River Watch: Jake Allen, Ben Bishop, T.J. Hensick

River Watch
Allen, Bishop & Hensick

The Blues are enjoying a couple days off leading up to their big two-game series with the Minnesota Wild this weekend. Their time off gives an opportunity to see how things are doing in other areas of the organization and see how some of the team’s prospects/skaters are shaping up in Peoria.

Jake Allen

In his first season at the AHL level, Allen is seeing plenty of playing time as he splits starts with Ben Bishop. Allen garnered plenty of attention when he stood between the pipes for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in 2009-10, but also received plenty of criticism as his team fell to a silver medal finish – a disaster for those involved with Canada. It appears he has built upon those criticisms and is using those to propel him to a very memorable first season at a professional level.

Through 26 games, Allen is 16-9-1 with five shutouts to his name. He has maintained a tidy 2.14 GAA and a healthy .934 save percentage – two numbers that should excite any Blues fan.

Allen still has a ways to progress and has Ben Bishop in front of him in the pecking order, but you can fully expect to see Allen in camp next season competing for the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak – assuming the Blues choose not to retain Ty Conklin beyond this year.

According to most scouts, Allen’s weakness is when the opponent elevates the puck, but his strengths include controlling rebounds and playing the puck out to his teammates. He still has a long ways to develop and it will likely be quite a while before we see him up at the NHL level, but he is giving fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

Ben Bishop

Bishop just recently spent a couple of days at the NHL level before being sent back down on Tuesday. He does have six NHL games on his resume, appearing for the Blues in a wild 2008-09 season, but has yet to make an appearance since.

While his time with the Blues has been brief, his time with the Rivermen dates back to the 2007-08 season. To date, he has played in 112 games for Peoria and has compiled a 53-47-7 record.

This season, as mentioned above, Bishop has split starts with Jake Allen – a difference compared to a 2009-10 season where he earned the majority of starts.

In 2010-11, Bishop is 13-11-3 with a 2.59 GAA and a .913 save percentage. The numbers don’t scream brilliance, and actually measure up below Allen’s, but it is clear the Blues view Bishop as the go-to guy behind Ty Conklin as evidenced by his recent call-up.

Who will back Halak?

Looking in our crystal ball, and keeping in mind all the current rumors, you have to believe that this will be Ty Conklin’s last year in St. Louis. Unless the Blues decide to deal either Bishop or Allen (seems unlikely), we’d assume that these two will compete for the #2 role in the 2011-12 season.

Bishop clearly is the current favorite but is it possible that Allen will challenge him for the backup job? It’s certainly possible, but pretty unlikely. Bishop has been in the organization for several seasons now and it is quickly becoming time for the Blues to make a decision on his future with the club. Either he will be appointed the backup job or the Blues will have to deal him. It’s pretty impossible to imagine a scenario where Allen leapfrogs Bishop and joins the NHL team while Bishop remains behind despite having more experience and more years under his belt.

Still, it’s something that should be interesting to watch come training camp – assuming the Blues don’t surprise us all and bring back Conklin.

T.J. Hensick

Just how good has T.J. Hensick been for the Rivermen? Very, very good.

With 104 NHL games on his resume, Hensick doesn’t exactly fall into the prospect or youngster category, but his play for the Rivermen is worth pointing out.

Over the course of 39 AHL games this season, Hensick has 14 goals and 32 assists for a total of 46 points. Unfortunately, Hensick’s offensive outbursts haven’t yet translated to the NHL level. He has skated in five games with the Blues this season and while he did register an assist, he often looked lost amongst the other skaters.

He did have an admirable season in 2008-09 with the Avalanche when he contributed 21 points over 61 games, but has since not had much success at the NHL level in limited playing time.

Hopefully his success with the Rivermen will someday translate to the NHL level as it has previously in his brief career.

Hensick is playing outstanding for the Rivermen this season.