On his third go round when it comes to NHL Entry Draft eligibility, Scott Perunovich is the second oldest player on our Top 100 list, although his mid-August birthday puts him pretty close to draft-plus-one status. What’s really been holding Perunovich back from getting selected the past couple of seasons in his size: listed anywhere between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10, he hasn’t had the prolific offence required to convince NHL staffs that he’s an undersized defenceman worth taking a shot on.
That should change this season, as Perunovich has graduated from being a decent USHL defenceman to one of the best offensive defenceman in the NCAA, putting up one and half times the points he scored last year in junior, and in fewer games to boot. While he still has his warts, we believe that this is finally the draft that Perunovich won’t slip through. We’ve got him at no. 83 on our list.
- Age/Birthdate: 19.08 / August 18, 1998
- Birthplace: Hibbing, MN, USA
- Frame: 5-foot-9 / 165 lbs
- Position: Defence
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
- NCAA (Championship) All-Tournament Team
- NCAA (Championship) Winner
- NCAA (NCHC) All-Rookie Team
- NCAA (NCHC) Best Offensive Defenseman
- NCAA (NCHC) First All-Star Team
- NCAA (NCHC) Rookie of the Year
- NCAA (West) First All-American Team
- NCAA Top Collegiate Rookie (Tim Taylor Award)
- U20 WJC Bronze Medal
Perunovich was a 147th overall selection at the USHL Entry Draft way back in 2014, and it took him a few years just to break into junior. While he showed offensive potential in the high school ranks, it wasn’t impressive enough to prevent his size and defensive game from precluding him from serious consideration at the 2016 NHL Draft, the first for which he was eligible. His performance the following year in the USHL didn’t move the meter much either.
This past season, however, Perunovich joined the University of Minnesota-Duluth and turned his fortunes around, making such an impact at the collegiate level that he was invited to the USA Hockey World Junior selection camp and subsequently made the team, going on to win the bronze medal at the Under-20 tournament in January. He finished the season with a NCAA Championship, and is now able to say that he was the best defenceman on the best team in the nation.
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Perunovich rocks pretty much all of our statistical categories. He led all NCAA freshman in points and points per game, placing fourth in the nation in the former category. Even when adjusting for situation, age, and league, he has one of the most impressive scoring rates all among available defensive. The ice was significantly tilted in his team’s favour whenever he was on the ice, with UMD scoring more than two thirds of the goals. That’s an impressive improvement from he was on the bench as well, giving him a GF%rel of +12.1%.
Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
Perunovich loses a fair bit of value here due to his age, but then gains even more back when adjusting for the more difficult competition of the NCAA. He got his fair share of even strength scoring, but really made his name by running the UMD’s power play.
The above and below charts indicate that Perunovich spent the vast majority of his time with defensive partner Nick Wolff, and that Perunovich fared a whole lot better than Wolff when the two were separated. Against an array of other teammates, Perunovich consistently looks like a catalyst for positive change, in some cases bringing the goal shares of teammates from the 50-55% range up to the 70% range.
Looking at Perunovich’s cohort, some other smallish defenders like Torey Krug and John-Michael Liles pop into the picture. Because of his size (which isn’t a major factor in the formula, but does still place boundaries on potential matches), there weren’t a ton of players that met the similarity threshold – just 22 in fact. Overall though, the system projects a 24% Expected Likelihood of Success for Perunovich, which is a huge jump up from his previous seasons.
The landscape of the NHL is certainly changing, and defencemen under six feet have been able to have all sorts of success provided that they excel in the right areas. Over the past couple of seasons, Perunovich has evolved from “undersized defenceman” to “small but dynamic puck-moving defenceman” – that’s the kind that NHL teams have warmed up to.
Perunovich is a good skater, both quick and agile, and has the slipperiness factor that allows him to elude heavier players around the ice. His greatest assets are his vision and puck skills, which he uses to great effect both breaking out of his zone and setting up offensive chances at the other end. He demonstrates patience with the puck, waiting out defenders rather than piling shots into their shin pads, or else moving it deftly around the attacking zone. As a result, his shot rate isn’t as high as it potentially could be, but it’s an adjustment that has led to offensive opportunities nonetheless.
Even in a more forgiving NHL, his size will still pose challenges, and he will continue to face doubters. As it stands, there’s little, if any, physicality in Perunovich’s game, and he will have to add plenty of muscle in order to continue to evade and escape from opponents as they get faster and strong.
Though he’s already closer to 20 than to 19, Perunovich still has three more seasons of college hockey before he could exercise his right to become a college related NHL free agent, and will at that time be approaching 23 years old. It’s likely that he’ll want to turn pro well before then, lessening the chance that he burns the team that takes him this season.
In any case, it’s a bonus that he’s in the NCAA at this point, as he could use the extra time to hone his skills before jumping into pro hockey and taking a run at an NHL spot. Whoever takes Perunovich will probably need to exercise a little patience of their own, but it could well pay off in the long run. Perunovich has the feel of one of those players that pops out of the NCAA suddenly and leaves teams wondering, “why didn’t we take a chance on him when we could have?”.
The USHL can be a fickle league to judge from, and it’s not at all surprising that a small defender would go a couple of years without being selected – at this point, it would be silly to hold that against him. Performance in the NCAA and an international tournament should give teams a lot more confidence in Perunovich’s abilities, and that should lead to one of them calling his name in the middle rounds on the second day of the draft.
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Finishing his freshman season as the fourth highest scorer defenseman in NCAA, playing an eye-opening key offensive role on a Bronze medal winning Team USA at the WJC and pushing the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs to an NCAA title will make it impossible to ignore him in his third time through the ringer. He is not a perfect player, but his level of dynamism should afford him more than a few chances to make it to the NHL in time.
He has the ability to escape pressure and maintain possession. He’s great at spinning away from trouble or using his strong first step to sidestep an attacker and make a play. He can survey the whole ice and make quick decisions to find open teammates. If he’s able to make it at the pro level, he’ll be a puck-moving defenseman that relies on his offensive capabilities, especially on the power play.
CanucksArmy’s 2018 NHL Draft Rankings