3 Blues Who Could Surprise in the Second Half

The St. Louis Blues finished the first half of the season in fourth place in the Central Division, comfortably in a playoff spot, but 11 points outside of first place. Through 44 games, many Blues players have broken out, especially on offense. No one could have expected the sudden 5-0 run of third-string goalie Charlie Lindgren, and few would have bet on the sudden All-Star output of Jordan Kyrou. It’s been a season full of surprises.

Related: 3 Blues Storylines to Pay Attention to in Second Half

Entering the second half, many Blues will look to build upon strong starts, but a few under-the-radar players will hope to surprise. In this article, we’ll look closely at three players who could surprise expectations for the second half.

Scott Perunovich

The Blues have a special young player in Scott Perunovich. The 2018 second-round pick and former Hobey Baker Trophy winner had a standout college career, becoming arguably the top prospect in the team’s pipeline. Then, even despite a season-ending shoulder injury last season, he made an undeniable case to earn NHL playing time. After collecting 20 points in his first 12 career American Hockey League (AHL) games, the Blues called him up to the NHL, where he’s played ever since.

Scott Perunovich St. Louis Blues
Scott Perunovich, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In his first 19 NHL games, Perunovich has notched six assists and averaged 15:27 per game. Despite his blue-chip offensive projections, he’s maintained strong defensive metrics while playing primarily on the third pairing. His relatively minor role has made him a popular name in Blues’ trade rumors, but trading him now would be a mistake.

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Instead, the Blues should look to expand Perunovich’s role, giving him more minutes and more time on the power play, where he should really excel. If they do, he has the potential to become a second-half breakout star. There is no single defenseman available who can fix the team’s defensive woes, and most of the options will cost too much to acquire or too much to keep on St. Louis’s already expensive blueline. The Blues’ best defensive option is to commit to puck control and offensive dominance, and their best in-house option to improve there is Perunovich.

Oskar Sundqvist

It’s been a hard few years for Oskar Sundqvist. Last season, he tore his ACL and missed much of the campaign. This season, he’s struggling to regain his form, with just two goals and six assists in 28 games while averaging just over 14 minutes per game. His defensive metrics, once very strong, have sunk significantly below average, and at times, he’s looked like a shell of himself on the ice.

Oskar Sundqvist St. Louis Blues
Oskar Sundqvist, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s obvious that Sundqvist is still struggling to recover from a devastating injury, but this isn’t just an injury issue. He was scuffling through 28 games last season, too, before the ACL injury. It has been a while since he looked like the Swiss army knife in the bottom-six that Sidney Crosby once said the Pittsburgh Penguins “never should have gotten rid of.” But the Swedish forward is just 27, he should have plenty of time to recover and regain his form. If he can do so in the second half of the 2021-22 season, it would be a massive boon for the Blues.

Jordan Binnington

The first half was a rough one for Jordan Binnington, leading to a goalie controversy in the first season of his six-year, $36 million contract extension. Backup Ville Husso has played out of his mind, and Binnington’s numbers are paltry at best. Through 23 games, he is 11-9-3, with a .901 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.27 goals-against average (GAA). He’s delivered a quality start (with a save percentage above league average) just 34.8 percent of the time, and he has minus-six goals saved above average (GSAA).

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

None of those numbers point to a goalie a team can build around nor a goalie worthy of one of the higher-paying contracts in the league. But this isn’t a brand new phenomenon for Binnington. He hit a rough skid in the middle of the 2020-21 season before head coach Craig Berube publicly challenged him to find his “swagger” again. Whether that was the catalyst or not, he maintained a .921 SV% through April and May and was largely responsible for carrying the team to the playoffs.

Now, with Husso nipping at his heels, Binnington will need to find his swagger once again, or he won’t be viewed as the starting netminder for much longer. Many wouldn’t view him as such now. But if he’s ever going to do it, his best chance is imminent, with the Blues playing inarguably their weakest stretch of opposition coming out of the All-Star Game. Everyone knows that the Blues are better with Binnington at the top of his game, but many doubt whether that prime Binnington exists anymore. If he finds it in the second half, it will not only be a big surprise, but the most important one the Blues could have.

Time to “Get Right” in February

Any Blues player looking for the cure to what ails him should look no further than the Blues’ return to play after the All-Star Break. For the rest of February, St. Louis plays just one team currently in a playoff spot. In fact, their March 19 matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be their only game against a team that is not currently in the bottom two spots in their respective divisions. This is the Blues’ opportunity to “get right” before the challenging home stretch of the season begins in earnest mid-March. For Perunovich, Sundqvist, and Binnington, the time is now to make their case for being second-half surprises.

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