Sometimes the past tells you all you need to know about the future. Take Martin St. Louis, for instance.
"I first saw him at a camp when he was 15," recalled Mike Gilligan, St. Louis' former coach at the University of Vermont. "He overcame his lack of size because he just had that engine . . . and the heart that goes with it. His parents had the same work ethic. Even in his teens, he just hated to lose . . . He always thought he was as good or better than the kid he was facing off against. If I'm talking to a 10- or-12-year-old, I tell him: 'That's the type of guy you want to be.' "
For St. Louis, 39, who now has three sons, the past year has been a time of transition, a time where his mettle has been tested again.
After some differences with the Tampa Bay front office, St. Louis was traded to the Rangers last March and the family relocated to their summer home in Connecticut. He struggled on ice at first, but in the postseason, while mourning the sudden death of his mother in Quebec, he provided an inspirational ladder for the Rangers to climb. Then, after the Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup Final, his teammate Brad Richards, a friend with whom he won the Cup in Tampa in 2004, was bought out.
But St. Louis moved on: He spent part of the offseason, as he has for years, in a strenuous training program at Prentiss Hockey Performance. He also played a little golf at Muirfield in Scotland, signed an endorsement deal with Crest Canada, welcomed free-agent defenseman Dan Boyle, another former teammate, to the neighborhood, and even joined Twitter.
And now the two-time league scoring champion, who spent most of his 16-year NHL career at right wing, is willing to move to center with No. 1 pivot Derek Stepan sidelined for the start of the season with a broken fibula. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said St. Louis texted him the offer last week, and the experiment began Wednesday: St. Louis skated with Rick Nash and camp phenom Anthony Duclair and in Stepan's spot on the power play, and will play there in one of the weekend preseason games.
"I've got to work on my draws, but it's not a big deal," St. Louis said, downplaying the issue. "In Tampa, the last two coaches often played 11 forwards and 7 'D', so I've done it."
To be sure, Vigneault loves the team-first approach, and "other than faceoffs, he's pretty comfortable," he said. He also appreciates the roster flexibility with Stepan on the shelf.
After practice, Vigneault joked that St. Louis' approach was similar to the 19-year-old Duclair's attitude when the youngster always answered in the affirmative if he had played on the penalty kill or the point in juniors.
"Marty's the same way," Vigneault said with a laugh: "I ask, 'Can you play center? Yeah, I'm fine, whatever you need.' Some guys are smart enough, they figure it out; whatever the coach asks, you say, 'Yes, I can.' ''
In his life and on ice, St. Louis has underlined the "can." He has proved himself as a leader, kept Father Time at bay, and hopes to continue his career in New York beyond next summer. It is not out of the question: Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne played well in their 40s. Jagr is still playing for the Devils.
As St. Louis recently tweeted: "39 is the new 32."