Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jake Allen Autographed Card

There are many stories I will cover between now and the NHL draft, a lot of them in connection to the NHL Awards which were handed out tonight.

But I thought I could begin with how St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong, fresh on being named Team Canada's head honcho for the 2016 World Cup, reaffirmed how clueless he was about his own team's goaltending situation going into next season.

Indeed, like Ken Hitchcock prior to the playoffs three months ago, he's going in with the mind frame that he has two goalies capable of earning the #1 mantle in Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and that one of them is bound to take it and run with it. And they very well could. And maybe they will. But he could have shut up about it and not let the media turn it into a story.

Allen wasn't really supposed to become such a highly-touted prospect. He started his Juniors career with sub-par statistics with the St. John's Fog Devils and Montréal Junior Hockey Club, with save percentages barely hitting .900 in the regular season and below that in the playoffs, and yet the Blues chose him with the 34th pick of 2008, right at the beginning of the second round, ahead of a lot of good forwards and defensemen, but in terms of goalies, the noteworthy ones to follow were Michael Hutchinson (77th), Braden Holtby (93rd), 6'8'' wonder Jason Missiaen (116th), Dustin Tokarski (122nd), Kevin Poulin (126th), and Anders Lindback (207th).

At the time, I may have ranked Tokarski ahead of him, and at this point, it's safe to say Holtby holds the edge as one of the five best Canadian goalies in the entire NHL (Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Corey Crawford are my top-3, not always in that order).

Like the five I just mentioned, Allen played for Team Canada; like Price, his first memorable experience to the general public came at the World Juniors, as an over-aged player - he was 20 years old. Price won the gold, Allen settled for silver. Later that year, though, he was named the CHL's best goalie, so there's comfort in that.

What really put the New Brunswick native's career in high gear, however, was his impressive AHL rookie campaign where he set Peoria Rivermen records for wins (25), minutes played (2805), saves (1306) and shutouts (6), earning the starter's job for the AHL's All-Star Game, representing the Western Conference.

His next couple of seasons saw his save percentage regress from .917 to .915 to .904 and his GAA go from 2.52 to 2.93 to 2.89. As the Blues' farm team moved from Peoria to become the Chicago Wolves, his numbers went back to elite levels, with a 33-16-3 record in 53 games, a 2.03 GAA, .928 save percentage and 7 shutouts to earn the Baz Bastien Award (most outstanding goalie in the AHL); his playoff statistics, however, remained sub-par, with a 3.29 GAA and .879 save percentage.

So who's the real Jake Allen - the regular-season wonderkind who surpasses expectations in the regular season (though with certain consistency issues), or the guy who can't step up when the competition gets tougher? That remains to be seen. He'll need to work on covering his top corners better, on keeping his concentration after letting a goal in and near the ends of periods, and continue playing the puck well and passing it to his defensemen.

He'll turn 25 by the time the next season gets going, an age where goalies start hitting their prime and comfort zone. He's already been named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team twice, so that's a start; the only other player to have achieved that feat was Jamie Storr, a fellow netminder.

I'd mentioned earlier this spring how I had fallen on a box of early-alphabet cards I'd forgotten about, well this card showing him in the Rivermen's blue uniform, signed in blue sharpie, was one of them:

I don't remember if it was signed in person or by mail, honestly. It's card #117 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set, showing him in the modern stance of the glove hand held too high for my taste.

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