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NHL Draft: Duluth's Perunovich goes in second round to St. Louis Blues

Scott Perunovich (7) of Minnesota Duluth and Cal Burke (11) of Notre Dame compete for the puck during the national championship game April 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 2
Blake McLaughlin (7) of Grand Rapids beats Luke LaMaster (25) of Duluth East to the puck along the boards during the Section 7AA Final at Amsoil Arena in Duluth March 2, 2017. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 2

DULUTH — Just because it's June, that doesn't mean Scott Perunovich is impervious to more accolades.

The Minnesota Duluth sophomore-to-be added another line to his hockey resume on Saturday after being selected in the second round, No. 45 overall by the St. Louis Blues in the NHL Entry Draft at American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

Perunovich — a speedy 5-foot-9, 172-pound puck-moving defenseman — is the first Hibbing native to be drafted since the Los Angeles Kings took Kelly Fairchild in the seventh round of the 1991 draft. He went undrafted in his first two years of eligibility, but didn't have to wait long this time around to hear his name called.

"This was a huge relief to go to an organization like this," Perunovich said of the Blues in an interview posted on the team's website. "I've been at two drafts already, thinking I might go. To finally go in my third one, my last year is pretty special."

Perunovich is coming off a historic freshman season with the national champion Bulldogs that saw him named the NCAA and NCHC Rookie of the Year. He landed on a number of All-American teams — most notably the American Hockey Coaches Association first team — as well as the All-NCHC first team and rookie team.

Perunovich's 36 points (11 goals and 25 assists) not only led UMD in scoring — the first time a defenseman did that since 1988-89 — but were a record for a freshman defenseman at UMD.

After accomplishing all of that in a single season, it would seem Perunovich has nothing left to prove at the college level, and that he should sign with Blues and make the jump to the pros.

That's what UMD's competition in the NCAA would prefer, but don't count on Perunovich signing yet based on what he told the News Tribune prior to leaving for Dallas.

"I think I have a lot of work to do. I've talked to some people about it. I have a great coaching staff at UMD," Perunovich said. "I definitely need a lot more development for that (turning pro) to even be a question right now."

Perunovich said he needs to improve his play in the defensive zone and build up his strength to compete at the NHL level. His shot could use some more work as well, he said.

"Everything is faster at the next level, so I think I have to work on everything before I feel confident enough," Perunovich said. "I know where I'm at right now."

In addition to Perunovich, a pair of Bulldogs recruits also were taken Saturday.

Incoming freshman forward Cole Koepke of Hermantown was selected in the sixth round, No. 183 overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is the fourth Hermantown native ever drafted, but the second Hawk taken in the last two drafts after Bulldogs rising sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg went in the second round last year to the Winnipeg Jets.

Koepke, a member of Hermantown's 2016 Minnesota Class A state championship squad, just finished his second junior season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. After missing most of his rookie junior season due to injury, Koepke finished fifth in the USHL in goals in 2017-18 by scoring 28. He also had 11 assists. He totaled 92 goals in three high school seasons with the Hawks.

Minnetonka graduating senior Luke Loheit, a Bulldogs verbal commitment, went in the seventh round, No. 194 overall, to the Ottawa Senators. Loheit will play with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 2018-19 before joining UMD in 2019-20.

Thunderhawks drafted

Former Grand Rapids Thunderhawks teammates Blake McLaughlin and Gavin Hain were drafted Saturday in Dallas.

McLaughlin, who is slated to begin his collegiate career with Minnesota in the fall, is now a member of the Anaheim Ducks organization after being selected in the third round, No. 79 overall. Hain, an incoming North Dakota freshman, went in the sixth round, No. 174 overall, to the Philadelphia Flyers.

McLaughlin and Hain helped lead the Thunderhawks to a Minnesota Class AA state championship in 2016-17 as juniors. McLaughlin posted 22 goals and 38 assists in 31 games that year while Hain totaled 31 goals and 27 assists in 30 games.

Neither returned to Grand Rapids for their senior season in 2017-18. McLaughlin elected to remain with the USHL's Chicago Steel, where he finished with 26 goals and 33 assists in 61 games. Hain joined the USA Hockey National Team Development Program's Under-18 team, where he totaled 15 goals and 20 assists in 61 games.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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