By Patrick Kelly
For the first time since the early 1980s, the Hobey Baker Award went to defensemen in consecutive years. In 2019, Cale Makar, now a member of the Colorado Avalanche, won it with the University of Massachusetts. This year’s winner is a Blues prospect who has hopes of making the team next year, Scott Perunovich of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Perunovich became the seventh defenseman to win the award since 2000, totaling 40 points in 34 games and averaging an assist a game. The question now is considering the Blues’ changes on defense so far this offseason, where would Perunovich fit in if he makes the team out of camp?
If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, Perunovich could have already played his first game as a Blue if he showed enough talent to crack the playoff roster much like Makar did last year. Makar ended up being a key piece for the Avalanche before they were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the second round. Because of restrictions on travel, the NHL felt it would have been difficult and perhaps unnecessary to have extra travel for players like Perunovich, so for the bubble no recent signings were able to play. Despite losing Alex Pietrangelo after the addition of Torey Krug, adding Perunovich to the lineup could mean a solid defense with three strong pairs. Perunovich is a player who sees the ice very well, his puck handling at the point is superb and he shows incredible skill in being able to find a wide-open pass that he can make tape to tape.
The Hobey Baker Award is not given out lightly when it comes to defensemen, with over half a dozen of them going on to play 500-plus games in the NHL. Makar is also on that pace. Perunovich enjoyed a lot of team success at UMD, winning back-to-back championships while finishing second one year and making a run for the championship again before the season stoppage.
The Blues currently have six defensemen signed to one-way contracts with Vince Dunn being a restricted free agent who has been sent a qualifying offer. Even if Dunn does re-sign, Perunovich still could have a very good chance of making the team. If that happens, he could end up being paired with Dunn. Dunn has become much better defensively and with both of them having great offensive awareness, it could be a dangerous line going forward through whatever kind of season there is. A shortened or tightened season may also benefit Perunovich. Teams may be given slightly more cap room to add players to their roster and with guys needing possibly more rest, he could find himself playing a lot of games in his rookie season.