By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
New faces likely at Carver Arena in 2012-13
When your team misses the playoffs in spite of...
•• Winning more games than you've lost.
•• Posting a plus-10 goal differential.
•• Finishing with the 7th-best power play and 3rd-best penalty kill in the league.
•• And having six 20-goal scorers take the ice for you, more than any other AHL team.
...you should expect to see more than a few changes coming your way for next season.
The Peoria Rivermen were the third seed in the AHL Western Conference just a few weeks ago, and today they're packing up equipment and going their separate ways to spend a long summer thinking about what could have been. And, as head coach Jared Bednar points out in this article from Saturday's Peoria Journal Star, there's one big reason for that.
"After looking at those stats, why aren't we in the playoffs? Consistency," Rivermen coach Jared Bednar said. "We didn't get to our team game enough on a night-to-night basis. Was this a playoff-caliber team? Absolutely. I can't help but say that we underachieved. I'm the coach so I'll take full responsibility for us not getting into the playoffs."
The Rivermen featured a large number of experienced veterans on this year's roster, many of whom have significant NHL experience as well. Five of those veterans -- forwards Brett Sterling, Jonathan Cheechoo and Kyle Hagel, and defensemen Danny Syvret and Brennan Evans -- are unrestricted free agents, and two more forwards -- Brett Sonne and Anthony Peluso -- are restricted free agents who are due qualifying offers in the next few weeks.
There is no guarantee that any of those players will be brought back for next year's Rivermen. Sterling and Cheechoo (two of Peoria's six 20-goal men this year), and offensive defenseman Syvret, may be looking for one more kick at the can with an NHL club. Hagel missed most of the year to injury, and has settled into a front-office PR slot the Rivermen. Evans played every game, and was effective for the most part, but may not be retained as the veteran leader on defense.
Sonne and Peluso should get qualifying offers at least, and both played key roles this year for the Rivs. Sonne was a big part of Peoria's excellent penalty-killing unit, and Peluso is developing into a bigger and younger version of Ryan Reaves, the enforcer who graduated to the Blues on a full-time basis this year after several years in Peoria.
The Blues recently signed two college prospects to two-way ELC's, offensive whiz Jaden Schwartz and goaltender Paul Karpowich. Karpowich will almost certainly find himself in Peoria next season backing up Jake Allen, and there's a good possibility that Schwartz also starts the season, at least, in Peoria while waiting for a permanent roster spot to open up in St. Louis.
Michigan State forward Trevor Nill is also a graduating senior this year, and might find a home in Peoria next year as well. Nill is jot a big scorer (6-15-21 in 128 games with MSU over the last four years), but he is very good on faceoffs and plays a solid defense-first game, both attributes that would slot in well with Peoria's solid penalty-killing unit.
Three major junior prospects are also likely to be in Peoria next year, as they will be age-eligible (20 years old) to compete in the AHL and will have completed at least three years in major junior. Of these three, only power forward Cody Beach (Moose Jaw/WHL) has already signed an ELC with the Blues, but supplemental scorer and special-teams player Stephen Macaulay (Saint John/QMJHL) and defense prospect Brock Beukeboom (Niagara/OHL) have already reached their 20th birthday, and all bring attributes to the 2012-13 Peoria roster that will be welcome in central Illinois.
European forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Sebastian Wännström and Sergei Andronov, along with defensemen Teemu Eronen and Jani Hakanpää, all played the final year of their current European contracts this season. Of these players, only Tarasenko is expected to cross over, and if he does, he will almost certainly slot in with the Blues' top 9 forwards from Day One.
ROLLIN' ON THE RIVER THIS WEEK:
Check out these features after the jump.
ITEM: RIVS' REPORT CARD.
The Rivs' Peoria Journal Star beat writer, Dave Eminian, joins forces with head coach Jared Bednar to bring you the 2011-12 Rivermen Report Card.
ITEM: QUICK SHIFT WITH JAKE ALLEN.
Eminian caught up with Jake Allen earlier in the season, and this video is one of a series of "Quick Shifts" with Rivermen players posted by Eminian this year.
RIVS' REPORT CARD:
Beat writer Dave Eminian provides the grades, and head coach Jared Bednar supplies the comments and insight as they grade the Peoria roster.
(Jake Allen): "Struggled at the start of the season behind Bishop. But he bounced back second half and played extremely well down the stretch. He often didn't get goal support (he lost five 2-1 games and one 2-0 game). But he gave us a great opportunity to win every night."
(Cade Fairchild): "Exceeded our expectations and moved up the depth chart quickly. Played big minutes and eventually tapered off late in season as he dealt with longer pro schedule coming out of college. Biggest surprise on our roster."
(Anthony Nigro): "Improved his offensive production. Versatility showed as he played center and wing, checking line and scoring line, and that was big for us."
QUICK SHIFT with JAKE ALLEN:
One of a series of Eminian's brief video interviews with key members of the Rivermen this season.