Learning the Blues: Parallels to Draw Between Dean Evason and Craig Berube

the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues will face each other in Stanley Cup first round playoffs. Here at Hockey Wilderness, we’ll get a sneak peek at all things related to these Central Division rivals. Go see the piece on defense here.

Craig Berube and Dean Evason’s journeys to becoming NHL head coaches are very similar: former players had moderate success during their careers before moving into coaching. While Evason cut his teeth in the WHL, Berube served as one of the few player-coaches in the AHL with the Leigh Valley Phantoms – an affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers – before moving into simple coaching.

They both enjoyed success in the AHL before being called up as veteran coaching assistants. While Bruce Boudreau met his tragic fate here in Minnesota, Evason took his place for the final part of the 2019-20 season. In St. Louis, our old friend Mike Yeo was fired after a rough start to the 2018-19 season, after which Berube took over, and the Blues turned things around and embarked on a Cinderella run that s ended with the Stanley Cup.

Since taking over the Blues, Berube has generally framed his team strategy around a strong defence; the personnel changes during this off-season have helped to steer the team towards a more global approach, at the sacrifice of part of this defense.

We’re not saying they’re not a good defensive team, just that they’re not the beast they once were.

We talked about which team will get roster benefits, which will likely determine who wins this series. The Wild’s saveline is elite, and with home ice advantage, they’ll be able to control the line match for most of the series, including a crucial matchup in Game 7 ( if the series gets that far).

Evason found himself in an intriguing situation when he became coach of the Wild. With the pieces he had in place, he designed a system that makes life easier for his goalkeepers and encourages every defender to get involved in attack. Activity is vital to Evason’s projects, regardless of position.

Berube’s offensive systems — including the power play — thrive on high-risk slot odds. Paul Buchnevich, David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou will try to make the Wild pay for letting them into the slot with the puck. But despite all that attacking talent on the roster, the Blues remain largely clear of the front of the net. It could be down to size — of all the forwards we’ve listed, only Tarasenko is over 200 pounds — or it could be down to fear, but that weakness makes the Wild play.

The Blues are more than happy to let slot opportunities happen on defense. A nightmare if it was the Wild attackers who gave up this opportunity.

Who has the advantage?

As Berube and his team ensure the Blues play better on the power play – converting 27.0% of their power plays ranks second in the league – and on the penalty kick – killing 84.4% of their penalties ranks fifth – they play a loose style of play defensively and offensively. They avoid difficult areas on offense and concede high value areas on defense.

Craig Berube and Dean Evason have similar coaching resumes. Berube just turned a few years older than Evason and won the Stanley Cup in his third professional season as head coach.

*checks notes*

Oh, Dean Evason is in his third year as a coach.

Being able to match the GREEF line of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno is the trump card in a fairly even coaching matchup.

Wild advantage.