The Breakout Season of St. Louis Blues Vince Dunn

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vINCE dUNN
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 28: Vince Dunn #29 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on November 28, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 4-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Vince Dunn has been a common target for St. Louis Blues fans. The 22-year-old has made a handful of rookie mistakes throughout the 2018-19 season, a few that resulted in losing a game or two. These mistakes have earned Dunn a looming sense of mediocrity. Most fans think he’s been ‘just alright’ so far this year.

Dunn has been the strongest sophomore defensemen all year, better than the highly praised Travis Dermott with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the breakout Neal Pionk with the New York Rangers. Unlike Pionk and Dermott, though, Vince Dunn is often highly scrutinized by the Blues fanbase and organization. Still, he has shown a lot of positives so far. Dunn has clearly improved from last season and seems to get better every game. At this pace, there is a very high chance that Dunn becomes an elite defenseman in the league in very little time at all.

A Strong 2018-19 Season For Vince Dunn

The Blues picked Vince Dunn in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft. He was a very attractive pick, after scoring 56 points in 68 OHL games the year prior. He also padded off his draft rankings in the OHL playoffs. In the eight games the Niagra IceDogs played in the 2015 playoffs, Dunn tallied six goals and four assists. His speed and playmaking abilities were very strong and it’s a bit surprising he fell into the Blues lap that year. Now, after four years in the Blues organization, it’s looking like Dunn could become a star.

Years After Draft

After being drafted, Vince Dunn finished off his three-year tenure with the IceDogs. In his final season, he netted 43 points in 52 games. This was a pretty strong stat line for the defenseman. It ranked him ninth in scoring among OHL defensemen that year, despite the fact that he played the fewest games of anyone in the top 10.

He continued this hot scoring streak when he made his AHL debut in the 2016-17 season. He netted 45 points in 72 games. This, again, placed him ninth among league defenseman. The catch was, Dunn was the youngest in the top 10. This wasn’t anything crazy but it should’ve been a good sign of the skill he was bringing into the league. He was a fast, puck-moving defenseman and was still flying under almost everyone’s radar.

Dunn laid low when he made his NHL debut in the 2017-18 season as well. He didn’t score his first goal until the team’s fifth game, despite the Blues defence contributing most of the team’s goals to start the year. He saw a few scoring droughts as well, one being as long as 13 games, which really hurt his stock in Blues fans hearts.

Still, the 2016-17 season was a good start to Vince Dunn’s career. He heated up towards the end of the year, with eight points in 13 games during the month of March. He totalled 24 points during his rookie career, a modest number for a defenseman that averaged 17 minutes of ice time all year.

This Year

This season, Vince Dunn has been much more electric. He currently has 21 points in 45 games, including five goals. This ranks him fifth on the entire Blues roster, at least three points more than any other defenseman. It also ties him with Jaden Schwartz in scoring, which both shows Dunn’s prowess and Schwartz’s struggles. Dunn has also scored the highest among any sophomore defensemen, with Pionk’s 20 points as a close second.

Looking past the point totals, Dunn has been just as amazing. He is becoming a star offensive-defenseman, something that he always showed hints of. When you watch the Blues play, Dunn is impossible not to notice. He is easily one of the fastest players on the ice. Most forwards can’t catch him when he gets to full speed, coming through the neutral zone. His vision is also something to note.

Of course, a playmaker like Dunn has to be a good passer, but he is a step above the rest. His ability to control the puck and make passes is uncanny. He scans the ice extremely well. The only issue, which has plagued him all year, is his decision making. This is something that comes with time, but with how strong he’s looked; it’ll be scary when he starts to make the best pass every time.

Advanced Stats

The Blues are clearly better when Dunn is on the ice, too. With a playmaker like Dunn, possession stats are very important. With that said, his Corsi-for percentage of 54 percent is the top among St. Louis defensemen, third on the team as a whole. Furthermore, he ranks 23rd in the league, looking at defensemen with at least 35 games played. This is above players like P.K. Subban and Kris Letang. Similarly, he ranks 14 in Fenwick-percentage. These stats have two benefits. On one hand, they show just how strong of a playmaker Dunn is, better than some of the star defensemen in the league. It also shows Dunn’s prowess even when the Blues aren’t scoring. In short, it’d be a very noticeable difference if Dunn wasn’t on the ice.

The Issues

With all the strong play, Vince Dunn’s woes are still enough to disappoint fans. Instead of exceeding expectations, he’s been fairly mediocre in the eyes of the Blues community. A lot of this is the result of the Blues not taking advantage of Dunn’s full potential.

In the 10 games before the All-Star break, Dunn played an average of only 13 minutes and 56 seconds each game. That is abysmally low. 13 Blues players got more ice time over that stretch of games, including Ivan Barbashev, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo. Seriously. Of those 13 players who got more playing time, only five outscored Dunn, who had five points.

The Blues had Dunn on the third defensive pairing with a variety of different partners. This has been a role that has plagued Dunn all year, with the highest scoring defenseman ultimately ranking fifth among the team’s defensemen in average ice time. He can’t seem to get any more ice time, either, despite the team having the highest shooting percentage when he is on the ice.

Defensive Pairings

Now, some may argue that Dunn’s woes in the defensive zone make him less deserving of top-line minutes. Although this isn’t true, with Dunn being on the ice for the fewest goals-against and the most goals-for of any Blues defenseman, it’s also an issue that can easily be solved with the right defensive pairing.

Colton Parayko seems to be the perfect partner for Dunn. When together, the two rank third among Blues defensive pairings; behind the electric Alex Pietrangelo and Gunnarsson pair, and the Jay Bouwmeester and Parayko pairing that’s seen far too many games together. Still, Dunn and Parayko are electric together. When paired together, they’ve totalled nine goals-for and only four against. This pairing even ranks as more productive than Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, in terms of USAT percentage.

Overall

That goes to say a lot, and the fact that the Blues are still ignoring the productivity of this pairing says even more. For the Blues to take full advantage of the electric Vince Dunn, they need to give him more ice time. If they need a reason outside of his strong play to justify an increase in minutes, his production with Parayko is far beyond enough.

If the organization can come to their senses and use Dunn in the ways he deserves, they should see immediate positives. The best part about the situation is, the Blues are facing this debate with their youngest defenseman in the NHL right now. Not only does Dunn have the ability to change the course of the Blues 2018-19 season; he is easily their brightest prospect and is making his start towards an amazing career.

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