On Sunday afternoon, while the eyes of the world were tuned into March Madness, a much colder college bracket became public. That bracket, of course, was the Frozen Four tournament.
Technically speaking, the “Frozen Four,” just like basketball’s “Final Four,” are the last four teams in the annual NCAA Division One Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. The whole competition comprises 16 teams, with four regional foursomes to be decided this coming weekend.
The top team in the Midwest regional (to be played in Allentown, PA, which is not remotely in the Midwest) is the defending champion, the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Their squad is led in points by two players, one of whom is very familiar to Blues’ fans: Scott Perunovich, the team’s second-round draft pick from this summer.
Perunovich’s Strong Start
The Blues were excited to get Perunovich where they did in the draft; so excited, in fact, that they brought a sweater with his name already stitched on it (a rarity after the first round). Though he’d been passed up two previous years due to his size, the team was certain that he was a quality defender, and that he’d have a strong season with his college team.
Early in the season, Perunovich looked like he might not only validate the Blues’ trust in him but make a lot of other general managers look foolish. We even speculated that he might be a contender for NCAA hockey’s top prize, the prestigious Hobey Baker Award (hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy).
His early production trailed off a bit, and injury shortened his season somewhat, so Perunovich did not end up as one of the ten finalists for the award; however, that does not diminish his excellent season. His Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs enter the tournament ranked number two in the nation, and he is a significant reason why. He finished the regular season with 28 points in 35 games, tied with teammate Justin Richards for the team lead.
The Bulldogs will need to survive a region that includes Bowling Green (their first-round opponent) as well as Arizona State and Quinnipiac to make the Frozen Four, but they enter as the favorite in the group. (The Blues’ other collegiate prospect, Hugh McGing, narrowly missed the tournament. His Western Michigan Broncos, coached by former Blues head coach Andy Murray, finished the season ranked number 17.)
The Next Vince Dunn?
Perunovich is a young defender who profiles very similarly to a possible future teammate, Vince Dunn. Take for example this quote from our pre-draft profile on him:
Perunovich can pound the puck on net or lead the rush owing to his fantastic hockey sense and powerful stride. What’s more is that Perunovich is a crafty passer and boasts the ability to thread the puck through traffic and onto the sticks of his teammates.Brett Slawson, The Hockey Writers
Much like Dunn, Perunovich is undersized (though he is even shorter, standing 5-foot-9 to Dunn’s 6-feet) and he has similar speed, skill, and passing ability. Dunn’s development has progressed tremendously lately, but Perunovich may be more polished now than the former was at the same age.
Take for example this play, where he creates the primary assist on his teammate Mikey Anderson’s goal:
Perunovich skates in to support his teammate, who is being pinched along the boards. As he receives the puck, he makes a no-look pass to Anderson, who is streaking into the zone on a now completely vacant side. Thanks to his teammate’s pass, he now has a wide open lane in which to shoot and score. It’s just one example of his skill, but the play is a shining example of the Blues’ prospect’s potential.
The Blues’ Loaded Left Side
Given his high draft position and his maturity, the Blues certainly look at Perunovich as one of their more prized defensive prospects, but he joins a system replete with young blueliners, especially on the left side. St. Louis also has lefties Tyler Tucker, Anton Andersson, David Nöel, Trenton Bourque, Jake Walman, and Niko Mikkola.
Several of those players are much later picks (though that hasn’t stopped Tucker from having a tremendous season in the OHL), and others (like Walman) have had much longer to make an impression than has Perunovich. But it isn’t a given that he’ll soar up the ranks to get an NHL opportunity.
He’s never been short on work ethic, though. In Perunovich, the Blues have a tremendous young talent, and the tournament is a great chance for fans to get a glimpse of the future.