Blues’ COVID-19 Cases Forcing Next Man Up Mentality

The St. Louis Blues are feeling the pressures of health, cap space, and depth as defenseman, Torey Krug, is the latest player on the Blues’ roster to be sent to the COVID-19 non-roster this season. Only nine games in, the team has gone without forwards Brandon Saad, Ryan O’Reilly, and Kyle Clifford, in addition to defensemen Niko Mikkola and Krug, and goaltender Ville Husso due to COVID. If trends continue, the NHL may need to intervene and start the process of rescheduling games and control a potential outbreak. Nevertheless, the Blues have the “next man up” mentality rolling and are beginning to utilize their depth to their advantage.

The Captain Returns

After playing in every game since being traded to the Blues during the summer of 2018, O’Reilly was placed on the COVID-19 list on Oct. 26. In that span, the team had to move on without their captain for a total of four games. However, the team was able to step up without him and went 2-1-1 in that time, maintaining their first-place ranking in the Western Conference. The Blues have announced that their captain has passed all tests and will be returning to the ice when they take on the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Nov. 7. Prior to his absence, O’Reilly had played in 214 consecutive games for the team. He currently has two goals and three assists in five games during the 2021-22 season.

“Our depth is being tested, but guys are rewarding their teammates with really solid play.”

St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong

Brayden Schenn Returns to St. Louis

O’Reilly will certainly be welcomed back as the Blues will lose another veteran, Brayden Schenn. Schenn left Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury and was sent back to St. Louis for further evaluation on his injury. A potential long-term loss would cause the team to lose out on a top-six forward who was experiencing a strong start to his 2021-22 campaign with six points (three goals, three assists) in nine games so far this season.

Schenn has been a pillar for this roster since he was acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the 2017-18 season. As a member of the Blues, he has suited up in 290 games and accumulated 224 total points (89 goals, 135 assists). Any long-term loss would certainly add pressure, but also present further opportunity to veteran forwards Brandon Saad, Pavel Buchnevich, and James Neal.

Next Man Up

As a result of injuries and COVID-19, the Blues made a few corresponding moves to fill the void in the roster and on the depth chart. Defenseman Krug was off to a fantastic start for the Blues as he has scored two goals and added six assists through his first nine games of the season. As a result of his removal from the roster, defenseman Calle Rosen was recalled from the Blues’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate squad, the Springfield Thunderbirds. The 27-year-old Rosen has played seven total games for the Thunderbirds and has posted one goal and four assists this season.

While many fans were questioning the decision to recall Rosen in place of highly-coveted defensive prospect Scott Perunovich, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said, “That’s cap-related. With Krug, Husso, and Clifford, there’s no salary relief. So, one of the reasons Scott can’t be here is because of his contract. The bonuses in his contract are so high… it does have ramifications on recalls.”

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

Perunovich is currently third in points in the AHL, and leads all AHL defensemen in total points with 13 (two goals, 11 assists) through his first seven games of his professional career. It is not a matter of if he will be playing with the Blues, but a matter of when at this point.

The Blues are needing to dance a fine line when it comes to the salary cap this season. Forward Oskar Sundqvist is closing in on a return from a knee injury sustained on March 19, 2021, that has left him on the long-term injured reserved list, in addition to those on the COVID-19 list. Armstrong and company will certainly have their work cut out for them this season if these trends continue.

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