Friday, July 26, 2013

Jake Allen ready to play in St. Louis or Chicago

Netminder looking forward to building off
rookie season after resigning for two years

ST. LOUIS -- The majority of the talk at season's end was that Jake Allen played well enough to earn his way onto the Blues' goaltending roster permanently.

Allen was impressive enough in his first prolonged stint with the Blues that it had given Blues management and coaches something to think about. It allowed the team to explore options to potentially move one or both of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, the team's veteran netminders.

But in the end, when Allen and the Blues agreed to a two-year contract that will have the Fredericton, New Brunswick native play out a two-way contract for this coming season and a one-way contract in 2014-15, it's almost certain that the 22-year-old will begin the season with the Blues' new American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.

(Getty Images)
Blues goaltender Jake Allen will likely begin the 2013-14
season with the AHL Chicago Wolves.

And Allen, who heard all the praise after going 9-4-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .905 save percentage, is fine with that decision -- if it comes to that.

"Every player wants to be a part of the Blues permanently with a one-way deal, but Ells and Jaro are still there," Allen said by phone Friday morning. "They're both great goalies in their own right. It's a numbers game almost right now, so I've got to look at it in realistic terms and see what you've got in front of you.

"I know I got the two-way the first year, but to me, it's just getting into camp and trying to earn a spot like everyone else. I think I proved myself last year, but I still have a long way to go. I'm looking forward to coming in and it's going to be a challenge for me."

Allen, who will make an NHL-based salary of $750,000 this season and $125,000 in the AHL, will earn $850,000 next season on his one-way deal. It's the first one-way contract of what is expected to be a promising career for the Blues' netminder who earned his first NHL win at Joe Louis Arena when he helped the Blues end an 0-4-1 slide with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings Feb. 13. It started a streak of three straight wins to begin Allen's NHL career and eight of Allen's first nine starts ended with the Blues earning two points. It was a springboard for the Blues' run to the playoffs.

"It was the third year of my deal and I had never got to come up into the NHL until that point," Allen said. "I don't know if I didn't have that experience, you'd still always be questioning yourself ... what it's like, can you play. I was very fortunate to have that opportunity."

It came as a little bit of a surprise, since Allen, drafted by the Blues 34th overall in 2008, didn't quite live up to the hype playing for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL last season when he was 13-19-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .904 save percentage. He was 13-20-2 the previous season after winning 25 games his first season with the Rivermen.

But after Allen stopped 15 of 18 shots in that win at Detroit that may have very well saved the Blues' season and started their climb into the top eight in the Western Conference, Allen went into Calgary with the Blues two nights later and arguably had the save of the year:

"I got to play so many games in a shortened season," Allen said. "That was a great experience for me. I think it just proved to myself and a lot of other people in the hockey world that I can do it. I sort of set myself nicely for this contract. I think I earned it in a way, but it's just a step. It was a huge benefit to my development."

Anything can happen in training camp and Allen understands that, but there is also the reality that he likely begins the season with the Wolves of the AHL. And instead of turning it into sour grapes, Allen is taking the high road, using motivation as a tool instead.

"If I do end up in Chicago, I'm just going to go down there with the same mentality," Allen said. "Chicago's obviously a new organization for us. I was in Peoria for three years. Going to Chicago would be a fresh start and something I would be looking forward to and get another challenge as well.

"You've got to be ready, be on the ball with your feet. You never know what's going to happen in the NHL. Just like this (past) year, I couldn't really predict what happened to happen. You never know. I'm going to go down there and just hold my game, try and improve, improve and improve. Hopefully when I get a chance, I'm going to come back up and take advantage of it like I did last year."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) makes a save last season against Phoenix Coyotes' Antoine
Vermette. Allen stopped 28 shots in the game to earn his first NHL shutout.
It would have been ideal for Allen and his camp to work out a two-year, one-way deal with the Blues, but getting the one-way contract next season helped both sides come to a mutual -- and beneficial -- agreement.

"You look at it as a big bonus for me to know I have security for two years and I do have a one-way deal for the second year," said Allen, who was a restricted free agent who finished up a three-year, $2.625 entry-level contract. "It's that much more motivation for me to be that much more prepared for my second season. To have that under my belt, it's a big bonus for me. It was a great deal on both parts and I'm really happy with it."

And Allen is happy to be in St. Louis and the Blues' organization. There was never any doubt. He's been working out with David Alexander, the goalie coach of the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL who's previously worked with Allen as well as former Blues farmhand and St. Louis' Ben Bishop, who will play with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. 

"St. Louis is a place I wanted to be. It's the place I started," said Allen, who will come into St. Louis a couple weeks before the start of training camp. "I love it there. I'm glad to be there for a couple more years and I'm looking forward to get going. It feels like a while since I played my last game. Camp's coming soon, so I'm looking forward to getting back and getting into the swing of things."

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