If Ken Hitchcock’s history is any indication, St. Louis goalie Jake Allen might be on the verge of something big.
Allen, the 22-year-old rookie netminder, has taken his opportunity to move ahead of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in the Blues’ pecking order with aplomb, going 8-1-0 with a .920 save percentage and 2.19 GAA.
The development has impressed Hitchcock, but hasn’t come as a huge surprise.
“He’s becoming a prime-time player,” Hitchcock told the Belleville News-Democrat on Tuesday. “We expected this when we drafted him and we expected this when he matured.”
The Blues took Allen in the second round (34th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the fourth goalie taken behind Chet Pickard, Thomas McCollum and Jakob Markstrom.
Hitchcock says teams can’t afford to miss on goalies selected that high (“you can’t make a mistake on those,” he said. “Those have to be prime-time players,”) and added that Allen’s situation in St. Louis reminded him of similar scenarios in Columbus and Dallas.
“This is a very similar story,” Hitchcock said. “Pascal [Leclaire] had a heck of a year the year before, a lot of shutouts, played great and then got hurt. We were thinking of playing Steve [Mason] 15 to 20 games and probably in the minors.
“Then when Passer got hurt, [Mason] ended up playing all the games.”
An injury to Dallas veteran goalie Ed Belfour gave [Marty] Turco his first chance.
“Eddie got hurt and Marty came in and played great and Marty’s career took off from there, so I’ve gone through this twice to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said. “This is very familiar ground.”
The Mason comparison is interesting because Allen could replicate some of the Columbus netminder’s success.
Mason was nominated for the Vezina and won the Calder in 2009. While Allen’s a long shot for a Vezina nod, he currently leads all rookie goalies in every significant statistical category.
Should he stay hot and carry St. Louis into the playoffs, there’s no telling what hardware will come his way.