7 Blues prospects to watch with playoff hopes dwindling and Jimmy Snuggerud staying in Minnesota

How would Jimmy Snuggerud have looked in a St. Louis Blues uniform Thursday night in Nashville? Would he have been wearing No. 81, as he has at the University of Minnesota?

We don’t know because earlier this week, Snuggerud announced he’s planning to stay with the Golden Gophers for his junior season in 2024-25. The Blues, who took him in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, will retain his rights until August 2026, when, if still unsigned, he would become an unrestricted free agent.

In explaining his decision, Snuggerud told The Athletic that he leaned heavily on Minnesota Wild defenseman Brock Faber, who played together last season at Minnesota.

“Yeah, I was talking to him a bunch,” Faber confirmed to The Athletic’s Joe Smith. “I told him, ‘The opportunity is always going to be there.’ It will be great. Another year to develop. Another year to learn. And another year to become a leader. He plays hockey to be a good teammate, to be a good person. I think that shows a lot about his character, coming back for another year. When that time comes, he’ll be ready.”


Jimmy Snuggerud exclusive: Why the Blues prospect turned down the NHL to stay at Minnesota

So there’s no Snuggerud, but with Blues’ playoff chances getting slimmer after a 6-3 loss to Nashville on Thursday, it might be time to play the prospects as much as possible.

The Blues had gone 8-2-1 in their past 11 games and could’ve pulled to within four points over the Predators with a win, but now seven points out of a wild-card spot with six games left in the regular season, it’s looking like a long offseason.

Zack Bolduc, Matt Kessel and Tyler Tucker were all in the lineup in Nashville. Bannister indicated that it’s been difficult to dress other young players because the Blues were battling for a playoff spot — “we’re battling for a playoff spot,” he said, “guys deserve to be in the lineup that have won hockey games down the stretch here and put us in that position” — but starting Saturday in San Jose, Zach Dean and Scott Perunovich could suit up, too, instead of pending unrestricted free agents Kasperi Kapanen, Sammy Blais or Marco Scandella.

Here’s a closer look at how seven of the younger players are faring, and what others on the team are saying about them.

Zack Bolduc

Age: 21

Position: LW/RW

2023-24 stats: 19 games, 2 goals, 2 assists

How’s he looked: It’s hard to imagine, but it wasn’t long ago that some fans were calling Bolduc a bust. Not that he’s cemented himself in the league, but he’s made measurable progress since his call-up, and coaches say Bolduc hasn’t looked out of place. His hefty shot gives him the potential to be a good middle-six forward.

Robert Thomas: “I think Boldy has been aggressive on pucks. He’s got a good stick. He’s skating really well. He’s got a good finishing touch, too. He’s starting to get more looks and chances. I think they’re going to go in.”

Zach Dean

Age: 21

Position: C

2023-24 stats: 3 games, 0 points

How’s he looked: Dean hasn’t seen much action, but he’s been a welcome addition since the season-ending injury to Oskar Sundqvist, and you can see the tenacity that people say he possesses. The Blues have been reluctant to have both Bolduc and Dean in the lineup because of the playoff push, but that could change moving forward.

Thomas: “Deaner, he plays such an honest, hard game. He’s strong. He’s physical. When he’s been in, he’s been really good defensively. Those looks are going to start to come offensively. I’m really impressed with his maturity and the way he’s committed to a 2oo-foot game.”

Scott Perunovich

Age: 25

Position: D

2023-24 stats: 48 games, 0 goals, 15 assists

How’s he looked: Perunovich hasn’t played since hitting the 74 career games needed for the Blues to retain his rights this summer as a restricted free agent. Part of that is on him because of his struggles in the defensive zone and reluctance to shoot the puck (31 shots). There’s talent there, but it needs to come out on a more regular basis.

Bannister: “Scotty, at times, has played to his potential. I think as of late, we need more from him. After a game like we played last game (against San Jose), we have to make changes, and he’s one of the players that has to be better for us. But what I know about Scotty is he can be a really good player for us, and I think we need that more on a nightly basis from him and more consistency in his game and what he does well.”

Matt Kessel

Age: 23

Position: D

2023-24 stats: 33 games, 0 goals, 4 assists

How’s he looked: Few could’ve predicted that Kessel was going to play 30-plus games this season. He stepped in when the Blues had an injury in December and has made it difficult to keep him out of the lineup. He has perhaps shown enough that the club team could trade a veteran defenseman and feel comfortable about him as a replacement.

Justin Faulk: “Kess has come in and played well. He’s got a smile on his face every day, too. You can tell he really enjoys it, and he’s got a lot of upside too. He’s finding his way and he’s been playing good, and I think he’s going to play for a real long time in this league.”

Tyler Tucker

Age: 24

Position: D

2023-24 stats: 20 games, 1 goal, 1 assist

How’s he looked: It’s been a numbers game all season for Tucker, and the limited playing time could have an impact on his development. To his credit, he’s dealt with the situation like a pro. His niche is always going to be physicality, which doesn’t always mean fighting. If he continues to show toughness, he’ll be a valuable asset.

Faulk: “Tux has been an unbelievable guy. He’s been in a tough spot. He hasn’t played much. He’s done everything that’s been asked. Guys love him in the room. He’s a real good teammate.”

Age: 23

Position: C

2023-24 stats: 19 games, 0 goals, 1 assist

How’s he looked: It’s been a disappointing season for Alexandrov, who showed promise when he made the team out of training camp in 2022. There have been chances for him to grab a spot in the lineup, but turnovers and inconsistency have prevented that from happening. He’s been passed over, but there’s still time for him to show that he can do it.

Bannister: “I think with Nicky, he’s working. Nicky’s just got to bide his time. He’s continued to work on this game off the ice and in practice. He’s just got to be ready for his opportunity, and really that’s what it is. When you’re opportunity comes, you have to be able to jump on it.”

Age: 23

Position: G

2023-24 stats: 27 games, 13-12, 2.74 GAA, .915 save percentage

How’s he looked: It would be hard to draw up a much better rookie season for a young goalie than the one Hofer has had. Not only has he played well enough to give starter Jordan Binnington a breather at times, but there hasn’t been much of a drop-off when he’s in net. Hofer may not have seen many games the rest of the way if the Blues were still in the race, but now he could see a few more.

Bannister: “I’ve watched him for three years now (in the AHL and NHL), and he’s an outstanding goaltender. He’s going to have a long career in the NHL.”

(Top photo of Zach Dean: Jeff Curry / USA Today)

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