4 Blues Standouts From the Preseason

The St. Louis Blues preseason is finally over, and they’ll open the season up against the Colorado Avalanche. It was an interesting preseason, as we saw a lot from almost every player.

Related: Analyzing Blues’ Final Roster Decisions

Newcomers like Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich were fantastic, while some of the prospects were great too. But there were four true standouts, them being two prospects and two established veterans.

Jake Neighbours

The most surprising player this preseason was Neighbours. He was the Blues’ 2020 late first-round pick, and he has already developed to a possible top-nine forward at the age of 19. I can’t believe how quickly he’s become what the Blues thought he could be when they took him.

He described himself as a power forward with skill, who models his game after Matthew Tkachuk. With those two traits, I think he’ll fit in well with the Blues system.

Jake Neighbours Edmonton Oil Kings
Blues forward Jake Neighbours with the Edmonton Oil Kings (Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)

Since he is just 19 years old, Neighbours can’t be sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) for an entire season. The Blues have the option to give him a nine-game tryout, or send him back to the Western Hockey League (WHL). It appears as though they will give him that tryout to see what he can do.

He showed his ability to fit in with a number of linemates, and his patience with the puck was impressive. He tallied four points in five preseason games, which showed that he can be productive in a number of ways.

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The Blues haven’t given a nine-game tryout to a young player since Alex Pietrangelo in 2008-09. In 2018-19, Robert Thomas ended up sticking with the team at 19 years old when he got his tryout, and other Blues since have done so as well. We’ll see if Neighbours ends up on the roster for the entire season.

James Neal

The veteran Neal absolutely earned the one-year, $750K deal he signed with the Blues after his professional tryout (PTO) in camp. After ten straight seasons of over 20 goals, he’s failed to reach that mark over the last three seasons. The Blues hope he can re-gain his form while playing with some of their talented centers.

James Neal Edmonton Oilers
Blues forward James Neal with the Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In this preseason, Neal scored four goals in five games, showing that he can play with his back against the wall. This is a player who accomplished a lot in his career, not often are players able to score over 300 goals, he is six away. My projection is that we see Neal on a line with either Thomas or Brayden Schenn, as it’s likely that he plays somewhere in the middle-six.

Entering his age 34 season, his ice-time has consistently dropped each season since 2015-16, when he was with the Nashville Predators. He won’t get a lot of ice-time outside of 5-on-5 play, but he can be a goal-scoring threat, similar to Mike Hoffman last season. I wonder if he is one of the first players on deck if the power play sees early-season changes.

A lot of the criticism with Neal was his contract, which was way too high, now that contract is gone. Either way, this is the time for Neal to rejuvenate his career, and the Blues have seen players do that here over the last decade.

Scott Perunovich

Although Perunovich will start the season with the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL, he had a good preseason. We all saw the flash and talent that he has this preseason, and he is finally near reaching the NHL level. He will likely be the first defenseman called up from the AHL if an injury or change strikes.

Scott Perunovich St. Louis Blues
Scott Perunovich, St. Louis Blues, 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In five preseason games, he averaged over 20 minutes of ice time and tallied two assists. He brings a new-school style to a blueline that lacks that. He plays the same style as Adam Fox and Quinn Hughes, flashy skaters with tons of puck skill. No, I’m not saying he will be as good as those two, but he plays a similar style to them.

Many have said he’s similar to Torey Krug, and while they both possess elite offensive skills, Perunovich is just different. The way that he skates are exhilarating to watch, Blues fans are going to love watching him when he finally reaches the NHL, later this season.

The last time he played a season of hockey, he was a dominant force in college with Minnesota Duluth. You don’t win the Hobey Baker award for best college hockey player for no reason.

Robert Bortuzzo

This is an interesting one, Bortuzzo has been a mainstay on the roster for the Blues over the past seven seasons. He has gone in and out of the lineup, but he’s been here for a long time. He’s normally the seventh defenseman on a roster, but I believe he will start the season on the third-pair.

He absolutely showed up this preseason, showing offensive production that we have never seen from him before. I don’t think he’ll do this in the regular season, but it was nice to see him score five points in four games this preseason. He was tied for second on the Blues in preseason points behind Thomas and tied with Buchnevich.

Robert Bortuzzo St. Louis Blues
Robert Bortuzzo, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I think Jake Walman will likely be the partner to start the season for Bortuzzo. I think it’s a good fit due to the skating ability of Walman, he can help to balance the partnership with Bortuzzo. It isn’t the best third pair by any means, but it is solid.

Overall, I think the most surprising preseason performances were from Bortuzzo and Neighbours, for different reasons. The Blues played very well this preseason, but now none of that matters. The pressure-packed 2021-22 season has arrived and we’ll soon find out what this team is made of.

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