Justin Peters was once a second round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes. He split time between the Albany River Rats and Charlotte Checkers (AHL) on top of no more than 21 NHL starts in parts of five seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes system.
As a free agent, he signed a two-year contract with Washington in 2014 after the team let go of Jaroslav Halak. Remember when we traded Michael Neuvirth and Rostislav Klesla, who was on the roster for less than one day, to the Buffalo Sabres for him and a 2015 3rd rounder? Of course you don’t; you would like to forget that ever happened.
Why did that happen? The Caps needed stability in goal after head coach Adam Oates pulled off the three goaltender shuffle between Braden Holtby, then-backup Neuvirth, and Philipp Grubauer for about one month mid-season of 2013-14. Stability came by trading away Neuvy, sending Grubi down to Hershey, and getting Jaro at the trade deadline to accompany Holtby down the stretch.
Halak was not the right fit for his new team, so he was sent to the New York Islanders for a 4th Round pick in 2014, far below his actual market value. The irony almost came back to bite in the 2015-16 playoffs , but the Caps won against Halak’s Islanders in seven games.
The question still remained for new general manager Brian MacLellan: who should backup Holtby? Grubauer needed a little more time to develop and Peters was the best available backup at the moment. The parties negotiated a two-year, $950,000 per year deal.
Last year, it was determined well before training camp who would backup Holtby in 2015-16. Game 2 of that series against the Islanders, Barry Trotz scratched him because he was under the weather and GMBM called up Grubauer to start Game 2. Peters sat on the bench and watched as Grubi stole the game to ensure the Caps tied the series at one game apiece. Hotlby recovered and Grubauer went back to his regularly scheduled playoff run with the Hershey Bears.
Now, the 29-year-old Peters is unhappy splitting time with Dan Ellis in Chocolate Town. In fact, the latest reports indicate he and his agent are actively exploring trade destinations, intent on finding a place he can be a NHL starter. But where will he go?
Most teams already have an established starter/backup rotation and the last two teams to have their starter get injured — Arizona and Montreal — got their replacement. Maybe the right question for the Caps is whether Vitek Vanecek is ready for the AHL.
The second-rounder is 6-6-2 in 14 games for the South Carolina Stingrays and went 2-3-0 with the Czech Republic World Junior team at this year’s World Championship. Vanecek faced 101 of the 126 shots thrown at the Czechs all tournament, stopping 89 of them for a 88.12 SV% and a 2.73 GAA. For a team that made it to the Quarter Final before bowing out in embarrassing fashion (7-0) to the US, those are good numbers.
Vanecek would leave Mark Dekanich and Branden Komm to tend the crease in the Lowcountry if he made the jump. Komm started the year with six straight wins before dropping his last two decisions. Dekanich played well enough for the Rays that he earned a call-up to Hershey to play one game. If Vanecek is not ready, Dekanich could be the call-up.
Having just celebrated his 20th birthday last week, he still has much to learn before reaching the NHL. Ellis is in his 14th professional season and his 15th different team since leaving the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He could serve as a mentor to the young Czech goalie while he gets up to speed for AHL play.
It should not alarm any Caps or Bears fans if Peters wants to seek work elsewhere in the hockey world. The goaltender is not a thin position on the organizational depth chart.