The 2021-2-2022 NHL season will be here before you know it and as we draw closer to the St. Louis Blues taking the ice for training camp, it’s time to preview this season for the boys in blue. This week, we’ll be breaking down the defensive core. The Blues’ defense was particularly underwhelming last season and is, for the most part, bringing back the same group. While this group had its fair share of struggles down the stretch last year, there is a reason for optimism in St. Louis that year two without Alex Pietrangelo will be better than year one.
The Big Three
While the Blues don’t have a do-it-all elite defenseman knocking on the door of a Norris Trophy, they do have three defenders that when healthy, can lead one of the better defensive groups in the league. Of course, I’m referring to Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, and Torey Krug. Parayko has long been viewed by the organization as the heir apparent to Pietrangelo, but that hasn’t fully materialized yet. Much of Parayko’s recent struggles can be attributed to a nagging back injury.
With a full offseason to heal and a full training camp to get back into top shape, Parayko is a prime candidate to take that next step this season and become that true number one defenseman the team has missed since letting their former captain leave for Vegas. With one year remaining on his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, this could be a “make or break” year for Parayko.
Before last season, Justin Faulk was the Blues player with the most pressure on him, at least from the fanbase. The timing of his acquisition and subsequent contract extension gave him the label of Pietrangelo replacement, whether that’s fair to him or not. After struggling in his first year in St. Louis playing limited minutes with a rotating cast of defensive partners, Faulk settled in last year and became the Blues’ most reliable defenseman down the stretch. Now in his third year with the team, Faulk is looked at as a leader on the back end and the quarterback of the team’s top power-play unit.
Torey Krug will be looking to follow in Faulk’s footsteps and have that big second-year jump in 2021-2022. Not that Krug was particularly bad in his first year in St. Louis, but if he wants to live up to his long-term deal, he will need to find the back of the net a few more times this season after having his lowest goal output since his rookie year in Boston. On the bright side, Krug enjoyed his best plus/minus since 2014-2015, and that was while playing much of the season without the defensively responsible Parayko by his side.
The Supporting Cast
The fourth and fifth spots in the lineup appear to be locked in by veterans Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo, while the final spot in the lineup looks to be up for grabs. Youngsters Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman both were impressive in limited playing time last year and look to be competing for ice time this season, setting up what looks to be the most interesting training camp battle this fall. Add in top defensive prospect and former Hobey Baker winner Scott Perunovich and there is some optimism for the future of the Blues defense.
Scandella and Bortuzzo have both had good and bad moments over the last couple years, so while you can almost assuredly count on them to start the season, impressive starts from the three youngsters could force Craig Berube to shake up the defensive pairs. If all goes well and everyone is healthy, which is rare in the NHL, Berube could rotate his squad depending on the matchup. While Bortuzzo and Mikkola are ideal for heavier matchups with their size and willingness to mix it up, puck movers like Walman and Perunovich could be the preferred players when the team needs more speed from the back.
There is optimism to be had with the big three of Parayko, Faulk, and Krug in that any or all could be primed for big seasons trying to assert themselves as the team’s number one defenseman. Faulk and Krug will see a lot of power-play time and have the potential to put up big offensive numbers, while Parayko when healthy is one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. Mix in some healthy competition with promising young players in Mikkola, Walman, and Perunovich, and this Blues defense has the potential to be back in the top tier of units in the NHL.
Projected Opening Night Pairings
Torey Krug-Colton Parayko
Marco Scandella-Justin Faulk
Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo
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