Hockey fans everywhere are well aware that the Carolina Hurricanes are Cam Ward’s team. He won them a Stanley Cup in his rookie season, took home a Conn Smythe and has been consistently been a bright spot on a team without much consistency. If Carolina’s hockey community had the power to knight people, Cam Ward would be called ‘Sir’ faster than any other player to pass through the team — with all due respect to Ron Francis, Rod Brind’Amour, et al., of course.
What we ought to take away from all this is that Cam Ward isn’t going anywhere. The ‘Canes will do whatever it takes to keep him in the fold, to keep him happy and to keep him on top of the depth chart. When Brian Boucher was ruled out for four to six months by Jim Rutherford due to a shoulder injury, it earned a collective shoulder shrug from many. He’s not Cam. But, the Boucher injury is an interesting development in this writer’s eyes, because it begets the promotion of Justin Peters to take the number two spot behind Cam Ward.
If you’re looking at prospective “Super Subs” for sale in the near future, Peters could very well be the man you’re looking for.
Justin Peters was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2004 as a type of insurance. Cam Ward had just been signed to an entry level deal and the team needed to make sure that they had reserves on hand if their apparent goaltender of the future didn’t quite cut it. Peters was the sixth goaltender taken in the “Ovechkin Draft” and with the exceptions of Cory Schneider and Devan Dubnyk, none of the five to go ahead of him have found more success at the NHL level unless you have strong feelings towards Al Montoya, Marek Schwarz or David Shantz.
Peters had a solid major junior career in the Ontario League as a three year starter with the St. Mike’s Majors before being shipped to the Plymouth Whalers for one last playoff run to wrap up his time in the ‘O’.
The Hurricanes have had quantities of depth at the goaltending position since Peters joined the organization. Quality of goaltending is another issue altogether. For the first four years of his pro career, Peters was shuffled between the AHL and ECHL as the Hurricanes worked to accommodate goaltenders such as John Grahame, Michael Leighton, Tyler Plante and the aforementioned Shantz into the minor league depth chart while Ward stayed steady at the top and Grahame, Leighton and eventually Brian Boucher got time with the big club.
Peters has been steadily working his way up the organization and playing well in the minor leagues when given the opportunity to start on a regular basis. After a good initial showing with the big club before a rough patch in 2010-11, Peters appears poised to get some games in during the upcoming season and will look to make an impression, not only on Jim Rutherford, but 29 other GMs around the NHL.
He is a UFA as of this Sunday, but the Hurricanes aren’t talking like a team that will let him walk.
“One reason we got Brian last year was to give Justin more ice time and allow him to play more games in Charlotte,” Rutherford said. “He played well when he was in Charlotte and played well when he was up with us. He’s a better goalie than he was last year, and he was in the mix when we talked about our goalie situation for next year.
“We’ll see what it looks like July 1 (in free agency). We have a lot of confidence in Justin and have him at the top of our list, but we’ll wait and see before making any decisions.”
We’ve seen a trend develop in recent years wherein backup goalies who excel behind stalwart number ones become coveted trade assets. They either force their way to the top of their homegrown depth chart, or make their way to another club. Consider Mike Smith, Anders Lindback, Josh Harding, Jaroslav Halak, Craig Anderson, Sergei Bobrovsky and Schneider of prime examples of this trend. Teams either had to make a play for them, or their club made sure to lock them down.
Justin Peters could very well be the next goalie in line.
It’s hard to envision a reality which involves Cam Ward being removed from his perch in Carolina. He’s still a fairly young player at 28 and is among the best goalies in the game. Peters, who will turn 26 in August, will likely need to find work starting elsewhere, but the chance to play games behind Ward appears to be his best bet if he’s going to hop on radars.
There is an inherent skepticism that comes with the “small sample size” but they are an interesting point of reference nonetheless. In seven games last season, Peters was stellar for the Hurricanes. Despite a 2-3-2 record, he posted a 2.48 GAA and a .931 save percentage. Those numbers are no small task on a team as bad as the Hurricanes were last year.
Now, Peters could very well flop as a spot starter for the Hurricanes — provided he stays of course — and this line of argument will be dead as it stands. But the potential is there. He’s not a big guy at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his measurements, he is quiet in his net and displays the fundamentals of the position well. If you beat him, you probably beat him clean because you’re not going to find him out of position or misplaying the puck.
He’s not a lock, but if Justin Peters can build on a solid 2011-12 before Brian Boucher’s return, he’ll be playing regular NHL hockey very soon.
Who’s your next breakout backup goalie?