The Blues’ prospects wrapped up their visit to Traverse City yesterday with a disappointing 1-1-1 record and a 7-3 lethargic loss to the Dallas Stars’ prospects. There’s no skin in the Traverse City games - it’s pre-pre season. The tournament is for evaluative purposes - get a good look at Traverse City, hang around through camp and the pre-season, and a player can contend for a roster spot when the season starts.
Many of the Blues’ younger players will be pushing to crack the lineup starting on Thursday. Dakota Joshua already impressed as part of the taxi squad last season; he brought that same physical edge to the prospect tournament. Jake Neighbours and Klim Kostin will both get a long look during the pre-season; it’s telling that Neighbours has almost reached Kostin’s position on the depth chart. Whether that’s prospect management or something else is up for debate, but Neighbours is one of the Blues’ most highly touted offensive prospects in quite a while and should hang around until late cuts.
The Blues top seven defenesmen are more than likely a lock for next season, with Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman vying for the sixth and seventh defenseman roles. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong didn’t make any moves to shore up the defense this off-season, and the team lost Vince Dunn to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Many fans raised an eyebrow at Armstrong’s lack of movement, especially coming after a season where the Blues allowed 2.98 goals against per game - a stat that was much closer to the bottom of the league for the first half of the season than where the team eventually wound up.
Perhaps Armstrong is playing the long-game here.
Is the Blues’ top defensive prospect, Scott Perunovich, ready for prime time? He finished the Traverse City tournament with a stat line of a goal and four assists. He sees the ice well, isn’t shy about jumping in the offense when needed, and is defensively responsible. He does need to grow into his frame a bit more, and probably needs more development. If Perunovich survives pre-season and camp only to sit on the bench, that does him no good as a young hockey player. Defensemen often need more time with development than forwards do - it is very rare that a young player is ready to go a la Victor Hedman.
The Blues played their development cards right with Alex Pietrangelo. It took time to get him into the NHL after he was drafted in 2008, and the seasoning allowed him to develop into the Blues’ best defenseman, and a Stanley Cup winning captain. A rushed defensive prospect is a different story. Pietrangelo was selected fourth overall in 2008; just above him at third overall was Zach Bogosian, who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers rushed his development and brought Bogosian into the league the season right after he was drafted. Bogosian suffered from injuries before the team was relocated to Winnipeg, and bounced around between the Jets to the Sabres before winning the Cup in Tampa Bay in 2020. He played 45 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season before re-signing with the Lightning this off-season. To say that Pietrangelo has had a more successful overall career than Bogosian is an understatement, despite both first rounders winning a Stanley Cup, and it’s difficult to not point to their drafting teams’ development strategies as a reason why.
So yes, keep your eyes on Scott Perunovich. He’s going to be an important part of the Blues’ defensive plans going forward. Just because he’s part of the plan doesn’t mean that he’ll be spending time with the club past pre-season. If the Blues suffer injuries this year, then Armstrong will pounce at the opportunity to bring Perunovich up, but it may behoove both the Blues and the defenseman to get one more year of development in before getting regular time. After the end of this season, Robert Bortuzzo is a UFA, and Marco Scandella could be, if the Blues have to make a deal, the defenseman with value that Armstrong feels most comfortable moving.
Blues fans have waited to see Perunovich in action, and they will see a lot of him this pre-season. Whether they’ll be seeing a lot of him this season depends on a few outside factors.