As his contract expires and his future with the Blues becomes increasingly uncertain, the misuse of Vince Dunn has started to truly surface. The 23-year-old is one of the best kept secrets in the league. All stats, besides his point totals, point towards Dunn being among one of the best young defensemen in the league. Despite this, he was largely limited to the Blues third pairing this season and saw virtually no time on special teams. It’s a pitiful treatment for a player that’s never failed to disappoint with his hard work and flashy offensive ability.
With limited cap space and Alex Pietrangelo also becoming a free agent, Dunn’s future is in limbo. If he leaves, he takes with him an offensive potency that defiantly fueled the Blues, even from a limited role. Thankfully, recent signee Scotty Perunovich brings a very similar package to the table. With his recent Hobey Baker winning and a dazzling junior year at Minnesota-Duluth, excitement around Perunovich is rightfully high.
The Blues need to feed into this excitement. They’ve effectively wasted three seasons of Dunn’s career; don’t make the same mistake with Perunovich.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You...
It’s been said over-and-over but reiterating it never hurts: Vince Dunn is good. Really good. In a dazzling group of young defensemen under 24-years-old (with 750 minutes of ice time this season), he ranks 25th in xGF/60. This, effectively, means his offense is the 25th best in the league, although this is an admittedly thin analysis of the stat. Still, his 25th ranking is way higher than high-end youngsters like Rasmus Dahlin, Jakub Chychrun, and even defensive point-leader Zach Werenski.
These are all top-line defensemen that Dunn still managed to outperform. His defensive skill was just as incredible, ranking him eighth among the 48 defensemen that fell into the above limitations. In fact, removing the age restriction, Dunn’s xGA/60 ranks 20th among any defensemen in the league with at least 750 minutes of ice time: a group of 152 players. His tally is higher than Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo, and Roman Josi: all potential Norris candidates.
There’s plenty more to add to his resume but the simple fact is that Dunn can play. Had he played top-line minutes with Pietrangelo all season, it would not have been a surprise to see him break the 40 or 50 point mark, something his comparables did with ease. Still, his terrific abilities were completely muted by his ice time this season.
This is something that absolutely can not happen to Perunovich. The 21-year-old just finished an amazing season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD), putting up 40 points in 34 games and capping off the year with a Hobey Baker Award, as the NCAA D1’s MVP. It was Perunovich’s junior campaign and many thought that if the season hadn’t been cut short, the defenseman could’ve very likely carried UMD to their third-straight championship.
Perunovich’s impact on the lineup was incredible this season, only building off of the great ability he established in his last two years of college play. It may sound like an overreaction but his Hobey Baker Award speaks for itself. As a junior, Perunovich beat out some truly incredible players and effectively made himself the most-highly anticipated player coming out of college.
This was accomplished with a largely offensive-first style of play. Much like many young defensemen, Perunovich truly embraces the new-age style of play: harnessing skill and speed over all else. He was very comfortable with the puck on his stick and, shown by his over-a-point-per-game total, was more than able to get the puck into the right place any time it came to him.
Every Blues fan knows all of this by now, with all the excitement surrounding the young player, but it’s important to specify. Perunovich’s style matches Dunn’s incredibly and it’s likely he ends up looking very similar once he puts on a Blues jersey. So instead of silencing the skill he brings, the Blues need to embrace it. Feed into Perunovich’s skill. When he does good, give him more ice time. Give him power-play minutes regularly and make him a star of the lineup, not a discarded option like Dunn has been.
If the Blues can embrace Perunovich when he makes the NHL, there’s no telling where his ceiling lands. College players are always hard to predict but especially when they have the potency of a player like Perunovich. With an eager and supportive club behind him, his demanding of top-two minutes in only a few years would be far from a surprise. Hopefully the Blues can realize this high-end potential and do all they can to help Perunovich reach it.