St. Louis Blues need Scott Perunovich on their roster

When a team enters training camp (with the possible exception of an expansion team like the Seattle Kraken), they usually have 19-21 places on the roster pretty well decided. Healthy veteran players on one-sided contracts have to do a lot to lose their alleged role, and there is very little room left for younger or older players in Professional Trials (PTO).

This is certainly the case with the Blues of Saint-Louis, who entered the season with all but the last places on their roster (although general manager Doug Armstrong gave himself more flexibility with Saturday’s trade of Zach Sanford to the Ottawa Senators). Therefore, young players like Klim Kostin, newcomer Logan Brown and last year’s first-round pick Jake Neighbors, as well as veteran PTOs like James Neal (who scored a hat trick in Game 1) preseason) and Michael Frolik have a lot to show. to win one of those rare remaining opportunities. In fact, teams are taking advantage of the scarcity of places on the roster to demand the most from those players, who should be fighting for their place in the NHL.

Related: The 4 untouchable prospects of the Blues for 2021-2022

But the Blues have a young player they need to look at training camp a little differently. Old Hobey Baker Award Winner Scott Perunovich shouldn’t just have every chance of being on the list; the team should save him a spot and plan to rely heavily on him this season.

Hobey Baker career at Minnesota-Duluth

Perunovich is the best player currently in the Blues’ prospects pipeline, although he only cost them a pick midway through the second round in 2018. He has proven his worth during a remarkable collegiate career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he scored 105 points in 115 games and won back-to-back NCAA Championships (in 2017-18 and 2018-19). During the 2019-20 season, he scored 40 points in 34 games and won both the Hobey Baker Award, celebrating the best college player in the NCAA, and the Jim Johansson Award, given to the college player of the year of USA Hockey. The UMD may have been set to win a third straight NCAA Championship, but the COVID-19 pandemic has cut the season short.

Scott Perunovich (Terry Carite Norton-UMD Athletics)

Despite his remarkable play, the NHL teams passed Perunovich in two draft and he even fell midway through the second round in a third. But the Blues were so eager to sign him at this point that they brought a team jersey with his name already sewn onto the podium for him to wear (a rarity beyond the first round). Their enthusiasm proved to be justified over the next two seasons of college play, and it paid off their confidence in sign with the Blues rather than playing his college career and going into free agency. At the start of the 2020-21 season, fans were overjoyed to see him fight for a berth and play in the AHL. Sadly, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery kept him from playing for the season. But on his first chance to get rid of the rust, he went much further and wowed the evaluators at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Michigan.

Perunovich impresses at Traverse City

Last weekend, the Blues traveled to Traverse City, along Lake Michigan, where the Detroit Red Wings host an annual hopefuls tournament before their team’s training camp. Les Bleus are a regular visitor to the competition, but as the college seasons started early in the tournament, Perunovich never had the chance to participate. In his first chance, he left no questions about his enormous ability.

Still 3-1 Blues after 40. I tried to save my take out for my end of tournament diary but this one is free: Scott Perunovich is disgusting.

Perunovich scored five points in three games, but he looked like the most dominant player on the ice almost all the time. His puck control and vision were off the charts, he rounded defenders and moved easily around the zone, and his passes and shots were just as crisp. I have attended three consecutive Traverse City Prospect tournaments, seeing a roster of top notch youngsters including Kaapo Kakko, Andrei Svechnikov, Adam Boqvist, Miro Heiskanen and Kirby Dach, but at that time only Adam Fox looked as constant superlative as Scott Perunovich. Of course, he still has a long way to go to catch up with Norris Trophy winner Fox, but their pedigrees (smaller, seasoned defenders and academics) line up closely. And if my witness is not convincing, other experts agree.

In his review of Traverse City, AthleticismScott Wheeler spoke enthusiastically of the Blues defender: “If there had been a prize for the best game in the tournament, Perunovich (who played on both sides, I think it should be noted) would have had my vote… No one could take the throw it away and when they tried he walked past them and created the space they chased… He cut off the traffic [and] he had the puck on a string ”(from“ Traverse City NHL outlook tournament ratings, quotes and standouts ”, from The Athletic NHL, September 21, 2021). How impressive was Perunovich’s performance? Wheeler summed it up well: “He shouldn’t be in ‘has to earn it’ territory for me. It should be “we have to find a way to make room for it, even at the expense of a veteran’s territory.”

Perunovich is part of the Top Four Blues

That last line sounds loud, and conveniently the Blues shouldn’t have a hard time finding a place for the dynamic blueliner. Their defense is heavy, with Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and the recently enlarged Colton Parayko clearly in the first four roles. Behind them, however, the remaining defenders are largely indistinguishable and largely at replacement level. There is no doubt that Perunovich, given an entire season to mature as an NHL player, has a much higher cap than veterans Robert Bortuzzo and Marco Scandella and he has a brighter future than young defensemen. Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman.

With the versatility of Perunovich (a southpaw who has played a lot on the right side), he could form a partnership with one of the top three defenders he finds chemistry with. Until then, he can get his feet wet in the third row, but the squad shouldn’t be long: there’s no doubt that the college star is playing a leading role in their squad.

Bérubé must be patient

Given his decision not to make any defensive additions during the offseason, Armstrong may well consider using Perunovich on the team’s main roster. But head coach Craig Berube must resist his tendency to quickly write off young players who make mistakes. Perunovich is incredibly promising, but like any player making the transition to the NHL, he will have a learning curve. If the team supports the process, Perunovich could be a big difference maker towards the end of the season, just like Robert Thomas was during the team’s Stanley Cup championship season. But they must give him the same trust they placed in Thomas. And that means giving him a spot on the roster right out of the gate to enter the season.

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