The St. Louis Blues have announced that rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich will undergo surgery on his left wrist. The 23-year-old will have at least eight weeks post-surgery until any determination on his ability to play this season is decided. Should everything go according to plan, his earliest recovery timeline places his return around early May, potentially the first or second round of the playoffs. The organization has been careful about his development as many scouting experts have high hopes for him as a top-end point-producing defenseman in the NHL. So far, the 5-foot-10 American has the track record to back up those expectations.
University of Minnesota-Duluth
In high school, Perunovich was viewed as a talented defenseman, but also an inconsistent and weak defender in the United States Hockey League (USHL). However, once he entered the world of college hockey, things took a dramatic turn. As a key member of back-to-back NCAA championship seasons with Minnesota-Duluth, he turned plenty of heads. Despite going undrafted twice in the NHL Entry Draft, he never gave up and continued to work on his game. The work paid off as Perunovich won the Hobey Baker Award, the annual award given to the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player.
The Blues drafted the defenseman 45th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. In three NCAA seasons, Perunovich played in 115 games for Minnesota-Duluth scoring 20 goals and 105 total points.
Perunovich signed a two-year entry-level contract with the St. Louis Blues on March 28, 2020 and was reassigned to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL). However, the defenseman never appeared in a game for the team after COVID-19 caused the league to cancel their 2019-20 season. In a much-anticipated first professional season for the blueliner, Perunovich announced his decision to undergo shoulder surgery in Feb. 2021 that forced him to miss the entire season.
Finally making his professional debut during the 2021-22 season, Perunovich elevated his game and quickly took the AHL by storm. In 17 games for the Thunderbirds, he recorded three goals and a league-leading 22 points.
The promising defenseman is viewed as a key piece of the Blues’ blue line for years to come. Despite the wrist and shoulder injuries incurred, he continues to show fantastic skating and puck-moving skills that help drive the offense down the ice. With only 19 games and six points at the NHL level, his ceiling remains sky-high.
RELATED: Blues Should Protect Perunovich in Trades
Beyond Perunovich, the Blues depth chart currently lacks an option that can be seen as another top-four or even a top-pairing left-shot defenseman that will be ready to play either this season or in 2022-23. While the team is currently experiencing a jam in their left defensive pairings, it is oftentimes a lack of experience and ability that hinders these players. On a nightly basis, the coaching staff sends out Niko Mikkola, Torey Krug, and Marco Scandella as their three defensemen on their left side. While Krug is a viable, point-producing top-four defenseman, he has been a subpar replacement in all situations for the former Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo.
Still searching for a top-pairing counterpart to Colton Parayko, Mikkola has been serviceable but is likely overextended in this role at this point in time. Due to recent injuries, defenseman Jake Walman has been recalled from the Thunderbirds and has played well on the team’s third-pair with three goals and six points over 31 games and a plus-6 rating. However, Walman projects as more of a bottom-pairing option long-term and not someone that the Blues envision logging over 20 minutes per night.
As a number of rumors surround the Blues and their need for a left-shot defensive player, the front office should be extremely cautious moving someone like Perunovich without a substantial return. Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong was firm in his decision to not trade forwards Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas in the past and his decision has rewarded his team with two of their top point producers this season.