ROCHESTER — Ryan Miller is the Blues' goalie of the present, but the play of Jake Allen will determine St. Louis' netminder of the future. Allen also could have a say on whether the Sabres wind up with another draft pick.
Allen became just the second goalie in 30 years to lead the AHL in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. The 23-year-old matched a clean sweep accomplished by old friend Dwayne Roloson, going 33-16-3 with a .928 save percentage, 2.03 GAA and seven shutouts. Allen led Chicago to the Midwest Division title and a first-round playoff meeting with Rochester.
His coach says the goalie is ready to take his skills to the NHL.
“No question,” said John Anderson, who coached the Atlanta Thrashers from 2008 to 2010 and was an assistant in Phoenix the last two seasons. “He can go up there right now and do a good job, but they've got that kid named Miller up there. He'll wait his time, and hopefully we can do really well and win a championship and go from there.”
The “go from there” part is where things get interesting for Buffalo fans. As part of the Miller trade, the Sabres got the Blues' 2015 first-round pick. They get this year's first-round pick, too, if Miller takes St. Louis to the Western Conference final or re-signs before the draft.
The Blues probably won't keep Miller if they believe Allen is ready to inherit the starting role on a Stanley Cup contender. Allen's contract converts to a one-way deal next season, so he'll be in St. Louis no matter what. If the Blues think Allen would benefit from being a backup for a year or two, they could push to re-sign Miller to a short-term deal. St. Louis backup Brian Elliott will also be a free agent.
“Right now I'm focused on the playoffs,” Allen said in Blue Cross Arena, “but when that time comes, summer and August, I'm going to be looking forward to going to St. Louis and trying to make a permanent name for myself.
“It's just like every other player in the American Hockey League. Your goal is to get to the NHL. You've got to go to the NHL camp in September and be ready to lay it on the line to try to get a position.”
Allen, selected 34th overall in 2008, gave the Blues a glimpse of his talent last season. He played 15 games for St. Louis, going 9-4 with a 2.46 GAA and .905 save percentage. The short stay was enough to get him voted to the NHL's All-Rookie team.
“I think I proved last year I could play at that level, and I've done it again this year at this level,” Allen said. “Whenever my chance comes, I want to take the ball and run with it. Maybe it's not next year. Maybe it's in a couple years. Who knows, but I'm just going to come to camp next year and be prepared.”
The Blues' goalie situation – great starts by Jaroslav Halak and Elliott, followed by the acquisition of Miller – was a major talking point around the NHL this season. Allen never let it affect him.
“Quite honestly, it never got brought up, and that's the type of guy Jake is,” Anderson said. “He's living for the moment. He's really happy to be here.
“Sometimes you just make your own niche. It might not be St. Louis. You never know what can happen. I think anybody in their right mind in the NHL would take a look at Jake to acquire him as a goalie if not St. Louis next year.”
Miller spent the 2004-05 lockout season in Rochester without the worry of an NHL call-up. It benefited him greatly, and it's easy to assume Allen's career will get a boost because he learned to be a No. 1 guy in the minors with the Wolves.
“In St. Louis, they've got some depth up top in Miller and Ells, two of the top goalies in the NHL in my opinion,” Allen said. “For me down here, I'm getting the opportunity to play a lot of games. That's really what I'm concerned about this season, and it's been a big benefit for me.”
Like father ...
Jake Chelios signed with the Wolves shortly after finishing a four-year run at Michigan State. It makes sense for a guy named Chelios to take the ice in Chicago and near Detroit. Chelios' father, Chris, spent 18 of his 26 NHL seasons playing for the Blackhawks and Red Wings.
“When you're in Chicago or a city like Detroit, everybody knows the name,” Jake Chelios said. “Those are two cities where you don't really run into too much trouble. People are usually very friendly about it.”
Like his dad, Chelios plays defense. The 23-year-old was All-Big-10 honorable mention after recording 19 assists and 21 points in 36 games with Michigan State. He signed a professional tryout contract with the Wolves this month after playing seven games in the ECHL.
“Playing four years of college was awesome, and that was kind of my goal to get to a level like this,” said Chelios, who played four games during the regular season. “I just kind of got the pace and get a taste for next year. I've just got to work hard in the summer and hope things pan out.”
On the fly
• The most clutch goaltending performance I've seen live was a 55-save performance during the 2008 Stanley Cup finals. Don't laugh, but it was from Marc-Andre Fleury. It's amazing the guy who single-handedly kept the Penguins alive in Game Five that night is the same one who now has a reputation as a playoff choker.
• Tampa Bay's early exit from the playoffs gives General Manager Steve Yzerman more time to make contract pitches to pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Callahan. Rookie of the Year finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will be restricted free agents.
• My three favorite arenas are Montreal's Bell Centre, San Jose's SAP Center and New York's Madison Square Garden. The fans in all of them have turned it up for the playoffs. “My God, it's like a normal game at the Bell Centre times 1,000,” Canadiens forward Brandon Prust said. “It's like the Bell Centre on steroids. Standing out there for the national anthem, being on the ice here in Montreal, was probably one of the most incredible moments and feelings I've ever experienced as a hockey player.”