Youth and talent dominate St. Louis Blues’ minor-league affiliate

By Timothy Freitag
Photo: Goaltender Jake Allen has helped lead the Peoria Rivermen to the second best record in the AHL. (Photo Courtesy of

The Blues have impressive depth in their minor league ranks. Riddled by injuries this season, the Blues have leaned heavily on their youth while staying in the thick of a playoff berth in the wild Western Conference. Beyond keeping the big club relevant, the Rivermen have racked up 53 points and currently have the second best record in the AHL.

Jake Allen, G, 20

Jake Allen has been nothing short of extraordinary in his first season in the AHL. In 17 starts, the AHL All-Star has a 1.76 goals against average and a .945 save percentage. He has won 15 of his 18 starts while shutting out his opponent five times. Allen, who was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft, will help make the crease a position of strength for a long time.

Ben Bishop, G, 24

Ben Bishop‘s steady improvement has been overshadowed by Jake Allen‘s incredible play, but it should be noted that Bishop is having his best season as a pro. In 21 games, he has a 2.44 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. Those numbers would make him a number one goalie for quite a few AHL teams. Bishop and Allen continue to split starts, making up the best goaltending tandem in the AHL. The two young netminders are much of the reason why the Rivermen have improved so drastically from last year.

Ian Cole,
D, 21

In his first full year of professional hockey, Ian Cole has performed well. Cole was one of the last cuts out of training camp and has served as an injury fill in for 10 games with the Blues. With the Rivermen, Cole has played physically in his own end and has done a great job of moving the puck up the ice. He is showing that he will be a great complement to young defenders, Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo.

Although he was not able to record his first point in the NHL, with increased stability and opportunity, Cole should be a solid fixture on the Blues’ blue line after a few veterans move on after this season.

Philip McRae, C, 20

McRae has been a nice surprise for the Rivermen this season. In his first season of pro hockey, he has 11 goals, and 11 assists for a total of 22 points through 37 games, which has earned him his first call-up to the NHL.

McRae has improved his speed while showing off his hands and his nose for the net that made him a second round draft pick in 2008. He has the potential to develop into a very good power forward.

Brett Sonne, C, 21

Brett Sonne has struggled this season. After recording 24 points in his first season of pro hockey, Sonne has been relegated to a checking line role on a much deeper Rivermen team. He has not lived up to expectations in that role.

Many believe that Sonne must learn how to be an effective third or fourth liner in order to make it to the next level, but he has been unable to transition his game. At 21 years old, Sonne still has plenty of time to find and develop his role with the organization.

Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 20

Stefan Della Rovere continues to do what has made him a fan favorite throughout his career. Della Rovere agitates, plays hard and chips in timely goals. The formula works, so why change anything?

Della Rovere enters his first year as a pro after a great junior career in which he was captain of Barrie’s 59-7-2 team and played a prominent role for Team Canada winning a gold and silver medal at the World Junior Championships.

So far, Della Rovere has contributed 11 points and 64 penalty minutes to provide sandpaper for a tough-to-play-against Rivermen squad. When the Blues’ are finally able to add rugged players like Della Rovere, Cole and McRae to the high-end talents of Oshie, Berglund, and Pietrangelo, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Mark Cundari, D, 20

In 34 games with the Rivermen, Mark Cundari, has recorded 18 points and 52 penalty minutes. These numbers are consistent with the way Cundari plays the game. As a skilled defenseman, he plays the point on the Rivermen power-play, but he also plays a very rugged game. Cundari is rarely caught out of position and makes opponents pay when they go into the corners with him. In other words, he wins a lot of battles in his own zone.

Cundari is another in a long line of promising blueliners in the Blues’ pipeline. It will be interesting to see what kind of an impact he can make in the NHL in the next few years.

Ryan Reaves, RW, 23

The only thing standing in Ryan Reaves way of surpassing his professional high 167 penalty minutes is that he has been called up to the big club a few times. Reaves is a textbook grinder. He is a player who will muck it up in the corners and ditch the mitts to stand up for a teammate. He is very tough to play against and that is what makes him a fan favorite.

Reaves will never be anything more than a role player in the NHL, but he is the type of guy on the ice and in the locker room that a team needs to be successful over the long haul. Through 33 games with Peoria, Reaves has four goals, five assists, and 91 penalty minutes. He has made two NHL appearances this season, going pointless and registering 17 penalty minutes.