Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Healthy Perunovich ready to play, become a pro

Second-round pick in 2018, did not play in 2020-21 after missing five 
months following shoulder surgery; Bozak re-signs for one year; Bolduc held out

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- March 7, 2020 may be just a date on the calendar and to some, it's just another average, ordinary day.

For Blues prospect Scott Perunovich, it was the last time the defenseman played a meaningful hockey game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Scott Perunovich, a 2018 second-round pick, will be the
captain of Blues prospects as they head to the Traverse City Tournament. 

It was with the University of MInnesota-Duluth, a 6-1 win against St. Cloud State, a game in which Perunovich had an assist and put the Bulldogs one step closer to defending their NCAA Division I national championship. 

Then COVID-19 hit and canceled the postseason and ended Perunovich's collegiate career. He would win the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top college player, but since then, the 23-year-old Hobbing, Minn. native has dealt with, like many of his peers, with the ramifications of COVID and an unfortunate shoulder injury that required surgery that knocked the left-handed defenseman out for five months.

After discussion with Blues brass and the medical staff, it was decided going under the knife was the best course of action and the surgery on his left shoulder was performed on Feb. 12.

Scrimmaging with teammates is one thing. Practicing with teammates is one thing. Playing games against another opponent is another.

"I don't know exactly when I was hurt," Perunovich said. "I fell down in camp and kind of popped a little bit, saw the trainer and then they did the rest, they did a great job in taking care of it right away and getting me back to 100 percent.

"It was very tough, but injuries happen in sports all the time. Try not to dwell on the past and just hoping to have a good camp, see how it goes."

Now, the Blues' second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft will play in his first live game when the prospects head to the annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament in Michigan, with the first game Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 2 p.m.

It will be 559 days since Perunovich's last competitive action, and for a player that is high on the Blues' list among prospects within the organization, it's time to play games again and see what the player can do at the pro level.

"I don't know how long it's been since my last game, 14, 15 months or something," Perunovich said. "Playing games definitely helps getting back into the swing of things. I'm looking forward again to some live action back."

So are the Blues, who know what they have in a quick, puck-moving defenseman with mobility and speed. Seeing it at a professional level is something they not only want to see but need to see.

"You see these kids playing against kids their own age and the same levels at college and at junior, but you want to see them to strive and see how their body and mind adapts to the pro level," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development. "It's another steppingstone and you never know how kids react. You'd like to think that they're good enough of a hockey IQ is going to rise and play at the next level. But you don't really know that for sure until you see it. Really looking forward to seeing what he's going to bring. His attitude has been really, really good. He's going to be our captain here at Traverse City. He's going to take a lot of responsibility and we're going to put that upon him and expectations for us is he goes out and plays his game."

Perunovich, who said he's feeling "great now" after having the surgery performed here in St. Louis, then getting full care from Justin and Chloe Faulk.

"I ended up staying at Justin Faulk's house with his wife Chloe. They did a good job taking care of me after the surgery," Perunovich said. "That was definitely a huge help and I'm very thankful to have them helping me out throughout the process.

"It was unbelievable being able to stay with them. They took care of me every step of the way. Didn't have many chores, just kind of had to clean up after myself. They took care of the rest. They did all the cooking. His wife was amazing. I got my wisdom teeth out, she took care of me the whole time there too. She was pregnant too at the time, so it was probably tough. She was taking care of me too the whole time. I'm just really thankful to be able to have those two helping me out throughout the whole process."

Perunovich skated on the taxi squad last season after the surgery but was never able to get in due to the length of recovery, at a time when the Blues could have used help on the blue line. But the next step is waiting.

"Just simplify and play my game, give it 100 percent and just be confident," Perunovich said. "Hopefully everything takes care of itself.

"Mentally just getting into pro action and realizing that this stuff happens all the time. It's just how you come back after it and taking care of your body and having that pro mindset, getting ready for a career."

It's a career that could see a fast track to the NHL, perhaps as early as this season at some point, or get some seasoning in at the American Hockey League level with the Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds.

"He's a dynamic player on the point and on the power play. He sees the ice very well, he makes other players better around him," Taylor said of Perunovich. "He's had a full year of obviously rehabbing and getting ready for pro hockey. He got a little taste of it last year before his surgery. He's come in with a great attitude and really worked on his body. You try and take positives out of negatives and obviously we didn't want him to come in and have to have surgery but obviously that was the case. Now he's brought that as a good attitude, very focused and seeing and watching what pro is all about. It's going to give him a good chance to make a run at this roster. Obviously Traverse City is going to be the first step to that process. We're really looking forward to seeing how his level of play is going to rise at this camp."

Perunovich, who played the last three seasons in college on the right side, has plenty of competition to earn playing time with the Blues, including that of rising players like Jake Walman and Niko Mikkola among the younger blue liners. He's just here to make his case and let the chips fall where they may.

"No conversations yet. Just right now, getting into the swing of things," Perunovich said. "With everyone there, there just hasn't been much to talk about lines or position-wise. Wherever they want me to play, I'll play there and try and do my best.

"I know they have a lot of good defensemen here who can play both sides of the ice. Right now I'm just looking to get my feet underneath me and play where I need to play, but there's definitely a lot of good defensemen on the team and it will be hard to get it."

* NOTES -- Tyler Bozak is staying put. The veteran center, who was an unrestricted free agent, agreed to terms on a one-year contract that will pay him $750,000 plus performance bonuses. Bozak, 35, spent the past three seasons here and helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019; he is coming off a contract that paid him an average annual value of $5 million. 

Zachary Bolduc, the Blues' first round pick in 2021, was held off the ice for precautionary reasons after sustaining a lower-body injury during junior camp. Bolduc will be re-evaluated prior to departing for Traverse City.

The Blues released a statement on Tuesday indicating that one of the prospects in town was robbed in downtown on Monday, saying, "The St. Louis Police Department is investigating an armed robbery that took place on the Arch grounds early Monday evening involving one of our organization's prospects. Our player, who is in St. Louis for our rookie camp, is safe as local authorities work to apprehend the suspect. We will have no further comment at this time."

One of the coaches involved in prospect camp is former Blue Chris Thorburn, who retired after the Stanley Cup-winning season. Thorburn will stay on with the club and assist with the prospect pool within the organization, according to Taylor, and include assisting with the AHL club in Springfield.

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