Blues fans are excited for Scotty Perunovich, to say the least. And rightfully so. He won the Hobey Baker Award this season, as college hockey’s MVP, and has ultimately mounted a seriously terrific collegiate career. Perunovich was the star of the University of Minnesota-Duluth lineup and led the team to back-to-back championships.
Now, he’s a Blue. Well, he’s at least signed his entry-level contract. With so much gloom surrounding the Blues defensemen, with Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn both poised to leave, Perunovich’s bright future has helped quell fans. But is the bar set too high for Perunovich?
Figuring Out Where to Set Perunovich’s Bar
There’s one tool that is simply the best to objectively analyze prospects. Known as ‘NHLe’ (or NHL-expected), it’s a tool that’s being picked up by more-and-more NHL scouting departments, thanks to its ability to give thorough, objective insight into, really, anyone.
The model is fairly simple, really. As I described in a recent article looking at the Buffalo Sabres, the model is crafted to help put a player’s pre-NHL performances into perspective. It uses various tools to help create the expectations around the player’s true-draft year (known as his DY) and translate their point totals into an NHL-point-scale.
They also map out the year’s following the player’s DY (remember, that’s draft year. It’ll be used a lot) to give further a look into the player’s growth, updating the model as the years go by.
In addition to this great aid, Byron Bader’s model also calculates four probabilities for every player. Two of these probabilities are based on the player’s DY performance. They are the player’s ‘DY NHLer Probability’ and ‘DY Star Probability’. The other two probabilities are based on the player’s performances since being drafted. They are the player’s ‘NHLer Probability’ and ‘Star Probability’.
Two Important Notes
Before we get into Perunovich’s NHLe model, there are two important notes that need to be laid out.
First of all, Perunovich’s true-DY is not his 2017-18 season. It’s instead his 2015-16 season because Perunovich was first eligible for the draft (just barely) in 2016. He played with his Minnesota high school that year (Hibbing/Chisholm High) and scored 68 points in 25 games, adding an additional 33 points in 21 games in Minnesota’s elite hockey league. He joined the USHL the following year and put up disappointing numbers, before moving to UMD for 2017 to 2020. These are the year’s represented in his NHLe model.
Secondly, Byron Bader’s model defines a ‘star’ player as a player that records a 0.45+ point-per-game average in at least 200 NHL games.
With all of that said, here is Scotty Perunovich’s model, courtesy of Hockey Prospecting:
The DY Probabilities
There is a lot to break down here. The most notable stats in the whole model are Perunovich’s DY NHLer and DY star probabilities. These are very high for a second-round pick. In fact, they rank ninth and eighth respectively. Among the entire 2018 draft class. That’s impressive and makes his second round selection look like a gift from the Hockey Gods. Really. With probabilities so high, Perunovich should have never fallen past the top-20 of the draft.
It’s important to note that Perunovich was an overager in the 2018 Draft, being 20-years-old, meaning he had a little bit of added experience. But even then, his high ranking in both categories is impressive.
Also impressive is Perunovich’s great production through his league-to-league moves. While his one year in the USHL was disappointing (DY+1), it lines up with many players’ performances in their first year of high-level play. He bounced back perfectly the following year, scoring what translates as 26 NHL points (DY+2). He dipped again, a bit, in his sophomore season (DY+3) but still managed to tally an NHL-equivalent of over-20 points.
His junior season (DY+4) isn’t represented in the model but is important to bring up because it was his highest-scoring season to date. He scored 40 points in only 34 games. Using some back-of-the-napkin math, it can be found that Perunovich’s scoring during his junior year would’ve been equivalent to roughly 36 points in the NHL.
That’s... a lot for a defenseman. That would’ve tied Perunovich for ninth in the entire NHL this year, among defensemen under-23 years old. It would’ve ranked ahead of players like Charlie McAvoy, Mikhail Sergachev, and the awed-at Vince Dunn. While this obviously doesn’t mean Perunovich is better than this trio, it places him among their ranks.
It Gets Better
But, of course, the model doesn’t separate the probabilities and the production. It’s all used to paint the picture. And Perunovich’s picture is... very exciting. His current ‘star probability’, or his chance of becoming an NHLer with over 200 games played and a 0.45 points-per-game average, is currently higher than, well, a lot of players. This includes:
This is a list of five of the greatest young defensemen the NHL has seen in a while and, by the NHLe model, Perunovich is firmly among their ranks. His DY star probability and current star probability are higher than any of these names, which is simply incredible.
Again, it’s important to take all of this with a grain of salt. This is a model used to project a player’s ability being compared to players who have actually been in the NHL. But, simply put, this model shows where Perunovich lies. He’s not a middle-of-the-line prospect who might surprise fans with strong play. He’s a top-end prospect. He has serious star potential. And he should be treated with the same respect as players like Makar, Hughes, McAvoy, and Dunn.
That’s simply the facts. Perunovich’s objective expectations are that high. It’s an incredible fact, considering he was passed up in two drafts before falling to the Blues in the second-round of 2018. But it’s the facts.
And his style of play backs up the sentiment that he could become a star. He’s an incredibly smooth, puck-moving defenseman. He commands the transition game and is the quarterback of his team’s offense. In terms of style-of-play, his best comparable is someone like Alex Pietrangelo. While he boasts strong defense, great IQ, and great shooting, his strength lies in his ability to quarterback play and make terrific passes to create great opportunities. His offense is so potent that he was even featured on left-wing from time-to-time in college.
It’s an exciting style packed into a player that did wonders for UMD. Where his expectations lie has been up for debate since his 2018 selection but, well, he should be elite. Objectively speaking, the numbers demand nothing more than terrific play from him.
Of course, this should all be taken with a grain of salt. He’s never seen NHL play and could struggle when he hits the spotlight. But for now, fans should expect Perunovich to firmly rank among the league’s best young defensemen when he finally makes the jump in the 2020-21 season. He’s an elite talent and fans should be excited. Really excited.