ST. LOUIS -- Scott Perunovich was enticed by the chance to turn pro with the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, but the 20-year-old defenseman prospect found the opportunity to three-peat as NCAA champion even more appealing.
Perunovich, selected by the Blues in the second round (No. 45) of the 2018 NHL Draft, has been part of back-to-back NCAA titles at the University of Minnesota Duluth. With two years of eligibility remaining and a strong roster returning, he thought the possibility of another crown was too good to pass up when he can work to become a more polished, well-rounded player at the same time.
"That's obviously our goal. We've got the coaching staff to do it, we've got the players … so we're not expecting anything less than a third national championship," Perunovich said during Blues development camp in June. "It's been the best two years of my life right now. I'm not 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, new recruits and we've got the same coaching staff and goalie. I'm really excited to get back there."
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Perunovich (5-foot-9, 172 pounds), who will be a junior this fall, didn't quite put up the same numbers last season as he did when he was a freshman in 2017-18. Despite a back injury, he had 29 points (three goals, 26 assists) in 39 games after having 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games the previous season.
The Blues, coming off their first Stanley Cup championship, have a deep pool of defensemen, so they support Perunovich's decision to return to Minnesota Duluth. With an extra year of development at the collegiate level, they hope Perunovich shows similarities to a familiar foe St. Louis faced in the Cup Final.
"We hope [Perunovich is] our Torey Krug," Blues director of player development and pro scout Tim Taylor said of the Boston Bruins defenseman. "With 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. He just didn't feel he was at the top of his game. He battled through a back injury. He just didn't feel he had the same season as prior, so he wanted to come out when he was feeling that he could adjust to the pro level right away. There wasn't nothing other than he just wants to make sure he was ready mentally and physically."
Perunovich said he feels good about his decision and is eager for this season to begin.
"Maturing another year on and off the ice, getting stronger, building into a little bit more leadership and just another year of developing," he said of his reasoning. "It was definitely difficult and a lot of thought going back into it. It worked out well for [the Blues] winning the [Stanley] Cup, but I'm happy where I'm at right now and we'll see what happens."