The AHL Peoria Rivermen made their first Calder Cup playoff appearance after compiling a 43-31-2 record in the West Division. They had four starting goalies throughout the season, but the job was solidified when Manny Legace was demoted by the Blues. The Rivermen were ousted in the first round by the Houston Aeros in a competitive seven-game series.
The Alaska Aces finished the regular season at the top of the National Confernece with a 45-24-3 record. They currently lead the conference finals best-of-seven series 2-0 over the Las Vegas Wranglers.
The Blues are hopeful that they will continue to get help from their prospects next season. T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund both excelled in their first professional seasons, and there will be other stars coming into the system next season.
The talented Russia sniper made it clear to St. Louis that he wanted to play in the NHL. After a 22-goal rookie season, Lemtyugov recorded five goals and 14 assists in 27 games for the Rivermen, Lemtyugov headed back to Russia to play with the Severstal Cherepovets of the KHL in December. The Blues still own his rights, but it seems unlikely we will ever see Lemtyugov in a Blues uniform.
Ryan Reaves, RW
In his first full season with the Rivermen, Reaves did exactly what he was asked to do. He served on the Rivermen’s top penalty-kill unit and provided toughness for Peoria down the stretch. Reaves was in 14 fights and tallied 130 penalty minutes. Reaves was third on the Rivermen with a plus-8 rating. St. Louis has a roster full of the same type of player, so expect him to be back in the AHL next season.
Talbot became a leader for the Rivermen this season. After earning an NHL contract from the Blues, Talbot record 20 goals and 23 assists, good for third on the Rivermen, and rotated from center to wing numerous times throughout games. Talbot is not flashy, but his offensive play continues to get better and he is defensively sound. Talbot never takes a night off and if St. Louis doesn’t give him a chance in the NHL, some team will.
Ben Bishop, G
Bishop played in 31 games for the Rivermen, which was the most among the four goaltenders this season. Bishop’s play was a bit disappointing, compiling a 15-16-1 record with a 2.81 GAA and .897 save percentage before becoming the Blues’ backup in March.
Bishop is hoped to be the goalie of the future, but must learn to not let in as many soft goals and use his 6’7 frame more to his advantage. He would benefit more if he is the Rivermen No. 1 goalie next season.
Chris Porter, C
Porter has a ton of talent, but he was disappointed after not sticking in St. Louis this season and his play was affected by that. Porter scored only seven goals and had just 16 assists in 74 games for the Rivermen — a 14-point drop-off from last season. Porter is known for his gritty play, not his offense, but his decrease in offensive production hurts his chances of making the Blues next season.
Steve Wagner, D
Wagner was given a shot to quarterback the Blues power play at the start of the season, but he struggled and was sent down early. In 47 games for the Rivermen, Wagner scored 6 goals and had 16 assists, which isn’t bad for a rookie defenseman, but disappointing considering what Wagner has shown he is capable of. Wagner also had a minus-10 rating and did not appear willing to play physical at times. Wagner knows he is going to have to play over his head in order to make the Blues next season. Either expect a re-inspired defenseman or trade bait come training camp.
Peoria hopes for big things from Drazenovic this season, but they were disappointed. Drazenovic was way too inconsistent for the Rivermen this season. Sometimes he looked like a future second-line center and at other times he looked like a career minor leaguer. Drazenovic had 12 goals and 21 assists in 76 games for Peoria, but this is not acceptable for a player who has the offensive talent that Drazenovic has. Drazenovic has good size and he must learn to use it more to create the scoring opportunities he is capable of.
Junland was impressive in his first season in North America. He almost made the Blues out of training camp, but a shoulder injury destroyed his chances. Junland played in 70 games for the Rivermen, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists. He was second among defensemen on the team with 31 points. The Blues are very high on their 2006 third-round pick and he will be a given a shot at making the team next season. With Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson returning from injuries, Junland will likely play another season in Peoria to polish his skills.
The forechecking specialist was traded to the St. Louis organization in December. Filewich could not find his offense in Peoria, scoring only 5 goals and adding 10 assists in 49 games. Filewich did play solid defense for the Rivermen, but he never seemed to click on any line. Filewich did add three points in seven playoff games, but it is unlikely he will be a factor in St. Louis next season.
Schwarz was a huge disappointment for the Rivermen this season. He played in only 10 games, compiling a 4-4-0 record with a 3.56 GAA and an abysmal .868 save percentage. He was even sent to the ECHL once Manny Legace was sent to the minors. When Schwarz was drafted, the Blues had hopes he would be their starting goaltender by this time. Now, it is doubtful Schwarz will ever have a permanent St. Louis home, and it would not be surprising if he were released or traded soon.
T.J. Fast, D
Fast did not show the Rivermen the same offense he displayed for the University of Denver and Tri-City of the WHL. Fast scored one goal and had four assists in 46 games played. His defense was solid, but that is not what will get him to the NHL. He must figure out how to get the puck past higher-level goalies. Fast is currently playing with the Aces and has looked good with two assists and a plus-7 rating in nine games. Fast will get another shot with the Rivermen next season.
Chris Holt, G
Holt was signed by the Blues after impressing them in the ECHL and AHL. In 20 games for the Rivermen, Holt was 10-6-2 with a great 1.73 GAA and .931 save percentage. Holt became the Rivermen starting goaltending with his strong play and was given the first shot to backup Chris Mason when Legace was sent to the minors. Holt was soon replaced by Bishop and Holt became Legace’s backup in Peoria. Holt may have a chance at backing up Mason next season if the Blues do not sign a veteran to do the job.
Hellstrom did not improve on his strong play from last season. In 40 games, Hellstrom recorded one assists and 37 penalty minutes. His defensive play was good, but not as promising as it looked during the 2007-08 season. Hellstrom was sent to the ECHL to work on his game, and he tallied three assists in nine games with a plus-4 rating. Hellstrom will either play with the Rivermen or Aces next season.
Aaron Palushaj, RW
Palushaj had such a great season with the University of Michigan, the Blues decided to sign him to a pro contract in early April. Palushaj looked great in his brief stint with the Rivermen, scoring two goals in four regular-season games and adding an assists in four playoff games. Palushaj will have a chance to make the Blues next season, but look for him to play his first full professional season in Peoria. He looks like he will be a top-six forward in the NHL very soon.
Pietrangelo played in eight games with the Blues to start the season, but was sent back to the OHL. Pietrangelo played in one game for the Rivermen at the end of the regular season and looked good, but he looked great during their post-season. He registered three assists in seven games and shot the puck ten times, showing that he is not afraid to showcase his offense. Pietrangelo has a good chance at making the Blues next season.
Ryan Turek, D
Turek looked solid in his first professional season. In 35 games with the Aces, Turek had three goals and three assists and showed off his hard shot when getting a chance to play the point on the power play. Turek also showed tenacious defense, blocking lots of shots and boasting a plus-7 rating. Turek is stepping up his game for the playoffs, scoring a goal and adding three assists in 12 games played. Turek has lots of offensive promise and could be with the Rivermen to start next season.
Tomas Kana, F
Kana excelled in his return to the Aces from the Czech Republic, with six goals and 14 assists in 30 games played. Kana showed a lot more heart than he did last season, and led the Aces with a plus-14 rating. Kana is struggling with just one goal in 12 games this playoffs. If Kana can get another full season in North America, he may have a chance at staying with the Blues. Kana has a lot of size, and the Blues are hopeful that their 2006 second-round pick will pan out.