St. Louis Blues’ minor-league affiliate loaded with complementary talent

By John Jaeckel
Photo: In his first season of professional hockey, David Shields has spent the bulk of the season playing in the AHL, where he has no goals and one assist. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Peoria Rivermen currently occupy third place in the AHL's Midwest Division, with 47 points in 44 games, on pace for a possible playoff berth. The team boasts a load of NHL and AHL veterans such as Jonathan Cheechoo and Brett Sterling, but has younger players, particularly along the blue line, some of whom are considered serious NHL prospects by the St. Louis Blues.

Jake Allen, G, 21

After getting off to a rocky start in Peoria (AHL), Allen joined Team Canada for the Spengler Cup, sharing goaltending duties with veteran Marty Turco. On December 28, the former 2nd round selection (2008) was shelled by host team Davos, dropping an 8-1 decision.

In 15 games with Peoria thus far, Allen has a .901 save percentage and 3.46 goals against average. While it appeared Allen had lost technique and confidence while still adjusting to the pro game, his last couple outings in Peoria since returning from Switzerland have been better, including 34 saves in a 2-1 loss to Houston on January 13th.

Tyler Shattock, RW, 21

Through 38 games at Peoria this season, former Kamloops Blazer Shattock has five goals and five assists and is a solid plus-four. Signed to an entry-level contract by the Blues in 2010, Shattock has shown steady but unspectacular improvement.

Known as an offensively talented player in juniors, Shattock will never match the point-per-game pace he set at the junior level. He still however should be able to provide ample offense by using his 6'3 frame as a net-front presence. He has seen a lot of time this season alongside center Brett Sonne.

David Shields, D, 21

Having signed an entry-level deal in March of 2011, steady, stay-at-home defender David Shields was originally assigned by the Blues to Alaska (ECHL), but was recalled to Peoria on November 14th.

The 6'3 205 blueliner had a goal and five assists in 12 games with the Aces before joining the Rivermen. In 22 games at Peoria he has no goals, an assist and is a minus-one. His scoresheet can be quite misleading though as Shields is able to make a solid first pass and has an underrated heavy shot. Still, he'll make his living doing the dirty work on defense, blocking shots, and clearing traffic from around his net.

Jay Barriball, RW, 24

Barriball has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) and is plus-one in 21 games in his first full pro season at Peoria this year.

The diminutive, but blazing fast former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, who registered two goals in a November 26th loss to Chicago, has been sidelined periodically by concussion symptoms, most recently re-aggravated January 1st versus Milwaukee.

Ian Cole, D, 22

Ann Arbor, MI-native and former US National Under 18 Program alumnus Cole has split time between Peoria and St. Louis this season, with 14 games in Peoria and 17 with the Blues.

With Peoria, Cole had three assists and was minus-four. In St. Louis, as part of the recent success of the surging Blues, he has a goal and four assists and is a strong plus-seven. Cole has clearly taken a step forward this season and looks like he could play a regular shift as a number five or six defenseman in the NHL.

Mark Cundari, D, 21

Another Peoria player battling concussion symptoms, Cundari's season was disrupted December 9th after a dirty hit by Oklahoma City's Josh Green. Cundari returned to the ice December 30th against Grand Rapids. In 32 games, the former Windsor Spitfire has two goals and nine assists and is minus-eight.

Stefan Della Rovere, LW, 21

Through 37 games at Peoria, the gritty left winger has three goals, four assists and is minus-five with 91 penalty minutes. Acquired from Washington in 2010 for enforcer D.J. King, Della Rovere suffered a hand injury that limited his action in early November. He has also played on a line with Barriball and highly touted Blues prospect Philip McRae.

Cade Fairchild, D, 23

A promising, puck-moving defenseman who seems to fit new Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock's model for the blue line, Fairchild has been shuttled between St. Louis and Peoria this year, most recently called up to St. Louis on January 12. Through five games with the NHL club, he had one assist.

At Peoria, though 36 games he has five goals and 17 assists with a sparking plus-21. On January 4th, Fairchild became the first rookie in in Riverman history to be named an AHL all-star, joining teammate T.J. Hensick.

Philip McRae, C, 21

The son of former NHL tough guy Basil McRae, the young center notched a hat trick in November versus the Rockford ice Hogs. Through 40 games with Peoria, McRae has 21 points (16 goals, five assists) and was minus-nine.

Since mid-January, he has been playing on a line with AHL veteran Brett Sterling and former Shark and Senator Jonathan Cheechoo.

Anthony Nigro, LW, 22

A solid defensive forward, Nigro has eight goals and six assists through 43 games with the Rivermen. The former Ottawa 67 is also plus-four. Early on in the season, before some line juggling by Peoria coach Jared Bednar, Nigro played on a line with Cheechoo and Rivermen captain Adam Cracknell.

Anthony Peluso, RW, 22

A 6'4 235 pound battleship, Peluso will likely never win the Lady Byng Trophy, evidenced by 111 penalty minutes through 34 AHL contests this season. All the more impressive is he has already surpassed last year's penalty minute total (102) in half as many games. He has one goal and three assists and is minus-three in Peoria.

Peluso has been in a number of fights this year with other AHL tough guys, including three scraps over November and December with the Chicago Wolves' Matt Clackson.

Brett Ponich, D, 20

In his first pro season, towering 6'7 defenseman Ponich has three assists in 40 games with Peoria. Steady defensively, one of the early highlights of Ponich's was a December fight against notorious Rockford tough buy Brandon Bollig (CHI), in which Ponich more than held his own.

Brett Sonne, C, 22

After a stellar overage junior season with Calgary (WHL) in 2008-09, Sonne has struggled to find his scoring touch as a pro. However, in 37 games this year at Peoria, he has shown across the board improvement over last year in goals (seven) and assists (six) The third-round pick from 2007 has been playing on a line with Shattock.