The St. Louis Blues signed top prospect Scott Perunovich to his entry-level contract recently, putting an official end to a spectacular NCAA career. Perunovich won back-to-back national titles at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and very well could have won a third this season had the tournament taken place. So technically, the junior defenseman was never on a losing college team during his tenure with the Bulldogs.
Now the fun part: where does Perunovich rank amongst the all-time great blueliners at UMD?
It's a worthwhile question to ask, even though he has yet to play an NHL game. Perunovich leaves the NCAA as the NCHC conference player of the year, offensive defenseman of the year (for the third straight season) and Three Stars co-winner alongside North Dakota's Jordan Kawaguchi. Perunovich also became the first defenseman to lead the NCHC in conference scoring with 32 points in 24 games. Needless to say, he's also still in the running for the Hobey Baker Award, slated to be announced in mid-April.
He wouldn't be the first Duluth defenseman to win the Hobey, however. Tom Kurvers took home the national accolade in 1984 after recording a bonkers 76 points in 43 games for the Dogs. Of course, scoring was a little different back then: right winger Bill Watson led that team with 86 points, while Ohio State's Paul Pooley took the national crown with 96 points. To compare, this year's leader was Providence College power forward Jack Dugan, who had 52 points through 34 games.
But Kurvers is a great comparison for Perunovich because of that Hobey Baker (and obviously all those points). During that 1983-84 campaign, Kurvers helped UMD to a WCHA title (where he was conference player of the year) before guiding the squad all the way to the national championship, where they lost a 5-4 quadruple-overtime final to Bowling Green. Kurvers never won a Frozen Four during his four years at Duluth, but dang - he was pretty close in '84.
And I'm not sure you can discount how excellent Perunovich's back-to-back titles were. Yes, he had great teammates such as Winnipeg prospect Dylan Samberg, L.A. Kings pick Mikey Anderson and recent Boston Bruins signee Nick Wolff on his blueline, but Kurvers had long-time NHLers such as Norm Maciver and Jim Johnson on his side.
In terms of all-time scoring, Perunovich was never going to catch Kurvers, even if he had stayed for his senior season. Perunovich ends his college career with 105 points in 115 games, far shy of Kurvers' 192 in 164 games, Maciver's 191 in 165 or Curt Giles' 171 in 143. But again, none of those players won titles. With more NHLers coming out of the NCAA these days, you could also debate how much stiffer the competition is now than it was back then - though I realize that's a big can of worms to open in any hockey debate.
Just for fun, you could even daydream of what Justin Faulk could have accomplished had he stayed more than one season with the Bulldogs. Duluth won the national championship in 2011, Faulk's freshman year. He wasn't nominated for the Hobey (freshmen rarely win it anyway), but he was nearly a point-per-gamer on that team and based on his early NHL results with Carolina, he probably would have done pretty well as a sophomore or junior.
Faulk spent this season with the Blues, the same team that just signed Perunovich. St. Louis certainly has a talented kid in their midst and it will be fun to see what Perunovich can do in the pro ranks from here on out.
Is Perunovich the best defenseman ever to come out of Minnesota-Duluth, or is he one of the best? Either way, the St. Louis Blues come out winners.