Balance is Focus for St. Croix
By Matt Calamia (Twitter)
Rangers 2011 fourth-round pick Michael St. Croix completed his fourth full season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League where his offensive production has etched his name into Edmonton’s record books.
The 20-year-old forward is Edmonton’s all-time leader in goals (128), assists (192) and points (320) after his most productive season of 2011-12 when he posted 45 goals, 60 assists and 105 points.
St. Croix, though, isn’t content with being just an offensive force, and he understands balance is the key to success if he hopes to continue to climb the hockey ladder.
“I think the offensive part has always come natural to me,” St. Croix told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “Growing up, I’ve always been able to produce offense and points. Going into the junior level, it’s been demanded of me to keep on improving the other parts [of my game].”
St. Croix arrived in Edmonton as a 16-year-old in 2008, but only skated in two games for the Oil Kings. The following year, he posted 18 goals and 46 points in 66 games, though he was a minus-21.
In 2010-11, St. Croix increased the production by recording 27 goals and 75 points but improved dramatically by posting a plus-28, thanks to an increased focus on playing well away from the puck and in his own end.
“I’ve definitely developed into a way better two-way player, but the defense is always something I’m going to have to work on,” said St. Croix, who’s father is former NHL goaltender Rick St. Croix. “If you want to be a good NHL player, a good pro, you have to be good in both ends of the ice. It’s not a one-dimensional game any more.”
While St. Croix was given the opportunity to play top-six minutes throughout his career, he was also afforded the chance to learn and grow into a winner as well. The Oil Kings missed the playoffs in St. Croix’s first two seasons in Edmonton, including a last-place finish in the 2009-10 campaign.
For as bad as his first two seasons went, St. Croix’s last two years in Edmonton were as good, as the Oil Kings captured the 2012 WHL championship and followed it up with another appearance in the finals this season.
St. Croix said he believes the experience of back-to-back deep playoff runs and a championship will benefit him down the road, no matter what level he’s playing at.
“To get that experience going deep into the playoffs is one of the best things that could have happened,” St. Croix said. “Teams look for winners and if you can win championships, you’re doing something right.”
The Winnipeg native does not shy away from the spotlight of a big game. This season, he posted 19 points in 20 postseason games, including two goals in Game 5 of the WHL Finals against the Portland Winterhawks to stave off elimination. Last season, St. Croix registered 26 points in 22 games during the team’s championship run.
“In those big games, you definitely want to come up and play your best,” St. Croix said. “A lot to do with it is the mental preparation. Maybe just preparing a little more. In those big games, you definitely want to perform and luckily I was able to play well in a few of those big games.”
While St. Croix is an offensive force, Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal said St. Croix isn’t flashy, but rather just sees plays developing at a high level. “He’s not going to be a guy who toe drags and dangles,” Laxdal told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “Mike’s a pure offensive guy. A great setup guy. He sees the ice so well. He distributes the puck very well.”
Like St. Croix, Laxdal said the youngster has focused on improving his play in his own end, which has paid off. “We knew he could score goals … but getting him to buy into being a defensive player playing on both sides of the puck — he took a lot of strides in the three years we had him.”
St. Croix signed his entry-level contract in September — which he said was “great to have the confidence of the organization” — and the next step for him is to attend both the team’s rookie training camp in early July, followed by the Traverse City tournament in September. St. Croix would then attend his first Rangers training camp, also in September.
“The next goal is definitely to move onto the pro ranks and try and establish and prove myself at the next level,” St. Croix said. “Whether that’s next year or the year after, it’s irrelevant. Right now, I’m training and working hard to become a good pro.”