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2011-12 Peoria Preview

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ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 1: Ben Bishop #30 of the St. Louis Blues is introduced prior to playing against the Calgary Flames at the Scottrade Center on March 1, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 1: Ben Bishop #30 of the St. Louis Blues is introduced prior to playing against the Calgary Flames at the Scottrade Center on March 1, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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With key prospects like Ben Bishop (above) entering restricted free agency this summer, and other important players becoming unrestricted free agents as of July 1, the Blues have a number of decisions to make for not only the NHL roster, but for Peoria's AHL roster for next season as well.

Your "Game Time" Prospect Department has made some of those decisions already, and after the jump, our take on who stays, who goes, and what the Peoria Rivermen should look like in 2011-12.

Several players who spent all or part of the 2010-11 season in Peoria are likely to find themselves in St. Louis for long stretches, if not full-time, during the 2011-12 season.

 

Player P/S Ht Wt Birthdate 2010-11 Club/League GP G A Pts +/- PIM PP SH GW
COLE, Ian D/L 6-01 211 01-18-89 St. Louis (NHL) 26 1 3 4 + 6 35 0 0 0
Peoria (AHL) 44 5 10 15 + 2 63 1 0 0
CRACKNELL, Adam RW/R 6-03 215 07-18-85 St. Louis (NHL) 24 3 4 7 1 8 0 0 0
Peoria (AHL) 61 6 19 25 + 1 54 1 0 2
McRAE, Philip C/L 6-03 191 03-15-90 St. Louis (NHL) 15 1 2 3 -10 2 0 0 0
Peoria (AHL) 46 12 14 26 - 3 23 2 0 0
NIKITIN, Nikita D/L 6-04 196 06-16-86 St. Louis (NHL) 41 1 8 9 + 1 10 0 0 0
Peoria (AHL) 22 3 11 14 + 1 12 3 0 0
PORTER, Chris LW/L 6-01 205 05-29-84 St. Louis (NHL) 45 3 4 7 - 4 16 0 0 1
Peoria (AHL) 36 9 11 20 - 1 63 5 1 1
REAVES, Ryan RW/R 6-02 200 01-20-87 St. Louis (NHL) 28 2 2 4 - 1 78 0 0 1
Peoria (AHL) 50 4 6 10 -3 146 0 0 1

...

Player Ps/Ct Ht Wt Birthdate 2009-10 Club/League GP Mins GA SO GAA W-L-OT Shts Sv %
BISHOP, Ben G/L 6-05 205 11-21-86 St. Louis (NHL) 7 369 17 0 2.76 3-4-0 168 0.899
Peoria (AHL) 35 2043 87 2 2.55 17-13-3 1011 0.914

 

Of these players, only Cole and McRae are signed to contracts for next season.

We here at the "Game Time" Prospect Department are predicting that unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) Cam Janssen and Ty Conklin will not be re-signed by the Blues. Conklin will be cut loose to hook up with another team, paving the way for Ben Bishop to earn the backup role with the Blues, and Janssen's role on the team will likely be filled by a younger, bigger, and more-skilled Ryan Reaves.

Bishop is a restricted free agent (RFA) who made $893,333 last season (per the CapGeek.com website), and Reaves earned a pro-rated $500,000 for the time he spent in the NHL. We're predicting a raise for Bishop to $1,000,000 for his first full season in the NHL, and a boost for Reaves to $700,000.

Adam "Release The" Cracknell, who made his NHL debut this year, is a restricted free agent who made a pro-rated $500K in the NHL last year. We expect him to be re-signed to at least a qualifying offer (a 10% raise over his 2010-11 NHL salary of $500K).

There are two other UFA's who split time between Peoria and the Blues in 2010-11, Porter and defenseman Nathan Oystrick. Porter's NHL salary was $562,500 in 2010-11, and Oystrick's was $600,000. We expect Porter to be re-signed by the Blues at the same rate as Reaves ($700K), but there is a possibility that the Blues will lose Oystrick either to Europe or the Chicago Wolves.

In an interview with the Peoria Journal Star (link HERE), Oystrick laid out his options:

 

Oystrick also said he is considering Europe. But sources say he already has had contact from the Chicago Wolves and could return to that AHL team.
"You don't want to give up on the NHL dream by going to Europe, but it's there and it's something you have to look at," Oystrick said. "Everyone always says it's not about the money. But the truth is, you get older as a player and you have a family to take care of and at some point, it IS about the money."

 

Bringing Oystrick back would make the Rivermen a stronger team from opening day, but we're predicting that Oystrick will not return to the Blues without a one-way deal that pays the same in the AHL as the NHL, and further predicting that the Blues will not offer such a contract.

Peoria scoring leader T.J. Hensick is also a pending free agent, of the restricted variety, and he is also considering a move, as he noted in the Journal Star last week.

 

"I've been getting contact from teams in Europe for a couple weeks now, and Europe is a possibility for sure," Hensick said. "We’ll see how it goes."

 

Hensick will likely get at least a qualifying offer from the Blues (a 10% raise over his 2010-11 NHL salary of $600K), but our prediction is that Hensick will reject that offer for similar guaranteed money in Europe.

If both Oystrick and Hensick abandon the Blues' organization for Europe, the Blues will likely have second-year pros Ian Cole and Phil McRae spend the bulk of the 2011-12 season in Peoria, and will have to sign free agents to fill the NHL roster spots that Cole and McRae have been penciled into.

There are few options available for the Blues/Rivermen from Europe. It's no better than a 50-50 chance that defenseman Jonas Junland will return from Sweden to the Blues' camp this fall, and if he does, he is not likely to accept an assignment to Peoria; it'll be NHL or nothing.

There have been rumours that Finnish center Jori Lehtera wants out of his contract with Lokomtov Yaroslavl (KHL), and that could mean he will come to training camp and vie for an NHL job. Like Junland, Lehtera would likely return to Europe rather than accept an assignment to Peoria if he does come over for training camp.

Russian forward Sergei Andronov is a 6' 2, 190-pound 21-year-old RW who's contract with CSKA Moscow is up. The Blues' third-round pick (78th overall) in 2009 is a possibility, but there has been no word from Russia or the Blues as to even bringing him over for a look-see at camp.

2010 second-rounder Sebastian Wännström is 20 years old and now age-eligible to skate in the AHL, but he is under contract to Brynäs IF Gävle through 2011-12.

As of now, the Blues have 12 players under contract who are likely to be assigned to Peoria for next season:

Player P/S Ht Wt Birthdate 2010-11 Club/League GP G A Pts +/- PIM PP SH GW
BARRIBALL, Jay C/L 5-09 171 05-27-87 Minnesota (WCHA) 30 12 16 28 + 6 18 7 0 3
Peoria (AHL) 6 0 1 1 0 4 0 0 0
CUNDARI, Mark D/L 5-10 200 04-23-90 Peoria (AHL) 69 10 20 30 + 6 106 8 0 1
DELLA ROVERE, Stefan LW/L 5-11 200 02-25-90 Peoria (AHL) 66 8 8 16 0 110 0 1 3
EVANS, Brennan D/L 6-04 225 01-16-82 Peoria (AHL) 66 3 11 14 - 3 45 0 0 1
FAIRCHILD, Cade D/L 5-11 190 01-15-89 Minnesota (WCHA) 35 6 18 24 + 5 12 3 1 0
NIGRO, Anthony C/L 6-00 189 01-11-90 Peoria (AHL) 54 9 6 15 - 8 22 1 0 2
PELUSO, Anthony RW/R 6-04 235 04-18-89 Peoria (AHL) 62 5 2 7 -11 102 0 0 0
PONICH, Brett D/L 6-07 225 02-22-91 Portland (WHL) 45 0 12 12 +23 60 0 0 0
SHATTOCK, Tyler RW/R 6-03 190 02-03-90 Peoria (AHL) 67 3 12 15 + 4 60 0 1 1
SHIELDS, David D/R 6-03 218 01-27-91 Erie (OHL) 61 6 21 27 +29 48 0 0 1
SONNE, Brett C/L 6-00 187 05-16-89 Peoria (AHL) 62 5 4 9 - 9 45 1 0 1

...

Player Ps/Ct Ht Wt Birthdate 2009-10 Club/League GP Mins GA SO GAA W-L-OT Shts Sv %
ALLEN, Jake G/L 6-02 175 08-07-90 Peoria (AHL) 47 2806 118 6 2.52 25-17-5 1424 0.917

Add Cole and McRae, if Hensick and Oystrick do not return, and that makes 14 players under contract for the 2011-12 Peoria Rivermen. Defenseman Jake Gannon and forward Chase Polacek are signed to AHL contracts for next season, bringing the total number of players on the "pencil" version of Peoria's 2011-12 roster to 16.

2005 draft pick Nick Drazenovic, coming off of career highs in goals and points this season, is a restricted free agent who will likely receive a qualifying offer (10% above his 2010-11 NHL salary of $500K), bringing Peoria's total to 17 players, broken down as follows:

LEFT WING CENTER RIGHT WING
Della Rovere Barriball Peluso
Drazenovic McRae Polacek
Nigro Shattock
Sonne
LEFT DEFENSE GOALTENDER RIGHT DEFENSE
Cole Allen Gannon
Cundari Shields
Evans
Fairchild
Ponich

If Andronov is signed, and if he will accept an assignment to Peoria, the team will have a fill contingent of right wings. Cundari played left wing on several oocasions in Peoria this year, and could be an option at that position if some additional port side talent cannot be obtained.

In goal, the Blues' organization has a few options. If an experienced NHL caliber backup is signed, Bishop can be reassigned to Peoria on his new contract (assuming he is at least qualified by the Blues, which he should be). The Blues could also persuade Clarkson University junior Paul Karpowich to forego his senior year and turn pro next year, or sign a free agent to assign to Peoria as a veteran mentor to Allen.