The St. Louis Blues’ 2021-22 season represented a major transition for the franchise. No longer a stout defensive team built from the blue line out, they finished second in the NHL in goals scored, with nine forwards recording 20-plus goals. Though the season came to an end in a six-game defeat by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, there are plenty of highs and lows to reflect on. In this series, we’ll evaluate each player who played 10 or more games with the team (as well as the head coach and general manager), grading their individual performance and looking at their future with the team.
The road to the NHL often isn’t an easy one. Even for top prospects, it can be a challenge to break into the league and find consistent playing time. Scott Perunovich has learned that lesson the hard way the last two seasons. Despite a standout NCAA career that saw him win two national championships and the Hobey Baker Award, injuries and a crowded defensive group have kept him from quite finding his stride at the NHL level. But a strong postseason performance might be proof that brighter days are ahead for the promising blueliner and former 2018 second-round draft pick.
What Went Right: Postseason Breakout
At the start of the postseason, the idea of Perunovich playing even the slightest role in the Blues’ playoff run was hardly a thought in anyone’s mind, at least outside the organization. But when injuries to Torey Krug, Marco Scandella, and Nick Leddy in quick succession left head coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong scrambling for options. Perunovich was finally healthy after a long layoff we’ll discuss in a moment, but he would not typically have been deployed so quickly in other circumstances. Still, given the lack of NHL-caliber defensive options, Berube called him into action without delay.
Far from showing any game rust, though, Perunovich provided an immediate spark to the Blues, especially on the power play, a unit that he immediately stepped up to quarterback with Krug out of the lineup. He notched an assist in each of his first three appearances, the first three playoff games of his career, which were all Blues victories that helped power them past the Minnesota Wild (a team from Perunovich’s home state). Like many Blues players, he didn’t look quite as strong against the Colorado Avalanche, but he did add one more assist before Berube benched him in the decisive sixth game of that series. No one can complain about his output though: a player no one expected to even appear played seven playoff games, collected four assists, and averaged 10:49 per night. It’s a terrific launchpad from which Perunovich can start next season with confidence.
What Went Wrong: Injuries a Factor Again
Unfortunately, Perunovich couldn’t make a heroic return without an injury to return from. After a promising preseason that made it difficult for the Blues to send him to the American Hockey League (AHL), he dominated that level and quickly got called up again. But he suffered a left wrist injury in a loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 15, and he would not return to the lineup. On March 9, the Blues announced that Perunovich would need surgery on that wrist, news that seemed to spell the end of his season.
We know the rest of the story already. But the mounting injuries are a concern for the young defender. Last season, a shoulder injury cost him all of what might have been his first NHL season. This season, it was a wrist injury that required surgery. They could just be blips on the radar, but it is certainly a concern, and something the Blues will have to take into account as they shape their roster for 2022-23 and beyond.
- 22 points in 17 games with the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) this season
- Points in each of his first three career playoff games
- Has played in just 43 games in two professional seasons
Final Grade: B-
We can’t really count injuries against Perunovich’s final grade, but they are a major concern. He’s played just 43 games at any level over the last two professional seasons, and given his diminutive size, there will certainly be questions about whether he can withstand the rigors of the NHL. With that said, when he was on the ice, he looked like the electric, game-changing puck possessor many believe he can be. He has a long way to go to be on their level, but there is no denying the similarities between Perunovich and the likes of Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, and Adam Fox: all smooth-skating former college defensemen with elite hockey IQ in the offensive zone. That’s the tantalizing if lofty ceiling that makes the start-and-stop nature of his early NHL career so frustrating for fans.
What’s Next for Perunovich?
As mentioned, his success in the postseason was an ideal sorbet for an injury-addled season. Now, Perunovich can start fresh as he enters the 2022-23 campaign. The Blues were eager to draft him back in 2018, and he has rewarded their faith in him, at least in the conclusion to his collegiate career and his brief time in the AHL. But it’s reasonable to question whether he’ll be in St. Louis next season: he is an obvious piece of trade bait for the Blues, especially if they pursue a top-level defensive partner on the left side for Colton Parayko.
Given his promising prospect profile and the elite defenders he draws comparisons to, many GMs would find Perunovich hard to resist in trade packages with St. Louis. And as Armstrong looks to improve his team, the young defender’s name will certainly be raised frequently. It’s up to the general manager to decide whether Perunovich is a better weapon for him on the ice or in a trade. Whether he plays for the Blues or someone else, if he can stay healthy next season, he is a potential breakout player to watch for 2022-23.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.