The St. Louis Blues are in win-now mode. Between their owner’s statements and the sentiment of the fans, the Blues appear poised to make a big impact in 2021-22. Opportunities have arisen across the roster. From Vladimir Tarasenko‘s seemingly inevitable trade to Jaden Schwartz heading to the Seattle Kraken, change is in the air in St. Louis. If the Blues don’t hit it big in free agency, could change come from within?
St. Louis Blues Breakout Candidates
The Blues have roster openings and hungry players ready to take the next step. Some have already played in the NHL. Others have yet to take to NHL ice once. More than anything, the Blues will need to replace production on the offensive end. Without Schwartz and Tarasenko on the top-six, the Blues will need to find scoring depth all across the lineup. Barring a big-ticket signing with, say, Gabriel Landeskog, options are less than ideal in free agency. In addition, losing Vince Dunn in the expansion draft has created an opening on the blueline.
Change can come from within. If even one of these three players breaks out, the Blues have a chance to be in a good spot next season.
Breakout Candidate #1: Jordan Kyrou
While it can be argued that the 2020-21 season was Kyrou’s breakout, next season is his first chance at a full 82-game schedule. The rigors of a full NHL season will show the Blues just how capable Kyrou can be. All signs point to Jordan Kyrou exceeding expectations in 2021-22. The Toronto native played 55 games last season, scoring 14 goals and 35 points. He ended the season just a point shy of third in team scoring. At just 23 years of age, big things are on the horizon for Kyrou.
The right winger is a bit of an oddball within the Blues’ system. Head coach Craig Berube prioritizes strength and physicality with his team. Kyrou’s play style focuses on speed and skill. If properly utilized, Kyrou is an excellent top-six winger capable of generating plenty of offense. This next season will be a test of deployment for both Kyrou and Berube. Can a top-six skill winger thrive on a team that focuses on physicality?
Blues Breakout Candidate #2: Scott Perunovich
Perunovich spent all of last season recovering from a shoulder surgery. What better way to make a comeback than with a big NHL debut? The high-powered defenceman has yet to play a game in the big leagues — but his last few seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth indicate that he’s more than ready. Dunn’s departure has opened up a spot on the team’s middle pairing — and Perunovich appears to be the perfect candidate for the position. He’s a legit top-four defenceman with plenty of experience on the power play. Imagine what he could do with power play experts like, say, Mike Hoffman.
Having said that, it’s important to temper expectations with rookies. It’s highly unlikely that Perunovich is going to have a Cale Makar-esque season. He’s coming off a major shoulder surgery. The coaching staff may see to it that he plays reduced minutes to prevent the injury from resurfacing. This has the chance to be Perunovich’s big breakout — but don’t be surprised if the Blues play it safe starting off.
Breakout Candidate #3: Niko Mikkola
Mikkola, 25, has 35 NHL games under his belt. He’s a 6’4″ Finnish defenceman who uses his size and reach to get an advantage on the ice. In addition, he has a touch of physicality to his game, dishing out 49 hits in 30 games last season. Mikkola fits the mold of players that flourish in Berube’s system. He’s a big, physical defender who can fill in on the bottom defensive pairing.
A Mikkola breakout won’t look as flashy or eye-catching as, say, a Perunovich or Kyrou breakout, but it still warrants noting. Mikkola is the exact type of defenceman that can compliment Marco Scandella or Perunovich. He’s not going to leap off the page statistically, but his advanced stats suggest he can fill in defensively for an offense-minded linemate. If he can grow from some of the tough lessons of last season, there’s a chance he rounds out to being a pretty decent depth defender.
As of right now, it appears that Mikkola will pan out as a bottom-pair NHL defenceman. While this might not seem like cause for celebration, it’s important to note that depth is the biggest factor many overlook when building a contender. Remember the Carl Gunarsson goal in Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final? Depth threats like Mikkola can help put the Blues over the top — even if it’s only by a little bit.
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