St. Louis Blues May Face A Blue Line Crisis In The Near Future

The St. Louis Blues have had pretty good drafts in recent years. However, there is a possibility they have not drafted for the style they currently play.

Like many good teams in various sports, the St. Louis Blues tend to draft based on talent, not need. Some of that is because their recent success puts them lower in the draft, meaning you have done well during the season and do not have any needs to address immediately.

This is not always the case. Famously, or infamously, the Blues passed on Jonathan Toews as well as several other talented forwards because they needed a defenseman, so they selected Erik Johnson.

Since then, drafts have gone relatively well. The Blues have drafted a player that has or will see NHL time every year in the last decade. William Carrier in 2013 is the only player not to see the NHL with the Blues and that was only because he was traded away.

Nevertheless, drafting for talent does have a downfall. The Blues may have that downfall collide with their style in the not too distant future.

Right now, the Blues play a very disciplined, team-oriented, defensive style. That is not to say defenders do not jump into the play and contribute offensively.

It does mean that the Blues, most notably their coach Craig Berube, prefer players with a little edge to them and a good amount of responsibility when it comes to their defensive end. What’s wrong with that?

Nothing at all – except for the fact that their current prospects might not fit that bill.

Taking a look at the Blues cap situation regarding Alex Pietrangelo had me looking further down the list at their prospects. We have known that the Blues are a little thin with “top end” defensive prospects for awhile, but they may actually have no defensive prospects that are fully capable of offering what Berube might expect.

We cannot blame the Blues staff for this. Berube will enter only his second full season with the team whenever the 2020-21 season begins.

That means, only two NHL Entry Drafts would have been embarked upon knowing what kind of style Berube plays. Bill Armstrong, the team’s chief scout, has done a masterful job finding talent, but there was no way of knowing what kind of player a coach might want. He had to simply tell Doug Armstrong who was the most talented available and then the team made its selection.

From what we know, they’ve done pretty well. Scott Perunovich is a highly touted prospect and a Hobey Baker Award winner as the best player in collegiate hockey.

Tyler Tucker is another defensive prospect the Blues recently gave an entry-level contract to. Jake Walman and Mitch Reinke can’t be overlooked either.

The problem with all those names is not their talent or ability to make it in the NHL. The issue is they’re all offensive defensemen, to one degree or another.

Perunovich scored 105 points in three seasons at Minnesota-Duluth. Reinke scored 57 points in two seasons in the AHL, and that includes a pandemic shortened year.

Tucker scored 152 points in 244 career games in the OHL. Tucker is the only one that has shown a little bit of an edge, clocking 105 penalty minutes in his third season with the Barrie Colts.

Additionally, none of these guys has much size. Tucker is the biggest of the truly offensive guys, coming in at 6’2, 205 lbs. That’s a bit more standard for an NHL defender.

Reinke isn’t small, but he’s still just 5’ll, 181 lbs. Perunovich, while possibly the most talented is just 5’9 and currently 172 lbs.

Height and weight are not everything, but Berube does seem to gravitate a little more toward bigger defenders. Of the current NHL roster, only Justin Faulk and Vince Dunn are below 6’2. Prior to the 2019-20 season, only Dunn was undersized.

One can make a case that Walman has improved defensively and Tucker has the body to play more of the Blues style. However, some of it isn’t just the body.

The Blues play a smart game with a lot of poke checks, utilizing their reach to thwart passes. Right now, Niko Mikkola is the only defensive prospect with both size and reach.

That is not to say any of these defensemen could not develop into good defenders. Guys change their styles all the time to stay in the NHL.

Sammy Blais was not the human missile we see now just a couple seasons ago. He figured out how he needed to play to stay in the NHL and hope he could re-find his offensive game later.

Maybe the defenders will do the same. That is somewhat of a risk though.

The Blues have a solid defensive core right now, but that will need replenishing somewhat soon. Carl Gunnarsson is out of contract after 2020-21, Dunn is a restricted free agent in the offseason of 2020 and Robert Bortuzzo is only signed through 2021-22.

St. Louis will need to utilize some of these guys sooner rather than later, even if only for a handful of games in an injury scenario. Hoping offensive defensemen can play the Blues more defensive structure could be a square peg in a round hole.

Of course, this all depends on how long Craig Berube is around. There is no indication he won’t be the Blues coach for a very long time, but things change quickly.

Right now it seems like the players in the minors might not be his style. The Blues won’t have any other choice though, unless they bring in bigger prospects from the outside.