The Journey: More Playoff Standouts (Perunovich, Boldy, Miller)
Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way. This week, as the first round concludes with an astounding five Game 7s, we’ll highlight a few more rookies who are playing key roles with their teams so far in the 2022 playoffs.
(Stats do not include Saturday's games.)
After Torey Krug was injured in Game 3, St. Louis turned to their secret weapon, former Hobey Baker winner Scott Perunovich, who posted assists in three straight games and looked poised and confident manning the point on their top power play. He keeps his head up, moves smoothly along the blue line, gets himself into open shooting positions, and makes quick, crisp passes right on the tape.
The Blues clearly understand his power play prowess: he played 10 minutes in Game 6 and nearly seven of those came with the man advantage. The defence will come with time and experience; for now, it's a treat to watch him do his thing on hockey's biggest stage.
St. Louis will now face Colorado and the superlative Cale Makar, who won the Hobey Baker the year before Perunovich. The two are actually only a few months apart in age (both 23) but Perunovich's development was delayed by Covid last year: his college team cancelled its season, the Blues' AHL affiliate took a year off, and St. Louis presumably didn't want to rush him straight from the NCAA to the NHL. He travelled and practiced with their taxi squad but never saw game action. This year, he absolutely lit up the AHL with 22 points in only 17 games before getting called up for 19 games with the Blues (six points).
Perunovich is currently second on Dobber's Top Prospect Defencemen rankings. He'll have to compete with Torey Krug for ice time next year, as the two play a very similar role for this team, but he should stick with the big club next year and continue to be one of the top blue line prospects in the league moving forward. The Blues-Avs series should be dynamite, and if he continues putting up points at this rate, his stocks will be sky-high heading into 2022-23. His upside is 65+ points with a ton of power-play production like peak Torey Krug during his Boston days.
On the losing end of this first round series were Matt Boldy and the Minnesota Wild. With the Wild making a disappointing early exit, the focus for them now turns to the cap hell that GM Bill Guerin inherited from his predecessor, Chuck Fletcher. The next three years will be particularly difficult for Minnesota, as the buy-outs on the massive Parise and Suter contracts will cost the team between $13-15 million per year until 2025-2026. So, how will the Wild make it through the next three years?
At forward, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov, and Joel Eriksson Ek are all signed for at least the next three seasons. Assuming Guerin manages to sign Kevin Fiala with a raise of two or three million more than his current five—he won't get more than Kaprizov's nine—that's the top scoring (Kaprizov – Hartman – Zuccarello) and checking (Greenway – Foligno – Eriksson Ek) lines locked up, plus Fiala anchoring a second scoring line.
Defence is a little murkier: Jonas Brodin and captain Jared Spurgeon are signed long term, with Jon Merrill and Alex Goligoski also signed for at least three more years. There has been a lot of talk about Minnesota moving Dumba and his $6 million salary in the offseason. That would leave Dmitri Kulikov for two more years and Jordie Benn for one, which looks pretty lean. Long story short, there will be some spots available on this team at both forward and defence that will be critical to this team surviving the Parise-Suter buyouts.
Enter the kids.
Minnesota has one of the best prospect systems in the league, with potential stars at all positions.
Look for Boldy, Marco Rossi, Adam Beckman, and Calen Addison in particular to make the Wild and see solid minutes next year. Minnesota fans will also be hoping that last year's first round pick, Jesper Wallstedt, will make the team either next year or the year after to back up Cam Talbot before the veteran's contract is up.
But even leaning on their prospects won't give Minnesota much relief: both Boldy and Addison have only one more year left on their ELCs. After that, they'll be RFAs and Boldy in particular should be due for a pretty hefty bridge deal. Rossi and Beckman have one more year after that before renewing in 2024-25. How Guerin is able to manage the bridge deals for these four youngsters—and whether or not he can retain all of them—will be central to the team's ability to contend in the short and long term.
Had Boldy played the entire year with Minnesota, his 68-point pace would have led all rookies and thrust him firmly into Calder consideration.
What stands out the most about him is his calm, confident puck handling in tight areas under pressure. Like other young guns like Trevor Zegras (ANA) and Matty Beniers (SEA), who have tried unusual moves on offence this year, Boldy has an exciting creativity to his game that makes him fun to watch every time he has the puck.
He consistently finds little ways to beat his man and create scoring opportunities. He's already making it look easy to enforce his will on NHL defenders; what happens when he approaches his 200-game Breakout Threshold alongside Fiala and Rossi? His upside is 80+ points with lots of shots and power play points.
Flipping over to the East, 22-year-old K'Andre Miller has been a rock on defence for NYR. He's been averaging over 22 minutes a night, including a whopping 44:28 TOI in Game One. Aside from Miller, Shesterkin, and the Kid Line of Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko, Rangers fans haven't exactly been happy with the performance of their team against a Jarry-less Penguins. But Miller's consistently responsible play has been a bright spot.
He's also continued to bring a physical element to this Rangers team to the tune of two hits per game so far in the playoffs—a rate slightly higher than the 1.84 he posted during the regular season.
This clip is from just before the playoffs but is another great example of how dominant Miller can be defensively. There aren't too many players who can toss people around like that out there:
While his ultimate offensive upside remains an open question (40-50 points?), he's already useful for fantasy in multi cat leagues in particular as a 20-point player capable of providing 1.5 shots, hits, and blocks per game. As the points creep up, he'll become more and more of a stud.