There is a St. Louis Blues defenseman who has nine points in five games already in the 2021-22 NHL season, enough to lead all main roster skaters. Impressive, right? Who is this amazing Bobby Orr wannabe?
Well, you can’t find Scott Perunovich on the main roster at the moment. Those points are actually being produced for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
The 23-year-old darling of Blues fans everywhere has eight assists and a goal for the team’s AHL affiliate to start the season. He sizzled in the preseason, but lost out due to a numbers game: of the top eight defensemen in the Blues organization, only Perunovich has a two-way contract.
If you haven’t had a chance to see the former Hobey Baker Award winner perform in Springfield this season, here’s a recap of his big weekend.
SCOTTY P’S BIG WEEKEND IN SPRINGFIELD
Let’s start with the most recent game where Perunovich had three assists in Springfield’s 4-1 win over the Providence Bruins on Sunday, October 24. He was the primary assist man in two of the goals and was the clear “pivot” on offense for the Thunderbirds in all three goals (Steven Santini got an unassisted empty netter at the end). Here’s the first goal, where he and Logan Brown set up Matthew Peca on a long-range wrister that snuck in inside the posts (though no one seemed to realize it at the time).
The T-Birds had a 5-on-3 power play and plenty of space to work within the Providence zone. You can see Perunovich take advantage of the space and force attention to him by bringing the puck up a bit, before passing it back to Peca. Brown then fed it back to Peca for what eventually was ruled a goal.
The next two goals, however, truly showed Perunovich’s quality.
In this goal, Nikita Alexandrov carried the puck in on a two-on-two and fed it to Nathan Walker, who wasn’t able to get good contact on a shot. Perunovich, trailing on the play, is able to see the loose puck and claim it right away. He shakes the defender on his tail, dekes around a defender who stood still while swiping at the puck (and failing), then makes an impressive backhand pass going against the grain of where he was heading, and Alexandrov is there to finish what he started. In the above video, it appears Perunovich isn’t even looking at Alexandrov…as if he just knows he’ll be there.
Perunovich wasn’t done making silk on offense.
This one isn’t as sexy as the last one, but how Perunovich handles the situation is just as important. He doesn’t get the greatest of passes from Calle Rosen, who opted to pass back to Perunovich after pressuring his defender on the far side of the rink. As Perunovich receives it near the top of the point, he must quickly decide what to do with it, as the speed and placement of the pass put it in jeopardy of a pressing defender looking to swipe it out of the zone. Perunovich responds by one-touching a pass over to Peca, who was right in the center of the near-side faceoff circle and ready to receive it, even if the pass isn’t 100% accurate. Peca then finds a shooting lane, flings it on net and it goes in past the cluster of players in front of the Bruins netminder, to the apparent shock of everyone from Peca to the announcer.
Again, it appears Perunovich no-looks it to Peca, as if he just knew he’d be there because of an innate sixth sense. Not only that, he never appeared to panic when receiving the initial pass, and made both a smart and downright skilled decision once he got the puck on his stick.
The night before, the Thunderbirds fell in overtime to the Bridgeport Islanders 4-3. However, Perunovich still made his mark, tallying two primary assists on the night. Here’s the first goal, where he set up MacKenzie MacEachern.
The puck is dumped down low, and Dakota Joshua goes to pick off an Islanders pass from behind the net. Perunovich moves into space and offers a welcome outlet for Joshua, who finds him. Perunovich appears to consider a wrist shot at first, but an oncoming Islanders defender breaks from the pack in front of net to challenge him. Meanwhile, MacEachern has set up shop in goaltender Jakub Skarek‘s blind spot off to his right. Perunovich sees this and slips a pass by the blocking defender, and Skarek’s too late to stop MacEachern’s flick into the net. Once again, Perunovich shows off his ability to think quickly with the puck and make the right (and downright beautiful) call with his excellent vision.
One period later, he’d set up Walker.
You can almost feel the gears turning in Perunovich’s head once he receives the puck outside the far faceoff circle. He’s assessing the play and even appears to consider a cross-ice pass to Brown before a defender comes to challenge him. Perunovich instead patiently holds onto the puck and sets up just outside the faceoff dot, with the defender blocking a potential pass to the far-side point. Realizing he has room to move even deeper, Perunovich slides to the corner and positions himself nicely to feed Walker a bullet pass in the front of the net. Even though Walker falls, he’s able to secure the puck and put it past Skarek. Very patient, instinctual play from Perunovich, who handles the puck with such certainty and poise beyond his years.
SOOOOO HE SHOULD BE CALLED UP, RIGHT? WELL…
It’s impossible to watch the videos of those five goals he helped setup and not see a player that clearly is a big fish in a little pond. His command and patience with the puck are unparalleled at this level of play and he looks every bit the part of a future 1st unit power-play quarterback.
But if Niko Mikkola can’t even get into a game after the first four in, would Perunovich?
St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube has used the same six defenders in all four games: Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella, Jake Walman, and Robert Bortuzzo. All six have at least one point, and all but Bortuzzo (-1) have a positive plus/minus. While there have been some questions raised about how the Blues are handling things in their own end, there’s zero questions being asked about the offense the team is generating. At the time this article is being written, the Blues are tied for fourth in the NHL in goals scored (22), and lead the Central Division.
Meanwhile, Mikkola has enjoyed this offensive outburst from the press box, the only Blues player so far to not get any gametime. If this sounds familiar, you needn’t look any further than last season. While he has been a little inconsistent, The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford advocated for the young Finn before the season due to his size (6’4, 209 lbs). JR also suggested more playing time is needed for Mikkola to iron out his inconsistent play and, if the Blues value him, they’ll find a way to get him some gametime.
Between Berube being satisfied with the top-6 defenders, plus the need to get Mikkola in games, it seems hard to envision Perunovich getting consistent NHL time with the St. Louis Blues at the moment. It’ll almost certainly have to take injuries or trades.
To answer the question posed in the article, it appears we have to turn to Guns N’ Roses enigma Axl Rose: “Take it slow, and it’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience.”