norfolk Admirals have been able to remain competitive in the AHL’s Eastern Conference this year despite losing the likes of Michal Barinka, Keith, and Bourque, last year’s AHL Rookie of the Year. St. Pierre is a big part of the reason why. The 5’9, 180-pound center, who went undrafted because of his size, has scored 63 points this season – good for second on the team and third amongst league rookies – on a Norfolk squad that sits in third place in the East Division. Head coach Mike Haviland has been pleasantly surprised with his high-scoring rookie.
“We got him as a depth guy who we knew could put up points,” Haviland said. “But to have 60-some points this year as a first-year guy in the American League — and he’s deserved every one of them. He’s certainly become a major part of our team.”
Signed to a minor league contract before the start of last season with the Edmonton Oilers organization, the Embrun, Ontario native spent the bulk of the 2004-05 campaign playing in the ECHL with the Greenville Grrrowl after finishing up a record-breaking four-year junior career with the Guelph Storm. The skilled forward ended up getting called up to the Edmonton Road Runners for the final quarter of the season, getting his first taste of AHL action.
“Obviously you don’t know what to expect, especially at a young age last year,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to play in the AHL in the second half, but it was good development. I took my time, played in the East Coast League for a little bit, and that worked out well.
“I got a little bit of a taste in Edmonton last year, playing in 18 games for them,” he continued. “Obviously last year, the league was a little bit stronger playing with the NHL guys, but my expectations were just to play a full year in the AHL, and hopefully get a contract, and I did get a chance to play two games up in November, so that was a plus, but now we want to try and make the playoffs here and have a good run.”
The Blackhawks signed St. Pierre to a standard player’s contract on Sept. 22, 2005, and are now reaping the benefits. Norfolk trails only the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in their division, quite an accomplishment considering all of the roster shake-ups the team has endured lately, including a number of key players recalled by the Hawks in recent weeks.
The shifty forward has most recently found himself on a line with Pavel Vorobiev and Quintin Laing, and the three have found a good deal of success in their brief time together. The trio posted seven points in a recent 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Phantoms, and looked very comfortable the whole game.
“We’ve only been playing together the last two games because of injuries and all of that,” he said after the game. “In practice, we try to play with everybody because you never know what can happen, especially in this stretch, guys can get hurt. I mean, we’re only down to two regular centermen now with guys getting called up. But, it’s important at this level that guys are comfortable and can adapt really quickly when paired with others.”
They certainly look like they’ve done so. The three pose an especially dangerous threat on the Admirals’ power play, where they have recently been the club’s top unit. The first-year forward understands his role on this team well, as it’s stayed consistent with what he’s been doing his whole career.
“I’ve always been more of a power-play guy, not really a penalty-killing guy,” he said. “I’ve been more of a playmaker who can put the puck in the net. But, with Laing and Vorobiev on my line, they both can score, so it’s obviously nice to play with them. I just want to try and keep it simple. I’m not usually going to be in front of the net, I’m more of a half-wall kind of guy, and I want to concentrate on the playmaking.”
Skating and playmaking are what the 22-year-old does best. The forward’s size poses a disadvantage against much of his opposition, but he hasn’t let that deter him. You won’t see him drop the gloves or make and devastating body checks, but this season, he’s been hitting his opponents where it hurts the most – on the scoreboard.
“It’s just an uphill battle,” he said when asked about constantly playing against bigger, stronger players. “At the start, coming out of junior and trying to go pro and not being able to get a contract, your heart drops a little bit, but you just learn to use that as motivation. You want to work hard and just do things that make you stand out – throw hits, and take on bigger guys. Obviously, I’m not going to fight, but you just want to do things that make you stand out and use it as a motivation.”
That mindset has gotten St. Pierre to this point in his hockey career, and it only looks to carry him further in the future. Norfolk fans, as well as Chicago fans should look for St. Pierre to continue to exceed expectations and accomplish big things.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.