(Photo Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
There has been so much written about the Blues forwards, but little has been said about the defense. With all the changes in personnel up front, it’s understandable why everyone is so excited. But what about the blue line? Let’s take a look at the roster and see what it might look like when the season opens.
The Blues return everyone on the defensive squad from last year’s team. Other than an occasional call-up or two due to injuries, the primary seven defensemen were: Alex Pietrangelo (78 Games Played), Jay Bouwmeester (35 GP), Joel Edmundson (69 GP), Colton Parayko (82 GP), Robert Bortuzzo (72 GP), Vince Dunn (75 GP), and Carl Gunnarsson (63 GP).
Alex Pietrangelo is the defensive anchor for the St. Louis Blues. He will begin his 11th year in the NHL this season. Last year, Petro had 15 goals and 39 assists for 54 points. Goal and point totals were career-highs for the 28-year-old. Alex finished 9th in the voting for the Norris Trophy and led the team in average time on ice with 25:44 minutes per game. No defenseman on the Blues blocked more shots (164). He also takes care of the puck and had the best takeaway/giveaway ratio of any defenseman on the team (54/41). He’s a right-handed shot and plays on the power play as well as the penalty kill.
A likely partner on the first line will be Joel Edmundson. He is entering his 4th NHL season, all with the Blues. He’s also a gritty defender who plays a physical game and had 57 Penalty Minutes as a result. Eddy played in 69 games, missing only when he had surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm after blocking a shot in early February. The 25-year-old had 7 goals and 10 assists for 17 points. He signed a 1-year contract in the off-season for 3 million dollars and was 2nd among d-men in blocks with 150. His left-hand shot and style of play is a perfect compliment to Petro on the first line.
The second pairing will start with Colton Parayko. Parayko was the only defenseman to play in all 82 games last season. It’s hard not to like the big, easy-going guy. With a 22:37 average time on the ice last year, he only logged 13 penalty minutes. Some people think he should be more physical, but a look at the numbers show that his game is solid. He had 6 goals, 29 assists, and 35 points. Along with the offense he provides, he also had 120 hits and 141 blocked shots, third behind Petro and Eddy. His takeaway/giveaway ratio is similar to Petro’s at 54/43. One area of needed improvement would be to get better shots. With the 100 mph slapshot he possesses, defenses and goalies don’t want to face a puck coming at them that fast. Yet, he only scored on 2.8% of his shots on goal. For comparison, Petro was 6.9% and Edmundson 5.6%.
After his rookie campaign showed so much promise, Vince Dunn should get the nod at the other spot on line two. The 2015 2nd round draft pick made the team last year and never really looked back. He played in 75 games and contributed 5 goals and 19 assists for 24 points. He averaged 17:14 minutes of ice time per game, but should see 5 or so more minutes this year on the 2nd line. He gave away the puck a little too much last season but usually seemed to recover nicely. Among the Blues defense, he and Parayko carried the highest Corsi and Fenwick rankings which indicate your team is controlling the puck more often than not when a player is on the ice.
Before we get to the 3rd line, think about this. Petro is 28 years old. Edmundson is 25. Parayko is 25. Dunn is 21. Barring injuries, St. Louis may have lots more years with these four guys on the top two lines. Is it too young? Is there enough experience there to carry a team deep into a playoff run?
Who’s On Third?
That leaves 3 guys who have plenty of NHL experience. Jay Bouwmeester will be entering his 16th season but is coming off an injury-plagued year where he only played in 35 games and had hip surgery near the end of last season. J-Bo started the season with a broken ankle and then struggled with the hip from December up until he finally cracked in March. When he played, he averaged over 20 minutes per game, but with over 1100 games played in the NHL, his body seems to be wearing down. With surgery in mid-March and a recovery time of 4 to 6 months, will he be ready for the start of the season?
Carl Gunnarsson also suffered a season-ending injury last year with a torn ACL. He underwent surgery around April 3rd and is on a 6-month timetable for his return to the ice. Gunnarsson is 31 years old and played a little over 16 minutes per game in 63 games last season. Will he be ready and 100% when October rolls around?
The final member of this trio is Robert Bortuzzo. He played in 72 games last year which was a career high for him in his 7 years in the league. His goals (4) and point totals (13) were also career-highs. With nearly 15 minutes of ice time per game, he gained a lot of experience last year. He also led the defense in hits with 121 and blocked 108 shots, good for 4th amongst defensemen on the club. Is one of the third line spots his to lose?
Others in the organization who have legitimate shots of making the team would have to be Jordan Schmaltz (yet to sign) who played in 13 games last year and Mitch Reinke, a 22-year-old who made his NHL debut last season. What about Jake Walman? Chris Butler also saw some action with the Blues last season but at age 31, is probably not be a lock for a spot on this roster.
So, who do you think will be in that third pair? Who makes this roster? Who doesn’t? Do you agree with the pairings we laid out or do you think someone else will be paired with Pietrangelo? With Parayko? Do you think Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson will be ready to start the season? Give us your thoughts. We’d love to hear what you think about the Blues defense this year.