DENVER • Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Erik Johnson … those were the names Blues fans heard often as the franchise dug out from mid-2000s and re-connected with the city. They represented the promise of better things to come.
For Johnson, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2006 NHL draft, the promise was perforated. A serious knee injury cost him an important developmental season, and his progress was halting. Rather than wait to see if he would arrive as an elite defenseman, the Blues traded on the promise, sending him to Colorado in February 2011 for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a second-round pick (Ty Rattie).
Perron, a No. 1 pick in 2007, also has been deterred by missing extensive time with a head injury. But he scored 21 goals in 57 games last season and is emerging as one of the more skilled offensive players in the league.
Oshie, a No. 1 in 2005, has become highly regarded for his hard work and two-way game. He now plays on the Blues’ No. 1 line.
As for Berglund, also a No. 1 pick in 2006, he averaged almost 19 goals over the past four seasons. He established himself as a capable NHL center but sometimes frustrated observers who thought there was more to the 6-foot-5, 220-pound package.
But it now appears Berglund is coming of age, tapping into that potential, fulfilling the promise.
“I think the big change in him is he’s embracing leadership,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s been included in some of the meetings with the leadership group. I think he’s embracing that he can be a difference-maker, and it’s good to see.
“I think the organization has been very patient with his development, and I think now he’s starting to show the rewards.”
During Tuesday’s 2-1 home loss to San Jose, Berglund scored the Blues’ only goal. It was his team-leading ninth of the season, and it was the kind of goal he has scored more often. He went to the front of the net, got a pass and knocked it past netminder Antti Niemi.
Nine goals is the fourth best individual total in the NHL, as Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek tops the list with 12.
Then again, goal scoring has its own ebbs and flows, which sometimes come and go without tangible explanation. One night, a well-placed shot hits a post and stays out. One night, someone’s shot hits you in the rear and goes in — as it did for Berglund on Sunday night in Vancouver.
The important evidence is Berglund recognizes the things he is doing right, things that are putting him in position to score goals. For comparison, the Swedish native did not score his ninth goal until the 39th game of the season in 2011-12.
“The puck obviously has been bouncing in instead of out, so I’ve been lucky and in the right spots so far,” Berglund said. “Everybody is always saying that the front of the net is where everything happens, and it really is. Someone shoots, the rebound will be there, and you whack it in and create offense.
“So when I don’t have the puck, if we have good possession, I’ll just try to find a good spot to go to the net. I know a shot will come there, or something like that. And obviously, I’m a big body too, so I can be there to get in front of the goalie or occupy a D-man.”
Otherwise, Berglund said he has made no significant changes. He hasn’t lost a bunch of weight like Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn. He hasn’t packed on weight and muscle like Blues rookie Jaden Schwartz. He is roughly the same Patrik Berglund as before, although he suggests playing in Sweden during the labor lockout was a plus. He credits the bigger European rinks with pushing his condition.
“It’s a big difference,” Berglund said. “People talk about there’s not as much hitting, but it’s because you have too far to skate to hit. You feel the difference right away, because there’s just so much more space you have to cover with your skating.”
But this healthy collection of biscuits in the basket is not all luck. It’s not all about being in the right places, not all about being in good shape for a demanding schedule. In fact, it’s not all about the goals at all.
In times past, Berglund has been known as a player to become easily frustrated. He has been his own worst critic, his own worst enemy when it came to mental toughness. Previous coaches saw it, Andy Murray and Davis Payne. Hitchcock has seen it.
But this season Berglund has been noticeable during some of the most demanding stretches for the Blues. He has been one who rises to occasions instead allowing occasions to knock him down. He’s becoming a go-to guy.
“I think more than anything he’s dialing up his game when the team needs it,” Hitchcock added. “He’s taking on that responsibility. He’s not easily pushed out or discouraged by something happening on the ice. He’s fighting through that stuff, and it’s giving him really good success on the other side of it.
“He’s a guy who got far too frustrated, far too easily, when he first started to play. After a while that becomes a crutch and it’s a crutch you don’t want to see a player use. He’s learned to grow past that now. And I think he’s really learned that if he keeps going, he drags other people along with him.”
Therein is the bottom line. Berglund isn’t all that excited about his personal performance. What he’s excited about is trying to keep it going.
“I mean, obviously, it’s a good feeling, but we have to keep going,” he said. “There’s a lot of games left and a lot of important games. You know, I’ve come off with a good start, but there’s a lot more to play for.”