This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…
When it comes to talented young defensemen, the St. Louis Blues don’t rebuild so much as they reload.
Consider, for a moment, what transpired last season. A pair of 24-year-olds, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, cemented their places as core d-men of the future. Jordan Schmaltz, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, made his NHL debut. And this came on a Blues defense in which veterans Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester continued to carry the mail, finishing first and second on the team in TOI per game.
Now, there appears to be another kid on the horizon: Vince Dunn, the 20-year-old taken in the second round of the ’15 draft.
Dunn turned pro last season following a three-year junior career in Niagara, and performed extremely well. He led all AHL Chicago blueliners with 13 goals and 45 points in 72 games, then racked up another six points in 10 playoff contests. He repped the Wolves at the AHL All-Star Game, and finished as the league’s top rookie d-man scorer.
In most organizations, that would have you knocking on the NHL door.
But the Blues aren’t most organizations.
As mentioned above, there’s a ton of depth on defense. Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Parayko and Edmundson are locked in as the top four, and Blues GM Doug Armstrong has options for the bottom spots in veterans Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Chris Butler and Nate Prosser.
As such, Dunn is facing an uphill battle to crack the roster, especially since marinating him in the AHL for another campaign is an easy call.
Yet there is something to consider — increased offense from the back end.
Like many clubs, the Blues have it from the top-end guys. Pietrangelo produces an an elite rate, which included a career-high 14 goals last year, and Parayko has averaged 34 points over his first two years on the job. But after those two, things dry up. Edmundson and Bouwmeester aren’t offensively-minded guys, while Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson combined for just 11 points last year. The Blues also lost a significant offensive weapon by dealing Kevin Shattenkirk to the Caps at the deadline.
Which is why we should point out that, in the aftermath of the Shattenkirk deal, Armstrong pointed at Dunn as one of the players in the minors that should see an increased opportunity.
Dunn wasn’t the only youngster Armstrong singled out, though. Schmaltz was in the mix, as was former Providence standout Jake Walman (who left school to turn pro in March). Still-unsigned RFA Petteri Lindbohm is also right there, having played 40 big league contests over the last three seasons.
So, put it this way. It would be a mighty big leap for Dunn to stick in St. Louis this fall. But given how he responded to the jump from junior to the AHL, making it shouldn’t be ruled out.