Colton Parayko was completely passed over in his first year of eligibility for the NHL Draft, and was left off the final NHL Central Scouting Rankings in 2012, which is ironic, because these days, the 6'5" defenseman seems impossible to overlook.
The story of how the St .Louis Blues scouted Parayko is now a somewhat famous one in hockey scouting circles. The Blues went out of their way to scout Parayko in non-traditional locales so as to not tip off other teams that they were interested in him. They eventually selected him in the third round of the 2012, and their faith has been rewarded. Parayko has developed into an excellent defenseman that looks to have a bright future with the Blues.
I had the opportunity to take a closer look at Parayko live on December 5th, when his Nanooks of Alaska-Fairbanks upset Minnesota State 5-4 in overtime. Parayko finished the game with one assist and a +3 +/-. He played heavy minutes with Alaska-Fairbanks using him as their top option in every situation.
First off, there's no doubting that Parayko is every bit of the 6-5 218 lbs. that he is listed at. He's a monster out on the ice. He's not quite an all-world skater, as you'd expect from a player that huge. But he's a good enough skater that combined with his size, he's an effective defender.
His size advantage allows him to be very aggressive defending on his own blue line and forcing the opposition to dump the puck into the zone rather than gaining clean zone entry. His footwork defending one-on-one is okay at the college level, but something he could struggle with against faster competition at the NHL level. His pivots were a little rough, but again, he made every defensive play that he had to, largely because of all the space he takes away due to his size. He doesn't make a lot of open ice hits, but competes hard along the boards and uses his size to gain leverage effectively.
What makes Parayko especially unique as a prospect is that he also brings a bit of offensive upside. He has 61 points in 96 career games the Nanooks. As you'd expect from a player his size, he's got a very heavy shot, and he does an excellent job of keeping his shots low and creating rebound opportunities. He handles and passes the puck adequately, which is impressive at his size. He's capable of rushing the puck up the ice and with his size, it's very difficult to knock him off the puck or slow him down, so he's effective at gaining entry into the offensive zone.
If there was one question mark on the offensive side of the ice, it was his decision-making with the puck. Too many times in the Friday game when he gained the offensive zone, he fired lazy wrist shots on goal rather than keeping possession and looking to make a better play. He was much better with this in the following game on Saturday night though, so it's likely not a huge issue, and at least it appears to be a coachable issue.
In terms of his future, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Blues try to sign Parayko has soon as his season ends on March 7th(UAF is not allowed to compete in their league's playoffs this year). He'll need at least a full season or two in the minor leagues to adjust to the pace of pro hockey. But given time and continued development, he could be a very solid second or third pairing defenseman at the NHL level. He's not going to be the next Zdeno Chara, but he'll be a strong defender, and provide enough offense to offset whatever issues he has against faster players. Finding a player of his talent 86 picks into a Draft isn't an easy thing to do. For a third round draft pick, Parayko isn't quite a home-run, but definitely at least a solid double.