David Perron has come a long way from the fresh-faced teenager who showed up as a Blues rookie sporting — gasp! — white skates way back in 2007.
Then again, his passion for the game hasn't changed one bit over the years. Which explains why he was just as excited to begin his 15th NHL training camp last month as he was for his first.
“I do still kinda get the nerves the first couple days,” he said. “It felt as if it was my first year in the league. That's a weird feeling to get when it's starting your 15th year.
“But at the same time, I don't want to lose that. I don't think it'll ever go away from me. It does mean obviously that I still care.”
He has grown up, matured in many ways. But the rink rat never left. And like a vintage French-Canadian wine, he has somehow gotten better with age.
July 1, 2018, will be forever remembered as the day general manager Doug Armstrong pulled off what is on its way to becoming one of the greatest trades in St. Louis sports history, acquiring Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres.
But let's not forget what transpired a few hours earlier that day, when Armstrong signed Perron to a free-agent contract.
(Not to mention signing Tyler Bozak. That was some day for the Blues.)
“We felt Perron was gonna be a good player in our top six,” Armstrong said. “What he was doing in the league at that point indicated that.
“When we signed him, I know security was an important thing for him. He wanted a fourth year. My relationship with him, and knowing his off-ice habits, workouts, his desire to be a top-level pro, the fourth year wasn't a big concern with us. So I think that's sort of what pushed it over.”
Armstrong traded Perron to Edmonton in 2013; signed him back to St. Louis in 2016 as a free agent. Left him exposed in the Vegas expansion draft in 2017, with Perron being claimed by the Golden Knights.
And signed him back as a free agent a year later. There's a small universe of hockey players good enough to play in the National Hockey League. Armstrong makes it a point to never burn bridges when a player leaves for whatever reason. Because you just never know.
The third time in St. Louis has been quite the charm. Perron was a key cog in the Blues' Stanley Cup run in 2018-19. The following season, he finished second on the team in scoring — by one point — to linemate O'Reilly.
Last season, he edged O'Reilly by two points for the team scoring title. And with 58 points in 56 games, Perron became the Blues' first point-a-game player since Pavol Demitra in 2002-03.
O'Reilly and Perron appear destined to go down as one of the great tandems in Blues history. Perron has said in the past he feels blessed to play on the same line as O'Reilly. The feeling is mutual.
“He makes so much happen out there, the way he competes so consistently,” O'Reilly said. “Every game, he's showing up and doing something. Even when you're not getting on the board, he's just a presence.
“And the way he works, it makes my job a lot easier being able to play with him.”
Armstrong said there was no preconceived notion on July 1, 2018, that the two would play on the same line.
“Those things, I don't think you really envision,” Armstrong said. “You see potentials, but you're trying to find as many good players in as many positions.”
Going in, the tandem could have just as easily turned out to be Bozak-Perron as O'Reilly-Perron in Armstrong's mind.
“You just never know,” he said.
Perron was one of those players O'Reilly hated playing against before they became teammates.
“We battled pretty hard and you could always tell he was heavy on the puck,” O'Reilly said. “But getting to play with him, you can see the details he puts into his game and how effective and how strong he is on the puck.
“When you see it every day playing with him, he's definitely a guy that's so underrated for how much he contributes.”
Andy Murray, most recently head coach at Western Michigan University, got the first look at Perron in the NHL. He was the Blues' head coach when Perron was taken in the first round, No. 26 overall, in the '07 draft.
Murray remembers a naive, enthusiastic 19-year-old who showed up to work every day with a smile on his face. He had skill and potential. And white skates.
“David, you couldn't help but like him,” Murray said. “He really hadn't had an opportunity to get an idea of what the hockey business was all about. He played just one year of major junior hockey.”
And then found himself in St. Louis, in the NHL.
“There were things that he had to learn to do,” Murray said. “You know, how to manage his daily schedule, different things like that.”
A month or so into his rookie season, Murray recalled that Perron was still living in a hotel. He had yet to get his own place. In fact, he had yet to cash a paycheck.
“We'd already had one or two pay periods,” Murray said. “He said, 'Coach, I still have lots of per diem money left from training camp.'"
One of the Blues' financial people stopped by and helped the teenager set up a bank account.
As for the white skates, you may have heard the story. The precocious Perron showed up for practice in gaudy white skates — which just wasn't done at the time. Murray quickly put an end to that.
“It's probably not something I would do now,” Murray said. “But a couple of the veteran players saw that. … Just as a young rookie, first-round draft pick, it might not be the thing to do. The equipment guys fixed them up a little bit, they weren't white anymore.”
They were black.
Perron does everything with gusto, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and seems to be constantly talking on the ice. To his teammates. To his coaches. To his opponents, usually in antagonistic fashion.
“He takes things personal,” coach Craig Berube said. “He wants to win. He wants to do well. And he really thrives off of that. I've had a number of conversations with him where he comes and just sees me. And he's upset about something. He gets it off his chest.
“Again, it's all about how competitive he is.”
He's also all about the team, and sharing the joy of hockey with his teammates. Watch him next time he's on the ice and a teammate scores. No one looks happier about it than Perron. Not even the goal scorer. Why is that?
"I don't know. It's a good question,” Perron said. “I'm glad you're looking at me when a goal is scored.”
Well, it's hard to miss.
“Yeah, I don't know,” he continued. “I get excited (when) guys make good plays.”
His exuberance for the game was evident to Murray the first time Perron stepped on the ice in St. Louis.
“He would stay on the ice for two hours after practice and continue if you'd let him,” Murray said. “He just loved being on the ice. You have a game-day skate and he'd want to keep handling pucks and stick-handling and going through little obstacles doing things with his stick and stick work.
“I mean, you had to kick him off the ice and remind him: 'You got a game to play tonight.'"
Fourteen years later, not much has changed on that front. Perron and O'Reilly are usually the first — or among the first — on the ice for practice. Frequently, they're among the last to leave.
“There's nothing that gets me going more in the morning than thinking about coming to the rink, seeing the boys,” Perron said. “Everything about it, really.
“It's in me, I guess. I don't see it ever leaving. It was great as a young guy to have a chance to play in the league. I wanted to get better every single day.”
And still does
“You never know when it's over,” he said. “So you try to keep pushing as long as you can. And that's putting in the work, trying to improve. Sometimes even watching the young guys go, how prepared they are coming into the league, what kind of skill set they have. And how the league is changing. ... You always have to renew yourself.”
At age 33, a time when most pro athletes' careers are winding down, Perron's is revving up. His three highest-scoring seasons in terms of points have come over the past four years. It would be four for four had Perron not been sidelined for two months with a concussion during the Cup season, missing 24 games.
“He's an anomaly in that fashion,” Armstrong said. “I think one of his reasons for success, he's always learning, he's always adapting, he's always modernizing his game.”
To the point where Murray, who has followed Perron's career over the years, now states: “He's earned the right to wear green skates if he wants, in my opinion.”
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