Jordan Binnington used to fly under the radar as he methodically went about his summer training.
After a head-turning, seemingly-out-of-nowhere rookie campaign capped by a Stanley Cup victory, those days are long gone.
“You missed it,” the St. Louis Blues goalie quipped when it was pointed out earlier this week he’d never spoken with reporters at the annual BioSteel camp. “It was only a matter of time. I was putting in the work.”
He certainly was, but even the calm, cool Binnington had to admit the last 12 months have been a whirlwind.
The netminder started last season No. 4 of the depth chart with a solitary game of NHL experience before finally getting his shot for a Blues team floundering in the standings.
All the Richmond Hill, Ont., native did from there was go an eye-popping 24-5-1 with a .927 save percentage and a minuscule 1.89 goals-against average as St. Louis went from last overall to comfortably in a playoff spot.
Historic rookie run
But that was only a glimpse of what was to come as Binnington backstopped the Blues through four post-season rounds, getting past the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference before downing the Boston Bruins on the road in Game 7 of the Cup final.
Add to that a Calder Trophy nomination for rookie of the year, and it was a wild ride.
“It happened quickly, but it’s been great,” said Binnington, who was selected by St. Louis in the third round of the 2011 draft. “It’s been a long process to get here, too.”
The 26-year-old has been a regular participant at the BioSteel showcase, but never attracted the type of attention usually reserved for Connor McDavid or Tyler Seguin until this summer.
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The latter saw something in the once no-name goalie at previous camps, picking him first in the annual draft three straight years as four teams of NHLers, other pros and some junior players wrap up their training regime with a 3-on-3 tournament.
“He doesn’t get nervous,” said Seguin, whose Stars fell to Binnington and the Blues in the second round. “He’s always had that swag, no matter what.”
Confidence is something that Binnington has in spades, but he appreciated the support from his workout partners while toiling in the minors waiting his turn.
“[Seguin] was one of the first people to believe in me around here [and in] the hockey world,” said Binnington, who played a combined 217 games in the AHL and ECHL before finally sticking with St. Louis. “Going up against elite athletes and elite players, that’s what it’s about. You want to test yourself against the best.”
‘New respect level’
He added there was a different vibe in the group this summer.
“New respect level, for sure,” Binnington said. “Being back in Toronto, being on the streets, it’s really cool talking to people and seeing the influence you had.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at right now.”
That includes a new two-year contract worth $8.8 million US he signed with Blues as a restricted free agent after having to settle for three straight one-season pacts.
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“You need a good team to win, it’s a fair deal in that aspect,” Binnington said. “I’m confident in myself and believe I deserve more and will earn more. That just comes with time and experience.
“You’ve got to understand the process and keep building and let the money chase you.”
Malcolm Subban has known Binnington since they were 15 years old and shared the crease for Canada at the 2013 world junior hockey championship.
Target on their backs
The Vegas Golden Knights backup knew his friend and colleague had this in him. It was just a matter of getting the chance.
“I’m not surprised,” Subban said. “He’s always been one of the best, if not the best, goalie in every league he’s played in.
“He just does him. It’s a good example — just do you and believe in yourself. Eventually people will see it and it will show.”
That belief is what helped Binnington manoeuvre the difficult moments in his career.
“There were down times,” he said. “I realized my back was against the wall and I had to work. No one’s going to do it for me and I’ve got to find my own way. You’ve got to be bold because fortune favours the bold. That was my thought process. It all adds up.”
Binnington and the Blues will have targets on their backs heading into 2019-20. It’s the type of challenge the netminder that needed a name tag at this time last year has relished during a meteoric rise eight years in the making.
“It’s not always going to be perfect,” Binnington said. “It’s how you handle it. The toughest will succeed and last.
“I’m not too worried about proving stuff to anyone besides myself. I expect the best.”