For Scott Perunovich, the Blues’ second-round pick in the 2018 draft, championships just seem to follow him around. While the Blues won the Stanley Cup this season, Perunovich has done them one better (sort of), having just taken his second consecutive NCAA hockey title at Minnesota-Duluth.
“We like that pedigree,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues director of player development.
And Perunovich likes it too, which is one of the reasons he’s still a college hockey player and is going back for another season as the Bulldogs try to become only the second team to win three NCAA hockey titles in a row, following Michigan from 1951-1953.
“It’s been the best two years of my life right now,” Perunovich said last week during the Blues’ prospects camp. “So I wasn’t really ready to give that up. If the team was different, maybe it would be a different choice, but we’ve got a great group coming back, we’ve got new recruits and we’ve got the same coach (Scott Sandelin) and the same goalie (Hunter Shepard), so I’m really excited to get back there.”
Another reason to stay is that Perunovich’s 2018-19 performance wasn’t as strong as his 2017-18 season. After finishing with 11 goals and 25 assists in 42 games in his freshman season, he had just three goals and 26 assists in 29 games as a sophomore.
“He just didn’t feel he was at the top of his game,” Taylor said. “He battled through a back injury, he just didn’t feel he had the same season as prior. He wanted to come out when he was feeling he could adjust to the pro level right away. It was nothing other than he wanted to make sure he’s ready, mentally and physically. … He understands the big step it is, the adjustment, so he’s pretty excited about going back.”
And being comfortable and confident at the next level is a big part of making it.
“This league is hard,” Taylor said. “If you’re on your best, 100 percent, in every facet of the game, it’s tough to play in. Not to make, to play in and be successful. When a player doesn’t feel 100 percent that he’s ready, fully committed, he has no chance, so you have to support them.”
Perunovich knows he has some things on which to work.
“Just maturing another year on and off the ice, getting stronger,” he said. “Kind of building a little more leadership, another year developing.
“The main thing was strength. The defensive zone was kind of my weakness. I wanted to think of it as, I was in the NHL in college, so I was trying to put myself in better position in the ‘D zone’ and not get beat as much.”
And if you’re looking for motivation, few things will do that like watching the team you’re hoping to make one day win the Stanley Cup.
“Watching those games really puts into perspective that if you think you’re good enough, after watching the playoffs, you definitely aren’t,” he said. “It makes you want to get way better than you are and push yourself hard.”
At 5-foot-9, Perunovich stands apart on a franchise that is built around tall defensemen. The shortest one on the current roster is Vince Dunn, who is 6 feet.
“We hope he’s Torey Krug,” said Taylor, referring to Boston’s 5-9 defenseman. “The size is the first thing, but his skating ability, the way he thinks the game, he competes, we see that he’s a real good puck-moving defenseman.”
And one who knows what it takes to win and wants to do it again.
“That’s our goal,” he said of a possible third title at Duluth. “We’ve got the coaching staff to do it, we’ve got the players, we definitely have the goalie. We’re not expecting anything less than another national championship.”
Defenseman Chris Butler, the kid from Kirkwood who became one of the first players born and trained in St. Louis to make it in the NHL, announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Butler played the final five of his 11 NHL seasons with the Blues, though he spent most of the final four in the AHL, where he was captain for the Blues’ farm teams in Chicago and San Antonio and where he helped mentor the team’s young players. Until he was passed by teammate Pat Maroon this season, Butler held the record for most NHL games by a player born and trained in St. Louis.
Butler joined the Blues in 2014 after three seasons each in Buffalo and Calgary. He was the team’s seventh defenseman that year and a frequent healthy scratch. He looked headed for that same role in 2015-16, but Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson were both NHL-ready that season, and Butler went to the minors. He played only 12 NHL games over the next three seasons but played 13 this season and was with the team in the postseason, getting the chance to lift the Stanley Cup on the ice after Game 7.
“From lifting the Stanley Cup, to holding it for Bobby Plager as he drank a beer from it on the flight home,” Butler wrote in a farewell letter on the Blues website, “to the parade and partying with the entire city of St. Louis, it was a hell of a way to cap my career off.”